Iran’s rush to hold its summit in the same week as the Jeddah summit is not a coincidence. It is an act of desperation in response to the strong front put on in Saudi Arabia by ten states. Iran has given up hope on restoring the nuclear deal, which it coveted with Joe Biden’s election as US president. According to Biden, the old Vienna Accord has lost its value over time, and Iran’s demands exceed the parameters of the deal signed towards the end of Obama’s presidential term.
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It is typical for Tehran to fall behind. When Biden made reviving the nuclear deal a priority, Tehran opted to play hardball and pressed for the removal of the “terrorist” designation on its Revolutionary Guards and for compensation for the period during which the agreement was suspended. This was not possible. And so, the negotiations collapsed and Iran was, again, sidelined. Two days ago, former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blamed the parliament, saying, “Iran could have ended US sanctions in March 2021, had it not been for the parliament’s decision on the nuclear file.” Instead, the parliament had demanded more, complicating matters even further. Rouhani was indirectly criticizing the Supreme Leader, who is directly responsible for the nuclear talks, with the parliament merely acting as his instrument.
Hence, Iran decided to give the impression that it is not isolated and does have a counter front with Russia and Turkey. But there is no sense in such a front.
Not only is Turkey a NATO member who has normalized relations with Israel and the Gulf states, it is also steering clear from confrontations as Erdogan seeks to appease his country’s economic difficulties.
The economically and politically exhausted Iranian regime also has little to offer to Russia in any of its most pressing issues, be it the Ukraine war, the oil market, investments, or diplomatic mediation. Russia has no interest in leaving big states, such as the Arab Gulf states, Egypt, and Jordan, for a relationship with Iran. After all, despite their alignment with the US, and despite the Jeddah summits, which were mainly driven by their military defense needs, these states have remained open to cooperation with Moscow and kept their neutral position on the conflict in Ukraine. With no tripartite plot in sight, it all suggests that the Tehran summit was just for show, especially since it was announced in a hurry as if it is in response to the Jeddah summit. It even went as far as trying (and failing) to persuade other countries, such as India and Armenia, to participate in the summit.
Iran is keen to appear as a strong, non-isolated state, but the fact remains it is. Today, it is trying to use Moscow to pressure the US back to the negotiating table, but the Russians are fully aware of this Iranian intent from previous negotiations, when Iran used Russia to reach the Vienna agreement following the confrontations in Syria. As for China, Iran’s announcement of broad strategic agreements with the Asian giant is but an exaggeration aimed at pressuring Washington. These countries do cooperate indeed, but their cooperation remains modest. There is no reason for Russia and Turkey to form a hostile front against most countries in the region.
In a leaked recording that went public, Iran’s former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif revealed that the relationship with Moscow has always been difficult and marked by mutual mistrust, despite the two countries’ military cooperation in Syria. The long interview was leaked to the media, perhaps by the Minister’s opponents within the regime, and published as he was leaving the cabinet, stirring fierce debate. Zarif admitted its authenticity, explaining that he had secretly recorded it for a history project for internal use and not for publication. However, the main issue that sparked controversy was not his disclosures of the bad relationship with Russia, but rather his criticism of the interventions of General Qassem Soleimani, who was assassinated by US forces in Iraq.
Finally, can the Gulf and the Middle East be sidelined in the US-Russian conflict? This is what is hoped, as the region is not a party to the conflict, and positive coordination will reduce the international tensions that shake economic markets and threaten world peace.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
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