Iran Needs Smart Approaches in Face of Regional Developments

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Iran Review's Exclusive Interview with Mohammad Farhad Koleini
By: Ramin Nadimi

The rapid pace of developments in the Middle East, high number of crises in this region, new tensions with Arab neighbors at a time that Iran has been breaking new grounds in foreign policy, usual doubts about Russia’s true intents, and concerns about the best possible form of relations between Iran and the United States, have all made the Islamic Republic need a new, modern and smart approach to its foreign policy capacities and capabilities. Iran Review has conducted an interview with Mohammad Farhad Koleini, a senior strategic and international analyst, in this regard, the complete text of which follows.

Q: Relations between Iran and Russia have been marked with ups and downs. Do you think that removing the ban on the delivery of S-300 missile systems to Iran by Russia will open a new chapter in the two countries’ relations? Or this should be considered an ephemeral phenomenon to be viewed within framework of regional and international power equations?

A: As you mentioned, relations between the two countries has been always “plagued” with ups and downs. Of course, this is not special to post-Islamic Revolution period and has had precedent in the two countries’ history. Iran's historical mentality of Russia is a major issue that has not been resolved and the two countries need more steps to be taken in order to achieve a common understanding of how to regulate their relations. Special efforts were made before the end of the Imposed War [with Iraq] and the warnings that the late Imam Khomeini gave the leaders of the former Soviet Union in his famous letter, are still alive in the memory of statesmen.

In contemporary times, especially due to the role played by [Russian President] Mr. [Vladimir] Putin and the evolution of a transnational understanding in Russia’s foreign policy and also as a result of Russia’s effort to gain a new position in international system, the value of Iran in Russia’s foreign policy has been renewed. Today, relations between the two countries have many dimensions and include new opportunities, threats, disadvantages and advantages. I think the existing trend is defendable and Russia needs to give up those steps that create ambiguities about existing balances. Of course, let’s not forget that Russia’s foreign policy has usually more covert aspects compared to its overt aspects and this issue is somehow related to conditions and psychological atmosphere that governs the country’s foreign policy. They make good use of covert diplomacy in their foreign policy and are skillful in taking advantage of plans and ploys. It is, perhaps, for this reason that Russians are famous painters, writers, scenarists and novelists.

Specifically, however, one may say that removing the ban on the delivery of S-300 missile defense system to Iran can usher in a new era in the two countries’ relations. I must emphasize that the measure taken by Russia was not taken when Iran needed it to regulate regional equations. Like other  important projects, like construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, Russia intentionally moved slowly in this regard and tried to secure other interests not only in relation with Iran, but also with respect to other rivals. Today, it seems that Russia’s approach is changing and should still be viewed within broader framework of the country’s other policies toward Iran. The method used by Putin to manage this issue is also of interest. You asked ‘can this measure by Russia be considered an ephemeral development within framework of region and international power equations?’ I must say that official positions taken by Russia are sufficient to answer this question. They have announced that this measure is related to developments in Yemen and aims, somehow, to maintain tactical balance in regional arms race. At present, Western arms and military aid are pouring into Saudi Arabia and some Arab countries. Of course, Russia has never said how this issue can be related to the West’s role and position in Ukraine and NATO’s eastward expansion with the goal of forming new military alliances in Eastern Europe and Middle East.

Q: What is your opinion about optimal interaction between Iran and Russia?

A: In my viewpoint, relations between Iran and Russia should not be based or formed on the basis of definitions offered by other parties. The revolutionary Iran is totally different from the imperial Iran. Under the former Shah, the Soviet Union was a Marxist country and Iran's Shah was a US ally and, therefore, was not allowed to get close to Russia. The then leader of the Soviet Union, [Nikita] Khrushchev, had understood that his country’s problems with Iran cannot be solved through a simple change of Stalinist attitude. There was no model for optimal relations under the second Pahlavi monarch. Perhaps in later years of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and when Alexei Kosygin was the Soviet Union’s prime minister, limited steps were taken to reduce political tensions. If we wanted to offer a new judgment on the two countries’ relation in modern times, we could say that the two sides are now adhering to a model of independent Iran and powerful Russia. However, the degree of pragmatism in relations has its own effects and sets the speed and direction of those elations. The two countries’ ambassadors play a very important role and should take steps beyond their formal missions. Nothing is absolute and everything will depend on the degree of stability in positions and orientations of the two sides.

Q: What is your opinion about Iran's strategies toward China?

A: We are not supposed to encapsulate the whole world in a single interview. However, before answering your question, we must see what is China’s strategy toward Iran? China is trying to connect its policies from Far East straits all the way east to the Persian Gulf like a chain of pearls. China is still analyzing the Middle East in a systemic way and regardless of its main indices. China has become able to say no prematurely and is still looking at the existing balances through an economic lens. China is committed to reciprocal considerations with Russia within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Collective Security Treaty Organization and sometimes takes preemptive steps on a limited scale. China still needs internal change and many other things. At any rate, China is a country whose various layers are more complicated than Russia.

Iran and China need strategic understanding more than other things. China is still not fully aware of the balancing and interactive role of Iran and has been somehow ignorant in this regard. Attraction of energy, aimless and one-way mercantilism, concerns about new Silk Road and worries about spillover of Afghanistan’s crisis into Xinjiang, in addition to Beijing’s effort to invest in Iran and its emphasis on taking part in building Iran's economic infrastructure are all extant issues, which are yet far from strategic stability. Although relations between Iran and China are more expanded than ties between Tehran and Moscow, they are less deep and part of those relations depends on the quality of China’s policy. China is Iran's biggest trade partner, but is not a strategic partner and should revise its “traditional Chinese game” when it comes to Iran.

Q: What is your opinion about future outlook of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the light of the ongoing crisis in Yemen?

A: Relations between the two countries can be different. Saudi Arabia has lost its political literature and is prone to incidents and accepting scenarios, though it should not act on the basis of delusions. Young Saudi politicians have no good understanding of the cost [of their actions]. They think that they can play with Iran's priorities. They think entering Yemen would be entering a real strategic quagmire because the history of Yemen and its people is quite different from other regional countries. Yemen has been divided, but will not be conquered. Saudi Arabia cannot impose its ideology on them and use of force will not produce a sweet fruit. I am not lecturing here, but a Persian proverb says, why a wise man should do something that only causes regret? We must see to what degree rationality will govern this country’s foreign policy again.

Saudi Arabia is currently playing in other people’s court and is losing popularity in the Muslim world. Instead of making new policies by spending money despite their current budget deficit, they would better pay some attention to results of opinion polls to understand their position in the Muslim world. If Saudi Arabia continues with its current policy, it would lose its position and standing among Muslims. This is not a threat, but a warning. They can make better decisions and make up for the past. Turning into a fratricide country is not an honor. Attacking the most impoverished Muslim and Arab country is not a cause of pride. They once supported [Iraq’s former dictator] Saddam [Hossein] and later regretted it and are now plagued with a Baathist epidemic. Perhaps, they will regard my remarks with a tinge of sarcasm, but they should allow themselves to look at the reality and future without any prejudgment and bias. I repeat that relations between the two countries can be totally different from what they are now.

Q: And in conclusion, what kind of management method Iran should use to deal with the West’s excessive demands over a possible nuclear agreement?

A: This question should be answered by officials in charge of the negotiations because they are directly connected to the talks. As my personal view and as an observer, I can say that as long as the dominant approach to Iran's nuclear program is securitized, excessive demands and excuses will be there. Of course, both sides have tried to build their approaches on the political will, so that, false scenarios will be disclosed and discarded in order to pave the way for positive interactions. I have frequently announced that Iran's nuclear issue needs economic backing, which will help Iran's acquisition of enrichment know-how to lead to a win-win game. Production of enriched nuclear material by Iran through economic cooperation with major countries needs economic bargaining, and cannot be simply achieved through political bargaining or psychological and security warfare. The path of diplomacy is only to the detriment of those who want to raise the cost of interaction.

West’s excessive demands should be judged with due care. It is a reality that the positions of the European countries and even China on the negotiations and their future outlook are far from those of the United States.

On the other hand, let’s ask ‘what is the real meaning of excessive demands?’ Mismatch between the two sides’ proposals, frequent demands by one side to take imbalanced steps, engaging in optimistic negotiations and sudden withdrawal, taking real concessions and giving spurious ones, posing threats about available options on the table when a maximal degree of agreement is going to be achieved, taking maximum points in technical part and giving minimum points limited to suspension when it comes to sanctions…. It should be clear if these issues can be considered as excessive demands and their clarification will determine the importance and quality of the negotiations.

The Iranian negotiators should make their American counterparts understand that Iran's nuclear issue cannot be taken hostage to political games in the United States and tell the Americans that their arguments should have nothing to do with legal mechanisms and powers of the US president. At present, positions adopted by American Republicans on Iran's nuclear issue are far behind the position of the American public opinion. The same Republicans, who are now posing threats and take the foreign policy of their Democrat rivals to task, had to negotiate with Iran over the situation in Iraq in order to make the country secure at a time of their military presence in the Arab country. Mr. Obama should be bold enough to announce that if Republicans really think about peace and security of the United States, they should come up with a legal solution to Iran's nuclear case instead of sticking to meaningless criticism which is only good as media fodder. They should be reminded why Republicans withdrew in the face of Iran when they were in power and talked about preemptive action against the Islamic Republic.

Why Republicans seek to increase the cost of implementation of the US foreign policy? There are many other questions. The United States should value the position of the Leader of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, who said, “If nuclear negotiations reach a result, other regional issues can be put to negotiation as well.” This is not something that only Iran needs, but to build a new world within a regional order without force, the best way is religious democracy, which brings economic prosperity and promotes positive convergence within the region without any nuclear weapons while cementing unity among Muslim states. Of course, such a goal cannot be realized at the present time, but it is quite possible. At the end, I advise Mr. Obama to tell US Congress that endless war ideas are like a two-edged sword and if Congress sticks to its current positions, the day will come when its members will have to answer to the American people.

Key Words: Iran, Regional Developments, Middle East, Arab Neighbors, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Muslim World, Nuclear Agreement, Koleini

More By Mohammad Farhad Koleini:

*US Congress Seeks Strategic Sanctions against Iran to Derail Nuclear Talks:

*Ankara Suffering from Lack of Coherent Policy:

*Washington’s Sinusoidal Behavior Undermines Nuclear Talks:

*Photo Credit: Kurd Press

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