0748 GMT December 03, 2022
After taking office, Iranian President Seyyed Ebrahim Raeisi spoke of adopting a balanced foreign policy, detailing that Iran’s relationship with other countries would not be restricted to a region or issue. More importantly, he prioritized neighboring countries, stating that foreign policy must serve the economy. One of his famous sayings was that we will not tie the country’s economy to the results of negotiations on reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Many foreign policy and economy experts criticized the previous administration’s approach to Iran’s neighbors and regional countries, wondering why the administration has put all of its eggs in the basket of the JCPOA and Western countries and neglected the capacities available among neighboring countries. With that in mind, Iran’s neighbors were put on top of the list of countries that were concentrated by the incumbent administration to the extent that during the 10 months that have passed since it took office, the Iranian President has visited neighbors more than trans-regional countries.
During this period, President Raeisi was received as the guest of the presidents of five regional countries and in turn, has hosted six other presidents in Tehran. On average, the incumbent administration either received the head of a country or was received by one once a month which indicates the high level of mobility and effort that the president has shown, aiming to utilize the capacities of foreign ties for resolving economic complications. Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, Qatar, and Oman were the destinations of President Raeisi’s foreign trips. Conversely, the heads of Qatar, Syria, Tajikistan, Venezuela, and Turkmenistan have met and talked with the Iranian president in Tehran. As a result of these diplomatic trips, 67 memoranda of understanding (MoUs) and cooperation agreements were signed between Iran and other countries during the past 10 months.
In the early weeks that President Raeisi took office, his first foreign trip was arranged for the destination of Dushanbe, Tajikistan, to participate in the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Iran’s permanent membership in the pivotal regional organization was approved. Raeisi also met with his Tajik counterpart on the sidelines, and the outcome of the summit between the high-ranking delegations of the two countries was the signing of six MoUs, an agreement, and a technical protocol on customs cooperation. In the meantime, the Iranian president met and conferred with the presidents of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Belarus as well as the prime ministers of Armenia and Pakistan.
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon made an official visit to Iran on May 29-30, 2022 to reinforce ties between the two countries. During his trip as well, 17 cooperation documents were signed between Tehran and Dushanbe in a variety of fields, including politics, economy, trade, and tourism.
President Raeisi traveled to Turkmenistan in November of last year to take part in the 15th Summit of Heads of Member States of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO Summit). On the sidelines of the summit, the Iranian president talked with his counterparts from Turkey, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan.
During his meeting with the Turkmen president, President Raeisi put forward the idea of drafting a comprehensive document of long-term cooperation. One of the significant accomplishments of his trip was the conclusion of a trilateral gas swap deal between Iran, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan. In effect, Iran agreed to receive around 1.5-2 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year from Turkmenistan and deliver an equivalent amount to Azerbaijan.
Heading a high-ranking delegation, Turkmen President Serdar Berdimuhamedov arrived in Tehran a few months later, on June 14. As a result of talks between delegations of the two sides, a joint declaration and 9 memoranda of understanding (MoUs) were signed.
The destination of Raeisi’s third foreign trip was Russia, the large and powerful neighbor of Iran. On January 19, 2022, the Iranian and Russian presidents addressed bilateral relations as well as regional and international issues. Speaking at the meeting, President Raeisi maintained the relationship between the two countries is developing strategically. In another meeting with Russian economic activists, he announced that preparations have been made for the finalization of the comprehensive document on Iran-Russia cooperation.
Shortly after his trip to Russia, President Seyyed Ebrahim Raeisi arrived in Doha, Qatar to attend the 6th Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) Summit. In addition to addressing the summit, he met and held talks with a number of participating heads and high-ranking officials. Received warmly by the Qatari Emir, the two discussed bilateral ties and regional relations. The president’s trip resulted in the conclusion of 14 cooperation documents between Iran and Qatar in the fields of foreign politics, radio and television, sports, transportation, standard, culture, and education.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani paid a one-day visit to Iran at the official invitation of President Raeisi on May 12, 2022. During his stay in Tehran, he revisited the agreements reached in February — when Raeisi visited Doha — and assessed their progress one by one with the Iranian President. In a joint conference, they called for following up on the implementation of the agreements.
Less than a month later, the Iranian president visited yet another southern neighbor. On his trip to Oman, 12 cooperation documents were signed between Tehran and Muscat in the areas of politics, transportation, diplomacy, economy, and tourism. In a joint statement, the two countries highlighted, “Grounded in the existence of strong historical ties between two friendly countries and mutual respect between their nations and heads of state, the trip was organized to reinforce Iran and Oman’s lasting bilateral relationship, which has been strengthened by ties of shared religious principles, brotherhood, and good neighborliness.”
The President of the Islamic Republic of Iran welcomed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on May 8, 2022. The two presidents emphasized the expansion of cooperation, especially in the political and economic arenas. Raeisi stated that the Islamic Republic is determined to boost economic and trade cooperation with Syria. Appreciating Tehran’s support, Assad voiced his country’s readiness to fortify economic cooperation.
Venezuela is among the Latin American countries that have many political commonalities with Iran. Both countries are under US sanctions due to their anti-imperialism positions. Economic cooperation between Iran and Venezuela, however, cancels out the effect of US sanctions.
On June 11, 2022, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro arrived in Tehran and met with President Raeisi. The two sides signed a 20-year partnership agreement, which was lauded by Maduro as offering “a bright prospect” for the relationship between the two countries for years to come.
During the Venezuelan President’s visit, the Iranian-built Aframax oil tanker was unveiled and delivered to Venezuela. The 250-meter-long vessel is capable of carrying 800,000 barrels of oil and moving at a speed of 15 knots in the oceans. This was the second ocean liner oil tanker that was made in Iran and delivered to the Latin American country. Caracas has ordered the construction of two other Iranian oil tankers.
On June 19, 2022, yet another high-ranking official, Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, arrived in Iran. Talks between delegations of both countries resulted in the conclusion of nine memorandums of understanding (MoUs) to bolster cooperation in various areas. Iranian President Seyyed Ebrahim Raeisi highlighted the favorable capacities of Iran and Kazakhstan for boosting the volume of bilateral trade exchange to $3 billion.
In the meantime, the first container train running on the Kazakhstan-Iran-Turkey transit route arrived in Tehran and later departed for Turkey. An agreement on railway cooperation was signed by the heads of the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways (IRIR) and Turkmenistan’s state-owned Railway Agency. The agreement expects 5 million tons of goods to be transited along Iran’s route annually.
Diplomacy serving economy
The impact of the diplomatic mobility of President Raeisi can be better seen in the rise in trade exchanges between Iran and its neighbors. Mahmoud Abbaszadeh Meshkini, the spokesman for the Iranian Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said that volume of Iran’s trade exchanges with its neighbors has more than tripled. To give an example, more than $131 million worth of goods have been traded between Iran and Tajikistan in the previous Iranian calendar year, which ended in March 2021, marking a massive 463 percent rise compared to the corresponding figure for its preceding year. Chairman of the State Customs Service of Turkmenistan Maksat Hudaykulyyev, who traveled to Tehran with the Turkmen President on June 14, stated, “The statistics pertaining to five months of non-oil trade exchanges between Iran and Turkmenistan, excluding energy trades, indicate that the two countries have exchanged nearly $150 million, showing an 83 percent increase compared to the same period last year.”
Qatar's Minister of Commerce and Industry Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani has also recently announced that trade exchanges between Iran and Qatar rose 34 percent in the previous year.
Furthermore, the Head of the Iran-Oman Joint Chamber of Commerce Mohsen Zarabi said that Iran’s trade with Oman reached $1.336 billion as of last Iranian calendar year, indicating a growth of 53 percent compared to the preceding year.