Are Iran-Saudi Arabia Relations About To Improve?

BEIRUT — Iran's ambassador in Lebanon said he was confident the Islamic Republic would soon improve ties with longtime regional rival Saudi Arabia.

Speaking at a Beirut conference to mark the 35th anniversary of Iran's 1979 revolution, Ambassador Ghazanfar Roknabadi acknowledged that Iran's calls for better ties had yet to receive "echoes" from Riyadh, but "a positive response should not be long in coming, already there are changes," Lebanon's L'Orient le Jour reported.

Roknabadi said a slated visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to Riyadh could accelerate the warming of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The two countries have had frosty relations since the 1979 Islamic revolution and are bitterly divided over the fate of Syria, with Tehran supporting the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and Riyadh backing certain rebel forces.

Roknabadi said Iran did not seek to "impose anything either in Lebanon or Syria." But, he added, if peace is to be achieved, Saudi Arabia "has to stop arming the oppostion ... especially" the Salafists and "stop sending fighters" to Syria.

Asked if Iran would ever drop its support for President Assad or Lebanon's Hezbollah militia, the diplomat said "it is the United States that has a habit of dropping its allies, not the Islamic Republic. Where has it done this in 35 years?"

If Iran firmly backs Assad he said, it was because he was elected and "a great part of his people continues to back him ... Imagine Syria without ... Assad. In the present context it would be a catastrophe."

A day before Iranian deputy-foreign minister Amir Abdollahiansaid that Saudi Arabia had been slow to respond to Iran's overtures, but that Tehran maintained a "positive view" of ties with the kingdom. The conservative Fars news agency reported Abdollahian as telling the broadcaster al-Mayadeen that Iran also had good relations with the Hamas administration in Gaza, but that Hamas must "reconsider" its hostile position to the Assad regime in Syria.

-Ahmad Shayegan

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Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
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