A series of meetings around the world this week seems to herald the beginning of a new phase of cooperation between formerly sworn foes.
Unfortunately, none of these took place in Beirut, where competing factions have engaged in months of unsuccessful negotiations aimed at forming a new cabinet. Although rivals in Lebanon appeared unwilling to budge from their positions this week, two long-time foes, Iran and the United States, seemingly made unprecedented headway. Washington’s chief negotiator William Burns on Thursday engaged in a one-on-one dialogue with his Iranian counterpart, Saeed Jalili, on the sidelines of talks in Geneva between Iran and six world powers. The meeting was the highest-level bilateral contact between the United States and Iran in over 30 years.
That breakthrough followed another unprecedented meeting in Washington a day earlier. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who was granted rare permission to travel to the American capital on Wednesday, met during his visit with two ranking US congressmen on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency. Moreover, Mottaki also announced on Thursday that his nation was willing to engage in even higher-level talks with the US and other world powers than those which took place in Geneva this week.
The apparent thaw between the Iranians and their American adversaries coincides with Syria’s gradual return to the international fold. Saudi King Abdullah is reportedly planning to visit Damascus within the next 15 days as part of ongoing efforts to repair the rifts that have emerged between Riyadh and Damascus over the last few years. The Syrians have been making similar progress in restoring bilateral relations with both the US and France, with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem visiting Paris this week while Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad was meeting with ranking officials in Washington.
In the midst of all of this rapid diplomatic movement, rival Lebanese parties have largely stood still. Leading members of Lebanon’s opposition have recently remarked, however, that the current atmosphere is ripe for an agreement. Could this be a reference to the swift developments involving Iran and Syria? If so, their remarks belie any claims of independence.
There is, however, some truth to the argument that the increased contacts between Iran, Syria and their former foes could augur well for Lebanon. But these developments could just as easily end with a devastating impact on this country if rapprochement efforts suddenly collapse. And that’s all the more reason for the Lebanese to get their house in order without delay.
The article first appeared in the Daily Star