Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Gulf Between Iran and the Arab World

I guess there's a reason Iran went all the way to the steppes of Russia to find friends--Iran's neighbors don't like what they see:

Former Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Turki al-Faisal, scolded Iran, saying that the predominantly Persian country had little to do with Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. "It's an Arab issue and should be resolved within the Arab fold," he said.

But the tough talk from Arabs did little to quell Mottaki, who at one point referred to the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council — which includes Saudi Arabia and the UAE but not Iran — as the Persian Gulf Council.

That offended Arab Gulf countries, which refer to the Persian Gulf as the Arabian Gulf and for whom the name carries great significance.

Despite the bitter words, both Mottaki and Larijani tried to reassure their Arab neighbors that Iran was not the problem and had good intentions.

Larijani, the brother of Iran's top nuclear negotiator, also urged Arab countries to support his country's nuclear program.

The U.S. and some of its allies have accused Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons; Iran says its program is peaceful.

But Mideast neighbors have grown worried, and some, including the GCC, Egypt and Jordan, have announced they want to start their own nuclear programs for peaceful purposes.

Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi was perhaps the most blunt.

"We say stop your interference in our internal affairs, stop settling scores on our soil ... and sit down with us to settle our differences," al-Hashemi said.

With a common Persian foe, the Iraqis will be able to rejoin the Arab world despite Arab worries about a Shia-run Iraq. Remember, Syria is a Sunni-majority state run by a Shia sect (the Alawites) and the Arab world has been fine with this. Recall too that Egypt used the Iran-Iraq War to get back into the Arab fold after making peace with Israel. A common Persian enemy reminds Arab states what is at stake.

The Strait of Hormuz may be narrow, but the gulf between Persian Iran and the Arab world remains very large indeed.

We remain key to stopping the Persians. And the Arab states know it. Do we?