Does the key to Tehran lie in Moscow?

However bitter it may be for the US, Russian-Iranian relations may be a more realistic prospect than an Iranian-American dialogue in solving the nuclear issue

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Wahied Wahdat-Hagh
On 26 March 2013 12:06

Spring is forever visualised as the warming period after winter. But in the world of international relations, and specifically US-Iranian relations, thawing is strictly off the agenda, even at this time of year.

Indeed the most recent signals given out by Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamanei to the US-government were as cold as deepest December.

The US-government is the “centre of hostilities towards Iran,” said Khamenei on March 21st. “Sometimes leaders of the Zionist regime threaten us to lead a military attack. But I think they know it and if they do not know it, they should know it now that if they make a mistake, the Islamic Republic will flatten Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground."

And the masses of sanctimonious hypocrites yelled: “Allah'u'Akbar, Khamenei is the leader. Death to America. Death to Israel."

Khamenei then said that he is not opposing dialogue with the US but he thinks that the idea of dialogue belongs only to "American tactics."

This is consistent with the Iranian leader’s outlook. Ammariyon, an Iranian news website, reported on February 18th that Khamenei had stressed that Washington denies the Islamic regime in Iran because the Iranian regime rejects “secular ethics.”

Khamenei also said on August 18th, 2010: "We will not negotiate with superpowers." He continued: "They should set aside the superpower conduct."

It is clear then, from a totalitarian Islamist point of view, only America and the West are obliged to change their opinion. Hence dialogue is futile; or at least, to paraphrase, a tactic of Western superpowers.

America has to change not Iran

Safar Naimi stressed on March 25th, 2013, that it is not the individual opinion of Iran’s current leader, but the order of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the “Islamic Republic of Iran”, who said that Iran excludes dealing with “hostile states.”

Naimi, who is a member of the commission of national security and foreign policy of the Iranian pseudo-parliament, Majless, said, “Americans shall come to mind and recognize the Iranian position.”

In the same manner another Majless member, far from suggesting a compramise in Iranian policy, demanded the US to change. Hojatulislam Hussein Sobhaninia said that the US pretends from time to time to want dialogue with Iran: “The Americans had always a dual and ambiguous policy towards us.” On one hand, he claimed, the US seeks dialogue; on the other, it pursues the policy of sanctions.

Ultimately, Sobhaninia agreed with the words of Khamenei when he said, “America never wanted to pursue dialogue and to solve the problems. They want always to take revenge.” He suggested, that “the Americans should change their form of speaking, their behavior and their deeds.”

Uranium diplomacy

Iranian scientist Dr. Kayhan Barsegar, who is in the service of the Islamic revolution and the leader,  was reported by news agency Tabnak as saying that only the nuclear issue can deliver a basis for bilateral dialogue between Iran and the United States. This is uranium diplomacy: seeing the issue of uranium enrichment as an instrument for negotiation.

Interestingly, Barsegar also signaled his belief that the US and the West more generally have changed their positions towards the Iranian nuclear program: "U.S. has understood that the continuation of its nuclear program and excessive economic and political pressure on the country could have dangerous consequences for the United States."

Clearly, then, there is a school of thought at large in Iran that believes the West must accept the Iranian position vis-à-vis the nuclear issue. Uranium enrichment, evidently, is seen as leverage in nuclear negotiations.

With two blocs starting at such radically opposing outlooks, is it possible to look past negotiations as anything more than ceremony?

Iranian-Russian conversion instead of Iranian-American dialogue?

Meanwhile, Mehdi Sanai, head of the Iranian-Eurasian Science Institute, has stressed the relevance of Russian-Iranian relations.

He points out that Iran has been working with Russia to support the Syrian government; he also notes that Russia and Iran have shared interest in the "prevention of the unilateral role of the USA".

But how great is Russian-Iranian convergence? Contracts have been signed with respect to the environmental problems that are prevalent in the Caspian Sea; there has been (and will be many more) discussions about the oil trade; there were plans to build new nuclear power plants in Iran; Russia has successfully built electric trains in Iran; in the cultural sphere, in the first weeks of the new Iranian year, which begins on March 20th, Russian Cultural Weeks are scheduled in Iran.

But the volume of Russian-Iranian trade remains relatively low (about 3 billion USD). By comparison, Russian-Turkish trade relations are valued at around 40 billion USD; Russian-Chinese trade relations touch 100 billion USD. Meanwhile, Iranian-Turkish trade volume amounts to 20 billion USD and the Iranian-Chinese trade doubles that.

In fact, Russian-Iranian trade volume has actually declined by 40 percent, Sanai regrets. Russian companies are concerned, due to the policy of sanctions against Iran, and therefore foreign direct investment has declined.

Nevertheless, it is clear that Moscow enjoys a more comfortable relationship with Tehran. However bitter it may be for the US, Russian-Iranian relations, as an alternative to the relations with Western countries, may be a more realistic prospect than an Iranian-American dialogue. Could it be that the key to Tehran lies in Moscow?

Wahied Wahdat-Hagh is a Fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy

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