During the Iranian Nuclear crisis, three presidents ruled Iran. Ayatollah Khamenei was Iran’s Supreme Leader during the aforementioned period, and one can argue that the Supreme Leader is the main political figure in Iran. The Supreme Leader can decide and change Iran’s foreign policy, but as we have concluded in this research, there were several differences and similarities between the presidencies of Khatami, Ahmadinejad and Rouhani regarding China and Russia’s roles in the Iranian nuclear issue. These differences indicate that the presidents of Iran are important players who can alter existing policies or try to implement their own vision for Iranian foreign policy.
Here is the following question arises:
What type of policy did Khatami’s, Ahmadinejad’s and Rouhani’s teams adopt regarding how to involve China and Russia in solving the Iranian nuclear issue?
During the presidency of Khatami (1997-2005), Iran was mainly negotiating with the EU3 on its nuclear issue. Khatami could not negotiate directly with the US because of the Supreme Leader’s veto. Although Khatami’s team tried to keep negotiations with the EU3 as its main avenue of diplomacy, they also pursued high-level consultations and negotiations with China and Russia so that if Iran failed to reach a final agreement with the EU3, Iran could at least get support from China and Russia, which are permanent members of the UNSC.
In his book on Iranian nuclear issue, Hassan Rouhani wrote, that that during Khatami’s presidency, Iranians were mostly negotiating with EU3 but also made trips to Moscow and Beijing and tried to find common language with China and Russia. He mentioned that the main strategy was to maintain Chinese and Russian sympathy towards Iran so that if the Iranians failed during their negotiations with EU3, they would not be left isolated
In sum, with the support of the EU3, Russia and China Khatami could stop the US initiative to take the Iranian nuclear case to the UNSC.
Under Ahmadinejad’s watch (2005-2013), Iran tried to increase the role of China, Russia and NAM states in the Iranian nuclear issue and weaken the role of the West.
Although, Ahmadinejad, in contrast with Khatami, received approval from the Supreme Leader of Iran to negotiate with the US as well.
As Iran continued its nuclear program with violations and without implementing required IAEA resolutions on the Iranian nuclear issue, China and Russia also agreed on a US proposal to bring Iran’s nuclear program to the UNSC. China and Russia were disappointed in Iran when the US provided information about the Fordow nuclear facility, about which Iran had not informed the IAEA, China and Russia.
Though China and Russia could have limited several heavy sanctions on Iran during the negotiations and deterred the US and Israel from military action against Iran, they ultimately voted for all UNSC resolutions on Iran as they are responsible powers and could not permit the further development of Iran’s nuclear program, which the IAEA could not confirm as peaceful in intent. It is important to mention that China and Russia never put unilateral sanctions on Iran like the US and the EU. Moreover, Moscow and Beijing condemned unilateral sanctions as illegal. During the presidency of Ahmadinejad, not only the West but also China and Russia lost their confidence in the Iranian government. On one hand, Ahmadinejad’s diplomats in Beijing and Moscow attempted to convince China and Russia that Iran’s nuclear programme was peaceful and that they were cooperating with the IAEA, but Iran was building secret nuclear facilities without informing its partners. As a result, under Ahmadinejad’s watch, Iran faced heavy pressure from both the West and the East. Sanctions destabilized and contracted the Iranian economy.
Hassan Rouhani criticized Ahmadinejad’s policy by mentioning that his team proclaimed that that they would solve the problem with the East. However, Rouhani advised them at first to find out the viewpoints of Moscow and Beijing. He added that after conducting long-term negotiations with China and Russia, he learned that these powers also believed that without the EU, it was not possible to solve the Iranian nuclear issue. When he was elected as Iran’s President, in a very short time period, he had broken the standstill and concluded the Joint comprehensive plan of actions(JCPOA) with the P5+1. It is worth mentioning that during Khatami’s presidency, Rouhani was Iran’s main negotiator with the EU3 on the Iranian nuclear issue. Under Khatami’s watch, Rouhani concluded the Paris agreement with the EU3, but Iran’s Supreme Leader did not accept this outcome. Now, Rouhani is the President of Iran and has more power as well as the support of Iranians as a democratically elected President, which provides him the opportunity to make the JCPOA possible.
I do believe, that in the era of the US withdrawal from the JCPOA, Iran still needs China and Russia as the main guarantors of a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. Iran could also try to maintain the balance between the East and the West by increasing the role of China and Russia.
It is worth mentioning that Iranians attempted to derive benefits from Sino-Russian cooperation in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). In this regard, Hassan Rouhani said, “We knew that if we could turn Russia to our side, China would also stand next to us.” In turn, Iranian scholar Nasser Saghafi-Ameri also sees cooperation with Shanghai Cooperation Organization as an opportunity for Iran to strengthen its ties with Russia and China
Nowadays Russia, China and Iran have some common interests in the Middle East. For instance, they have attempted to stabilize situation in Syria. They are against the US support for regime change in Damascus; Russia, China and Iran understand those types of developments would shift Syria into the Western camp or lead it into chaos, which would limit the abilities of Russia, China and Iran to manoeuvre in the Middle East. From Moscow’s and Beijing’s perspectives, “no problems in the Middle East will eliminate US interference in regional affairs”.