Debating Oil: ‘The Arab spring was a revolt against the political structure of the region’

Published: February 10, 2016 - 15:56

Iranian Ambassador Gholamreza Ansari dissects the instability in the Middle East, lifting of the West-backed sanctions on Iran and how India can use this opportunity to its benefit


The problem in the region is Iran has got a long vision and a strategy and our opposition is living on a daily basis. This is the main problem. If you want to look at the future be sure that Iran has its own strategy for the region which believes that Iran will be the first country which will benefit from stability in the region. So we will fight till the end for the stability of the region.

If you look at what has happened in the last three decades, you will see Iran has a clear strategy for the region. Let’s go to the first event immediately after the revolution. Good neighbouring Arab countries supported Saddam Hussein, paid billions of dollars to attack Iran, to destroy Iran, to destroy the revolution, but remember the comments of the Iranian authorities on the first day of the attack. Saddam Hussein attacked Iran with more than 10 battalions and Iran did not have even one battalion, if you see the authorities of Iran then, they had a very clear vision about the future. The first words were, Saddam Hussein will be destroyed by his own allies.

What happened after eight years when Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait was that all Kuwaitis and even Saudis flew to London. And if you happened to pass by the embassies of these two countries they were full of royal family and other authorities of these two countries frightened of Saddam Hussein’s attack on Riyadh as well.

We were the first country to support the Kuwaitis, we were also the first country to come out and condemn Saddam Hussein. The Americans were not the first, neither were the Saudis. We condemned because we knew that it would lead to instability in the region.

What happened next? Look at Afghanistan. Who created the Taliban? In the initial days when Afghanistan was attacked by the Soviet Union, we condemned it for attacking Afghanistan and we paid a very heavy price for it. Just a night before the Russian aggression, Imam Khomeini received a special message from the Russians that if you say even one word against us you will pay for that. But as soon as they launched an attack, Imam Khomeini announced that the Soviet Union will lose, they will withdraw and we condemn it very strongly and we had to pay for that. Russian missiles were used from Baghdad to attack Tehran. That was the first time Saddam Hussein was using Russian missiles against Tehran and other cities in Iran. We paid heavily, but we stood by our position. Who created the Taliban to throw the Russians out? Who paid and organised them? Who recognised the Taliban regime first? We didn’t, rather, we said Taliban is an extremist group and we must condemn not only the aggression but also extremism.

Let’s look at what is happening now. We are in a new era in the region. Five plus one and Iran came to a conclusion to deal with each other and it was a great achievement not only for Iran but also for the region. We believe that Iran will be the first country which will benefit from stability. Immediately after Saddam Hussein’s aggression against Iran, our proposal was that the Persian Gulf needs a new security arrangement. And it was the fourth article of the resolution of 598. We said, let’s go for this article which is talking about the security of the Persian Gulf. Let all the countries in the Persian Gulf come together for a new arrangement for the security of the Persian Gulf. But who ignored this proposal and convinced others to ignore it as well?

We don’t believe that we should encourage any form of instability, whether through extremism or sectarianism. Look what is happening to the countries in the region. They are all destroyed. Five years ago, when some countries in the region were inviting the Americans to attack Syria as they did in Libya and promised to pay as well, imagine what would have happened if America was naïve enough to listen to these naïve suggestions and attack Syria? But after five years, the wise people have come to this conclusion that Bashar al-Assad must be part of the solution. Who is resisting this decision? The people, like I said earlier, who are living on a daily basis.

One of the biggest reasons for the failure of Americans in the region is that they have no clear vision of the future and about what is happening in the region. Now we need billions of dollars to bring back the region to what it was 10 years ago. In Syria you need hundreds of billions of dollars to take it back to what it was five years ago. Look at Iraq, at Yemen. A man, a head of a tribe, 90 years ago, had advised his son that you should run this country forever. So we all must listen to him and the West says these are our allies even when they don’t believe in freedom, they don’t believe in elections, they don’t believe in life, they don’t believe in anything. Their policies are a failure. You are a new government, a new system, a new man in office, and just after a few weeks you attack your neighbour. Is this wisdom? Is this a strategy? Or is it what you call a tactic? And at the same time you try to bring down the oil price in your own ways and now you have a large deficit. You are also putting pressure on 15% of the population of your own country who are located in the most important part of your country. And yet you say Iran is advocating sectarianism. Is it wise? And the world should listen to them because they are American allies.

The Arab Spring was not about Shias or Sunnis. It was a revolt against the political structure of the region. In some countries it was successful but in other countries because oil money was used to contain revolt, it was not successful. But can you stop socio-economic development of a region by paying money? On one side you bring the prices of oil to $30, who will feed the princes? There are 15,000 princes and if you believe some rumours there are 25,000. If they sit in their houses how can you feed them with oil money of $25 a barrel? It is impossible. And also at the same time when you are attacking your neighbour and fighting with people who are for the stability in the region, it is not wise. For everything, from Iraq to Afghanistan, they are blaming Iran. How far can you go with this blame game?

Twelve years ago we began our negotiations with the Americans on the nuclear issue. Go and read our words 12 years ago. Twenty years ago, when I was charge d’affaires in London, I was asked about my stand on the nuclear issue. My response was, as far as the science of it is concerned we will go to the end and not accept any sort of restrictions. Now it’s 2016. The deal was done in 2013 and finalised a few days ago. From day one we are not looking for an atomic bomb. Now they claim that it was a great victory for them that they convinced Iran in not going for a nuclear bomb.

Five plus one is a great achievement for humanity. Let us look at the region in a new way. It shows that one can solve such a complicated problem in such a tense area through diplomacy. The issue is that some countries have their own internal problems. They want to keep their old political structures intact because their father 90 years ago had said that his son should run the country. It is not possible.

I don’t think Shia and Sunni is the main problem in the region. What is going on in Libya where there are no Shias? The hostility between Ikhwanis and the Wahabis is much more than the animosity between Wahabism and Shias. Wahabism is the root of the destruction of the Ottoman Empire. It is the root of failure of Islam in the region. And still they want to keep their political structure as it is. I was astonished a few days ago when I read in an interview of an eminent figure from our neighbouring country where he said that Nimr was a member of Al-Qaeda. Can you imagine an educated man giving such an interview? Ayatollah in itself means against Al Qaeda, whether you like it or not. Fundamentally, an Ayatollah is against Takfiri ideology. The problem is that some ruling powers in our region think that the public is so naïve that they can open their mouth and say anything they wish, because they have money.

 Iran and India should concentrate on the consequence of the five plus one and Iran deal. It is a completely new era. India cannot avoid getting involved in a place where they have the maximum interests. India should take a stand. If you have got interests in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, the Sea of Oman, you cannot remain silent on what’s going on. You cannot wait and see because those people have oil money so they can do everything that they wish. All countries should have a clear vision on what is going on in Syria. All people who have any sort of stakes or interest in the Middle East, they must have a say on Yemen. They must have a say on Bahrain. They must have a say on all such issues. You cannot remain silent and say that it is their own problem. The world is very connected. You cannot live in this world without a strategy.

Following the nuclear deal, Iran has been mainstreamed in international affairs and India should appreciate that to bet on Iran is the right thing. In the past, India often advised patience on important projects. In the changed circumstances in the West Asian region, India cannot follow the policy of patient waiting anymore. 

In my three years here as Ambassador of Iran, I have often been advised to be patient on big India-Iran projects. Does India want to wait for centuries before capturing the
right opportunities?

I feel private companies in India are keen to move ahead in the Chabahar port project but the government has not shown the same level of enthusiasm in the past.

Shias are 20-25%  of the population of the Muslims in the world. Ninety percent of them are located between India and the Mediterranean Sea. More than 60% of this population is located in the Middle East. More than 80% of this population is located in the most sensitive areas of the Middle East. They are sitting on oil wells. Saudi Arabia, if you leave the two Shia-dominated provinces, means nothing. Iraq, if you take out the Southern region of it, means nothing in the oil business and the energy business. This is the same for other countries in the region. A regime that wants to ignore the rights of this minority is doing very wrong things. All we need in our region is an inclusive political structure.  

(Text of his speech at the Hardnews Seminar.)

Iranian Ambassador Gholamreza Ansari dissects the instability in the Middle East, lifting of the West-backed sanctions on Iran and how India can use this opportunity to its benefit

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