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Russia-Iran strategic ties keep US guessing

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | March 26, 2017

For a variety of reasons, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to Moscow on March 26-27 will attract attention in world capitals. The scheduling of the visit when there is less than eight weeks left for Iran’s presidential election on May 19 where he is hoping to secure a second term, makes a very important point. To be sure, there is much visible mix-up in the conservative camp in Iran, while the reformist-moderate forces have rallied behind Rouhani. Iranian elections are notoriously unpredictable, but Russia seems to expect continuity in Iranian policies for another 4-year period.

Most European and Middle Eastern capitals will share this perception, and, arguably, even the Donald Trump administration cannot be unaware of it. Nonetheless, a ‘bipartisan’ group in the US senate announced a new bill on Thursday that would impose tighter sanctions against Iran’s ballistic missile program. But then, the announcement comes just before Sunday’s start of the annual conference in Washington of the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, and thereby hangs a tale.

The Trump administration’s tough talk on Iran notwithstanding, Tehran remains committed to the 2015 nuclear deal. The litmus test will be whether Washington holds up its end of the bargain as regards the lifting of nuclear–related sanctions. So far, the Trump administration has done nothing to unilaterally tear up the nuclear deal – and, Iran too has been careful not to give cause to complaint regarding failure on its part in implementing the deal.

On the other hand, the European Union has maintained support for the Iran nuclear deal. At a recent Track II held in Beirut, former Iranian diplomat and a close associate of Rouhani, Seyed Hossein Mousavian gave his prognosis on the US’ options: “They would let the deal go on, but they would try to undo practically the Iranian nuclear deal through many other sanctions under … the umbrella of terrorism, missiles, human rights and regional issues.”

The net result of such new sanctions would be to deprive Iran from the economic benefits of the nuclear deal. However, the US can only create conditions where Iran is unable to optimally reap economic benefits out of the nuclear deal, but not to ‘isolate’ Iran from the world community. This is where Rouhani’s trip to Moscow serves a big purpose for Tehran. Russia is an irreplaceable partner for Tehran today. The reports from Tehran suggest that Rouhani is carrying a substantial economic agenda for discussions in Moscow.

Having said that, for both Russia and Iran, their cooperation is of strategic importance and is hugely consequential on the ground in regional and international politics, especially on the Syrian frontlines. That is why sustained attempts by the West, GCC states and Israel to exploit any daylight in the Russian-Iranian relationship failed to make headway. Writing for the influential Fox News, Frederick Kagan at the American Enterprises Institute – neither a friend of Iran nor of Russia – in an opinion piece titled Pitting Russia against Iran in Syria? Get over it urged the Trump administration to recognise Russia-Iran cooperation as a geopolitical reality for a foreseeable future:

  • American policy-makers must get past facile statements about the supposed limits of Russian and Iranian cooperation and back to the serious business of furthering our own interests in a tumultuous region. The Russo-Iranian coalition will no doubt eventually fracture, as most interest-based coalitions ultimately do. Conditions in the Middle East and the world, however, offer no prospect of such a development any time soon.

To my mind, Trump’s policies toward Iran are evolving cautiously and there could be surprises in store. The Iranians seem to understand that although Big Oil wields big clout with the Trump administration and a US-Saudi Arabian reset is in the making, the two sides have divergent concerns in many vital areas and an anti-Iran alliance as such — comprising the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia — seems far-fetched. In a fascinating op-ed last week in the establishment paper Tehran Times, Mousavian wrote:

  • The fight against ISIS also cannot be won by America alone. Trump’s… challenge will be to form a new coalition to defeat and destroy ISIS. To be successful, it will need to be far more cohesive and effective than the one built by Obama. Engaging more with the actors most effectively fighting ISIS on the ground, namely Russia and Iran and their allies, will be critical in this regard.

To a great extent, Russia and Iran are sailing in the same boat. Entrenched groups in the US oppose tooth and nail any improvement in the US’s relations with Russia and Iran. However, Russia and Iran will not take no for an answer from Trump administration in the fight against the ISIS in Syria. Both are grandmasters in reconciling contradictions. Both would hope that cooperation over Syria would help them leverage their respective relationship with the US. Mousavian’s opinion piece titled Trump’s ISIS challenge is here.

March 27, 2017 - Posted by | Economics, Wars for Israel | , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Russia and Iran are forever. The USA? Not so sure.

    Like

    Comment by traducteur | March 27, 2017 | Reply


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