Monday, 2 December 2013

MIDDLE-EAST: A New Era of Global Diplomacy?

The Geneva deal between the P5+1 and Iran on the latter’s nuclear program highlights two entertaining subplots, as the prospect of game-changing diplomatic breakthroughs often does. Indeed, the Geneva deal shows revealing parallels with the Bosnian peace talks of two decades ago.

The first subplot is that earlier is often better. In the Balkans, the Vance-Owen peace plan sought to end the war in Bosnia almost two and a half years before the Dayton Agreement was finally signed in 1995. In terms of both practical territorial control and political influence, the earlier plan was a much better deal for the Bosniak-dominated government in Sarajevo than the agreement eventually reached in Dayton.

In the current interim deal with Iran, there is a similar precedent in the form of the deal brokered in 2010 by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, then president of Brazil, with Turkey and Iran. Under that plan, all Iranian nuclear enrichment processes would have taken place not in Iran but in Turkey. The United States did not respond favorably to that outside intervention in one of its core diplomatic problems. The Americans reacted by telling the Brazilians and the Turks to get back to the nursery where they belonged.

The second subplot is that major global shifts make the contours of real positions and alliances much clearer than in times of diplomatic torpor and failure.

In the Balkans in the 1990s, it was instructive to observe the two parties that held out longest against the Vance-Owen peace plan. The most intransigent party was the Bosnian Serbs under their leader Radovan Karadžić, who is now on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Slobodan Milošević, the Serbian dictator, exerted enormous pressure on Karadžić to accept the peace deal. His ultimate refusal to do so led to an irrevocable split between the two Serbs, which Karadžić would live to regret.

The other party that held out against the peace plan was the United States, in particular its then secretary of state, Warren Christopher. He complained that the territorial division proposed in the plan was unfair to the Bosniaks—although it was fairer than the split offered two years later by U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke.

That was a striking and rather ugly alliance: the Americans and the Bosnian Serbs holding out against a deal backed by all European powers, Croatia, Serbia, the Bosnian Croats, and even the Bosnian government itself. The United States ultimately relented, but by then the moment to force Karadžić’s hand had passed. The war would continue, and by far the worst atrocities, notably the Srebrenica massacre of 1995, were still to come.

Today’s diplomatic efforts, in form of Geneva deal,  have exposed a powerful alliance of critical voices on Middle East policy. That alliance consists of the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and a bipartisan grouping of U.S. members of congress.

But opponent of the Geneva deal are not willing to spell out in detail an alternative to the Geneva interim agreement, which freezes part of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for decreased economic sanctions. Instead, they restrict themselves to sound bites like “historic mistake” or to throwing their toys out of the UN pram. The reason for that stance is that any alternative plan would almost certainly commit the United States and its allies to a logic of armed intervention in Iran.

But even though the bloc, opposing the Geneva deal, is  a small demographic, it is mightily powerful. U.S. President Barack Obama now faces the fight of his life to get congressional approval for the process launched in Geneva.

That brings me to the P5+1. This bloc represents not just the United States, but also the entire European Union, thanks to the remarkable diplomatic ability of Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief. It also includes Russia and China.

This bloc is at odds over many long-term strategic issues. Its members are riddled with suspicions about one another’s intentions and policies. But Iran’s nuclear program is the one area of global policy that unites them all. No member of this bloc can afford a conflagration in the Middle East. With the region disintegrating into chaos and bloodshed, it is absolutely critical that the great power dogs wag their tails in unison.

Indeed the November 24 deal offers new diplomatic perspectives in the Middle-East region. Now Iran is moving to improve relations with Saudi Arabia and end a conflict with the United Arab Emirates over islands in the Persian Gulf after signing an agreement last month to end a deadlock over its nuclear program.

“We look at Saudi Arabia as a very important and influential country in the region,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters today in Kuwait City. Zarif, who reiterated plans to visit Saudi Arabia without providing a date, said Iran hopes for a “new page” in relations with the Gulf region.

This move is intended to placate Iran's relations with its neighbours. If Iran managed to do that with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates( which is unlikely), then Israel, disappointed with the United States and the P5+1 bloc, will be isolated-therefore inclined to openly a diplomatic stance against Iran.

The Geneva deal offers a window of opportunity for both ''blocs'' to try at least the language of diplomacy. If it succeeded, then we will be entering a new era of global diplomacy in the Middle East, with Iran as worthy partner in the region.

Obama may have a fight on his hands to see this process through. But if he wins, he will not only secure his legacy as a great president and a true champion of diplomacy, he will also start the difficult process of cleaning up his immediate predecessor’s mess.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
World Affairs Analyst

Photo-Credit: AFP-Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif