Since the late 1970s, following the departure of the Shah, Iran has been involved in several conflicts beginning with the long war with Iraq that decimated the forces on both sides of the border and followed by covert activities in other regional domains.
These activities were seen as alarming by most GCC countries, and that alarm ramped up considerably once Iran began its foray into nuclear energy. The idea of nuclear weaponry in the hands of an uncertain neighbour was indeed alarming to countries that had seen enough wars and whose people were hungry for stability and peace.
That is why it is refreshing to see approaches from politicians from various countries working to bridge the divide and reach an understanding that will lead to long-lasting peace among neighbours. At the recent Davos summit in Switzerland, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud raised hopes of such a possibility by stating that his country was “trying to find a path to dialogue with Iran as the best way to resolve differences.”
Boost for Iran tourism
Elaborating further, he said that the priority and impetus by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states “on their economies and development was a strong signal to Iran and others in the region that there is a pathway beyond traditional arguments and disputes towards joint prosperity”. The foreign minister stated Iran is a part of the region and a neighbour and that Riyadh will keep extending its hand towards Tehran for cooperation. He added, “I think the more we can build a sense of cooperation in the region, the more we can work together, the more we can deliver not just prosperity for our people, but also for our immediate region and beyond.” In other words, all will come out winners once dialogue towards a meaningful and cordial relationship between the parties takes place with the goal of lasting peace.
Such a goal is just as much in the interests of the GCC nations as it is for Tehran. Iran has an old civilisation and history and would benefit economically from improved relations with its Gulf neighbours. Iran is a mountainous, arid, and ethnically diverse country that maintains a rich and distinctive cultural and social continuity dating back to the Achaemenian period, which began in 550 BCE.
Improved relations would open the gateway for a flood of tourists from GCC countries, ready to escape the summer heat to the cooler climes of the lofty mountain ranges surrounding the central desert plateau. Visitors would also take in the history and culture of their neighbours, bringing in much-needed foreign exchange to the country.
With fewer tensions, funds generally allocated to military spending can be diverted towards social welfare and economic progress. Saudi Arabia today is committed to such a goal, keeping in mind the welfare of its citizens, numbering more than 30 million. With Vision 2030 approaching not far away, it makes more sense to pursue peace and use hard-earned dollars on economic targets rather than spending it on bombs and bullets.
And it is a formula that will work well for all sides. There will be no losers if Iran, along with its GCC neighbours, dedicates itself to a road to mutual understanding and trust, forge improved diplomatic relations, and curtail the mistrust and suspicion of the past. On the other side of the equation, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian expressed hope during a recent visit to Lebanon that diplomatic ties between Tehran and Riyadh could be restored through dialogue. “We are ready to restore ties, and such a move would have positive repercussions on the entire region,” Amir-Abdollahian told a news conference in Beirut.
Key to prosperity for Tehran and the Gulf
Decades-long mistrust and suspicion can be overcome. Richard Nixon back in 1972 visited China, the first ever by a sitting US president and one that helped normalise relations and open borders. US President Ronald Regan flew into Moscow in 1988 for a summit that eventually settled the Cold War and defused global tensions. More recently, US President Donald Trump met the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2019 following the hostility and tensions arising from North Korea’s nuclear weapons arsenal.
Iran will gain a lot from improved relations, economically and politically. Sanctions that have stifled progress and growth will eventually fade once the belligerence ceases. The prosperity of Iran will not be just for its people. It will also translate to the region’s prosperity, including the goodwill and development of all its people. There is indeed hope.
— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena