October 13, 2015 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1191

Iran At The Crossroads: Between Russia And The U.S.

October 13, 2015 | By Y. Carmon and A. Savyon*
Iran, Russia, | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1191

According to recently published reports, for example a report by Ibrahim Al-Amin, board chairman of the pro-Hizbullah Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, in the past four months Iran has held intensive contacts with Russia to coordinate the parameters of Russia's intervention in Syria.[1] According to Al-Amin, it was agreed that Moscow would focus on controlling Syrian airspace and providing advanced and qualitative weaponry to the Syrian regime forces, whereas Iran would be in charge of ground operations and would increase its financial assistance and the number of its troops in Syria.

In recent months, the Arab and Western media reported that senior Russian and Iranian officials had made mutual visits to each other's countries, stressing in particular Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Mikhail Bogdanov's visit in Tehran on August 4, 2015, and the visits of Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Qods Force, to Moscow in July, August and September 2015. It should be noted that a reported meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was denied by the Russian Foreign Ministry.[2]

It appears that the Iranian regime has been maneuvering simultaneously vis-à-vis the U.S. on the nuclear issue and vis-à-vis Russia on the issue of expanding Moscow's military-diplomatic intervention in the region.[3] The Rohani government and its Foreign Ministry were kept out of these diplomatic contacts with Russia; they were handled by IRGC Qods Force commander Suleimani, who is in charge of managing the combat fronts in Syria and Iraq.

The two negotiation tracks reflect two contradictory and rival directions in Iranian policy, which are being promoted by the rival political forces within Iran. The pragmatic camp, headed by Hashemi Rafsanjani and the Rohani government, is trying to lead Iran towards the strategic choice of openness towards the West in general and the US in particular. The ideological camp, on the other hand, rejects the move towards the U.S. and strives for strategic understandings and coordination with Russia regarding its military and diplomatic intervention in the region.

It should be emphasized that Supreme Leader Khamenei is the head of the ideological camp and supports the IRGC's moves in rejecting American regional involvement, even though he allowed the nuclear negotiations, in order to secure Iran's nuclear status and bring about the lifting of the sanctions.

This conflict between the strategies and between the rival camps in Iran will reach the decisive point in the next weeks and months, when Iran will have to choose whether to implement the nuclear agreement as it stands or impose new conditions calculated to delay its implementation, a measure that will destroy the pro-Western move The fact that the hour of decision in the conflict is approaching is reflected, on the one hand, in Khamenei's ban on any further negotiation with the U.S. (following the conclusion of the JCPOA),[4] and, on the other hand, in statements by President Rohani and Expediency Council Chairman Hashemi Rafsanjani, who came out against the ideological camp and against Khamenei by stressing the impossibility of halting the course of the agreement with the U.S.. Rohani said on October 7, 2015: "In social and political affairs, we all must learn that, if we want to turn left we must signal left, and if do the opposite - namely signal right and then turn left - it will be a disaster. In diplomacy, when someone signals the wrong way, it places society at risk, and if someone performs a U-turn where a U-turn is not allowed, he can hurt himself and others."[v] Rafsanjani posted on his Instagram page a picture of himself with Foreign Minister Zarif, headed: "When the people's will is accompanied by divine fate, no force can stop it" #the_nuclear_agreement_represents_the_will_of an_entire_people."[5]

* A. Savyon is director of the MEMRI Iran Media Project; Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI.



[1] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), October 12, 2015.

[2], October 7, 2015.

[3] Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-'Abadi said that he was "prepared to examine any Russian proposal to shell ISIS in Iraq." Al-Quds (London), October 1, 2015.

[4], October 7, 2015.

[5] ISNA (Iran), October 7, 2015


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