Talks held in İstanbul last month between Western countries and Iran ended with no resolution. The statements that followed the talks pointed to a hope for compromise and the continuation of the process in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
The same statements have more or less been made following previous talks, which have been held a couple of times since 2009, without the attainment of anything concrete or favorable. Turkey and Brazil signed an agreement with Iran in 2010 that did not receive recognition from the US or the UN. Whether the latest initiative in İstanbul is going to bring about anything beneficial cannot be seen at this stage.
The basic reason why the Iranian nuclear program issue has not been resolved so far is because the core of the issue is not nuclear. The real problem has nothing to do with whether or not Iran has nuclear technology or possesses a nuclear weapon. There are other countries in the world today that have the same nuclear technology Iran has, but they do not seem to have any friction with other countries like Iran does. For example, Pakistan, India and Israel, who are known to have nuclear programs and weapons, do not trigger any kind of international commotion or anxiety. If what is at risk with Iran is not particularly a nuclear problem, why is the international community so engaged?
The real problem with Iran is deeper, more structural and more comprehensive than a nuclear dispute and involves the sides’ distrust of one another. The Western countries, the US first and foremost, are seriously concerned not so much with Iran’s possession of nuclear technology or even weapons as with how Tehran can use that technology and for what purpose. What is feared is that Iran becoming a nuclear power will further strengthen its influence in the region and that Iran will assume bigger dimensions to the extent that all regional countries will be under its sway. It is strongly suspected that Iran as a nuclear power will create unease not only in regional countries but also in the US, Europe and Israel, who have geopolitical interests in the region, since Iran will have a much stronger say in Central Asia and the Caucasus, not to mention Iran’s neighbor Iraq and the Gulf States. It is worthwhile to mention at this point that Iran’s Islamic revolution, ideology and political projects help explain the Western countries’ concerns and fears. It is Iran itself that lies at the core of the discord. While it is for some a country aspiring to spread Shiite ideology, it is for others a country jeopardizing US and Israeli interests and threatening their presence in the region, and a state, for some other circles, working to create a hegemony of Persian nationalism.
Looking at Iran’s distrust of the West
Iran’s distrust of the West should not be ignored, either. The Iranian administration is of the conviction that Western countries, especially the US, Israel and their allies, are hostile to Iran. The US is always considered a country of dubious aspirations, desirous of rendering totally ineffective or doing away with the Islamic revolution that ousted the US leadership’s staunchly loyal ally, the shah. In fact, the arguments justifying Iran’s concerns have always been present. The US administrations, that of the former President George W. Bush in particular, cited Iran as one of the countries of the axis of evil and claimed it was going to be destroyed. With the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran was cornered from the east and the west. More importantly, a change of regime in Iran was touted. In addition to all that, Israel’s constant rhetoric of an attack on Iran and its unending initiatives to incite the West’s ire against Iran has pitted Iran against the US.
That climate of distrust and war of attrition seem to be the elements feeding those two countries because it is a process that bring the US and Iran to the fore both in the region and the rest of the world and boosts their images. The sides present themselves as vanguards of the struggle, which increases their prestige and widens their spheres of influence around the world. While the US disseminates propaganda that it is working for the freedom, democracy and security of the region, Iran preaches anti-imperialist views, claiming to protect the regional peoples against the imperialists’ cutthroat policies and Zionism. The thing is that the process of confrontation serves the interests of both countries, and that is why such relatively shallow problems between them, such as nuclear threats, continue to remain unresolved.
Indeed, the problem is not a fake confrontation. Nor is it an intractable and undoable Gordian knot. So how is it possible to get out of this quagmire? In fact, the answer to this question is very simple. Iran and the West have to mutually strengthen their relationship with trust. They have to accept one another as they are, respect their identities and existence and refrain from statements and actions that would destroy or change each other. The other relevant countries need to not be blown away by the propaganda of either side, shut their doors to the excessive praise or condemnation that comes from the two sides and follow a line of moderation where their attitudes toward the two sides are concerned.
*Dr. Ramazan Gözen is an instructor at Yıldırım Beyazıt University.