Moscow and Tehran re-look at bilateral strategy

Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Majlis (Parliament) of Iran.

Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Majlis (Parliament) of Iran.

Anna Isakova/TASS
The approach of Moscow and Teheran, particularly to the Syrian problem, is different and both are re-examining each others’ strategies.

Once sanctions over Iran were lifted earlier this year, Russia strongly activated its contacts with the Iranian administration. Iranian Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani's ended a visit to Moscow on April 20, while the Russian capital is set to host Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan later this week. Despite these pas-de-deux and apparent honeymoon, Russia and Iran's approaches to a series of issues are increasingly different.

The Iranian speaker appeals to Moscow and Eurasia

Parliamentary Speaker Larijani ended his first visit to Moscow after sanctions on Tehran were lifted amidst unusual circumstances last week. The main objective of his visit was to participate in the first conference of parliamentary speakers of Eurasian countries.

"We see crises in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen. The question is who created all these problems with terrorism? An important factor is America's use of terrorists," Larijani said, addressing colleagues from 19 countries, many of whom have partnership relations with Washington.

Clearly unprepared to have the Moscow conference of Eurasian speakers turn into an anti-American forum, Chung Ui-hwa, Chairman of the South Korean National Assembly was forced to call on everyone to "refrain from discussing sensitive issues in order to bring everyone's positions closer."

At a press conference after the event, Larijani continued criticizing external forces, commenting on the failure of the talks in Doha.

"The question related to the fall in oil prices is an intrigue behind which everyone knows who stands," he said, making it clear that it was not Iran which was to blame for the situation in the oil market after having refused to freeze oil production, but its opponent, Saudi Arabia.

Heavily criticizing the US and its regional allies, Larijani also spoke of the importance of Russian-Iranian interactivity. "Last year about ten of our ministers came to Russia and ten Russian ministers visited Iran. Our countries are cooperating in the regulation of crises."

Iranian Defence Minister Dehghan will participate in the International Security Conference in Moscow later this week, between April 26 and 28.

Allies with reservations

Despite official assurances of mutual warmth, Moscow and Teheran have recently discovered several reasons for mutual dissatisfaction.

First, this concerns the Syrian conflict. For Russia it is important not to get bogged down in the war and to complete its military operation on time, establishing the reputation of a peacekeeper. Teheran, however, does not intend to go anywhere. For Iran the Syrian conflict is one of the fronts of the geopolitical battle with the US, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni powers.

"The contradictions between the two countries have still not surfaced, since they have common tactical objectives that are determined by the necessity of regulating the situation in Syria. Nevertheless, these contradictions exist and will only grow," remarked Grigory Kosach, Professor of History, Political Sciences and Law at the Russian State University for the Humanities. For Iran, President (Bashar al) Assad's regime is the only force that can be in power in Damascus.

"In turn, Russia has frequently made it clear that for Moscow the most important thing is to preserve stability and integrity of the Syrian government, but it is the people that will decide who will be in power."

In this impasse, one of the decisions the Syrian government made, without consulting Russia, was to hold parliamentary elections on April 13.

Sources close to the Kremlin did not hide that this "initiative" was not perceived with much enthusiasm in Moscow. Teheran, however, welcomed the elections.

Another irritating factor in Moscow and Teheran's relations were the different approaches to the prices on the world oil market. Experts in Moscow believe that Teheran's uncompromising position was one of the reasons for the failure of the talks in Doha.

Finally, as was expected, Russian business has lost its monopoly in the Iranian market after the sanctions were lifted. Iran is now flooded with competing European and American companies. Teheran is not giving any privileges to its Russian allies. Past achievements do not count - competition begins with a clean slate.

First published in Russian by Kommersant.

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