TEHRAN – Mehran Kamrava, a professor of the Middle East Studies in Georgetown University of Doha, says officials at Riyadh are uneasy as the sanctions against Iran are being removed under the nuclear deal that it clinched with major world powers in July 2015.
The agreement went into force on January 16. “Saudi Arabia is in a state of panic now that the sanctions are being lifted on Iran and U.S.-Iranian relations do not have the tensions of previous years,” Kamrava tells the Tehran Times in an exclusive interview. The Saudi kingdom, being angry of the nuclear deal, used the attack on its embassy in Tehran by some protestors who had been enraged by the Saudi decapitation of the pro-democracy cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, as a pretext to cut ties with Iran in early January. Saudi Arabia severed ties despite the fact that senior Iranian officials strongly condemned the move and so far dozens of people have been arrested for the attack. Pakistan, which enjoys close ties with Tehran and Riyadh, has taken steps to bridge the gap between the two countries. Kamrava says “Pakistan is well-positioned and has the most to gain from a reduction of tensions.” Following is the text of the interview:Q: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Iran on January 19 to mediate between Tehran and Riyadh. Why has Pakistan taken such a step and not Oman and Turkey? A: It is not so much that Pakistan has more “influence” than Oman or Turkey but it is more the case that Pakistan is positioned well, and in Turkey’s case has more of a desire, to see a decrease in tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Turkey’s Erdogan himself has sectarian tendencies and also on a few occasions he has sharply criticized Iran’s role in Syria. For Turkey right now, Iran’s continued isolation would be advantageous and so Erdogan has little desire to see a reduction in tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Both Oman and Kuwait would want to see a reduction of tensions, but as part of the (P)GCC both have to appear closer to Saudi Arabia than they may actually want to be. Therefore, Pakistan is well-positioned and has the most to gain from a reduction of tensions. As you know, a very high-level delegation recently traveled to Pakistan in order to put pressure on Islamabad to cut or at least degrade ties with Iran. But Iran is a strategically important neighbor for Pakistan and Pakistan does not want to do anything that might result in a deterioration of its relations with Iran. Also, Pakistan has a very large Shia population itself, and relatively good Shia-Sunni relations, and does not want to do something that would upset domestic political order or result in tensions within its own population. That is why Pakistan is taking an active role in trying to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia.