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Conditions for Talks with Saudi Arabia

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TEHRAN, June 6 (ICANA) – In recent weeks, Saudi Arabian officials have expressed interest in inviting Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi to Riyadh for talks about recent developments in the Middle East and North Africa.
Monday, June 06, 2011 9:16:13 PM
Conditions for Talks with Saudi Arabia

But before the Foreign Ministry made a decision on the trip, some members of Iran’s parliament condemned the decision because of the Saudis’ involvement in the killing of innocent people in Yemen and Bahrain. The trips made by the former Iranian foreign minister and other diplomatic officials to Saudi Arabia over the past six years have also been criticized by a number of MPs, who say they did not have any clear plans for their meetings with Saudi officials.

However, this time, since recent developments have strengthened Iran’s position, Salehi’s proposed trip could help resolve the crisis in Bahrain and reduce the current tension between the two regional powers. This view is based on an analysis of developments in Bahrain over the past four months.

Saudi forces arrived in Bahrain on March 14, with the goal of quelling the popular revolution on the tiny island nation. This caused an unprecedented rise in tension in Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC).

When the crisis began, the Bahraini government was divided over how to deal with the popular uprising and had two plans. Bahrain’s prime minister wanted to call in the Saudis to help the government’s efforts to suppress the uprising, but the king and the crown prince wanted to hold negotiations with the protesters in order to reach a consensus. In the end, the prime minister’s plan was chosen.

After the Saudi forces were deployed in Bahrain, a three-month state of emergency was declared. But the political, social, and economic life of the country was paralyzed because of the military and security situation. Bahrain does not have so much oil and the country’s economy depends heavily on the financial activities of international monetary institutions and tourism, which have both been hit hard by the unrest.

Finally, the king of Bahrain decided to lift the state of emergency on June 1, two weeks ahead of schedule.

The Saudis have apparently occupied Bahrain based on an unwise decision made by the PGCC, whose officials believed they could use the action to launch a regional propaganda campaign against Iran. However, the Iranian foreign minister’s recent trip to PGCC member states Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman broke up the united front against Iran in the six-nation council.

The mainstream opposition in Bahrain is not calling for the complete overthrow of the Al Khalifa regime. Rather, their main demand is the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. And the crown prince of Bahrain and the opposition were on the verge of reaching such an agreement just before the Saudi invasion.

From the very beginning of the crisis, it was clear that there would be no military solution and the decision to invade Bahrain would only bring disgrace to Saudi officials. The failure of the Saudis’ projects in Yemen has also proven that they have taken the wrong diplomatic course of action and has seriously weakened Riyadh’s position.

Under such circumstances, a trip to Riyadh by the Iranian foreign minister could pave the way for the withdrawal of Saudi forces and the resumption of talks between the crown prince and the Bahraini opposition. In fact, it would be a great achievement for Iranian diplomacy and also for Bahrain’s popular movement. But this valuable opportunity would be lost if Iran’s political circles make an uncalculated decision to cancel the proposed trip. Thus, the Iranian Foreign Ministry should make every effort to convince skeptical MPs that such an important trip can bear fruit.

The king of Bahrain has said the national reconciliation negotiations will begin on the first day of July. If Saudi Arabia gives the green light to the Iranian foreign minister’s trip, it would mean that Riyadh had acknowledged that the effort to suppress Bahrain’s popular movement through military and political means has been a failure. Now that all sides involved in the crisis have come to the conclusion that the crisis can only be resolved through diplomacy, excluding Iran from the process makes no sense. (MNA)

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