Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Keeping the Bear at Bay

In a few days the Caspian Sea littoral states will hold a summit meeting in Tehran. This ‎can be an important event for us Iranians. So important that it should not be taken lightly. ‎Russia’s Vladimir Putin has accepted to come as a response to an eight-year invitation. ‎My question is what we are paying for this honorable visit. The specific proposal is that ‎Iranian representatives should not accept to sign any agreement because we are not in a ‎good position to make a good deal right now, while others are. This imbalance will not be ‎changed through propaganda in our favor either. Even if we overlook other historic ‎examples, we have tested our chances with the Bushehr nuclear power plant as well.‎

My question comes because during the past two yeas the administration of Mr. ‎Ahmadinejad has been very generous in foreign policy, as a way to provide propaganda ‎to his supporters. The examples are our relations with Egypt, the trip to the UAE, the ‎insistence on talks with the US, etc. Don’t take me wrong: there is nothing wrong with ‎any one of these issues per se. The problem is with our approach, which has been a lot of ‎hue and cry at home, but bending over abroad. This is far from being honorable and has ‎nothing to do with ideological differences. This way our national interests are not met ‎because the other side has read our cards and thus sells himself dearly.‎

So the question boils down to what is it that we want from Mr. Vladimir Putin, who ‎comes hesitantly and after such a long wait. The joy of our officials is not hidden from ‎his eyes. One can almost read the reports of the Russian embassy in Tehran to the ‎Kremlin concerning what Iran currently desperately needs. After all, this is the first trip ‎by the leader of a major country to Iran after 28 years since the 1979 Revolution.‎

Next week’s meeting will be the second of its kind, after the first one in 1981. During the ‎twenty two years since the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the independence of the ‎Central Asian republics, or at least for the past sixteen years, the Caspian Sea littoral ‎states have been haggling over the resources of the Caspian Sea, at times even ‎approaching military confrontation. The last time the states met, Iran was at the height of ‎its power during the last 30 years. But it was still not content with anything less than 13 ‎percent of the share of the total resources. They aimed at getting 20 percent, if they could ‎not get the 50 percent which they enjoyed ruing the days of the Soviet Union. But others ‎did not agree and everybody went home empty handed. Today, we are even weaker than ‎then, which is why I caution that Iran should not agree to anything.‎

Many changes have shaped this region since the last meeting, the most important being ‎the power consolidation on two powers across the Sea, i.e. Russia and Azerbaijan. If we ‎are honest with ourselves and not be driven by our the propaganda we ourselves have ‎created, we have become weaker because of the nuclear issue and the Security Council ‎resolutions against us, isolating us and making us less secure. This puts others in an ‎advantageous position to pressure us to give them concessions and a good deal. At the ‎least it encourages them to try. Of course the Islamic Republic has not been native to ‎allow others to eat it up. It will choke them if they tried. During the past two years when ‎the nuclear issue went to an unfriendly forum, Iran’s national Security Council succeeded ‎in is final efforts. One should not be unreasonable about the accomplishments in this ‎regard. Still, others do see themselves holding the upper hand in dealing with Iran. ‎Azerbaijan can be seen as minor, which it is. But by the same yardstick is Dubai minor as ‎well? What about Qatar which is buying up the majority of corporate stocks of Sweden? ‎But if Baku and Tabriz (I am purposely not saying Tehran) are supposed to rub shoulders, ‎it is clear that Tabriz will prevail. This however will not be the outcome with Russia. The ‎reason does lie in having an ethical or good government. It is simply because it has a ‎stronger hand in the power game. ‎

One of the lessons that history has taught us is about the role of the forum where the ‎negotiations are held and the decisions made. Regardless of whether its paws are of ‎velvet or cotton, a bear remains a bear and it must be kept at bay. ‎