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Opinion and Editorial

Of secret diplomacy

Filed on November 9, 2014

Barack Obama apparently eyes the bigger picture as he talks of reconciliation with Iran.

The United States president, if reports are to be believed, has sent a secret letter that many in the diplomatic circles term as an SOS to the Iranian leadership, urging upon it to work in close coordination to exterminate the ISIS threat from the region. The letter, fourth of its kind since Obama assumed office in 2008, in principle seems to be an attempt to persuade Tehran to reach an agreement on its nuclear programme before the November 24 deadline. The uranium enrichment talks in Geneva and Vienna had assumed immense importance as both the rivals, the US and Iran, rubbed shoulders for umpteenth times and broadened the scope of discussion from diplomatic intrigues to socio-economic issues. That renewed understanding between them, despite serious geopolitical differences, as to how they view realpolitik had led to expectations of a thaw in their otherwise estranged relations. That is why the letter addressed to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenei will long be remembered for the response it elicits.

The other side of this proactive diplomacy has raised many eyebrows, and America’s Arab allies are justified in questioning the wisdom behind the move. Given to understand that all the Arab states are working in coordination with Washington to fight the ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria, the extra leap forward towards the Iranians is likely to breed discontent. The argument from the White House that Tehran is an indispensable partner when it comes to fighting Al Qaeda and the like, and now the ISIS in the Middle East, is valid to a great extent and its success story is found in Afghanistan. Similarly, the way Tehran had bucked up Baghdad’s security forces the moment the ISIS started pouring inside Iraq after being pushed out of Syria had helped thwart the deadly militia’s march towards the south. Moreover, the Iranians even in the midst of nuclear talks had time and again hinted at working with the West and the Arab states to repel the ISIS, which is eventually a direct security threat to the status quo of the region. Thus extending a friendly hand towards the Iranians has its own merits. But the Americans are duty-bound to take the Arab allies into confidence and assure them that their geo-economic and strategic interests won’t be threatened, and the newfound thaw with Iran would be a bonanza or sorts.

Tehran too, on its part, has to walk an extra mile to address the grievances of many of the Arab states and come up with an irritant-free approach. Obama’s outreach will be all the more successful if it not only leads to a permanent nuclear deal but also brokers rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The undercurrents of such a thaw will be of universal importance.

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