The importance of diplomacy and regional consensus on Iran

UNGA has been a chance for regional partners to bolster an important diplomatic strategy for the Middle East

UAE Minister of State Khalifa Al Marar speaks during the UN General Assembly. Bloomberg
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Formed in the aftermath of the global catastrophe that was the Second World War, the UN exists to empower diplomacy over division. Our times, with Covid-19, climate change and rising geopolitical tensions with uncertain alliances, make this mission all the more pressing.

And for the Middle East, which sits in one of the most geopolitically significant and vulnerable parts of the globe, the success and integrity of the UN, particularly today, can be the difference between peace and conflict.

On Monday, UAE Minister of State Khalifa Al Marar revisited a difficult but important conversation when he called for Arab Gulf nations to play a bigger role in talks aimed at reviving a deal on Iran's nuclear programme. The previous deal, struck six years ago between Tehran and the West, had, according to Mr Al Marar, preventable “shortcomings”, a long-term consensus among many key regional allies.

“Reaching a common understanding with Iran, which addresses all regional and international concerns, remains a fundamental requirement and should start with de-escalation to achieve regional and international peace and stability,” Mr Al Marar said. The essence of what he is calling for is something that is all too often overlooked by those trying to solve the problem beyond the Middle East: input from the Arab world.

The absence of this regional perspective denies key players a chance to make important decisions concerning Iran's wider, more complex regional policy of sponsoring proxies, developing ballistic missiles and increasing use of asymmetric warfare; Tehran does not just exert destabilising pressure through its nuclear programme.

This year's UNGA has seen the region reiterate these concerns. On the same day as the UAE's statement, Yemen’s Foreign Minister, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, called on the international community to help end Houthi “bloodshed”. The group is a key Iranian proxy. Last Wednesday, Saudi Arabia's King Salman expressed his country's determination to keep nuclear weapons out of the Middle East, while welcoming all diplomatic efforts. Taken together, these moments, among many others, show the region is determined to form a collective response, based on diplomacy.

But the benefit of getting the Arab world involved is about more than just understanding threats. It would capitalise on a particularly promising moment for regional diplomacy. Earlier this year, the General Assembly elected the UAE to sit on its Security Council between 2022-2023. According to Article 24 of the UN Charter, all members of the organisation confer on the Security Council "primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security". The UAE, with its unique regional perspectives on Iran, is ready to accept this responsibility.

The Arab world is making a strong, diplomatic case for allies to rally around the region and push for peaceful solutions. Now, it is on the rest of the international community to respond and act.

Published: September 29, 2021, 3:00 AM