A police vehicle drives past the Montreux Palace hotel where the Geneva II conference will take place in Montreux January 21, 2014. Syria peace talks were in disarray on Tuesday before they began, buffeted by a botched U.N. invitation to Iran, an explosion in Beirut and new evidence that appears to show Bashar al-Assadâ€™s government has tortured and killed thousands.
REUTERS/ Jamal Saidi
Iranâ€™s refusal to agree to terms that would grant it acceptance into the Geneva II summit is just the latest in a series of episodes that will determine Iranâ€™s place in the international community.
Since its Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has been an international outsider. Its pursuit of nuclear weapons is just the recent manifestation of that isolation. Yet it is perhaps that very status as an outsider that led the nation to pursue nuclear armament in the first place.
Iran is surrounded by war-torn Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan in the east, and hostile Sunni Gulf kingdoms in the west. In the Middle East, Israel and Iran have a mutually antagonistic relationship and thus the fact that Israel has a nuclear capability does not sit well with the leadership in Iran.
Nuclear weapons are, however, far more than a deterrent against Israel. They are a way for Iran to stay relevant around the world, and part of its wider goal of influencing world events outside its borders
Iranâ€™s efforts to enrich uranium and evade inspectors in the pursuit of WMD are well-documented, but mentioned less often are Iranâ€™s efforts to exercise influence in Lebanon with Hezbollah, or in the Occupied Territories with Hamas.
In a Middle East that is predominantly Sunni-Arab, Iran needs to find ways to remain relevant, and one way is by depicting its drive to obtain nuclear weapons as a way to match Israel. In reality, there are ways for Iran to obtain influence and power without turning to nuclear weapons.
In many ways, Iran resembles North Korea, another nation isolated by its pursuit of nuclear weapons. However, North Korea is a very poor nation, experiencing widespread food shortages and sacrificing its peopleâ€™s standard of living in favor of its vast military, only managing to stay relevant by firing off the occasional missile and hosting idiosyncratic American celebrities.
North Korea should not be the model that Iran wants to emulate. Iran must decide whether it wants to continue on its stubborn path to nuclear armament, or whether it wants to obtain power and influence through other means. Iran should look to nations like Qatar or Turkey as a model.
Turkeyâ€™s power and influence come largely through its economic power in the region. Like Iran, Turkey is seen as an outsider in the Arab world, but by developing its economic and political strength, the NATO member has gained traction in the region.
Qatarâ€™s ownership of Al Jazeera has brought it vastly disproportionate influence (compared with its size) across the Middle East, and by continuously brokering negotiations, Qatar has projected its power across every corner of the region.
Iran should not lose the opportunity to participate in the Syrian negotiations. It should accept the idea of a political transition, and should stop aiding the Assad regime. Not just for the sake of peace in Syria, but for Iran itself.
In the post-Cold War world, obtaining global power requires a nation to maintain at least cordial relations with the west. That requires turning away from North Koreaâ€™s path of nuclear armament, and following a less belligerent course. And that starts with Iran agreeing to the preconditions of Geneva II, and attending the peace summit.