‘Ceasefire in Yemen actually owes a lot to the Iranian-Saudi dialogue’

Not all Arabs want to line up against Iran: Johns Hopkins University professor

July 19, 2022 - 21:13

TEHRAN - A professor of Johns Hopkins University says all Arab states don’t like to align against Iran as the U.S. wishes.

Vali Nasr made the remarks in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria after U.S. President Joe Biden made a visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia between July 13-16.

On the last day of his visit, Biden met with rulers of the six countries on the southern shores of the Persian Gulf plus the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Iraq in Jeddah.

“Not all the Arabs that the president (Biden) met are sold on the idea of lining up against Tehran,” Nasr said in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

For example, Nasr said, “Egyptians, Jordanians don't have an issue with Iran. Qataris and Omanis are working very hard to make JCPOA work, and even the president (Biden) himself was not willing to say that JCPOA is dead.”

Just prior to the visit of Biden to the region, the UAE announced that it wants to again promote its diplomatic ties with Tehran to the level of ambassador. Iran and Saudi Arabia have also been holding five rounds of talks mediated by Iraq.

“And the picture is much more complicated in the sense that UAE and Saudi Arabia are also talking to Iran. UAE is considering reopening its embassy and the Saudis have been in dialogue with Iran,” Nasr noted.

Biden and interim Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid talked to reporters in joint press conference on July 14. Lapid, like his predecessors, made unsubstantiated accusations against Iran for its nuclear program and tried to pressure Biden to make open military threats against Iran. He said, “Words will not stop them, Mr. President.  Diplomacy will not stop them.  The only thing that will stop Iran is knowing that the — if they continue to develop their nuclear program, the free world will use force.  The only way to stop them is to put a credible military threat on the table.”

Lapid added, “You have said many times, Mr. President, that big countries do not bluff.  I completely agree.  It should not be a bluff but the real thing.  The Iranian regime must know that if they continue to deceive the world, they will pay a heavy price.”

Biden also said, “Today, you and I also discussed America’s commitment to ensuring Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon.  This is a vital security interest to both Israel and the United States and, I would add, for the rest of the world as well.” Biden added, “I continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve this outcome.”

However, Professor Nasr said, “…this is not quite the cold war that the president and the Israeli prime minister try to portray in their joint press conference in Jerusalem, but yes, there is a serious Arab-Iranian issue that is still at play in the region.”

Confirming Nasr’s comments, Zakaria, a leading journalist and the host of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS, also said, “…as you say, when I've heard this from other sources in the Middle East, as well, the real -- the new story is that the Saudis are talking to the Iranians, I think largely through Iraq. The UAE is talking to Iran. There seems to be an effort to create some kind of new modus vivendi between Iran and Saudi Arabia and other (Persian) Gulf states to diffuse the tensions.”

Nasr also said, “That's indeed the case. I mean, the president tried to take credit in his speech in Saudi Arabia that there is now a ceasefire in Yemen. But that ceasefire actually owes a lot to the Iranian-Saudi dialogue that's been ongoing, and it's very clear that the Arabs want protection against Iran but they don't want the kind of aggressive policies that, for instance, Israel is following with Iran, that that could risk a war.

“I think they've made a decision that the United States is not going to go to war with Iran. The United States is focused on Ukraine and on China, and one of the ways of managing Iran is actually to lower the temperature with Iran.

“This does not mean that peace is in the air but the Saudis and UAE definitely are interested in a less aggressive posture with Iran, and that's very different from the way the Israelis are pushing for a much more aggressive position against Iran where the prime minister of Israel said we should put credible military options on the table against Iran. I don't think Saudi Arabia and the UAE are quite there.”

About the Biden trip to the region, Zakaria asked Nasr, “From your point of view, does it seem like the part of the trip that was intended to solidify a kind of Saudi Arabia, Israel, UAE axis that was pro-American and, you know, to a certain extent anti-Iranian. Is that dynamic working?”

Nasr answered, “It is not working the way in which United States and Israel would like to portray it as if that there is a very hard and fast, you know, fault line in the Middle East between Arabs and Iranians. I mean, first of all, Putin's visit to Tehran shows that there are other big powers in the region and the United States is not the only player and Russia has very deep relationships around oil and energy with UAE and with Saudi Arabia.”

Zakaria went on to ask that China buys much of its “oil from the Middle East but it has been busy cultivating relations with the same (Persian) Gulf states, as well, has it not?

Nasr answered, “It has. And it's also cultivating relations with Turkey and Iran, as well, and its relationship actually with the (Persian) Gulf state is of a nature that makes a tight American-Israeli relationship with these countries problematic. In other words, the Chinese are building the telecom infrastructure in UAE. They are embedded now in some military bases and military systems in UAE.

“And that makes it very difficult for the United States to sort of think of the Persian Gulf the way it used to be under Bush, Clinton, etc., of very sort of pristine American military technology territory.

“And so it's not just about Iran in this region, it's about how the United States actually makes sure that these Arab countries don't develop sort of porous borders with China and Russia when it comes to technology and military sets of issues.”

“Iran and Russia have had strong military ties”

Johns Hopkins University professor also said “Iran and Russia have had very strong military and intelligence relationship that goes back to Syria.”

He added, “… it's mostly in the intelligence and the military field than it does matter to regional balance of power.”

Zakaria also said, “Now, I am struck by one thing. It does suggest that despite all the sanctions, the Iranians are still able to manufacture something as, you know, reasonably sophisticated as high-quality drones.”

Nasr also said, “That's exactly the case.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Tehran on Tuesday for a conference on Syria. He met with Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The visit by the Russian leader took place three days after U.S. President visited Israel and Saudi Arabia.

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