How important is President Raeisi’s trip to Russia under the current circumstances?
Iran has 15 neighbors whose total volume of imports amount to over $1 trillion. Our research studies indicate that we can take a significant share of these imports. This certainly requires successful economic diplomacy. Moreover, Iran enjoys a geostrategic and geoeconomic position that can impact economic relations and exchanges of Central Asia, West Asia, East Asia and Europe. Russia is one of the neighbors with whom fostering cooperation could help fulfill such potential.
Mr. Raeisi’s visit to Russia is important as it rectifies the previous Iranian government’s absolute tendency toward the West and diversifies Iran’s foreign policy portfolio. Iran should try to seal long-term and strategic deals rather than short-term agreements. Forging a strategic and long-term document, creating a North-South corridor for Central Asia’s access to the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman, economic deals on energy and oil swaps in the long run and suchlike could be major topics to be addressed during the visit.
What important issues do you think might be on the agenda of the two presidents’ talks?
Since the era of the Tsars, Russia and the Central Asian region have sought access to the high seas. The best and safest way for these countries to access the high seas is through the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman. One of the main issues to be pursued during the president’s visit is the launch of the North-South corridor, which needs to be accelerated.
This corridor and “One Belt One Road” can turn Iran into an economic hub. Definitely, such economic corridors, in addition to contributing to our economy, can also play a major role in rendering sanctions ineffective.
During the meeting between the Leader of the Islamic Revolution and Putin, the issue of founding a gas OPEC was raised. One of the topics that Mr. Raeisi’s government should take notice of during the visit is oil and gas exchanges. Due to access to the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman, we can have good achievements in this area. Gas and oil swaps, joint ventures, drawing up new energy projects and so on can also be discussed. The Eurasian Economic Union, with a population of about 200 million, can also be on the agenda as the bloc could be used to boost our economic diplomacy in the region.
The incumbent government seems to have activated the “Look to the East” policy. The foreign minister’s visit to China saw Tehran and Beijing begin implementing a 25-year partnership agreement. Now the president is set to embark on a trip to Russia. Given Iran’s position in the international community, what message can this trip send?
In the “Look to the East” policy, China and Russia are the main pillars. The pair have had cordial relations with Iran. Now and under the new circumstances, Mr. Raeisi’s visit to Russia actually sends the message that Iran is determined to develop and strengthen its ties with the East.
Naturally, extended relations with Russia and China will help Iran maintain its firm regional and international foothold. Iran is currently a regional power, and the improvement of political, military, economic and security ties with Russia will likely set off a negative reaction from the Western Front.
Led by the United States, the West is certainly worried about the agreements that Tehran has signed, or will sign, with Moscow and Beijing. Nonetheless, the current Iranian government seems to be pursuing its own interests in the “Look to the East” policy, based on a strategic calculation and a long-term vision.
Both the foreign minister’s visit to China and the president’s visit to Russia come as the Vienna talks are underway. Do you think that Iranian officials’ negotiations with Russia and China can lead to positive results in the Vienna talks?
China and Russia have supported Iran over the past few years after Iran’s nuclear program was brought to the spotlight, especially in recent times. It is natural that when these two countries have a long-term view of relations with Iran, this view will also have an impact on the Vienna talks. The lifting of US sanctions will expand the scope for further cooperation and trade ties between Iran and China and Russia. In Parliament, we insist on diversifying the foreign policy portfolio. As the negotiations proceed in Vienna with the West, we must pursue the policy of relations with the East and effective economic diplomacy with neighbors. This approach can help the country’s economy and the diplomatic apparatus to neutralize and bypass sanctions.
In Iran, some are worried about the consequences of better relations with Russia, arguing that the Russians are not trustworthy. Do you take such concerns seriously?
No, such concerns about Iran’s relations with Russia, and even China, are not serious in the present circumstances. Today, Iran is powerful and independent and is not under the influence of any foreign country. The Iranian nation has paid dearly for its independence. The Islamic Establishment does not compromise on the issue of independence. In addition, Russia now is neither Tsarist, nor the former Soviet Union. What is obvious is that our relationship with Russia is on an equal footing. The government’s emphasis on strengthening ties with Russia and China is due to its potentials to better serve national interests.