छिमेकी

know your neighbour

Iran-US Relationship: Twitter Diplomacy Won’t Work

Posted by chimeki on October 21, 2013


Hassan Rouhani

Hassan Rouhani

‘President Rouhani has landed in #Tehran after a super busy week in NYC. #UNGA ‘, read Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s twitter post as he landed in Tehran. Apart from being ‘busy’, the week is surely the most important one in Iran’s history after the week in February 1979 when the last king of Iran Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi left and Ayatollah Khomeini returned from 14 years in exile.

In October that year passionate followers of Ayatollah Khomeini stormed into the US Embassy in Tehran and held fifty two Americans hostage. They were demanding that the US extradited the Shah to be put under trial for the crimes he had committed during his rule against the Iranians. The crisis lasted for 444 days. On 20 January 1981 Iran, after a series of behind-the-curtain-negotiations with Ronald Reagan’s team, allowed the hostages to fly back to their country. The day also coincided with Reagan’s swear in ceremony in the White House. President Reagan is said to have famously said, ‘the mullahs are our friends’. It is not often when the US takes egg on its face lightly but in this particular case it did because it could not afford to let one more country of the Middle East go the USSR way!

However, post 1990s Iran lost its relevance and was bracketed an ‘axis of evil’. Now that the US is finding its influence in world affairs being over shadowed by Russia and China it is ready to improve its relationship with the estranged country. But this time it will not be that swift as it was then.

The USSR was a communist country and the Iranian government was intrinsically against the communist ideals. It was easy for it to convince its supporters to shake hands with a former capitalist foe than to embrace a new communist friend. Although he had collaborated with communists to topple the Shah, but once he had established himself firmly in the power he crushed them tooth and nail. He went as far as to reconcile with the Shah’s legacy! VS Naipaul in his book Among the Believers has brilliantly captured the development.

Russia, once a communist country, is now a centre of Christian fundamentalism. Putin has managed a comeback on the back of conservative Russians who see in him a potential pre-revolution Russian ruler. According to an estimate Orthodox Church in Russia has influence over ten crores (100 million) voters. Putin and the Church share the same ideals and draw their inspiration from Tsarist Russia. They see future of Russia from Nicholas the First’s eyes who propagated Official Nationality based on, ‘orthodoxy, autocracy and nationality’.

In this backdrop, as long as the Imams rule the country, the Orthodox Russia will be seen closer than a secular, ‘atheist’ America. Even if we believe that political relationship are not completely based on religious proximity then also there are several other factors which suggest Iran is more comfortable flirting with Russia than with the US.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

In the last two decades Iran and Russia have given new dimensions to their relationship. They cofounded Gas Exporting Countries Forum in 2001 which, if we are to believe experts, has potential to become OPEC like cartel of gas producing countries. Iran has also been accorded observer status in Shanghai Cooperation Organization which aims at countering the US influence in Asia.

Apart from sharing pragmatic concerns both countries are staunch critics of the US policy in Middle East, especially its policies on Israel and Palestine. In addition to this, both Russia and Iran have reservations about Saudi Arabia and its satellite emeritus.  Hence it is difficult for the US to penetrate and create space for itself.

It does not look that the USA and Iran can come closer in near future. The US has itself destroyed/ eroded the trust it used to enjoy with the Iran during the Cold War. Now there is no reason the new Iranian president can convince his people on the importance of being closer to the USA.

The US warming up to Iran is actually an anxious step and without much homework. In the long run it will make it look weaker or perhaps comic.  The US is trapped under its own making. The more it tries to break free the more it gets entangled.

V.S.

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