Despite the steps taken by Washington in recent years to isolate Iran from the outside world, and despite the imposition of crippling sanctions, Iran continues to lead an active foreign policy. And those policies are not confined to opposing the USA’s attempts to isolate it. Tehran is also concerned to counter the policies of certain other countries whose activities it sees as a matter for concern.
These areas of concern include the growing influence of Pakistan on its eastern border, and Turkey on its Western border. Particularly in view of the fact that Turkey and Iran have been vying for regional dominance for several centuries, and Turkey and its de facto satellite Azerbaijan are now growing in strength – a tendency that is of considerable concern to Iran, both in terms of foreign policy, and also internally, given the significant ethic Azerbaijani population in the north of the country. With that latter factor in mind, in January this year Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader emphasized that Iran is “very sensitive” to the Caucasus region. Iran’s concern about events in the region was especially evident in Autumn 2021, when the tensions between Iran, and Turkey/Azerbaijan almost escalated into open conflict. Another area of concern to Iran is Ankara’s “pan-Turkic” policies in Central Asia.
In the current situation, Iran’s closest allies in the always-fragile Middle East are Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. Until recently, Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia were rather tense, not only because of the Shia-Sunni divide, but also because the two countries each support different sides in the civil war in Yemen. However relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia are now improving. And on August 29, Ebrahim Raisi praised Iraq’s efforts to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia, as a result of which they had held five rounds of talks, thus not only justifying Iraq’s efforts, but also demonstrating the benefits for regional security of renewed and strengthened relations between the two countries.
Not only Saudi Arabia but a number of other countries in the Middle East have decided to reset their relations with Iran. For example, Abu Dhabi, which recalled its ambassador to Iran in January 2016 has announced that its ambassador, Saif Mohammed Al Zaabi, would soon be returning to Tehran. Political commentators have noted that in this case, geographical and economical factors have trumped political concerns, and the two countries have been able to overcome challenges in their relations by prioritizing economical interests. After all, the UAE is Iran’s most important regional trading partner: its exports to the UAE since March this year total $2.3 billion, while its imports from the UAE total $4.9 billion.
Other Arab Gulf States, including Kuwait, have announced a similar change of policy. Thus, at the beginning of August Iran announced that Kuwait was sending an ambassador to Tehran for the first time since 2016.
Further afield, Iran also supports strategic relations with Russia and Venezuela. Cooperation between Tehran and Moscow has recently increased significantly. In the last six months trade between Russia and Iran has grown by 40%, and there are promising opportunities for the development of bilateral projects in a wide range of areas. In his recent visit to Tehran, Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed with his Iranian counterpart the opportunities for bilateral cooperation and the formation of a “peacekeeping axis” in Tehran, which would bring much-needed stability to the Middle East while significantly reining in the influence of the USA in the region.
However, the Iran’s current foreign policy course clearly does not fit in with Washington’s plans, which are focused on limiting Iran’s freedom. In particular, the US can barely hide its anger about the rapprochement between Tehran and Moscow. It is only necessary to look at a number of recent articles in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and other leading western newspapers that rush to support US agenda internationally, reinforcing it with disinformation supplied by the US security services. For example, a recent editorial published in The Washington Post passed on to readers a warning from the White House about the alliance between Russia and Iran, which, it claims “adds a new obstacle to renewing the 2015 nuclear agreement.” It deliberately glosses over the fact that it was Washington that willfully abandoned the previous nuclear agreement with Iran (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA), and is now putting obstacles in the way of its renewal. The article also says nothing about the fact that the US has not committed itself to ratifying the JCPOA. That is the fault of the US Congress: John Bolton, who served as National Security Advisor to former US President Donald Trump, claimed in a recent interview for the television channel Al Arabiya that most Congress deputies are not in favor of reviving the JCPOA.
Instead The Washington Post and The New York Times launched a transparent disinformation campaign with articles intended to sow fear. These include claims that Iran “has begun delivering to Russia ‘hundreds’ of suicide drones … These drones would probably be part of the ‘Shahed’ series…, which Iran has used successfully in Iraq and Syria.” By publishing disinformation of this kind, US newspapers demonstrate that they heed only the instructions from the White House to carry out information attacks on Russia and Iran, and pay no heed to the recent statements from the Iranian authorities or from Dmitry Peskov, Press Secretary for the Russian President, who denounce the USA’s claims as unfounded.
“Unfortunately, the Washington Post has published many false news stories in recent months. As for our relations with Iran, you know, they have developed, they are developing now, and they will continue to develop,” Dmitry Peskov emphasized among other things.
According to a statement issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry before the most recent meeting between representatives of the Russian and Iranian foreign ministries, relations between the two countries are developing fairly successfully. The total value of trade between Russia and Iran in the first half of 2022 was $2.7 billion, an increase of 42.5% compared with the equivalent period last year. There has also been progress in talks on the conclusion of a full-format free trade agreement between Iran and the EAEU. Russia is confident that these discussions will give an “additional stimulus” to cooperation with Iran on trade.
But the developing cooperation between Moscow and Tehran has provoked Washington’s anger and hatred, as a recent article in The Wall Street Journal makes it abundantly clear. “Iran and Russia are forging tighter ties than ever, as their international isolation drives the two staunch American foes toward more trade and military cooperation, alarming Washington,” the WSJ admits. In this latest bogus article published in an American paper, one thing is unclear – just what does the writer mean by “isolation”? After all, neither China nor India have broken off their relations with Russia – on the contrary, they are strengthening them. Moreover, the USA’s condemnation of Russia’s actions in Ukraine was signed by 54 of the 193 members of the UN, with Asia, Africa and Latin America choosing to ignore “Washington’s dictate.”
Significantly, Russia is not the only rival of the US with whom Iran is strengthening its economic and political links. According to official customs statistics released by China, last year Chinese trade with Iran was valued at $14.8 billion, and the two countries signed a comprehensive 25-year cooperation agreement, under which Beijing will invest $400 billion in Iran’s economy.
As for the rapprochement between Russia and Iran, admittedly both countries were hesitant about the idea of a closer cooperation with each other because of fears that this might disrupt Russia’s economic links with the USA and EU. But now that the policies of the USA and EU are dominated by open Russophobia and attempts to step up sanctions against Russia, Tehran and Moscow are in a good position to develop their strategic relations and ignore the USA’s “concerns” about this development.
Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.