In the sphere of relations between the West and the Middle East, the Islamic Republic of Iran's pursuit of nuclear capacity has always had an important position. The balance in the Middle East is extremely delicate, and both Western governments and international organizations have not always shown the sufficient capability to deal with such a complex and in many aspects still unpredictable system.
From an historical point of view, it can be argued that Western countries ever since have tried to spread their influence in Iran. There are two reasons that justify this enormous interest. Firstly, Iran has a remarkable geopolitical position. Iran is at the crossroads between Asia and the Middle East, it has access to the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf, and is protected by the Strait of Hormutz, whose strategic role is undisputed. Secondly, Western countries, such as the United States of America, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, have always shown a strong interest toward Iranian oil resources.
In the first chapter, a necessary historical background will be provided, in order to find out the roots of the lack of dialogue and to define the distance between the Islamic Republic and the rest of the world.
Although the Western interest is strong, it has often been in conflict with the Iranian perception of foreign presence. On one hand, Western countries have tried to establish their presence in Iran and across its borders, but on the other hand, Iran has shown a growing diffidence toward the Western approach. This diffidence became reciprocal, and is now made of strong mistrust. Longstanding issues and misunderstandings afflict reciprocal perceptions, and the cover of a positive path, although desirable, is not easy.
The second chapter aims at defining the geopolitical consequences of Iranian nuclear capacity, both from a domestic and a regional point of view.
As far as the consequences of these developments are concerned, the third and the fourth chapters will provide some possible scenarios.
It is commonly known that there are enormous interests at stake, and that the relationship between Iran and the rest of the world is based both on a flexible sequence of possible options and a rigid unavailability toward concessions. From a diplomatic point of view, the agents of the two sides have for a very long time demonstrated their ability to drag on the matter, avoiding serious openings that can represent a true intention to solve their problems. The situation is made more difficult by the action of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran perceives its position as weak and is very suspicious of foreign moves. However, no pressure can be exerted on Iran, without causing enormous imbalances in the hydrocarbons' world market and consequently perturbing practically all economies in the world.
The war in Iraq has shown a limit in Western approach toward the Middle East. Along with the difficult management of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situation in Lebanon, and the search for terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq has shown that the Western powers cannot control everything, at least, not in such a way. Iran, today, seems to be a country that cannot be challenged. It is, probably, the sole country in the Middle East that will not surrender to threats or sanctions. The starting point, this time, is a stalemate.
Two options are still on the table. The first one comes from a degeneration of the international situation and ends in a war. This is extremely dangerous both from a military and humanitarian point of view. In the third chapter this features will be broadened, and it will be shown how, in the end, none of the military options will prove to have a successful outcome for any player.
The second is far more difficult, and consists in a rapid and successful diplomatic opening that can lead to an effective negotiation. The fourth chapter goes beyond the rigid positions of the two sides, and analyzes their underlying interests, demonstrating how the negotiations so far have been unsuitable, and how a different negotiation scheme can be applied.
It seems that new balances are going to emerge, and that a new and different approach will be required.
Antonio Buttitta is a Conciliator at the Chamber of Commerce of Agrigento, Italy.