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Russia and Iran in Syria

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The world media is abuzz with news about the presidential elections in the United States, the fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh and the upcoming second wave of the COVID-19 epidemic. That being said, the situation in Syria remains very much in the focus of attention of analysts and political scientists.

Recently, against the backcloth of the developments in Syria, media outlets have increasingly been discussing issues pertaining to relations between Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI).

It is no secret that Iran was the first country to join the civil war in Syria that erupted in 2011. It was Tehran that provided emergency assistance to President Bashar Assad, preventing his overthrow by the opposition forces. What happened next did not unfold in a way Tehran expected though.

By the summer of 2014, The Islamic State terrorist organization (aka IS, ISIS, Daesh – all banned in Russia) had taken control of the eastern part of the country, announcing the creation of a caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq with its capital in Raqqa.

In 2015, the Syrian government forces, the military contingent of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), led by General Qasem Soleimani, the Lebanese Hezbollah, as well as the pro-Iranian multinational Shiite formations suffered a series of serious setbacks putting in question the very existence of President Assad’s regime

Trying to save the situation, General Soleimani pays two visits to Moscow in late July and early August 2015, to discuss the situation in Syria.

Shortly after, Russia receives an official request for assistance from Damascus, and on September 30, the Russian Aerospace Forces launch military operations against ISIS terrorists, and ultimately crush the terrorist groups in Syria and preserve the country’s sovereign status.

In view of the anti-terrorist forces’ successes in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin said it was now time to withdraw all foreign armed forces from Syria.

“We believe that after the Syrian armed forces’ significant victories in the fight against terrorism, and with the start of a more active phase of the political process there, foreign armed forces will be withdrawn from the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic,” President Putin said when meeting with Bashar Assad in Sochi on May 17, 2018.

Putin’s statement caused a mixed reaction in Tehran, with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stating that Iranian forces were in Syria with the official permission of the authorities, and hinted that Tehran was not going to leave the Syrian territory, adding that it was too important for Iran geopolitically.

Russia views Syria as a multinational, multi-confessional, and at the same time a secular state, which maintains friendly relations with Moscow and respects its interests both in that country and in the Middle East as a whole (including the Russian air force base in Khmeimim and the naval station in Tartus.) Equally important for Russia is the fact that Syria has normal relations with its neighbors, primarily Israel and Turkey. With the destruction of the Islamic State organization, Moscow believes that the formation of a “new Syria” can only be ensured by peaceful means through activating the constitutional process that would involve all interested parties, including those opposed to Bashar Assad, whose continued stay in power is not something Russia will necessarily insist on in the future. 

Meanwhile, with the work of the Syrian Constitutional Committee facing serious hurdles due to the deep divisions among its members, President Assad remains the only symbol of Syrian statehood. Moscow is fully aware of this and despite various views about Bashar Assad’s political future, is making every effort possible to strengthen Syria’s sovereign status. Armed forces subordinate to a legitimate leadership are a very important factor of sovereignty and statehood, and in this sense Russia has done a lot for Syria and its future.

During the five years of its presence in Syria, Russia has been working hard to reorganize, modernize and equip the Syrian army, improving its professional level, restoring the chain of command and combat readiness. Russia also helped with the formation, training and equipment of the 4th and 5th corps of the Syrian army, helped reorganize the “Power of the Tigers” elite unit, which scored numerous victories over the terrorists. This means that by reviving the armed forces subordinate exclusively to the Syrian state, Russia strengthened not the regime of Bashar Assad, but the Syrian statehood.

Iran, for its part, sees Syria as an outpost in its strategic struggle against Israel and “misguided Muslim regimes that have sold themselves out to world Zionism and American imperialism.” Tehran has made huge human and material sacrifices to erect this “fortress,” losing during its the nine-year participation in the Syrian war thousands of its fighters, including 11 generals. In addition, since 2011, Tehran has reportedly spent between $5 billion and $20 billion annually in assistance to Damascus.

Iran is paying such a high price in Syria for a reason, however, since it views the Arab country as a “golden link” – a term proposed by Ali Akbar Velayati, the foreign policy adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader – in a Shiite chain stretching from Iran westward across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean Sea. This chain is also called the “Shiite belt” or “axis of resistance” (apparently to the United States and Israel). As Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, Commander of the Aerospace Forces of the IRGC, explained very frankly, “all members of the ‘Axis of Resistance’ are united, and we must join together to withdraw the American forces from the region and destroy the Zionist regime … Iran stretches from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean and from Ansar Allah in Yemen to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

For Iran, the loss of Syria would mean a rupture of this “axis of resistance,” the loss of land routes to Lebanon and to its creation, Hezbollah, it would mean the loss of control over the Syrian-Israeli border, a serious loss of  credibility among Shiite groups in the Middle East, and, in general, a weakening of Tehran’s positions in the region.

Tehran intensified its activity in Syria following the destruction of the main terrorist forces, working on several tracks.

First, Iran has deployed in Syria the elite units of the Quds Special Forces, which are part of the IRGC and are fighting on the ground. Their officers also act as commanders of Shiite groups , as well as instructors and advisers to pro-Iranian armed formations subordinate to Damascus.

The Iranian-controlled Lebanese Hezbollah is the largest and most combat-ready of the Shiite organizations, boasting significant resources, including its own army, financial structures, and a large network of representative offices in the region. Hezbollah is one of the most powerful actors in the Syrian conflict.

In Syria, the Iranians are establishing their military bases in the most strategic areas and building warehouses with weapons, ammunition and material and technical means.

The IRGC is setting up all kinds of staging posts and warehouses for Hezbollah, which accumulate and store weapons and ammunition, including for further transportation to Lebanon. This is often done close to Russian military installations in order to secure against military strikes by Israel, which is also active in the region against Iranian military units, primarily  Hezbollah. Tehran knows that the Israelis will not launch missile and airstrikes on Russian servicemen and thus ensures the security of its facilities.

In its efforts to rebuild the Syrian armed forces, Iran, unlike Russia, is creating parallel non-state military structures not directly subordinate to Damascus, but answering to “pro-Iranian” Syrians or directly to IRGC officers. The Iranians are also trying to establish closest possible contacts with the Syrian army by offering the services of their commanders. The 4th Division is exactly one such formation.

Secondly, Iran is exercising a large-scale economic expansion in Syria, with its representatives actively buying real estate, various industrial enterprises (even those damaged by war), and land.

Deals are made either for Iranians or Syrians, representing Tehran’s interests in Syria – primarily Shiites and, to a lesser extent, Alawites. For example, in the capital Damascus, one can see a lot of advertisements and shop signs in Persian (Farsi). Iran is most actively expanding its presence in many of Syria’s economic sectors.

Thirdly, this is certainly an ideological expansion. The Iranians are actively promoting Shia principles among the Syrian population. Converting Sunnis to Shiites may not be easy, but in principle, it is possible. Before the events of 2010-2011, Syria was not a very religious country. Therefore, Syrians without any clear religious affiliation are the primary objects of Shiite proselytizing. Moreover, the Iranians are actively handing out various economic and financial privileges to many Syrian demographics, above all Alawites and Shiites, in the form of humanitarian aid, and carry out large-scale propaganda and PR work, and with good results too.

The Iranians enjoy strong positions in the highest echelons of the country’s military-political establishment, including members of President Assad’s inner circle and his security services. A prominent role here is played by Assad’s younger brother, Maher, a pro-Iranian politician, who commands many in Syria’s security forces.

As for Turkey, Sunni Arab countries, the United States and Israel, they are all wary of Tehran’s policy towards Syria.

Iran and its satellites see Israel as their main adversary in the region. For Russia, Israel is a reliable partner with the two countries having shared views on many aspects of the Syrian problem. So, shortly before the start of the Russian aerial campaign in Syria (September 30, 2015), Russia and Israel set up a special coordination center to ensure interaction between their militaries in this region.

Russia and Israel maintain close political and economic ties, including permanent contacts at the very top, interaction in the war on terror, in the field of security and intelligence, in the military-technical sphere and in space exploration. In 2019, Russia’s trade with the Jewish State stood at $2.25 billion, while with Iran – only $ 1.59 billion. Incidentally, Israel has a population of just 9.1 million, compared to 83.1 million in Iran.

Humanitarian ties between Russians and Israelis are also developing fast. And with good reason too, since there are around one million Jews currently living in Russia, while in Israel, Russian-speakers (immigrants from the former Soviet Union), according to various estimates, account for between 15 percent to 25 percent of the country’s 9.1-million-strong  population.  The countries also have a visa-free regime.

For several years now, Israeli warplanes have been striking Iranian and Hezbollah installations in Syria about once a week. When this happens, Russian air defenses do not fire at Israeli combat aircraft because Moscow wants to avoid an escalation of the conflict.

Russia is contributing heavily to the reduction of tensions between Israel on the one side and Iran and its satellites on the other. In September, Lebanese Hezbollah units were said to be leaving Syria in what observers said was the result of tacit agreements between Moscow, Tehran, Damascus and Ankara. There were objective reasons – mainly the tense political situation in Lebanon – that necessitated Hezbollah’s pullout from Syria, of course, but there is no denying Russia’s positive role in this.

Moscow also negotiated with Damascus and Tehran the withdrawal of pro-Iranian militias and armed units from southern Syria from the border with Israel and their replacement with pro-Russian units. In practice, this never happened though.

The Iranians and their supporters regard their presence in southern Syria near the Israeli border as a strategic asset in their standoff with the Jewish State since the Syrian-Israeli border is a very important psychological barrier in the Iranian-Israeli confrontation.

Even though there is no serious confrontation between Moscow and Tehran in Syria, of course, the past few years have seen occasional clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Iranian security forces there. However, this certainly can’t lead to a direct regional confrontation between Russia and Iran.

Many factors of Iran’s presence in Syria raise a lot of questions. This is clearly demonstrated by the interview that the former head of the Russian Reconciliation Center (2016), retired Lieutenant General Sergei Chvarkov, gave to RIA Novosti.

“In August 2018, Damascus and Tehran signed an agreement on military cooperation, which provides for Iran’s assistance in rebuilding the Syrian defense industry and the country’s infrastructure,” Sergei Chvarkov pointed out. “When implemented, the agreement can, on the one hand, strengthen the Iranians’ positions in Syria and further Assad regime’s dependence on Tehran. On the other hand, Iranian financing of Shiite groups and attempts to spread Shiism in originally Sunni territories can stoke up tensions with the Sunnis and Kurds inside Syria. Any further large-scale Iranian penetration into Syria will create a number of serious obstacles to the advancement of reforms and the development of the political process in Syria, and complicate relations with Israel, the United States, Turkey and the Sunni Arab countries. This will complicate the task of finding alternative foreign sources for rebuilding the country, since the efforts by Iran and Russia will clearly not be enough.”

Here we will interrupt General Chvarkov and recall the words of President Assad, who said that the restoration of the infrastructure of the Syrian Arab Republic would cost around $400 billion, which, according to his estimates, will take from 10 to 15 years.  Experts put the cost of rebuilding the country at $1.2 trillion.  A colossal amount of money that will prove hard to line up even by joint efforts of many countries.

“And the lack of funds will prevent achieving any visible success in restoring the country’s infrastructure, moving forward the political process, bringing back the refugees and reforming the army and special services,” General Chvarkov continues. “Moreover, the expansion of Iran’s influence in Syria will rule out the lifting of the US-imposed sanctions and prevent the supply of modern technologies and equipment needed to restore the economy and virtually all other spheres of state activity in Syria.”

Talking about the future, experts on Syria and Iran argue that Tehran is unlikely to exit Syria anytime soon. As General Chvarkov emphasized, “the fact that Iran has come to Syria to stay is evidenced by the treaties that have recently been signed between Syria and Iran.

Well, Iran could possibly withdraw from Syria in case of a serious deterioration in the socio-economic situation back home. Tehran could  indeed pull out some of its units – primarily Shiite ones, but in any case, Iran’s political, military, economic and ideological influence in Syria will not go anywhere.

From our partner International Affairs

Senior research assistant at RAS Institute of Oriental Studies, candidate of historical sciences

Middle East

Israel-Palestine: Risk of ‘deadly escalation’ in violence, without decisive action

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photo: UNOCHA/Mohammad Libed

With violence continuing daily throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process urged the Security Council on Tuesday to adopt a more coordinated approach to the region.  

Tor Wennesland told Council Members that “recent developments on the ground are worrying”, pointing out the situation in the West Bank and Gaza and the challenges faced by the Palestinian Authority.  

“I therefore emphasize again the importance of concerted efforts by the parties to calm things on the ground. I am concerned that if we do not act quickly and decisively, we risk plunging into another deadly escalation of violence”, he warned. 

He informed that, in the last month, violence resulted in the death of four Palestinians, including two children, and injuries to 90 others – including 12 children – due to action by Israeli Security Forces. 

One Israeli civilian was killed in the same period, and nine civilians, including one woman and one child, and six members of ISF were injured.  

Challenges 

Mr. Wennesland said that a severe fiscal and economic crisis is threatening the stability of Palestinian institutions in the West Bank. 

At the same time, he added, “ongoing violence and unilateral steps, including Israeli settlement expansion, and demolitions, continue to raise tensions, feed hopelessness, erode the Palestinian Authority’s standing and further diminish the prospect of a return to meaningful negotiations.” 

In Gaza, the cessation of hostilities continues to hold, but the Special Envoy argued that “further steps are needed by all parties to ensure a sustainable solution that ultimately enables a return of legitimate Palestinian Government institutions to the Strip.” 

Settlements 

The Special Coordinator also said that “settler-related violence remains at alarmingly high levels.” 

Overall, settlers and other Israeli civilians in the occupied West Bank perpetrated some 54 attacks against Palestinians, resulting in 26 injuries. Palestinians perpetrated 41 attacks against Israeli settlers and other civilians, resulting in one death and nine injuries.  

Mr. Wennesland highlighted a few announcements of housing units in settlements, reiterating that “that all settlements are illegal under international law and remain a substantial obstacle to peace.” 

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities have also advanced plans for some 6,000 housing units for Palestinians in the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of al-Issawiya and some 1,300 housing units for Palestinians living in Area C (one of the administrative areas in the occupied West Bank, agreed under the Oslo Accord). 

The Special Envoy welcomed such steps but urged Israel to advance more plans and to issue building permits for all previously approved plans for Palestinians in Area C and East Jerusalem. 

Humanitarian aid delivered 

Turning to Gaza, the Special Envoy said that humanitarian, recovery and reconstruction efforts continued, along with other steps to stabilize the situation on the ground. 

He called the gradual easing of restrictions on the entry of goods and people “encouraging”, but said that the economic, security and humanitarian situation “remains of serious concern.” 

The Special Envoy also mentioned the precarious financial situation of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which still lacks $60 million to sustain essential services this year. 

The agency has yet to pay the November salaries of over 28,000 UN personnel, including teachers, doctors, nurses and sanitation workers, many of whom support extended families, particularly in the Gaza Strip, where unemployment is high.  

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Middle East

Saudi religious moderation is as much pr as it is theology

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Mohammed Ali al-Husseini, one of Saudi Arabia’s newest naturalized citizens, ticks all the boxes needed to earn brownie points in the kingdom’s quest for religious soft power garnered by positioning itself as the beacon of ‘moderate,’ albeit autocratic, Islam.

A resident of Saudi Arabia since he had a fallout with Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite militia, Mr. Al-Husseini represents what the kingdom needs to support its claim that its moderate form of Islam is religiously tolerant, inclusive, non-sectarian, pluralistic, and anti-discriminatory.

More than just being a Shiite, Mr. Al-Husseini is the scion of a select number of Lebanese Shiite families believed to be descendants of the Prophet Mohammed.

Put to the test, it is a billing with as many caveats as affirmatives – a problem encountered by other Gulf states that project themselves as beacons of autocratic interpretations of a moderate strand of the faith.

Even so, Saudi Arabia, despite paying lip service to religious tolerance and pluralism, has, unlike its foremost religious soft power competitors – the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Turkey, Iran, and Indonesia, yet to legalise non-Muslim worship and the building of non-Muslim houses of worship in the kingdom.

Similarly, the first batch of 27 newly naturalized citizens appeared not to include non-Muslims. If it did, they were not identified as such in contrast to Mr. Al-Hussein’s whose Shiite faith was clearly stated.

The 27 were naturalized under a recent decree intended to ensure that Saudi Arabia can compete with countries like the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Singapore in attracting foreign talent. About a quarter of the new citizens, including Mr. Al-Husseini and Mustafa Ceric, a former Bosnian grand mufti, were religious figures or historians of Saudi Arabia.

In doing so, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman linked his economic and social reforms that enhanced women’s rights and catered to youth aspirations to his quest for religious soft power and leadership of the Muslim world. The reforms involved tangible social and economic change. Still, they refrained from adapting the ultra-conservative, supremacist theology that underlined the founding of the kingdom and its existence until the rise of King Salman and his son, the crown prince, in 2015.

Prince Mohammed’s notion of ‘moderate’ Islam is socially liberal but politically autocratic. It calls for absolute obedience to the ruler in a deal that replaces the kingdom’s long-standing social contract in which the citizenry exchanged surrender of political rights for a cradle-to-grave welfare state. The new arrangement expands social rights and economic opportunity at the price of a curtailed welfare state as well as the loss of political freedoms, including freedoms of expression, media, and association.

A series of recent op-eds in Saudi media written by pundits rather than clerics seemingly with the endorsement, if not encouragement of the crown prince or his aides, called for top-down Martin Luther-like religious reforms that would introduce rational and scientific thinking, promote tolerance, and eradicate extremism.

Mamdouh Al-Muhaini, general manager of the state-controlled Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath television networks, spelled out the top-down process of religious reform that would be led by the crown prince even though the writer stopped short of identifying him by name.

“There are dozens, or perhaps thousands, of Luthers of Islam… As such, the question of ‘where is the Luther of Islam’ is wrong. It should instead be: Where is Islam’s Frederick the Great? The King of Prussia, who earned the title of Enlightened Despot, embraced major philosophers in Europe like Kant and Voltaire and gave them the freedom to think and carry out scientific research, which helped their ideas spread and prevail over fundamentalism after bitter clashes. We could also ask where is Islam’s Catherine the Great…? Without the support and protection of these leaders, we would have likely never heard of these intellectuals, nor of Luther before them,” Mr. Al-Muhaini said.

Messrs. Al-Husseini and Ceric represent what Saudi Arabia would like the Muslim and non-Muslim world to take home from their naturalization.

A religious scholar, Mr. Ceric raised funds in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Malaysia during the Bosnian war in the 1990s and defended issues close to Saudi Arabia’s heart even if his own views are more liberal.

Mr. Ceric argued, for example, that opposition to Wahhabism, the kingdom’s austere interpretation of Islam that has been modified since King Salman came to power, amounted to Islamophobia even if the cleric favoured Bosnia’s more liberal Islamic tradition. The cleric also opposed stripping foreign fighters, including Saudis, of Bosnian citizenship, granted them for their support during the war.

To Saudi Arabia’s advantage, Mr. Ceric continues to be a voice of Muslim moderation as well as proof that Islam is as much part of the West as it is part of the East and the hard to defend suggestion that being a liberal does not by definition entail opposition to ultra-conservatism.

Referring to the fact that he is a Shiite, Mr. Al-Husseini said in response to his naturalisation by a country that was created based on an ultra-conservative strand of Islam that sees Shiites as heretics: “The glowing truth that cannot be contested is that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is open to everyone…and does not look at dimensions of…a sectarian type.”

Beyond being a Shiite Muslim cleric, Mr. Al-Husseini is to have been a Hezbollah insider. A one-time proponent of resistance against Israel, Mr. Al-Husseini reportedly broke with Hezbollah as a result of differences over finances.

He associated himself on the back of his newly found opposition to Hezbollah with the Saudi-backed March 14 movement headed by Saad Hariri, a prominent Lebanese Sunni Muslim politician.

As head of the relatively obscure Arabic Islamic Council that favoured inter-faith dialogue, particularly with Jews, Mr. Al-Husseini ticked off another box on the Saudi checklist, particularly given the kingdom’s refusal to establish diplomatic relations with Israel without a clear and accepted pathway to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While Mr. Al-Husseini’s history fits the Saudi bill, his impact appears to be limited. He made some incidental headlines in 2015 after he used social media to urge Muslims, Jewish, and Christian clerics to downplay religious traditions that call for violence.

Mr. Al-Husseini spoke as the tension between Israel and Lebanon mounted at the time after Hezbollah killed two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border attack.

Earlier, Mr. Al-Husseini seemingly became the first Arab Shiite religious figure to address Israelis directly and to do so in broken Hebrew.

“We believe that not all Jews are bad [just as] not all Muslims are terrorists. Let us cousins put our conflicts aside and stay away from evil and hatred. Let us unite in peace and love,” Mr. Al-Husseini told an unknown number of Israeli listeners.

Mr. Al-Husseini’s presence on social media pales compared to that of the Muslim World League and its head, Mohammed Al Issa. The League, the one-time vehicle for Saudi funding of Muslim ultra-conservatism worldwide, and its leader, are today the main propagators of Prince Mohammed ’s concept of moderate Islam.

Mr. Al-Husseini’s 47,00 followers on Twitter and 10,200 on Facebook pale against his Saudi counterparts who propagate a message similar to his.

The League has 2.8 million Twitter followers in English and 3.4 million in Arabic in addition to 662,000 in French and 310,00 in Urdu. The League boasts similar numbers on Facebook. The League’s president, Mr. Al-Issa, has 670,000 followers on Twitter and 272,000 on Facebook.

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Middle East

Vienna Talks: US-Russia-China trilateral and Iran

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Talks between Iran and other signatories to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) 2015/Iran Nuclear deal regarding the revival of the deal resumed at Vienna on November 29, 2021 after a hiatus of five months (the talks which began on April 2021 have been stalled since June 2021). The US has not been participating directly in these talks.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi who won the June 2021 election has not been opposed to engaging with other signatories to the JCPOA, including the US, but has repeatedly stated, that Iran would only return to full compliance to the 2015 agreement, if its key demands are addressed favorably, and would give precedence to its national interest.

 EU political director, Enrique Mora sounded optimistic with regard to the resumption of the talks, and while talking to reporters said:

‘I feel positive that we can be doing important things for the next weeks’

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Ali Bagheri Kani, also the country’s chief nuclear negotiator,  said that the US is adopting a ‘maximum pressure’ approach (referring to economic sanctions) which would not help in achieving any genuine results.

Ali Bagheri Kani’s statement underscores the fact that any significant headway with regard to the Iran nuclear deal is likely to be an uphill task.  Iran has increased its uranium enrichment and uranium stockpile, away above the limits agreed upon during the 2015 agreement, and has also restricted access of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to it’s nuclear program. Tehran has also made it clear, that if the US lifts all economic sanctions, it will get back to full compliance to the agreement of 2015. Tehran is also seeking a guarantee from the US, that in future it would not withdraw from an agreement, as Donald Trump had done.

 The Biden Administration too has been adopting a more aggressive stance vis-à-vis Iran in recent months (Iranian officials have gone to the extent of saying that Biden’s Iran policy is no different from that of Trump). The US seems to be unwilling to remove all sanctions against Iran. US has also been saying that if diplomacy fails it will need to explore other options against Iran and would not refrain from exerting more pressure . On Monday, a US State Department spokesman categorically stated that ‘If Iran demands more or offers less than a mutual return to compliance, these negotiations will not succeed,’.

US-Russia-China trilateral and Iran

In recent weeks, Washington has made efforts to reduce tensions with Beijing and Moscow, sending out a message that it is keen to work with both countries on certain issues – especially Afghanistan, Climate Change and Iran.

Both Moscow and Beijing have adopted a different stance from Washington on the Iran issue. Washington’s decision to host a Democracy Summit (December 9-10, 2021) has not gone down to well with either especially Beijing.

 During a video conversation on November 24, 2021 with Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi not only supported Tehran’s demands with regard to the JCPOA, but also criticized the Summit For Democracy saying that it will only create further divisions globally.  Russia’s Ambassador to Tehran, Levan Dzhagaryan, also supported Tehran’s demands saying some of them were pertinent. In a newspaper interview he said:

‘For example, they, the Iranian side, want to guarantee, let’s say, in future Americans wouldn’t repeat the same step as they did before.  The Iranian side also needs some guarantees from the European businesses to fulfill and to implement all that contract. It is quite logical’

US President, Joe Biden while seeking to have a working relationship with China and Russia has also been trying to work together with democracies, and also send out a message that democracies can deliver (hours before his conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping on November 14, 2021, Biden signed into law an ambitious 1.2 trillion USD infrastructure package). The Summit for Democracy was aimed at greater coordination with other democracies, especially US allies, on important global issues, but it remains to be seen if the Summit will raise tensions between Washington and Beijing and Moscow, and thus indirectly act as an impediment to further progress on talks related to the Iran nuclear deal.

While Biden’s emphasis on democracies working together, and the need to check China’s growing clout is legitimate, it is important that he does not make the same mistakes as Trump and does not compel Iran to become an appendage of China (imposition of further sanctions at a time when Iran’s economy is in the doldrums will only increase the Anti-US sentiment in Iran). It is also important that the US works closely with its allies on the Iran issue. France, Germany and UK should be playing a more pro-active role in the revival of JCPOA and should not be quiet bystanders. Iran on its part also needs to demonstrate flexibility and pragmatism.

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