It has often been mentioned that the Chinese characters for “crisis” is a combination of the characters for “danger” and for “opportunity”. Thus it is today for the Iran Crisis. The dangers are evident and have been around for a while. The Persian Gulf region has long been one of the flashpoints for conflict in the Middle East. The strategic significance of the region has been magnified by the region’s oil resources.
The current armed conflict in Yemen continues with few signs of negotiations in good faith to bring the fighting to an end. U.S. and British warships have moved toward the Strait of Hormuz, a possible closure of which could lead to major disruptions to commerce, especially oil. An effort to close the Strait of Hormuz could have military consequences and even a threat of closure would result in heightened military insecurity. There are few signs of a lessening of military threats, and the situation could slip out of the control of the governments involved.
Nevertheless, there are two positive signs, and non-governmental efforts may help in exploring subject areas where governmental negotiations are possible.
Both signs of hope may require that we in the non-governmental world stop being just spectators of the drama and ask to become actors as well and add lines to the script promoting negotiations in good faith.
The first sign of hope comes from Moscow. On 23 July 2019, the Russian Government’s “Collective Security for the Persian Gulf Region” was presented in Moscow by the Deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov. Bagdanov stated that,
“The main principles are incrementalism, multilateralism, and strict observation of international law, primarily the U.N. Charter and Security Council resolution. The looming strategic challenge outlined is creating among all states in the region on an equal basis” a need for a collective security institution.
The Russian proposal for Collective Security for the Persian Gulf follows closely the procedures which led to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and the creation of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Bogdanov stressed multilateralism as a mechanism for all involved in the assessment of situations, the decision-making process, and the implementation of decisions.
The second sign of hope comes from the decision within the G7 meeting which ended on 26 August 2019 to mandate the President of France to see what negotiations were possible to continue the Iran Nuclear Accord. This G7 agreement opens a door, at least a bit, to renewed negotiations between the U.S.A. and Iran. The first step may be to stop beating the war drums. A second step will be to see what issues other than the Nuclear Accord can be discussed as the provisions of the Nuclear Accord are not really open to re-negotiation given the time it took to reach the original agreement and the number of States involved. The French president’s office has described the talks on the sidelines of the G7 summit with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as “positive” and said that discussions which will include Germany and Britain will continue.
President Trump at the same G7 summit said that he would agree to meet Iranian President Hassan Rohani “if the circumstances were correct or right.”
It is probably around the Russian proposal of a Helsinki-type regional security conference that non-governmental organizations, such as the Association of World Citizens, can play an active role. NGOs were active during the nearly three years that the Helsinki Accord was being negotiated. After a short start in Helsinki, the negotiations moved to Geneva. Although NGO representatives had no direct avenue into the discussions, all the key States in the negotiations had Diplomatic Missions to the U.N. in Geneva. We often knew diplomats at these Missions from our work in U.N. meetings, so ideas could be passed on to the Helsinki Final Act negotiators. It is still too early to know how the Russian proposal will be acted upon. However, the Russian proposal is a positive sign. We need to see what issues can be negotiated. The dangers are real. We must make the most of the opportunities.