Why did the leaders of the Muslim world flock so enthusiastically to the Eighth Summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) hosted by Iran even though in Washington's eyes Iran was an "international outlaw," and posed, in President Clinton's words, "a threat to the national security, foreign-policy and economy of the United States"1 and was, according to Newt Gingrich (R-GA), "a permanent, long-term threat to civilized life on this planet"?2
This essay will argue that the Tehran summit meeting, held December 9-11, 1997, provided a fortuitous platform for the leaders of both Iran and member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to tell the world about their emerging rapprochement. More consequential was the very success of the summit, which both sides used to mend fences. The beginnings of this embryonic Arab-Iranian reconciliation date back to the presidency of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. But the landslide election of President Muhammad Khatami in May 1997, the message of his moderate foreign-policy orientation in general and good-neighbor policy in particular resonated well with GCC leaders who, at the time, shared the widespread disillusionment of Arab states and societies with the stalled peace process.
This essay will also argue that today, more than ever before, the United States will need to recognize objectively the existential reality of the interconnectedness of issues of war and peace in the Middle East and should begin to devise an integrated policy for the entire region, stretching from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea.
IDEOLOGICAL CONFRONTATION AND WAR
From the eruption of the Iranian revolution in 1979 to the election of President Rafsanjani in 1989, four major factors combined to poison Iran-GCC relations.3 First, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's Islamic ideology lay, in part, beneath the confrontational foreign-policy in world politics that led Iran to take on both superpowers. The United States, the "Great Satan," was the major object of vilification. The Soviet Union was the "Lesser Satan," and, hence, America's friends in the Gulf were to be redeemed by revolutionary Iran, where a "Government of God" had been established. Security in the Persian Gulf could be achieved only if the Arab peoples of the region rebelled against the ruling monarchs and created governments similar to, but not identical with, Iran's; cut their subservient ties with the United States; and acknowledged Iran's primacy in the Gulf, primus inter pares.
Second, Iran's domestic politics contributed to hostile relations with the Gulf Arab states in two ways. The crusade to export revolution satisfied not only Iran's ideological quest, but also helped the Khomeinist faction is to project domestic problems abroad in order to monopolize power at home. Freelance revolutionaries threatened the Arab sense of security in the earliest phase of the revolution when, for example, Ayatollah Ruhani called for the annexation of Bahrain. More important, Iran was suspected of aiding coup attempts in Bahrain as well as complicity in bombings in Kuwait and an attempt against the life of the emir and also in agitating Shia uprisings in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, during nearly every hajj season, Iran quarreled with Saudi Arabia over the issue of political rallies by Iranian pilgrims.
A third factor was the Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980. President Saddam Hussein used Iranian acts of provocation to attack Iran in pursuit of his longtime plan for supremacy in the Gulf and the Arab world beyond. Arab ostracism of Sadat's Egypt for having made peace with Israel helped Saddam's international ambitions. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait bankrolled Iraq's war efforts, intensifying Iranian antagonism towards them. And Mubarak's Egypt aided the Iraqi war effort by providing needed manpower, increasing Iranian hostility towards Cairo.
A fourth and final factor was the policies of the superpowers. The United States tilted increasingly toward Iraq with intelligence and other kinds of help, and destroyed most of the Iranian navy and offshore oil fields during the tanker war. The Soviet Union supplied arms to its old ally Iraq, especially because at the time Iran appeared to Moscow, as it did to Washington, to be the greater of the two evils in the region.
Arab-Iranian relations began to change for the better as a result of a dramatic shift in Iran's foreign-policy orientation from ideological confrontation and war to what may be called "pragmatic peace" during 1988-1991.4 Unprecedented domestic, regional and global changes included the end of the Iraq-Iran War, the death of Khomeini, the succession of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the rahbar (the leader) or faqih, the end of the Cold War, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. These landmark events made it necessary for Iran to try hard to reconcile relations with other states, particularly its new neighbors in the north and the old ones in the south.
The disintegration of the Soviet Union suddenly presented Iran with new threats and opportunities along its long northern border. After seven decades, the newly independent, weak and quarrelsome states in Transcaucasia and Central Asia replaced the stable Soviet superpower. The energy rich Caspian Sea basin also conveyed on Iran a new strategic importance.
Sandwiched between this broad region in the north and along the whole length of the eastern shore of the energy-rich Persian Gulf in the south, Iran - an energy-rich country - formed the easiest and cheapest potential transit route between the world's two greatest sites of oil and gas reserves. The relatively underdeveloped northern neighbors could also potentially become a major market for Iran's non-oil exports, estimated at some $8-10 billion a year.
In the south, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait made it all the more urgent for Iran to patch up relations with the GCC states. The Rafsanjani government called for "the immediate withdrawal of Iraqi troops to recognized international borders and for a peaceful solution to the dispute," supported all relevant U.N. resolutions, and observed U.N. economic sanctions so fully that former Secretary of State James A. Baker III thought that Iran conducted itself throughout Desert Storm "in a very, very credible way." Even though Saudi Arabia had aided Iraq in the war with Iran, the Rafsanjani administration made efforts at reconciliation with the kingdom by restoring diplomatic relations. These ties had been broken in 1987, when 402 pilgrims, including 275 Iranians, died in clashes amidst political rallies during the hajj season.
The Rafsanjani government also made an effort to ease tensions with the GCC states. Toward that end, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati paid a landmark visit to Kuwait in 1990, the first of its kind since the 1979 revolution. In the following year the GCC affirmed its eagerness to “lend momentum to bilateral relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran in the service of common interests...” Nevertheless, by the end of Rafsanjani's second term, the dispute with the United Arab Emirates over the issue of sovereignty on the islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and the Lesser Tunbs; the Iranian disagreement with the GCC states over the Arab-Israeli peace process; the unprecedented growth in the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf and the conclusion of U.S. bilateral agreements and conduct of military maneuvers with several GCC states marred the relations between the Gulf Arab States and Iran. Yet, relative to the era of confrontation and war, Rafsanjani's pragmatic peace tipped the balance in favor of a moderate orientation in foreign policy, paving the way for an even more dramatic change in Iran's stance in international relations.
In May 1997, 20 million Iranians, 69 percent of the eligible voters, cast their ballots for Sayyid Muhammad Khatami as president. This universally acknowledged free, landslide election had profound meaning for the evolution of Iran's foreignpolicy orientation. Yet it was viewed in the West almost exclusively in terms of its domestic portent, simply because of Khatami's emphasis in his campaign rhetoric on the need for reforms. To set the record straight, I have argued elsewhere that there is a profound synergy between his advocacy of democratic reforms at home and peace abroad.5 Because Khatami's central thesis is the closest parallel to democratic peace theory in international relations, I have characterized it as such, except that within the framework of the Iranian polity it should be characterized as'1aqih-guided democratic peace."6
In the Iranian context, Khatami's democratic peace shares with Rafsanjani's pragmatic peace conciliatory relations with other nations, but its reformist thrust aims primarily at democratization rather than top-down economic development. Furthermore, economic development - and, for that matter, political and all other kinds of development - in Khatami's view, involves transformation, which requires freedom of opinion and its safe expression coupled with the inculcation of democratic values and the institutionalization of democratic procedures.
Khatami's vision of democracy at home and peace abroad resonated profoundly with the "young" Iranians, who constituted the overwhelming majority of the 20 million voters, men and especially women, out of a population of about 65 million. They were mostly literate, came largely from urban communities, and, most important of all, aspired to a better social and political as well as material way of life. Their aspirations stemmed from a combination of domestic and international conditions.
Young people began to enjoy a better standard of living than their parents after the Iraq-Iran War and during the eight-year presidency of Rafsanjani. Materially, they had many modem amenities, including elementary and high school education, electricity, piped water supplies, private transportation and modem means of communication. Yet only a fraction of Iran's millions of high school graduates could be admitted to colleges and universities, and young men and women deeply resented the intrusion of self-appointed morality police into their private lives in the streets and at home. They aspired to having an open society, a larger public space, and a say in the policies of their country.
Internationally, the young people firmly believed in their country's independence. Unlike their parents, who saw the hand of foreign powers and their Iranian agents in the government's decision-making process, the younger generation, born largely since the dawn of the revolution, were not paranoid, felt competent to judge their leaders' foreign policy decisions and wanted to have a say in them. Their sense of national pride was deeply injured by persistent U.S. sanctions, especially the Clinton administration's 1995 trade ban and the 1996 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA). Paradoxically, even while detesting the U.S. containment policy, they felt a fascination for the American people. Their quest for a free and democratic society, however, had more to do with the worldwide diffusion of democratic values than with the attractiveness of the American model. The banning of satellite dishes, video tapes and the like did little to diminish their intense curiosity about the democratic movement which, at the time of Khatami's election, had spread so much that about half of the world's countries were considered to be democratic. This was twice as many as when the Iranian Revolution erupted 20 years earlier.
THREATENED PEACE PROCESS
President Khatami's democratic peace resonated with the Muslim world in general and the GCC states in particular. But their enthusiastic participation in the Tehran summit did not merely reflect a favorable Arab assessment, no matter how tentative, of the perceived moderation of President Khatami's democratic peace. It also graphically displayed mounting Arab disillusionment with the stalled U.S. sponsored peace process. The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995, the narrow success of Benjamin Netanyahu over Shimon Peres for prime minister on May 29, 1996, and the control of the Knesset by the opponents of the peace process set in train a series of setbacks in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that pushed that process to the brink of collapse. A new low was reached when Israel began on March 17, 1997, to construct a vast new Jewish housing development in largely Arab East Jerusalem, for, despite Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright's repeated call for a "timeout," Israel continued settlement activities.
Arabs had a hard time understanding why the most pro-Israeli administration in American history failed to persuade Israel to comply with its own commitments. They had an even harder time believing the bitter denunciations of President Clinton's remarks made at a luncheon with Shimon Peres and Mrs. Leah Rabin at the White House on November 21, 1997. In the face of a new Iraq crisis and the administration's great difficulty in reestablishing a U.S.-led coalition, the president said that America was reminded "how we will never, never do that [forge a community of "shared values"] until there is peace between Israel and her neighbors, and that the absence of that peace makes the other difficulties, tensions and frustrations all the more troubling because it compounds them and undermines our ability to seek a unified solution."7
This linking of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the conflict in the Persian Gulf by the president opened a floodgate of criticism by American and especially Israeli and pro Israeli commentators. In summarizing such critical comments, David D. Newsom, a former undersecretary of state, wrote that their criticism was not only marked by "hyperbole," but by a "lack of understanding of what is at stake in the Gulf."8 One of many examples of exaggerated comments came from a columnist who wrote, "If only Israel would immolate itself in accord with Arab demands, we'd be able to make Saddam lose his taste for botulism and anthrax."9
Not all the verbal attacks were so vitriolic, although even the less harsh comments still denied the linkage. To sample a few, one apologist for Israel viewed the linkage to be only an Arab "excuse" for not joining a new anti-Iraq coalition and charged that the administration was shifting the blame onto Netanyahu; another one reasoned that the Arab states did not feel threatened by Iraq in 1997-1998 as contrasted with 1990-1991 when Iraq actually invaded and occupied Kuwait; and finally a columnist of repute blamed it all on Pax Americana and the processes of "globalization," which threaten all traditional societies.
No wonder then that months after so much criticism of President Clinton, Secretary Albright refused to link the stalled peace process and the American failure to reestablish anything like an Arab coalition. In testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 10, 1998, she stated that "Iraq and the peace process are two separate issues, clearly very difficult ones." When pressed by Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), who asked, "But surely you believe that they're linked?" she answered: "I would prefer not to make that linkage."10
It is important to note parenthetically that Secretary Albright's preference resembled former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's stance of a quarter century earlier, although it differed sharply from former Secretary of State Baker's view of only eight years earlier. Kissinger in 1973-1974 doggedly resisted linking his peacemaking efforts to the lifting of the Arab oil embargo, which was designed in the first place to pressure the United States to get Israel to withdraw forces from Arab lands it had occupied in the 1967 war.11 Baker, by contrast, explicitly linked the two issues in House testimony in September 1990. He said that Saddam Hussein's "most telling argument" was that he was "the champion of Palestinians who have no place to go and who are sorely put upon." This was why, he thought, it was important for the United States to find some resolution of the Palestinian problem "because when we do, the ground will not be so fertile as today." 12 His frank admission of the linkage led to the Madrid peace conference and the progress that followed. A more salient point, of course, is that the abuse of the concept of linkage by unscrupulous people to rationalize aggressive actions does not obviate the existential reality of the interrelatedness of issues, problems and solutions, especially in an ever-shrinking world.
Although administration officials acknowledge the linkage in private only, a variety of other people do so in public. For example, Douglas Jehl of The New York Times observed, "What has changed since 1991 is not merely that this time there is no invasion to repel. It is that the Arab leaders have all expressed something between disillusionment and contempt with the results of American efforts in the other principal Middle East drama: the search for peace between Israel and the Palestinians."13 Representative Lee Hamilton (D-IN), the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on International Relations, to cite another example, recognizes the fact that "the Gulf states see a connection between progress in the Middle East peace process and the support of our policy toward Iraq...."14 He is, in effect, saying that perception is part of reality and should, therefore, be taken into account in assessing a situation. Even the American public seems to see the interconnection of Middle East issues. For example, when high-ranking officials of the administration were trying to make the case for a possible air strike on Iraq, a 22- year-old substitute teacher at the public meeting at Ohio State University asked Secretary Albright how Washington could threaten to attack Iraq: "What about...Israel, which is slaughtering Palestinians?" After the secretary responded, the questioner came back at her again and said "We should be consistent in our goals."15 The most recent compelling evidence, however, of the existential reality of the linkage can be found in the behavior of both Arab leaders and Arab people, the so-called "Arab street," as will be seen below.
ARABS BOYCOTT DOHA ECONOMIC SUMMIT
At the state level, there could be no better evidence of the linkage than the nearly unanimous Arab boycott of the Middle East North Africa (MENA) economic conference held in Doha November 16-18, 1997. Crucial Arab allies of the United States - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco and others -refused to attend, despite much American arm twisting. The Palestinian Authority also boycotted the conference, while Israel sent a low-level delegation. Washington dispatched the single largest delegation, and Secretary Albright was virtually the only high-ranking official in attendance. Yet she could not stay more than four hours. Her address provoked numerous Arab complaints because she said: “Israelis and Palestinians must be prepared to make decisions soon that will enable us to move forward and reach agreements”16 in the peace process. Arabs criticized her for equating the responsibilities of the Israelis and the Palestinians. Even the host country, Qatar, chimed in with criticism. Foreign Minister Hamad Bin Jahr Al Thani said: "I think it is wrong to lay equal blame on the Arabs and Israelis, because the blame should be laid on Netanyahu's government.... I believe that the Israeli government's position is, as my lord his highness the emir said, the reason for the stumbling of the peace process."17
To the great dismay of Qatar, Egypt took the lead in opposing Arab participation in the Doha summit. Al Ahram, the government mouthpiece, wrote: "The American position toward Iraq cannot be described as anything but coercive, aggressive, unwise and uncaring about the lives of Iraqis, who are unnecessarily subjected to sanctions and humiliation."18 To be sure, Arab states were unanimously concerned about the plight of the Iraqi people, but even that unhappiness was always placed in the context of complaints about American "double standards" in their dealings with Iraq as contrasted with Israel, no matter how untenable the comparison appeared in Washington. What surprised many Qataris was the Mubarak administration's alleged active lobbying against Arab participation in the Doha summit, this in spite of Egypt's enjoyment of $2.1 billion in American aid and military hardware each year and its signing of the first peace treaty with Israel in 1979. What was no less surprising were reports about some Israelis who seemed to link the fate of the peace process and the Iraq crisis. A high-ranking Israeli government strategist, for example, said on condition of anonymity: "The number one question is, will the U.S. come out of this confrontation as the winning side or the losing side? If it is the losing side it will be very bad for the [Middle East] peace process and very bad for the role the U.S. plays as an honest broker and mediator in the peace process. If it wins then it can really enhance the peace process."19
Remarkably, the few Arab states that did attend the Doha economic summit were just as vocal about its failure - relative to three previous summits that had been held in Casablanca, Amman and Cairo - as those which boycotted the session. But after the summit, no participating Arab state explained the linkage between the "failing'' peace process and the flopping economic summit more sagely than Oman. Foreign Minister Yusuf Bin-Abdallah believed that the principle of "land for peace" had been established at the Madrid peace conference on the basis of U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338, and the economic track of the peace process went hand in hand with the political track and enjoyed Arab support until Prime Minister Netanyahu took power and “rejected these arrangements.”20 He added that "the distinguishing feature of the Doha conference is that it showed clearly that peace cannot be founded on a purely economic basis, for political stability constitutes the primary condition for economic development," and that required progress in the peace process.
The political elites in the Middle East encountered, in varying degrees, the fury of ordinary people rooted partly in their disillusionment with the faltering peace process. Political rallies, protesting both American and Israeli policies, spread like wildfire across the Middle East, mostly in the Arab states, and particularly in Jordan and the West Bank. Jordanian discontent had been rising during many months preceding both the Doha and the Tehran summits. It finally found expression in days of violence in Maan, a desert town in southern Jordan, when it appeared that the possibility of an Anglo-American attack on Iraq had increased. To be sure, the Jordanians suffered from poverty and agonized over the fate of the Iraqi people as well as their own under an autocratic government. But, most important, their rising expectations for a better life after the signing of Jordan's peace treaty with Israel had been turning into increasing alienation from the United States, Israel and, to a lesser extent, from King Hussein.21
The slogans of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would seem to be as misleading as those of the Jordanians if they were taken at face value. Thousands of Palestinians vented their anger at Israel and the United States in street demonstrations b cause of many months of stalemate in the peace process. Women and men, mostly young, chanted such slogans as “Dear Saddam destroy Tel Aviv”; “Powerful Saddam strike with chemical weapons”; and “With soul [and] with blood, we will sacrifice for you, Saddam.”22 Whether or not Palestinians and Jordanians loathed the Iraqi president's dictatorship, his persona symbolized, in Arab eyes, the regional David standing up to the global Goliath, the United States.
It would be a mistake to assume that because Arab governments are autocratic they are immune to the opinions and sentiments of their peoples. Fearful of an American-led air strike on Iraq that would aggravate the suffering of ordinary Iraqis and possibly prompt a backlash among their own citizens, Arab leaders not only refused to join an American-led coalition, but tried to distance themselves from the United States in public both in words and deeds. Sultan Qabus, for example, reportedly met Secretary of Defense William Cohen in a tent far outside Muscat, and afterwards they neither appeared together nor issued a joint statement. It was the same in the United Arab Emirates.23
The leaders of Saudi Arabia, the linchpin of U.S. security policy in the Persian Gulf and America's 50-year partner, were no less conscious of the sentiments of ordinary people. They probably remembered that the perceived subservience of the shah's regime to Washington (the other "pillar" of U.S. Gulf policy at that time) was a major cause of the Iranian Revolution. The Saudi government would not permit some 50 U.S. combat planes to be used in a possible attack on Iraq “mainly because of U.S. inability to push forward the quest for a broader peace between the Arabs and Israelis.”24 Their position reflected not only the thinking of the Saudi leaders, but also the feelings of the Saudi people. By 1997-98, the Saudi government was facing dissident groups. It was no coincidence that the vocal Islamic opposition surfaced after Saudi Arabia cooperated with the United States in Desert Storm. Subsequently the bombing attacks on American-operated military compounds in November 1995 and June 1996 seemed to call for a degree of distancing from the United States for the fear of greater backlash among the Saudi people.
The depiction by U.S. media of the outburst of anger by ordinary Arabs and Iranians over the Iraq crisis simply as "anti-American" and "anti-Israeli" is not wholly true. To be sure, such sentiments reflect in part a deep-seated sense of historical injuries, victimhood and cultural wounds suffered at the hands of the Western imperial powers of yesterday and the American hegemonic power of today. But as pervasive as this community of hurt feeling is across the Middle East societies, it is not a simple phenomenon. Paradoxically, it is intertwined with an almost painful attraction to, if not fascination with, the West in general and America in particular. This profoundly ambivalent attitude among the people of the Middle East resembles that of so many colonized peoples in their relations to their colonizers. With the English domination of the Irish people in mind, the Irish poet William Butler Yeats expressed his ambivalent attitude toward even the English language when he wrote: "my hatred tortures me with love, my love with hate."25
ARABS AND IRANIANS IN THE OIC
The above developments brought Arab and Iranian leaders together in an unprecedented degree of enthusiasm at the OIC meeting. Although the shah's Iran had been one of the seven founding members of the OIC and a regular participant during the first decade of the life of the organization, revolutionary Iran had been at odds most of the time with some of the member states, especially with Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the Iraq-Iran War.26 It was only after the war that Iran began to participate more regularly in OIC activities. Most important, President Rafsanjani himself headed the Iranian delegation to the Sixth Islamic Summit held in Dakar, Senegal, in 1991. It was reportedly as a result of favorable reaction to his presentations there that it was decided to hold the Eighth Summit in Iran in 1997.
Nevertheless, Arab-Iranian differences surfaced even at the Dakar summit meeting. The dividing issue was Palestinian-Israeli relations. Rafsanjani opposed the Madrid formula and advocated the continuation of the intifada,27 while Crown Prince Abdallah supported trying to make peace with Israel, so as to prove, he said, that Israel's "love for peace is an erroneous impression."28 Crown Prince Abdallah's position gathered more support than did Rafsanjani's, but he must have been disappointed since he wanted the members to hold the next summit in Saudi Arabia, the initiator and premier bankroller of the OIC. That did not happen. ·
The friendly atmosphere of the Eighth summit aided the emerging Arab-Iranian rapprochement and helped facilitate post conference cooperation. The addresses of President Khatami and Crown Prince Abdallah, though quite different in style, showed how close the thinking of the two leaders was. Khatami's democratic-peace worldview lay beneath his remarks. In a striking departure from apologist Islamic thinking, he acknowledged candidly that in recent centuries the Islamic umma had lapsed into "weakness and backwardness,''29 a condition that could be resolved not by replicating the old Islamic civilization, ,but rather by an in-depth understanding of the present time, an era dominated by Western culture and civilization. He also explained the implications for both domestic politics and foreign policy of his concept of an Islamic civil society (madinat al-nahi). In such a society the government is the servant, not the master, and is accountable to the people, whom God has entitled to determine their own destiny.
Internationally, such a civil society neither seeks to dominate others nor to submit to domination, since it recognizes the principle of self-determination. In applying this to the Middle East situation, Khatami said that "peace can be established only through the realization of all the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, including the inalienable right to self-determination, return of refugees, (and) liberation of the occupied territories, in particular Al-Quds Al-Sharif (Jerusalem)...."30
Crown Prince Abdallah was not so specific on the Palestinian issue, but it was quite clear that he, like Khatami, was emphatically opposed to any kind of regional or global hegemony. "If there is one single lesson which I consider to be the most important in the entire history of mankind,"31 he said, "it is the indisputable fact that any attempt of hegemony had always ended in a bitter struggle in which there was neither a victor nor a vanquished, but there were victims on both sides who paid the price with their lives." 32 Like Khatami, he was not an apologist for Islam and believed that "it is time now to blame ourselves before pointing the fingers of accusation at others."33 And he, too, advocated ideas of tolerance, coexistence with non-Muslims and "solidarity" with fellow-Muslims, and adoption of a "scientific" approach to life. No doubt with an eye to Iran's past attempts to export revolution, he advocated that the "Daawa" (the call) should in effect be pursued through setting an example of good Islamic behavior rather than by force, an idea that Khomeini had also advocated, although his militant followers continue to ignore his admonition.
The Crown Prince both recognized the constructive role of Iran at the conference and complimented President Khatami and his assistants for their "great efforts." In a ringing statement, which demonstrated the great distance that Iran and Saudi Arabia had traveled to come closer together in a relatively short span of time , he said: "With the immortal achievements credited to the Muslim people of Iran and their invaluable contributions throughout our glorious Islamic history, it is no wonder that Tehran...is hosting this important Islamic gathering."34 He said that this summit was a "historic meeting," felt that it was incumbent on the Muslims "to tum over a new leaf in dealing with ourselves and in coexisting with others," and that it was an obligation to eliminate the obstacles in the way of cooperation in the hope of "making our way toward a better future."
Iran and the Arab states seem to have struck a quid pro quo at the conference. On the core issue of the Palestinians, which had been enshrined in the OIC Charter, Iran did not seem to reject the peace process. The Tehran Vision Statement, which was adopted by the conference, condemned Jewish settlements in “occupied Palestinian territory and demographic and geographic changes in Jerusalem,”35 urged Israel to desist from "state terrorism," and called for making the Middle East a zone free of weapons of mass destruction and for Israel to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In return, Iran got Arab support against U.S. economic sanctions.
The Tehran Vision Statement broadly rejected "unilateral or extraterritorial legislation," but the Tehran Declaration, which was also adopted by the conference, urged "all states to consider the so-called D'Amato Law (ILSA) as null and void."36 Arab states had all along criticized the U.S. "dual containment" policy, but this specific and emphatic declaration against American economic sanctions imposed on Iran was unprecedented.
The final communique of the conference embodied the essence of some 167 conference resolutions in 148 provisions, but what is important in the context of Arab-Iranian relations is the prominent reference to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's address.37 The U.S. media were transfixed by contrasting his speech with that of President Khatami to stress the existence of divisions within Iran's political leadership and to show its anti-Western and anti-Israeli thrust, ignoring totally its mostly constructive points on eradicating poverty and ignorance, on realizing the idea of an Islamic common market, on creating an Islamic civil society, on establishing an interparliamentary union of Islamic countries, and other positive ideas. More important, what must have been real music to Arab ears was Khamenei's candid and emphatic assurance that "Iran poses no threat to any Islamic country."38 What was equally pleasant for the Arabs to note was "the code of conduct" embodied in the Tehran Vision Statement, including the principles of respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and national independence of states, rejection of the use, and the threat, of force or interference in internal affairs, inviolability of internationally recognized borders and resolution of disputes through dialogue and negotiations, and cooperation for combating terrorism.39 The Eighth Summit was designated by the conference as the "session of dignity, dialogue, participation." President Khatami was unanimously elected chairman of the Eighth Session for the next three years in keeping with the OIC tradition. Host country leaders are usually elected as chairmen; King Hassan II chaired the first and the fourth summits held in Rabat in 1969 and in Casablanca in 1984, respectively, and the emir of Kuwait hosted and chaired the fifth summit in Kuwait in 1987. Yasser Arafat was elected a vice chairman of the conference to serve with President Khatami.
Probably the most important aspect of the summit was the unprecedented opportunity it afforded both Arabs and Iranians to hold bilateral talks on the sidelines. In the wake of President Khatami's inauguration in August 1997, Iran had taken the initiative to begin to create an atmosphere of trust among the GCC states by sending statesmanlike Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on a tour of visits to Arab capitals, a move that Arabs considered to have been quite "constructive." Against this background and amid the optimistic momentum that the conference itself was engendering, President Khatami, Ayatollah Khamenei, and the influential former president and current chairman of the Expediency Council, Hashemi Rafsanjani, participated separately and in varying degrees in discussions with the leaders and high-ranking officials of Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and others.40
TOWARDS AN INTEGRATED AMERICAN POLICY?
In light of the foregoing discussion, it is possible to suggest that the opportunity for devising an integrated policy for the entire Middle East region may have finally arrived.41 This would be a policy that views problems, conflicts and solutions of the whole region as interrelated, rather than compartmentalized into Arab-Israeli and Persian Gulf zones or sub-regions. The policy would acknowledge their interconnectedness instead of insisting on delinking them by playing an exclusionary/inclusionary power game among regional states, whether the United States is concerned with regional peace and security, as in the Arab-Israeli peace process, or regional economic development, as in the case of the MENA summit. Five sets of unprecedented developments would seem to call for an integrated U.S. policy in the Middle East.
First, it is likely that the emerging rapprochement between Iran and the GCC states will continue, despite obvious difficulties. The potential spoiler seems to be the dispute between Iran and UAE over the ownership of Abu Musa and the two Tunbs. In addressing the OIC summit, UAE Foreign Minister Rashid Abdullah did not mince words about his country's claim of ownership of these islands and called on Iran to settle the dispute by peaceful means, “either by accepting to enter into negotiations... or by referring the case to the International Court of Justice.”42 Immediately after the OIC summit President Khatami said he was ready to meet with the UAE president, Shaykh Zayid al-Nahayan, who reportedly welcomed the idea, but the report was denied. He reiterated emphatically that the islands "belonged" to the UAE, a position which was endorsed by the GCC summit in December 1997.
As early as 1972, I warned that "although the Arab unrest over the Iranian [military] action seemed to be subsiding by the middle of December 1971, the crisis remains a potential source of extremely comprehensive Arab-Iranian tension."43 At the time Arabs registered their complaints against the shah's Iran with the U.N. Security Council and discussed the problem passionately in an emergency meeting of the Arab League, but then the dispute went into apparent remission until 1992, when it emerged into the open.
Yet both Iran and the UAE have shown considerable damage-control skills, and Iran has not allowed the dispute to impede improving relations with all other GCC states. The same GCC Final Statement that endorsed the UAE position took serious note of "the Iranian Government's intention to open a new page in its relations with the GCC member states...."44 and hoped for "positive and practical developments." The most positive development took place in Saudi Arabia's relations with Iran. The day after the summit, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faysal had said that the "huge participation" in it reflected "the respect for the Iranian people and for the role of Iran, and the great hope in Iran. We believe that this will further improve bilateral relations between Riyadh and Tehran and will lead to more cooperation and joint coordination."45 That belief began to be vindicated by an extraordinary visit of Hashemi Rafsanjani to Saudi Arabia February 21- March 6 1998 and the subsequent invitation of Saud al-Faysal to President Khatami to visit Saudi Arabia. During his visit, Rafsanjani met with King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdallah, addressed the Saudi Consultative Assembly,46 talked to numerous Saudis, including businessmen, politicians, university professors and others, toured the country extensively, and made a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Rafsanjani and the Saudi leadership found common ground on a variety of issues of mutual interest: the Iraq crisis, security in the Persian Gulf, the Arab Israeli peace process, the conflict in Afghanistan, and bilateral ties. They created a joint cooperation commission; Iran exempted Saudi citizens from its visa requirements; and the two sides showed interest in Iran's contributing a work force to address Saudi needs and in engaging in private-sector cooperation. The region's two leading oil-producing countries shared an urgent common interest in arresting an oil-price plunge. By March 17, 1998, oil prices dipped below $13 a barrel, the lowest price in a decade. Iran and Saudi Arabia chafed over Venezuela's violation of its production quota set by OPEC the previous November. The subsequent decision by Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Mexico to cut back production had probably been endorsed by Rafsanjani in advance of the decision; Iran joined the cutback immediately after it was announced.
Although Rafsanjani reiterated that the three islands dispute should be resolved through bilateral negotiations, Tehran and Riyadh shared an interest in peaceful settlement of the dispute. They also shared an interest in preserving Iraq's territorial integrity despite the continued rule of President Saddam Hussein, an option that seemed to be a lesser evil than the disintegration of the country. Given Bahrain's strained relations with Iran, Rafsanjani paid an unscheduled visit to Manama while in Saudi Arabia. The primary goal of the visit must have been to allay the age-old Bahraini suspicion that Iran was aiding subversive attempts by Shia dissidents in Bahrain. As a step toward confidence-building, it had been decided as early as November 1997 to raise the diplomatic relations between the two countries to the ambassadorial level for the first time in nearly twenty years.47
Second, the emerging thaw in Iran's long-frozen relations with the United States calls. for an integrated American policy in the Middle East. Following President Khatami's constructive initiative and the Clinton administration's positive response, Iran-U.S. relations have just begun to improve, although slowly. President Khatami told the world on December 14, 1997, "I, first of all, pay my respect to the great people and nation of America"48 and on January 7, 1998, proposed to Americans the idea of an "exchange of professors, writers, scholars, artists, journalists and tourists." In his greetings on the occasion of Id al-Fitr, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, President Clinton called Iran "an important country with a rich and ancient cultural heritage of which Iranians are justifiably proud." He added, "We have real differences with some Iranian policies, but I believe these are not insurmountable."49 No less important, he welcomed, in effect, President Khatami's proposal of cultural exchange by concluding, "I hope that we have more exchanges between our two peoples and that the day will soon come when we can enjoy again good relations with Iran."50 Given the opposition of hardline factions in Iran to normalization of relations between the two countries, the day of good relations is unlikely to arrive soon. Cultural exchanges are already taking place, however, and the American flag is no longer being burned; in fact it has been raised in Iran for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Far from being isolated, the Islamic Republic is emerging as a leader of the Muslim world51 and returning to the European fold, as evidenced by the resumption of European Union's ministerial contacts with Tehran. Perhaps most important, the Clinton administration should begin to reconceive the U.S. national interest in Iran, given the Administration's own commitment to the enlargement of the world's roster of democracies as one of the top U.S. foreign policy priorities. In other words, Iran is no longer important merely from a strategic standpoint - because of its energy resources, geographic and demographic prominence in the Persian Gulf, and its emerging commercial value to the GCC states as a bridge connecting Transcaucasia and Central Asia to the Persian Gulf- but also because the Khatami administration is firmly committed to building a new Iran based on the rule of law, civil society and, eventually, a democratic polity.
A third factor is the sign of a glimmer of hope in the Iraq crisis more than seven years after Desert Storm. Except for Kuwait, no other Arab state or society has been willing to join a U.S.-led coalition against Iraq. Whatever the reason for Arab reluctance, it is unlikely that anything like the Arab coalition during Desert Storm can be created in the future, short of an unambiguous and imminent Iraqi military threat to the security and independence of a GCC state. Hence, the policy of containing Iraq will become toothless. No matter how hard Washington might try to rationalize a legal basis for a unilateral air strike against Iraq, even with British support, it would have to weigh such a course of action against the consequences of a worldwide backlash and eventually a greater harm to our national interest. Furthermore, humanitarian aid to the people of Iraq by non-governmental organizations, which is already under way, could over time undermine the effectiveness of the sanctions.
A positive scenario, of course, would make the containment policy pointless. Assuming that U.N. inspectors are no longer obstructed in the performance of their functions and the U.N. sanctions against Iraq are completely lifted, the very idea of destroying the Iraqi regime would most probably meet international disapprobation regardless of the nonbinding resolution adopted by Congress calling for the trial and conviction of President Saddam Hussein in absentia. Even when Iraq defied the U.N. Security Council, China, France and Russia did not find it in their interest to authorize military action. It remains to be seen whether these states would actually act more cooperatively with the United States should Iraq breach its agreement with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.
A fourth factor calling for an integrated U.S. Middle East policy is this: all Gulf leaders and peoples believe that the resolution of the problem of security in their region is inextricably linked to the settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Contrary to the encouraging Arab-Iranian rapprochement in the Persian Gulf, the Arab-Israeli, particularly the Palestinian Israeli, settlement is so far mired in a protracted stalemate. As soon as the news of the Clinton administration's proposed 13.1-percent Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank was leaked to the media, Israel defiantly warned the United States against making its proposal public. Despite all efforts by the Clinton administration, by the end of May 1998 there were no visible prospects of a real breakthrough in the stalled peace process. To be sure, the polls in Israel showed a majority of Israeli Jews favoring the 13-percent U.S. compromise. No less important, 75 percent of Israeli adults said they want the peace process continued on the basis of the 1993 Oslo agreements. Yet as long as the Labor party leadership is incapable of transforming the Israeli popular will for peace into a seizure of political power, the Likud hardliners and their ultra-orthodox religious allies could probably dominate the political scene, and the de facto state of no peace and no war could continue. Ironically, while the power of the Israeli extremists is on the rise, the opposite is true in Iran. Tehran's position on the peace process moved closer to the mainstream Arab position at the OIC summit meeting. Even more significant, President Khatami assured Yasser Arafat in a letter that Iran would respect any Middle East solution that the Palestinians accepted. According to The New York Times of March 21, 1998, President Clinton is said to have been "very impressed" by this letter.
Fifth, and finally, the collapse of the Soviet Union has destroyed the Cold War Northern Tier cordon sanitaire (John Foster Dulles's brainchild) just as surely as the Berlin Wall. The Greater Middle East has reemerged, its fraternal bonds of religion, culture, language and ethnicity uniting the peoples of the Caucasus and Central Asia with the peoples of the Middle East after seven decades of Soviet repression. The pilgrims from these areas are flocking to the holy sites in Saudi Arabia and the Shia shrines in Iran and Iraq. And oil and gas pipelines and highways, planned or under construction, have begun to crisscross the proverbial Silk Road for access to world markets. Yet the festering Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the unstable peace in Tajikistan threaten to spill over into the neighboring countries in the south.
Regional and extra regional purveyors of power, influence and wealth are penetrating rich sites of oil and gas reserves. Governments and private companies have begun to tum the Caspian Basin into a Hobbesian hotbed of rivalries and intrigues undermining the prospects for regional cooperation, despite groupings like the expanded Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) for development. As the world's sole superpower, the United States has already projected power into this volatile region without clear ideas about its long-term goals. This is one more reason why it needs an integrated strategy for the Greater Middle East. Such a rational and coherent American policy would aim at eliminating weapons of mass destruction, preventing the threat or use of force, eradicating terrorism, settling disputes justly and peacefully, expanding MENA to include all regional players -including Iran, and ultimately Iraq - eventually devolving security responsibilities primarily, though not exclusively, to regional powers,52 transferring technology and capital for economic development, encouraging European participation in all these processes, and, above all, recognizing the indivisibility of peace and security in the entire region as a sine qua non.
1 President Clinton characterized Iran's threat in these terms in his report to Congress on developments concerning his Executive Order 12959 of May 6, 1995. The text of the president's report was released by the White House in September 1995. On behalf of some 70 scholars on the Middle East, I was requested to write to President Clinton on June 1, 1995, expressing deep concern about the potential threat of his May 6 Executive Order to academic activities. On behalf of the president, the Department of the Treasury assured us that the sanctions against Iran "will continue to allow the free flow of ideas between the United States and Iran through travel, scholarly exchange, and dissemination of publications." For the full text and names and affiliations of endorsers, see Middle East Insight, May-June, 1995, pp. 4-5, and for the responses of the Treasury Department, see Middle East Insight, November-December, 1995, p.4.
2 This sentence was quoted by Daniel Pipes as reported in "Mullah's zealotry spreads to America's heart" by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Washington, D.C. (n.p.and n.d.).
3 The analysis in this section is based primarily on the author's "Khumayni's Islam in Iran's Foreign Policy" in Adeed Dawisha (ed.), Islam in Foreign Policy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp.9-32; Revolutionary Iran: Challenge and Response in the Middle East (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986; paperback, 1988); "Iran's Revolution and the Persian Gulf," Current History, January 1985, pp.5-8,40-41; and The Gulf Cooperation Council: Record and Analysis (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998).
4 The analysis in this section is based primarily on the author's "Iran's Foreign Policy: Both North and South," The Middle East Journal, Summer 1992, vol. 46, No. 3, pp.393-412; "Iran's Foreign Policy: Contending Orientations" in R.K. Ramazani (ed.), Iran's Revolution: The Search for Consensus (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990) pp.48-68.
5 See "The Shifting Premise of Iran's Foreign Policy: Towards A Democratic Peace?'' The Middle East Journal, Spring 1998, Vol. S2, No.2.
6 Most scholars agree that democracies arc at peace with each other (dyadic version), while many proponents of the theory suggest that democratic states arc less prone to use force even if the regime type of their enemies is nondemocratic (the monadic variant). The theoretical literature on the subject is considerable; for outstanding sources see, for example: Michael Doyle, "Kant: Liberal Legacies and Foreign Affairs" Parts l and 2 in Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 12, No.3, Summer 1983, pp. 205-235 and No. 4, Fall 1983, pp. 323-353 respectively; and Steve Chan, "In Search of Democratic Peace: Problems and Promise," Mershon International Studies Review, Vol. 41, Supplement 1, May 1997, pp.59-91.
7 On this occasion President Clinton received the first "Man of the Peace Award" founded by the family of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. For the text of the president's remarks, see Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, November 21, 1997.
8 See David D. Newsom, "The Gulf and the Peace Process; Rightly Linked," Christian Science Monitor, December 10, 1997.
9 Quoted in Ibid.
10 Quoted in The New York Times, February 21, 1998.
11 For my criticism of Kissinger's delinking tactics, see Beyond The Arab-Israeli Settlement: New Directions for U.S. Policy In The Middle East (Cambridge: Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, 1977).
12 Quoted in The New York Times, March 1, 1998.
13 See Ibid., February 15, 1998.
14 See Hamilton's article in the Outlook section of The Washington Post, February 22, 1998.
15 Quoted in The New York Times, February 19, 1998.
16 For the text see Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, Remarks at the fourth Annual Middle East North Africa Economic Conference, Doha, Qatar, November 16, 1997, as released by the Office of the Spokesman, U.S. Department of State, November 16, 1997.
17 For the text see BBC Summary of Broadcasts, November 19, 1997.
18 The New York Times, February 9, 1998.
19 The Washington Post, February 18, 1998.
20 See FBIS-NES-97-336, December 2, 1997.
21 The Washington Post, February 23, 1998, The New York Times, March 22, 1998.
22 The New York Times, February 10, 1998.
23 Ibid., February 11, 1998.
24 Ibid, February 16, 1998.
25 On this Third World "community of hurt," see the prize-winning article by Jahan Ramazani, ''The Wound of History: Walcott's Omeros and the Postcolonial Poetics of Affliction," PMLA, May 1997, pp. 405-417, wherein Yeats has been quoted.
26 For a broad review of Iran's role in the OIC from the first to the eighth summit, see Seyyed Hadi Borhani, Sazeman-e Konfarance-Eslami, Iran va Ejlas-e Tehran, Ettela'at Siyasi-Eqtesadi (Political & Economic Ettelaat), October-November 1997, pp. 122-133. For information in English, see Noor Ahmad Baba, Organization of Islamic Conference: Theory and Practice of Pan-Islamic Cooperation (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Private Limited, 1994). For the most up-to-date collection of articles, reports, and book reviews with respect to the Organization of Islamic Conference, in Persian, see the special issue of Majaleh-ye Siyasat-e Khareji (The Journal of Foreign Policy), Vol. XI, Fall 1997. ·
27 See FBIS-NES-91-238, December 11, 1991, p.14.
28 See FBIS-NES-91-240, December 13, 1991, pp.12-14.
29 See Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations, "Statement by H.E. Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Chairman of the Eighth Session of the Islamic Conference." p.2.
30 Ibid., p.7.
31 For the text, see the Saudi Gazette, December 9, 1997.
35 Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations, Tehran Vision Statement, December 11, 1997.
36 For the text of the Tehran Declaration see, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Summary of World Broadcasts, Part 4, The Middle East, December 14, 1997.
37 Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations, Final Communique of the Eighth Session of the Islamic Summit Conference, 9-11 December 1997.
38 For Khamenei's inaugural address at the summit, see Ettelaat (in Persian), December 10, 1997, pp.2-3.
39 See note 35 above.
40 Iranian leaders also talked to Yasser Arafat, who claimed in a subsequent interview in Tehran that Secretary Albright had intimated that he should not attend the Tehran summit, but that he had decided to do so. See the text of his interview in Ettelaat (New York) (in Persian), December 16, 1997, p.9.
41 By saying the opportunity "may have finally arrived," it is my intention to call attention to the view that the opportunity first arrived after the Arabs imposed an oil embargo in 1973 as a means of pressuring the United States to get Israel to withdraw from the lands it had occupied in the 1967 war. In 1977, therefore, I suggested for the first time that the American goals of security of Israel and the security of Gulf oil supplies became intertwined as a result of the 1973 war and the oil embargo, and, hence, the United States needed an integrated policy for the entire region. See note 11 above.
42 For the text, see The Emiratu Daily Bulletin, No. 28197, December 11, 1997.
43 See Rouhollah K. Ramazani, The Persian Gulf: Iran’s Role (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992), p.62.
44 For the text of the Final Statement of the 18th Gulf Cooperation Council, see FBIS-NES, December 22, 1997.
45 See FBIS-NES-97-346, December 12, 1997.
46 In addressing the Saudi Consultative Assembly, Rafsanjani said his visit hid given him the insight to "the great leaps of progress attained in the holy land of revelation...." See FBIS-NES-98-054, February 23, 1998.
47 See FBIS-NES-97-327, November 23, 1997.
48 See his news conference as reported in FBIS-NES, Daily Report. December 14, 1997.
49 See The Washington Post, January 30, 1998.
51 It is interesting to note that in stating Iran's opposition to military action against Iraq, President Khatami spoke as the Chairman of the OIC.
52 As early as 1979, in the wake of the Iranian Revolution, J suggested the need for trying to maintain the Gulf security by means of cooperation among the littoral states and the interested Western powers. See R.K. Ramazani, "Security in the Persian Gulf," Foreign Affair,, Spring 1979, pp.821-835. Subsequent to the Iraq-Iran War and the Persian Gulf War, I suggested that the U.N. Security Council Resolution S98 of 1988 should be used to include the littoral powers in any future security arrangement in cooperation with the Security Council. For details, see R..K. Ramazani, Future Security in the Persian Gulf: America 's Role, Special Report from Middle East Insight, Policy Review, Number 2, 1991.