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Threatened, Isolated Iran Sends FM to Beirut

Iran, caught in a tornado of its own unpopularity, dispatched Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to Beruit last weekend to meet with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.  This, while Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon was in Damascus for the first time since his father's assassination in 2005 for ice-breaking talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Many view Hariri's Damascus visit as formal acquiescence to Syrian influence in Lebanese politics.  However, the trend in the broader international context offers a different narrative:  One that shows a concerted effort by the international community to isolate Iran and its hegemonic pursuits from the Middle Eastern dialogue (see November 18 post).

In recent weeks the King of Saudi Arabia, the President of France and the prime ministers of Turkey and Spain have all sat down with the Syrian President after years of publicly ostracizing Damascus.

Each visitor to Damascus brings its own encouragement: the prospect of substantial foreign investment from Saudi Arabia; open borders with Turkey; the signing of a long-delayed association agreement with the European Union.

US President Barack Obama says he wants to normalize relations with Syria and will name an ambassador to Damascus very soon. In July, the Obama administration took the first step, ending some of the sanctions it had imposed in 2003. The arrival of a new US ambassador is expected to help restart peace negotiations between Syria and Israel.

Said one western diplomat, “we want Syria to stop playing with the bad guys and start playing with the good guys.”

Iran wants to be perceived as the Middle East's chess master however global currents are pushing the Islamic Republic off the board.  In an effort to save face after months of protests at home in the wake of fraudulent elections, the death of beloved reformist Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, broken defense deals, and the most recent outmaneuver by Hariri in Damascus, the Islamic Republic is trying to frame the context of current events on its own terms.  

A few quotes by Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki during his Beirut visit...

Reacting to PM Hariri's visit to Damascus, Mottaki tries to frame the visit as an effort to build Arab consensus against Israel:

“The regional nations have realized today how to resist against the criminal acts of the Zionist regime and how to impose new humiliating defeats against that regime.”

Making nice with Saudi Arabia, a nation incensed with Iran over Hezbollah's support of Houthi insurgents in Yemen and southern Saudi, Mottaki offered the following words:

“The developments in Yemen are the internal concern of Sana'a, we should not interfere in internal affairs of other countries, the Islamic Republic of Iran fends for Yemen’s territorial integrity and national solidarity, believing that the emerged difficulties there can be solved resorting to negotiations.” 

And referring to the French foreign minister’s comments regarding Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities, Mottaki offered the following in typical passive aggressive fashion:

“The French should not echo the defeated remarks and policies of the British and the Americans during the past couple of years.”

He added, “They had better preserve the prestige of France and act independently.”

Tehran is scrambling and bumbling across the Middle East hoping to dissuade potential air strikes against its nuclear facilities and/or the likelihood of crippling sanctions.  The US has given the Iranian mullahs until the end of the year to capitulate on the nuclear issue.  When the last minute overtures and phony embraces to the Arab world have been exhausted and the dust settles under Tehran's crazy feet, the reality remains that no country in the Middle East wants a nuclear arms race, especially one pitting Arab v. Persian.  Of this the mullahs are fully aware.