The Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the closest states of the Middle East. Complicated political order, peculiar social and cultural patterns and western sanctions have turned that country into a kind of a corked bottle: you know that it is big and influential but you don’t know what it is doing and what is going to do. But this year things have changed: the Iranians have registered a success in their nuclear talks and have undertaken a leading role in the Syrian crisis. EADaily has asked Russian expert on the Middle East Karine Gevorgyan what is going on in Iran and where that country is going to.
Iran’s biggest achievement this year was its success in the nuclear talks. As a result, after 30 years of sanctions, the Iranians saw their gradual lifting.
They showed real stamina and proved strong enough not to cave in to external pressures. Though not toxic, Iran is by no means abortive. It is a full member of the world community. In its foreign policies it was not rude but persistent. As a result, it got what he wanted.
Syrian crisis, Iran-Russia axis
Iran is part of the Russia-led anti-Jihadist coalition. To be more precise, it is one of its pillars. Iran has huge influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon - and as the leader of the Shia world, it has managed to consolidate Shia forces against anti-Assad Islamists.
The theory of some western political experts that Iran seeks to subdue Syria and to create a fully theocratic state there is groundless. Being a theocratic state itself, Iran seeks stability in the region.
Due to the Syrian crisis Iran has improved its relations with Russia. As a result, the Russians have decided to supply the Iranians with S-300 air defense systems in 2016. In exchange, the Iranians have agreed to reconsider its complaint to the Geneva Court of Conciliation and Arbitration.
But this is not strategic partnership. Iran is a big regional player with an independent policy. Theoretically, the Iranians are ready to be close with the Russians on condition that this will not affect their interests in the Middle East. Iran has applied this policy for centuries no matter who its partner was.
Iran’s “new image”
The Iranians are consistent in protecting ethnic, national and religious minorities inside and outside their country. Iran has always been a protector of minorities.
In Iran it has always been out-of-the-way to suppress minorities – for the stronger must not beat the weaker. As a result, religious minorities in Iran have their churches, restaurants have national cuisines, ethnic Persians are proud of having friends among Armenians, Kurds and other ethnic minorities.
More and more films from Iran are winning awards at international festivals. The concepts offered by cultural content providers from Iran and the Persian Diaspora are marveled by people all over the world. Today Iran is in fashion in the world. That country has ceased to be a bogeyman and is attracting more and more people worldwide. And this is certainly good for it.
Iran and Turkey
The current leaders of Turkey are not the people one can reach long-term agreements with. They in Iran perfectly know this.
Historically, the Turks and the Iranians are rivals who are forced to cooperate. Their cooperation is based on economics. They have what to sell to each other. Iran uses the Turkish territories for transit of its goods to Europe. In exchange it sends thousands of tourists to that country each year.
On the other hand, the Iranians are worried about Turkey’s policy on its Kurds. They do not approve of the Turks’ plans to force the Turkish Kurds to Syria, so they could create their state outside Turkey. Iran also has a big Kurdish community and is worried that its Kurds may get inspired by this project. But there is little ground for concern as the Iranian Kurds are mostly Shias and live quite comfortably in Iran.
In any case, a neighboring Turkey-controlled Kurdistan would be a strong headache for Iran.
Iran and the West
The Americans were the authors of the anti-Iranian sanctions and now they are lobbying for their lifting. When asked to explain this cynical policy, a U.S. analyst said that being the strongest state in the world, the United States could afford such inconsistency.
Today, the Americans want to see Iran stronger. Their key motive here is the growing consolidation of the Sunni world. Their policy is dual: on the one hand, they want to disintegrate the region but, on the other, they seek to keep balance lest some new too independent centers might appear there. Today, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf satellites have potential to become such a center. Though being a regional power, Iran is not yet a match to Saudi Arabia and Co. So, the Americans may well shift its attention from the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf to the Shia Iran.
Iranian-U.S. relations are actually improving. Even President Obama has admitted that the Syrian crisis cannot be settled without Iran. This means that they in the West realize the need to cooperate with Iran. We still may hear some criticism but the reality is that the relations are improving.
Today, Iran is going up in the world. And were it another state, we could expect growing activity, large-scale projects, new initiatives and stratospheric political ambitions. But Iran is a very peculiar state. Its principles are “better safe than sorry” and “measure twice and cut once.” Iran’s new leader Hassan Rouhani is a very competent politician. For 20 years he was President of the Center for Strategic Research. So, he cannot but keep in mind the multiplicity effect.
So, Iran will be patient and slow but also consistent in increasing its political weight in the region. It will continue its current projects and will set sights on new ones but its position on the region’s key problems will stay unchanged.