Iran should learn lessons of Korean peace talks
A few months ago, peace on the Korean Peninsula was unthinkable, with many experts, scholars and policy-makers projecting that any diplomatic rapprochement between North Korea and South Korea was idealistic.
But the political landscape appears to have altered drastically in a short period of time. Now it is not an overstatement to argue that the recent political breakthrough between the two old rivals could be recorded among the world’s most significant historic events.
This is an instructive moment for Iran, which enjoys a friendly relationship with North Korea, to draw several comparative and critical conclusions from Pyongyang’s moves; lessons that could steer the Middle East drastically toward a positive path.
By making a political analogy and developing an analytical strategy, four lessons become apparent should the Islamic Republic genuinely want to promote peace.
If Iran makes peace with its neighbors and the Gulf states, as well as scales back its nuclear ambitions, it would be respected as a rational and instructive regional power by the Arab world and the international community as a whole
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
The first lesson is to de-escalate regional conflicts and tensions. In order to accomplish such an objective, Iran needs to make peace with its neighbors and other countries in the region by taking several steps. Tehran should give heed to other nations’ security concerns and people’s fear, which emanates from its foreign policy, behavior, expansionist policies, military adventurism, and threatening and incendiary rhetoric.
It follows that Iran should assure other countries in the region that it will cease its interference in their domestic affairs. For example, in Bahrain, Tehran must put aside its sectarian agenda of pitting the Sunnis against the Shiites. Media outlets that are controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, such as Fars News, ought not to spread sectarian messages in order to divide and provoke the Bahraini people against each other.
Iran can take steps to improve its relationships with Saudi Arabia and Yemen if it puts an end to its military adventurism and support for the Houthis, including delivering weapons to the militia in violation of a UN resolution, and training as well as financially and politically assisting the Houthis. With respect to Kuwait, encroaching on its sovereignty, such as with the establishment of a “terror and spying cell,” has become a source of major tension between the two nations, which used to enjoy a friendly relationship.
Tehran can also promote peace by pulling its IRGC and Quds Force from other countries, specifically Iraq and Syria, and stopping its sponsorship of militias, proxies and terrorist groups. Infiltrating and dominating the Iraqi and Syrian security and political establishments, and creating Shiite militias and incorporating them into these states’ political apparatuses — such as the Popular Mobilization Forces —are strategies detrimental to peace and stability in the region.
The second lesson that the Islamic Republic can draw from the Korean peace talks is to curtail its nuclear ambitions by totally shutting down its controversial nuclear sites and taking robust steps to demonstrate denuclearization. Iranian leaders should be cognizant of the fact that their clandestine nuclear sites and activities are a major cause of tension, insecurity and instability in the region. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he would additionally “invite experts of South Korea and the US, as well as journalists, to disclose the process to the international community with transparency,” according to Seoul’s presidential spokesman Yoon Young-chan. Tehran could take similar steps to build trust, promote transparency and avoid triggering a nuclear arms race in the region.
The third lesson for the Islamic Republic is anchored in the fact that making peace with other countries in the region is not a complex process. As we are witnessing in the case of North Korea, it just requires a political will. In the last few days, the world has observed how swiftly the regional and international dynamic can potentially shift toward a better world once Pyongyang demonstrated the political will to do so.
The fourth lesson is that the benefits of pursuing such measures are numerous for Iran and the region. If Iran makes peace with its neighbors and the Gulf states, as well as scales back its nuclear ambitions, it would be respected as a rational and instructive regional power by the Arab world and the international community as a whole.
In addition, a move that promotes stability, security and peace in the region would help resolve Tehran’s economic crisis, which has become a major source of discontent, and improve the lives of its citizens. Resolving tensions with other nations will bring about more trade, business deals and investments for Iran. With its rich and deep-rooted culture, grand cultural vestiges and ancient civilization, Iran could once again become a major tourist destination. A booming tourism industry is a valuable source of income to revitalize the economy, create jobs, and address the ordinary people’s concerns.
To conclude, Iran can draw significant lessons from the latest developments on the Korean Peninsula. If Tehran truly curtails its nuclear ambitions, and makes peace with other nations in the region, it would lead to what could be a major historic event. It would drastically alter the balance of power in the region. It would also address Iran’s economic crisis, improve the living standard of Iranian citizens, and promote stability and security in the region.
More importantly, it will make the region and the rest of the world a safer, more secure and more peaceful place for everyone.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh