Voices from the Arab press: Did Mideast NATO bring Iran to negotiate?

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

 IRAN’S DEPUTY Foreign Minister and Chief Nuclear Negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani meets with Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Enrique Mora, in Tehran, in May.  (photo credit: Iran’s Foreign Ministry/WANA)
IRAN’S DEPUTY Foreign Minister and Chief Nuclear Negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani meets with Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Enrique Mora, in Tehran, in May.
(photo credit: Iran’s Foreign Ministry/WANA)

Has Middle East NATO brought Tehran back to the negotiating table?

An-Nahar, Lebanon, July 1

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The indirect Doha talks between Iran and the United States, dedicated to resolving the outstanding issues between the two countries and reviving the 2015 nuclear agreement, haven’t led to any major developments. This is despite the fact that US President Joe Biden dispatched his special aide, Robert Malley, who was the lead negotiator on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, to the talks.

However, thorny issues related to the terms and conditions between the two countries remained unresolved, specifically around the guarantees requested by Iran regarding the lifting of sanctions. This time, Malley, who has long been accused by conservatives in the US of promoting former president Barack Obama’s placatory stance toward the mullahs, came across as firmer and harsher than ever before, according to several sources who took part in the negotiations.

Meanwhile, G7 leaders met in Germany to discuss the war in Ukraine and the economic challenges facing the major industrialized countries. At the conclusion of the summit, the leaders issued a final statement denouncing Iran’s continued destabilization of the Middle East and pledged to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon. The statement also demanded that Iran cease its ballistic missile tests and threats imposed upon the security of the Gulf.

However, there is something new that the Iranians are beginning to notice: signs of the establishment of a new regional alliance consisting of Arab countries and Israel, under an American umbrella. This reality worries the Iranians, at a time when the drums of war with Israel are beating. Although Israel is immersed in political turmoil these days, Iran remains a strategic priority that isn’t affected by the change in government.

 RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow, on Monday. (credit: Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin/Reuters) RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow, on Monday. (credit: Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin/Reuters)

The Iranian file is existential and the preparation for the day of confrontation with Iran – be it with the “head of the octopus” or with its “tentacles,” as Israeli experts like to say – will continue until the day when there is no longer any escape from the confrontation. In this context, it can be said that Tehran is fearfully watching the emergence of a Middle Eastern NATO, which is slowly but surely becoming a reality.

One of the motives for Tehran’s return to the negotiations table with Washington may very well be a genuine fear of this Arab-Israeli alliance. The major developments in relations between Israel and most of the central Arab countries are of grave concern to the mullahs, who are facing growing isolation. Is the balance of regional power beginning to change? Are we witnessing the redrawing of regional boundaries in a way that will force Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions? What about the fate of Iran’s aggressive expansionist policy and “tentacles” of the octopus that have spread across the region? –Ali Hamada

Our private and public health care systems: one and the same?

Al Qabas, Kuwait, July 2

By mere chance, I recently visited one of our country’s distinguished private hospitals. As I walked through the building’s hallways, I couldn’t help but be impressed with its elegance, cleanliness and impressive level of service. Everyone I interacted with – from the receptionist, through the nurses, to the physicians – was professional, courteous, and welcoming. I saw people from different nationalities and backgrounds, all of whom maintained an orderly environment.

Unfortunately, a few days later, I also had a chance to visit a public hospital. As I walked down the hallway, I passed an office that housed approximately eight nurses who sat around stacked desks with no room to move or breathe. They were all facing each other in an overcrowded and stuffy room. When I got to the examination room, I noticed that the curtains separating the beds from each other were in deplorable condition. The pillows on the bed were dirty. This neglect, despite Kuwait’s huge health budget, is telling of a real problem with our health system.

It is telling because Kuwaiti competencies in the field of medicine are among the highest in the world. In other words, the problem isn’t with the training or quality of our nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians, and doctors, but with how our public hospitals are managed.

A hospital shouldn’t have discarded pieces of old furniture thrown around its entrance doors. Our hospitals are built on the model of international hospitals and have the latest and most sophisticated medical devices and equipment. But these resources are completely ill-managed. They are often unkempt or entirely broken. Technical malfunctions are commonplace, leaving entire departments or divisions unable to perform critical work for days or weeks.

This is what distinguishes private hospitals – in which one will rarely find a broken chair, a worn pillow cover, an unclean curtain, a blanket with holes in it, or a dirty bathroom – from a public hospital, where these things are customary. It really saddens me to know that our huge health budget, our professional doctors and nurses, and the exceptional level of research and training in our universities are still not enough to make up for the mismanagement that plagues our health care system. –Iqbal Al-Ahmed

Give Bassant a chance to compete

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, July 3

Last week, I used this column to write to Nicole Shampaine, the chargé d’affaires of the US Embassy in Cairo and called upon her to intervene and grant entry visas to many Egyptian players scheduled to compete in the 2022 World Games held in Birmingham, Alabama. Many of the athletes, who had been previously denied US visas, subsequently heard back from the consulate and received the paperwork they dreamed of.

Today, I’m writing to Nicole again, with an even more specific plea: Please grant the Egyptian champion, Bassant Hemida, an entry visa that would allow her to compete in the 2022 World Athletics Championships taking place in Oregon, next week. Hemida is a remarkable woman, who shattered numerous glass ceilings throughout her short but impressive career. Last week, she won the gold medal in the women’s 100-meter sprint at the Mediterranean Games, which were held in the Algerian city of Oran. Few spectators expected her to win, and even fewer knew her name before her victory, but Hemida didn’t let her anonymity stand in the way of her ambition.

She became the first Egyptian athlete to ever win a gold medal in this competition, which is considered as prestigious as the Olympic games. Based on her performance to date, Hemida is eighth in the Olympic ranking, and the difference between her and number seven is only 50 milliseconds. Granted, 50 milliseconds is not a small number in the realm of running, but it certainly leaves room for Hemida to dream and try. But for that to happen, she must be given the opportunity to compete with her international colleagues.

Sadly, she can’t obtain a visa that would allow her to travel to Oregon. The International Association of Athletics Federations already tried to help, but to no avail. I’m therefore writing these lines with the hope that the chargé d’affaires will read them – and help give a talented young female athlete the opportunity to compete in the global arena. –Yasser Ayoub

The main cards in Putin’s hands

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, July 1

The Russian war on Ukraine occupied the main agenda of two different summits that took place last week: the G7 leaders meeting in Bavaria and the heads of NATO summit in Madrid. In the Bavarian Alps, G7 leaders attempted to speak in one voice to back Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and affirm their support for his country politically and militarily.

Important decisions were made: a significant increase in military aid and funding, providing long-range missiles to the Ukrainian forces and their continuous training on Western weapons. Meanwhile in Madrid, growing fears of Russia’s threat to European security pushed NATO to adopt a historic decision to open its doors to Sweden’s and Finland’s accession into the organization.

It is difficult for Russian President Vladimir Putin to mitigate the difficulties of the new geopolitical situation in which he finds himself. A quick glance at the map shows how Russia has become encircled by NATO members and has no friendly relationship with any of its neighbors except for Belarus. And the Russian president, who was complaining before the invasion of Ukraine that the West was “at his doorstep,” is now facing NATO stretched along 1,300 km. of his country’s border with Finland. Not only was the “doorstep” surrounded, but the entire western borders of Russia will now need constant protection – a situation that the leadership in Moscow didn’t even consider since the end of the Cold War.

In the wake of this situation, Putin can play many cards. For example, the card of military escalation in Ukraine in the form of seizing the largest amount of land in the Donbas region and beginning to include them, administratively and economically, in the Russian administrative and financial system. Alternatively, he may also play the card of economic escalation by placing enormous pressure on global energy and food production, which has already caused a rift among Western countries.

Then there is the political escalation card, in which Putin will try to exploit the positions of several Western countries (such as Hungary, France, and Germany), which seem more inclined to keep the possibility of negotiations with Moscow on the table, in order to search for a peaceful end to the Ukrainian war. Although Western leaders tried to show a coherent position at the G7 and NATO summits, many signs emerged indicating divergent views surrounding the war with Russia. The most effective card in Putin’s hands, however, is his constant intimidation of the West from the danger of slipping into a nuclear confrontation.

Keir Giles, an expert on Russia at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in London, says that Russia’s campaign of escalating threats against Western countries has an impact on the decisions of these countries and makes them reluctant to provide the most advanced weapons systems to Ukraine. Therefore, Putin feels that the weakness of his military capabilities in comparison with Western capabilities can be overcome by raising the level of Western concern about the consequences of nuclear escalation.

The repeated references made by Putin, Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev, and other Russian officials, regarding Russia’s possession of nuclear weapons and its ability to reach any European target, are not hidden. In addition, Western countries are facing the economic impacts of the war, which are now reflected in a rise in prices and growing inflation, putting popular pressure on Western governments ahead of upcoming elections.

The most important element in the Russian-Western equation remains the element of arms. This is a war that is not fought with words but with weapons. As long as Western countries are reluctant to provide Ukraine with weapons that would grant it a qualitative military edge and change the equation in favor of a Russian defeat, the war will continue to unfold in Moscow’s favor, and over time it will turn into a war of attrition for Europeans, Ukrainians and the world. –Elias Harfoush

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb