Iranian Ambassador to Mexico Mohammad Taghi Hosseini is no great fan of the United States, nor, for that matter, Saudi Arabia.
And he didn’t take kindly to U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s tirades against his government during his state visit to Riyadh last May.
For Hosseini, the issue of U.S. meddling into the mounting tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran is only adding fuel to an already extremely combustible situation.
And now, with the brazen, Saudi-led, multinational economic embargo against Qatar, increased fighting in Yemen and the devastating war of no-return in Syria, the theocratic government in Iran is beginning to worry that the first signs of rapprochement between Tehran and Washington laid during the Barack Obama administration may soon collapse.
“Iran wants to settle its disputes with the United States through negotiations,” Hosseini told The News in a recent interview.
“And I firmly believe that it is possible for any kind of differences, depending on the situation, to be resolved if both parties are open and willing, and if there is mutual respect between all parties involved.”
But Hosseini said that rather than trying to advance bilateral understanding and work toward a mutually acceptable middle ground, Trump has antagonized Tehran with “incessant inflammatory statements against Iran” and a too-cushy cozying up to Riyadh.
While playing footsies with the Royal House of Saud the ambassador said, Trump is pushing the U.S. Congress to place sanctions on Iran.
“How can such acts of hostility lay the groundwork for negotiations to improve relations between Iran and the United States?” Hosseini asked rhetorically.
Hosseini also stressed the fact that Saudi Arabia, armed with U.S. weapons, has been terrorizing Yemen since 2015, leading to the deaths of some 7,000 people — mostly children — in a country of just 25 million.
But while he was quick to point the finger at Riyadh for its role in the war in Yemen, Hosseini was adamant about denying his own government’s intervention in the war-torn, 530,000 square-kilometer country at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula.
Despite clear evidence by international sources of all stripes that Iran has, for the last two years, been funding Yemen’s minority Houthis (or Zaydis, as they prefer to call themselves) against the country’s majority Sunnis, the ambassador stubbornly insisted that his government is in “no way” backing the rebel government against Sana’a.
“Iran has absolutely nothing to do with what is happening in Yemen,” he said.
“Saudi Arabia, in order to detract attention from its military failure in Yemen, has accused Iran of involvement in that conflict, but it is not true.”
Repudiating his government’s intervention in Syria, on the other hand, was not so easy for the Iranian envoy.
Rather than flat-out deny Tehran’s involvement in the now-six-and-a-half-year-old war that has led to nearly 500,000 civilian deaths and at least 11 million displaced persons, Hosseini danced around the subject, saying that, at this stage, the only solution for Syria is an internationally brokered peace that would incorporate the “interests of all parties” now operating in the country.
He was quick to add that Iran should be one of the key peace brokers, along with Russia and the United States. (He did not mention Saudi Arabia at this time.)
But asked how, given Syria’s current state of chaos under numerous political and military factions, it would be possible to bring so many diverse and splintered groups to the negotiating table, Hosseini was again evasive.
“Yes, that is a problem,” he admitted, “but somehow it has to be done. The Syrian problem doesn’t have a military solution, so we all have to work toward peace.”
But despite Hosseini’s claims that his government is only interested in regional stability and social justice for its neighbors, Iran’s territorial and political ambitions are plain, and could result in an even greater conflict in Syria if Tehran decides to go head-to-head against Washington and Riyadh.
Iran considers Syria and its despotic president, Bashar al-Assad, as allies.
As such, any groups working to undermine Assad are seen by Tehran as enemies, not only to Syria but to Iran as well.
For now, tensions with the United States and other Western nations have been put on the back burner as Tehran reluctantly works with a loose regional alliance to defeat the Islamic State.
But once the Islamic State group (I.S.) is curtailed in Syria, the four major external players — the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran — will start bumping heads again over a perceived territorial manifest destiny.
The countries in the region are already taking sides in the Middle East war of ideologies, as evidenced in the case of Qatar, which is a predominantly Sunni nation but which has close economic ties with predominantly Shi’ite Iran (which is why Saudi Arabia has put it in the political doghouse).
Iran is determined to cut out what it considers to be its fair share of the Middle East territorial pie, and as long as Washington and Riyadh are in bed with one another, that is going to be prickly.
To achieve its ideological and political goals, Tehran is simply going to have to swallow its pride and make nice with the West.
That will entail doing a lot more than just agreeing to put an end to its nuclear ambitions.
Iran will have to admit its role in Yemen and Syria and stop playing the blame game with Saudi Arabia.
Granted, President Trump has antagonized the relationship with Iran with his verbal assaults against the theocratic regime, but at this point, Tehran is going to have to move past offensive rhetoric and escalated hostilities in order to get the most powerful nation on Earth in its corner.
Otherwise, the battle of ideologies between Saudi Arabia and Iran is going to be easily won by Riyadh.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]