Of all the items optimists are placing on their wish lists for newly-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, one stands out as among the least probable: reconciliation between his Shi’a republic and rival Sunni monarchies in the Gulf.
Shortly after his election, Rouhani said the Persian Gulf has “strategic significance” for Iran, as well as political and economic importance. “We are not only neighbors, we are brothers,” Rouhani said of Saudi Arabia. “We have had very close relations, culturally, historically and regionally.”
Yet although Saudi Arabia congratulated Rouhani on his election – a far cry from 2008, when King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz encouraged the United States to confront Iran in order to “to cut off the head of the snake” – relations between the two countries are worse than ever. Indeed, Rouhani’s statements ignore the fundamental changes that have occurred since the Arab uprisings began. Indeed, fourteen years since the historic day in 1999, when former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami became the second highest-ranking official to visit Saudi Arabia since the 1979 Islamic revolution, there is much that divides Iran and its two neighbors, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
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This op-ed first appeared on CNN’s Global Public Square blog on July 8, 2013.