The relationship between the United States and Iran seems to be always simmering in a pool of historical malcontent. However, since the West started suspecting that Iran’s nuclear program had more to do with acquiring a bomb than producing energy, the temperature of this “diplomatic kitchen” has reached its boiling point.
The recent discovery of an Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, the assassination of several Iranian scientist involved in their country’s nuclear program, and the crash of a US drone in Iran tells us that desperation is taking over both sides. This week, the media is buzzing about how the US should deal with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime if an escalation of conflict came to happen.
The options discussed range from a US Congressional proposal to outlaw all diplomatic contact with Iran, to imposing additional sanctions to Iran’s Central Bank, to directly bombing Iranian nuclear facilities. Yet, few observers have spoken about using a multi-party diplomatic negotiation such as the one employed to pressure North Korea to stop its nuclear weapons program.
The main reason why this is overlooked is that there is no valid interlocutor between Iran and the West. Or is there? Iran is described as a pariah state with few friends outside its zone of influence, yet for the past decade Tehran has been working to get closer to a particular region in the West: Latin America.
Amongst Iran friends in that area, Venezuela stands out as a good candidate to be the interlocutor in case of heightened tension. Why? An article published in 2009 by FRIDE researchers Susanne Gratius and Henner Fürtig point out that these regimes share political traits: “Both countries sustain their foreign policies with huge natural resources and use an ideological, radical discourse to create South-South alliances in and outside their regions (…) On the domestic front, the regimes represent a national, state-based reformation project and a backwards-oriented revolution. The opposition to imperialism, neo-liberalism, and globalization from the position of third world “victimism” is the main element of political affinity between Iran and Venezuela.”
President Hugo Chávez and President Ahmadinejad have met more than 11 times in the past decade, and their governments have signed 182 agreements to improve cooperation in the energy, industry, military, manufacture, social and finance sectors, says a report by Venezuelan newspaper El Universal. In the foreign relations department, they have worked together to push their interests: Iran has backed Venezuelan position in the OPEC, while Venezuela has helped Iranians to fund its nuclear program with financial schemes that avoid the economic roadblocks imposed by the United States.
Now, despite sharing an anti-American sentiment and dreams of global influence, there is something that ties Venezuela to US interests: money. Around 80 percent of the Venezuelan government revenue comes from the country’s oil exports and out of the 3 million barrels of crude oil and refined petroleum products produced by Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) every day about 1.5 million go to the U.S. market. In his 13 years in power, Mr. Chavez has done everything he can to diversify his country’s oil clientele, but still 60 percent of PDVSA’s earnings come from “The Great Satan.”
Another factor that makes the Venezuelan government a perfect interlocutor is the fact that Mr. Chavez is always looking for an opportunity to shine in the international arena. He has offered his connections with terrorist groups and shady regimes to negotiate everything from the liberation of guerilla hostages in Colombia to the curtailing of combat in Libya. For all his tough talk about war and asymmetrical confrontation, Chavez is always portraying himself as a peace seeker inside his country. So, what better way to reinforce that idea than helping with the non-proliferation efforts of the West in a year where Venezuelans will have to choose a President?
International recognition and domestic economic and political stability are good reasons to convince Mr. Chavez to help the West stop the Iranians from acquiring nuclear capability. Will it work? Does Mr. Chavez have the diplomatic clout to convince Iran to not build a nuclear bomb? We cannot know for sure, but one thing is certain: the more people/countries get involved in a cause, the more likely it is to succeed. So why not go ahead and try it?
Written by Guest Writer Rebeca Fernandez. Rebeca Fernandez is a Venezuelan journalist who is passionate about Latin American politics and the World Economy. She has a Master in International Relations and lives in Detroit, USA.