Ali Akbar Salehi (photo: Getty images)
Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has an op-ed
in today’s Washington Post in which he declares the Iranian regime on the side of freedom and reform in the Middle East, and ready to help . “During the past three decades, Iran has consistently underlined that it is the duty of all governments to respect their people’s demands,” writes the representative of a government that crushed pro-reform demonstrations in 2009, and is now aiding the Syrian regime in doing the same. “We have been in favor of change to meet people’s demands, whether in Syria or Egypt or anywhere else.”
Announcing “Iran’s readiness to host a meeting of countries committed to immediately implementing” steps to end the violence in Syria, Salehi declares “Iran’s support for political reform in Syria that will allow the Syrian people to decide their destiny. This includes ensuring that they have the right to participate in the upcoming free and fair presidential election under international supervision.”
Leaving aside Salehi’s efforts to kill satire dead, it’s important to understand Iran’s efforts to make itself useful in Syria in context of its larger effort to use participation in various international organizations and venues to ease its growing isolation over its nuclear program.
There’s the upcoming meeting of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in Mecca on August 14, which will bring Muslim leaders from around the world. Then there’s the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in Tehran on August 29-30, which Iranian lawmaker Abed Fattahi optimistically insisted “will symbolize the Islamic Republic’s strength and successful diplomacy in the international arena.” Iran has been promoting the NAM Summit heavily, making a special show of inviting new Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who has not announced whether he’ll attend.
Iran has also boosted its outreach considerably in Latin America, though with limited success, and attempted to ally with international efforts to control narcotics smuggling, even as evidence mounts that its own Revolutionary Guards Corps is deeply involved in the international narcotics trade.
None of this is to say that Iran can’t ever play a positive role in these issues, just that it’s important to see Iran’s increased diplomatic activism as a reaction to the tightening sanctions and increased isolation resulting from their failure to adequately address concerns over its nuclear work. The key question, of course, remains whether this pressure will change Iran’s cost-benefit calculus with regard to its nuclear program. But, at the very least, Iran’s own behavior here is an important rejoinder to those who claim that the Obama administration’s diplomatic engagement strategy has been a failure.