Why Imran Khan didn’t make it

August 8, 2020 - 19:22

TEHRAN - In a bid to calm tensions in the region, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan made efforts to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but his efforts ended in deadlock due to the Saudis’ unwillingness to fundamentally solve disagreements with Iran, a former diplomat told the Tehran Times.

The Pakistani prime minister has recently said that he is still mediating between Iran and Saudi Arabia to deescalate tensions in the region. His efforts to defuse tensions between Tehran and Riyadh began in October 2019, when he paid visits to Iran and Saudi Arabia in a bid to find a common ground between the two countries.

Imran Khan paid a visit to Iran to defuse tensions in the region, according to a statement issued by Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry at the time.

“As part of his initiative to promote peace and security in the region, Prime Minister Imran Khan will be undertaking a visit to Iran on 13 October 2019,” the statement said.

This was the second high-level meeting between the Pakistani prime minister and Iranian officials, whose main goal was to deescalate long-simmering tensions between Riyadh and Tehran. Earlier in September, Imran Khan had met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the 74th UN General Assembly meeting in New York.

In an attempt to prevent what Imran Khan called war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Pakistani officials, including the prime minister, undertook shuttle diplomacy to defuse tensions after the September 14 missile and drone attacks on the Saudi oil processing facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais, which cut Saudi Arabia's oil production by about half. The Ansarollah movement in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attacks. However, the Saudis, along with their American and European allies, blamed Iran for the attacks. Iran firmly denied Saudi claims.

In a recent interview with al-Jazeera, Prime Minister Khan said the Pakistan mediation has thwarted war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, adding that military conflict between the two countries is the worst scenario for the region.

During his visit to Iran, the prime minister said at a joint press conference with Rouhani that Pakistan was working to prevent an armed conflict between Tehran and Riyadh.

“We don’t want a war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and we believe that the disagreements between them can be solved through dialogue,” he said at the time.

For his part, Rouhani welcomed the prime minister’s efforts to boost the security and stability in the region, saying that Iran will positively respond to any overture to hold dialogue.

However, Khan’s efforts failed to lead to dialogue between Iran and Saudi Arabia, because the Saudis weren’t serious in their pursuit of de-escalation with Iran, Amir Mousavi, a former Iranian diplomat told the Tehran Times.

“Messages have been exchanged between Iran and Saudi Arabia, especially after the Aramco attacks, which crippled the Saudi oil exports,” said Mousavi.

According to Mousavi, in the aftermath of the Aramco attacks, the Saudis felt that they are in a weak position and that they embraced a new approach toward Iran to temporarily reduce tensions because they have come under huge pressure from the Yemeni Ansarollah.

The former diplomat also said that in addition to Imran Khan, other regional leaders including Iraq’s former and current prime ministers as well as the emir of Kuwait have made efforts to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis’ unwillingness to comprehensively settle their disagreements with Iran led to the failure of all diplomatic overtures, including the ones by Prime Minister Khan.

In his interview with al-Jazeera, Khan said that his mediation efforts didn’t stop, and he is making progress in this regard.  Whether the Pakistani prime minister succeeds in his mediation efforts remains an open question. Some analysts believe that mediation efforts may fail because the U.S. and its allies are exploiting these efforts to portray Iran as a rogue state that rejects diplomacy and political solutions.

As the tensions soared between Iran and the U.S. over the past few years, many leaders around the world, including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahadi, and French President Emanuel Macron made efforts to deescalate the tensions by offering diplomatic overtures.  While Iran has appreciated the diplomatic overtures, the U.S. has been seeking to portray Iran as a country that isn’t responding to diplomacy with diplomacy.
U.S. President Donald Trump asked the Japanese prime minister to mediate between Tehran and Washington in June 2019 and even tasked him with delivering a message to Iran’s leadership. Abe paid a visit to Iran on June 12 and called for peace in the region. However, the Abe visit was overshadowed by a fresh round of U.S. sanctions on Iran’s petrochemicals, a move that destroyed any hope of diplomatic breakthrough between Iran and the U.S. Nearly five days before Abe began his visit to Tehran, the U.S. Treasury Department hit Iran’s Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company (PGPIC) with economic sanctions due to its alleged ties with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Apparently, the sanctions have been designed by certain elements within the Trump administration to destroy the Japanese prime minister’s mediation efforts, because Iran had already announced that it would never negotiate with the U.S. under sanctions' pressure.

Brian Hook, the former U.S. special representative for Iran and senior policy advisor to the secretary of state has claimed on many occasions that Iran should meet diplomacy with diplomacy.

In a telephone call from Muscat with reporters on June 24, Hook said, “I also made clear in bilateral talks, I conveyed our seriousness to negotiate a comprehensive deal with Iran when the time is right. We have kept our maximum pressure campaign firmly within the limits of diplomatic and economic pressure. Iran has repeatedly rejected diplomacy. It has responded to diplomatic overtures by Japanese Prime Minister Abe with violence and terror. It is time for Iran to meet diplomacy with diplomacy.”

Analysts and politicians agree that the White House is seeking submission and not dialogue with Iran. It is because of such a policy approach that mediation efforts by Pakistan and other friendly states have not produced dialogue between Tehran and Riyadh. 

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