Confidence in Iran-US and Iran-Saudi talks


Jose de Venecia Jr.
Former Speaker of the House

Some international observers expressed fears that the election of Ebrahim Raisi, an ultraconservative judiciary chief, as president of Iran would usher in a period of uneasy relations between Iran and the United States.

Raisi, who succeeded the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, assumed the presidency at a crucial time, as Iran is currently involved in indirect negotiations with the US on the revival of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal.

We laud the ongoing Vienna talks as a diplomatic breakthrough and a necessary first step towards salvaging the nuclear deal, which imposes limits on Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for the lifting of sanctions against the Middle East country.

Lifting at least some of the sanctions against Iran would be critical as President Ebrahim Raisi faces a struggling economy, mounting unemployment, rising inflation, among others.

The flashpoint between America and Iran has been a mounting concern for the international community, especially following then US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the US in May, 2018 from the nuclear agreement.

The multinational nuclear dealwas reached between Iran and six world powers, the US, led by then President Barrack Obama, with US President Joe Biden as then vice president, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany. Except for Germany, the five signatories to the 2015 nuclear pact with Iran are permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The nuclear pact was a result of two years of intense, long drawn-out negotiations aimed at curbing Iran’s capability to develop nuclear weapons, in exchange for lifting the crippling economic sanctions imposed on the Persian Gulf country.

Succeeding events in the Persian Gulf since the US’ pull out from the nuclear deal have drawn Washington and Tehran closer to a direct military confrontation, which has become a continuing, ever-increasing anxiety in the Middle East and in the global community.

We know that the US-Iran engagement would not immediately put an end to the decades-long mistrust and hostility between the two countries, but it would at the very least be a major first step towards a settlement that hopefully would lead to a prolonged absence of constant tension and threat of war, and indeed towards peace, security and development in the Middle East, with both sides having muscular allies in the East-West divide.

We also welcome reports that “geopolitical archenemies” Iran and Saudi Arabia have recently begun direct talks, after many years of belligerent relations. The hostility between the two countries, which has largely contributed to instability in the Middle East, has also been a major concern in the tension-filled region and the international community.

Much earlier, we spoke of a distant hope that someday, somehow in God’s own chosen time, the most difficult but not impossible Shiite-Sunni dialogue may yet come to pass in our time.

As we much earlier advocated in our letters to Saudi Arabia’s then King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz and Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, it would be of great relief to our region and indeed the world, if the two leaders of Islam, Saudi Arabia, representing the Sunnis, and Iran, representing the Shiites, respectively, could perhaps meet in Mecca and Medina and bring about the beginnings of reconciliation and the end of violence in the lands of Islam, and head off decisively the expansion and internationalization of the extremist groups, ISIS-ISIL. We believe the initiative is most difficult but not impossible.

We remember when our esteemed friend, the late President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani of Iran visited Saudi Arabia in 2010 and enjoyed positive relations with then Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah.

The late President Rafsanjani had expressed hopes that Iran and Saudi Arabia would have a close political and religious relationship. He said that “if the two countries are harmonized on regional issues and the Islamic world, seditionists will not be able to induce differences between Muslims.”

The late King Abdullah was an early leader against religious extremism. No statesman realizes terrorism’s global threat more acutely than he did since his kingdom lies in the vortex of an imagined “clash of civilizations.”

The late King Abdullah initiated a series of “interfaith dialogues,” first, in the holy city of Mecca, then in the key western cities of Madrid, Geneva, and the Vatican, among others.

We had the privilege to speak in both the Madrid and Geneva dialogue, on the invitation of Saudi Arabia’s Rabitah, the Muslim World League.

Indeed, there can be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. And there can be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions.