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Igor Ivanov

President of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (1998–2004)

With negotiations concerning Iran’s “nuclear dossier” moving forward – negotiations that should lead to the lifting of sanctions against the country in the near future – the rest of the world is beginning to recognise the significant regional and international opportunities presented by this turn of events. Iran has its own position, its own voice, and it’s own means of influencing current international issues and conflicts, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the fight against terrorism and religious extremism, and the crises in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf, and the Middle East.

With negotiations concerning Iran’s “nuclear dossier” moving forward – negotiations that should lead to the lifting of sanctions against the country in the near future – the rest of the world is beginning to recognise the significant regional and international opportunities presented by this turn of events. Iran has its own position, its own voice, and it’s own means of influencing current international issues and conflicts, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the fight against terrorism and religious extremism, and the crises in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf, and the Middle East.

For many years, I have had the opportunity not only to observe events in and around Iran, but also to participate directly in the development of Russian-Iranian relations. Iran has always played an important role in Russian foreign policy and should continue to do so. The main task now is to give real substance to the bilateral relations between the two countries and their cooperation on the international stage, something that is in the interests of both sides.       

The most pressing issue with regard to Iran is still the fate of its nuclear programme. I am convinced that Iran has no intentions of abandoning its efforts to develop nuclear energy. The country has been working on nuclear energy for at least four decades, with these efforts surviving through a change in political regime, a bitter war with Iraq, and sanctions imposed by the West. There is nothing to suggest that Tehran might somehow change its position in the near future. But is developing peaceful atomic energy in Iran the same thing as proliferating nuclear weapons? I don’t think it is. The latest rounds of the P5+1 negotiations have shown a significant degree of flexibility on the part of the Iranians. Could this be a tactical move by Tehran – a subtle diplomatic game? I’m quite sure that it is not. We’re not talking about the sincerity or craftiness of Iran’s leaders – we’re talking about the long-term interests and potential of the Iranian state. Iran has a lot to offer its neighbours and the international community besides its nuclear programme.           

More importantly, Iran will only be able to realize its potential in a conducive international environment. Right now, the sanctions imposed against Iran, together with its political isolation, not only hinder the development of the national economy, but also prevent the country from strengthening its international position. The leaders in Tehran are well aware of this, which would explain why they have been aggressively searching for common ground with their opponents – and even with their explicit enemies.        

The question remains: is there any guarantee that the current leaders in Tehran will not give way to another, more conservative and anti-Western grouping? The answer, of course, is no. But a failure of the Iranian government must also be seen as a failure of its negotiating partners – a failure of those Western political powers who, knowingly or otherwise, play into the hands of the conservative critics of President Rouhani. If Rouhani fails, then we all fail. This would set the P5+1 negotiations back significantly, greatly impede the settlement of the Syrian conflict, affect Arab-Israeli relations, create additional risks in Iraq, etc. Those politicians who are calling for a resumption of the “hard-line” stance of the West toward Tehran might be better served by considering the costs of such an approach.

As for Russia, it is not uncommon to hear the argument that the West’s “hard-line” stance toward Iran arguably benefits Russian interests, inasmuch as it creates further grounds for cultivating the “special relationship” between Moscow and Tehran. The idea is that if Iran is isolated from the West, it will have no option other than to expand cooperation with Russia. Such a position is short-sighted and even dangerous; you cannot build a strategic partnership with a country like Iran on the basis of the political environment. It is a far too shaky foundation, which could collapse at any moment.            

We need to acknowledge the fact that Russia’s relations with Iran are still lacking the kind of foundation that would allow us to talk about a real strategic partnership, rather than just a declarative one. And we need to lay this foundation as quickly as possible in such spheres as: economic relations, which are severely inadequate at the present time; cooperation on regional issues, which could be expanded and revitalised; scientific, technical, and educational collaboration, where almost nothing has been done so far; and civil society contacts, which are currently in an embryonic stage at best.     

Iran is a country that has not only a rich past, but also a bright future. It is in Russia’s interests to take the friendly relations that it currently enjoys with its neighbour to the south to a qualitatively new level, one that reflects the potential of both countries, as well as the new realities of the 21st century. The necessary conditions for this to happen already exist – all we need now is the political will.   

 

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Poll conducted

  1. Korean Peninsula Crisis Has no Military Solution. How Can It Be Solved?
    Demilitarization of the region based on Russia-China "Dual Freeze" proposal  
     36 (35%)
    Restoring multilateral negotiation process without any preliminary conditions  
     27 (26%)
    While the situation benefits Kim Jong-un's and Trump's domestic agenda, there will be no solution  
     22 (21%)
    Armed conflict still cannot be avoided  
     12 (12%)
    Stonger deterrence on behalf of the U.S. through modernization of military infrastructure in the region  
     4 (4%)
    Toughening economic sanctions against North Korea  
     2 (2%)
 
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