Friday, 24 January 2014


Slowly, but surely, Douglas Carswell is getting there:

In Davos, Hassan Rouhani is mounting a formidable charm offensive. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reckons that "the 30-year US vendetta with Iran is over in all but name".

This prompts a wider question. Are we about to see a radical realignment of the West's relations in the Middle East?

Or, more specifically, are the United States – and possibly Britain – about to recalibrate their relationships with various regional players?

Since the 1930s, there has been one constant in US-Middle Eastern policy: a close alliance with Saudi Arabia. Relationships with other countries might have ebbed and flowed, but that alliance has remained strong.

I just wonder if things are about to change.

To some extent, international relations in the Middle East today are defined by a rivalry between two camps: one led by Saudi Arabia, the other by Iran.

In Syria, we can see the Iran-led and the Saudi-led blocks fighting what is – in effect – a proxy war.  It is significant that the West did not enter that conflict, de facto, on the side of the latter.

So where does the US stand in relation to this power play? Until recently, I would have said “certainly not with Iran”. But I just wonder if this will always be the case.

Imagine if – heaven forbid – Iran and Saudi were to come to blows. On which side would the United States, or Britain be?

Even a year ago, I would have thought the answer would be pretty obviously the Saudis. Today I am much less certain.

Which of the two states is more liberal? There’s a strong case that it is Iran, actually. Which is more democratic? …. not the Saudis, for sure. Iran, with a large, educated middle class, perhaps has more potential for reform.

The United States dependence on oil might in the past have helped cement her friendship with Saudi Arabia. Thanks to shale gas, the United States will soon be a net energy exporter.

If I was in London or Washington, looking for a regional player with whom I could deal, might I be tempted to take a second look at Iran?

Until 1979, Iran used to be a close ally of Britain and America. Might it be so again?

Of course, several issues would need to be addressed before there could be an chance of a rapprochement with Iran.

That thorny nuclear issue would need to be resolved. Iran would have to make it clear that she was no longer any kind of threat to Israel – and Israel would need to feel secure that Iran was not any kind of threat. 

Internally in Iran there would have to be some serious, irreversible progress towards liberal reform.

Perhaps all that makes any sort of realignment impossible. I am not so sure it is quite as impossible as it once seemed.

During the Cold War, the Iron Curtain seemed pretty solid …

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