Editor's Note: Rob Sobhani is the President of Caspian Energy Consulting, a group with interests in energy and infrastructure projects. He engages extensively with heads of state in the broader Middle East for work and wrote the book, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia: A Leader of Consequence. He holds a PhD from Georgetown University.
By Rob Sobhani - Special to CNN
The announcement by the Department of Justice that the Iranian regime had attempted to assassinate Saudi Ambassador to the United States Adel Al-Jubeir should not come as a surprise. Irrespective of whether “reformers” or “hard-liners” are running the theocracy in Iran, the foreign policy goals of the regime since its inception have remained the same: pursue weapons of mass destruction for regional domination; create an Islamic Republic inside countries like Bahrain; drive the United States out of the Persian Gulf and broader Middle East; continue to support terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah; work with its allies in the region to eliminate Israel; sabotage any attempt by Washington to establish formal diplomatic relations; sabotage any resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and use every means possible to overthrow the monarchy of Saudi Arabia.
Iran’s foreign policy goals are diametrically opposed to Saudi King Abdullah’s primary objective: maintaining an arc of stability in the region. While Tehran supports chaos in places like Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Iraq and Bahrain, Riyadh is trying its best to bring stability to these countries. For example, while Tehran funds Hamas to create instability on the ground in the Gaza Strip, King Abdullah invites Palestinians from all factions to Mecca for peace talks. This desire for peace and normalcy also drives Saudi oil policy. King Abdullah views Saudi Arabia’s role as the world’s largest oil exporter as important to global economic growth and has refused to use oil as a weapon. On the other hand, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sees oil as a weapon to be used to harm the United States and its Western allies.
These divergent foreign policy goals are why the Middle East is watching a new Cold War unfold between Riyadh and Tehran. The outcome of this conflict should be a top priority of Washington. The U.S. must craft a regional response to Tehran’s bold and reckless adventurism lest it allow the clerics in Iran gain the upper hand.
After consulting with its Persian Gulf allies, U.S. policy towards Iran should consist of five simultaneous pillars. First, President Obama should appoint an Iran Czar to coordinate the overall goals of his approach to Iran. Second, should the regime in Tehran wish to talk with the U.S., diplomacy should always be on the table as an option. Third, impose targeted economic sanctions such as freezing the enormous assets of the regime’s leaders hidden in Swiss, Canadian and Asian banks. Fourth, while Washington should keep a close eye on the progress of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, our public diplomacy should refocus on the violation of human rights in Iran.
Finally, serious consideration should also be given to the wishes of the Iranian people. The people of Iran hold the key to not only America's long-term strategic interests in the Middle East but also to normal ties with Saudi Arabia. Continuing demonstrations in Iran’s major cities since the contested elections in June of 2009 suggests that the people of Iran do indeed want a change of regime. As the gulf between the Iranian people and the regime widens, Washington and its allies in the region should focus on making this divide permanent. Indeed, the national security interests of the United States coincide with the wishes of the Iranian people.
The attempt to assassinate Adel Al-Jubeir is a painful reminder of what the late Ayatollah Khomeini said over thirty years ago after he encouraged the taking of American diplomats hostage: “America cannot do a damn thing.” Together, Washington and Riyadh should show Tehran that they will stand up to this regime.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Rob Sobhani.