On November 1, 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Iran, in connection with the trilateral meeting of the Russian, Iranian, and Azerbaijanian leaders. During the visit, Putin met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. According to media reports, Khamenei stressed that the main goal of Russia and Iran is "to ignore the negative propaganda of the enemies, who want to loosen the relations" between the two countries, "to nullify American sanctions," and to "isolate the U.S." Khamenei noted that the U.S. will be isolated when Russia and Iran refuse "to use the dollar and replac[e] it with national currencies in bilateral and multilateral economic transactions." Putin's response to Khamenei's statements has not been made public.
Kirill Semyonov, head of the Center for Islamic Studies of the Institute for Innovative Development and analyst at the Russian Council for International Affairs commented that the convergence of Russia's and Iran's interests is "temporary" and "demonstrative" and connected to the crisis with the U.S. He stressed that Russia's rapprochement with Iran is not "irreversible," since it is only about tactics, and that therefore, Moscow's policy may change.
The following is an analysis of Putin's visit to Iran by Russian military expert Aleksandr Goltz. According to Goltz, the Kremlin is failing as a negotiator in the region, and has instead assumed the role of "chief global pariah."
It is worth noting that on November 20, Putin met with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. On November 22, Putin met also with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani joined the talks with Putin.
Aleksandr Goltz (Source: Youtube.com)
Meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (Source: Kremlin.ru)
"Authoritarian Leaders Are Perfectly Aware: One Needs To Negotiate Not With Mediators, But With Chief Actors"
"Vladimir Putin paid a one-day visit to Tehran. The official reason is the trilateral meeting with the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and the head of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev. Summarizing the results of the meeting, the Russian leader said all the standard words about expanding and intensifying cooperation in the sphere of economy. He emphasized the intention to facilitate the resolution of conflict in Syria. Putin did not even forget to apologize to ordinary Tehranians for thehours-long traffic jams they had been forced to endure because of his motorcade.
"It is clear, however, that the top Russian figure did not come to the Iranian capital for run-of-the-mill negotiations, which yet again failed to bring about any significant results (the next meeting of this 'triumvirate' will take place in 2018 in Russia). Tehran is now in the center of several international conflicts at once. Its relations with the U.S. have gotten even worse. [U.S. President] Donald Trump declared his intention to break the 'nuclear deal' with Iran, according to which sanctions against this country would be lifted in exchange for its renunciation of attempts to create a nuclear bomb.
"The American president has accused Tehran of supporting terrorists all over the world and that its actions are not in the spirit of the 'nuclear deal.' The White House refused to confirm to Congress that Tehran is complying with the terms of the agreement. In addition, such different states as Saudi Arabia and Israel also have serious issues with Iran. Both Riyadh and Tel Aviv are concerned that Iran may become the chief beneficiary of the victory over ISIS terrorists in Syria. And if the Saudis are worried about the overall strengthening of Iranian positions in the region, the Israeli concerns are more specific: the appearance of units of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and Hezbollah on the borders of the Jewish state.
"The Saudi king has just been received with fanfare in Moscow. And our minister of defense, Sergey Shoygu, visited Israel, where Iran was one of the principal topics of negotiations with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. Summarizing the meeting with Shoygu, the latter even wrote in his Twitter: 'Iran is trying to strengthen its military positions in Syria. I have told the Russian minister: Iran has to realize that Israel will not allow Iran to do so.'
"In this situation, it would be logical to assume that Vladimir Putin visited Tehran as a negotiator on behalf of the world community in order to make Iran's policy more acceptable to other Middle East players. I will remind you that in those distant times when Putin did not rule over Russia, and Russia itself was not obsessed with 'getting up off its knees' all the time, an idea was put forth that Moscow, using its Soviet connections with 'pariah countries,' would convey to them the opinion of other states. This idea was never implemented.
"Authoritarian leaders are perfectly aware that one needs to negotiate not with mediators, but with chief 'actors.' That is why Putin, who tried to assume the role of chief negotiator, made a fool of himself. For instance, it happened in 2000, when he visited Kim Jong Il. The Russian president says now that the North Korean tyrant told him he had a nuclear bomb. But back then, Putin hurried to the G-8 summit in Okinawa with quite different, good news: Kim Jong Il had promised to renounce his nuclear program. Soon, the latter announced that he was just joking. A similar situation was in 2006 with the Iranian president Ahmadinejad. After tough negotiations behind closed doors, Putin stated with relief that Tehran was ready to accept proposals on cessation of its nuclear program. And then the Iranian leader said he was only going to take a close look at those proposals...
"Each time, Putin's dictator partners tried to arrange the negotiations in such a way as to create the impression that Moscow is their ally and protector. By the way, right now the Iranian president has again announced strategic partnership with Russia. But one has to admit that with the internal development of Putin's regime and its growing antagonism with the West, the Kremlin has gradually swapped its role of negotiator for the role of chief global pariah. It is no accident that during Putin's meeting with the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, they discussed joint action to isolate... the U.S. (at least, that's what follows from the statement on Khamenei's website).
"'We can counter American sanctions and isolate the U.S. by refusing to use the dollar and replacing it with national currencies in bilateral and multilateral economic transactions,' the chief ayatollah proposed to the chief Russian boss. And [he] called Putin a strong and responsible man. 'That is why we can cooperate with Russia in solving big problems that require efforts of a great power,' declared Khamenei. It looks like he did not doubt that the reaction of his Russian interlocutor would be positive..."
APPENDIX I – Statements For The Press Following The Trilateral Meeting Of Vladimir Putin, President Of Iran Hassan Rouhani And President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev – Kremlin.ru, November 1, 2017.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, at the trilateral meeting in Tehran. (Source: Kremlin.ru)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, at the trilateral meeting in Tehran. (Source: Kremlin.ru)
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: "...For my part, I would like to express satisfaction with the results of our joint work. I would like to thank the leadership of Iran for the invitation and Tehran residents for the patience they showed during our movements around the city. We saw how difficult this was.
"But I hope that our work today was not in vain. We really discussed very important issues of the trilateral format, and I am convinced that working in an open and genial manner with a shared striving to achieve positive results will bring benefits to our countries, states and people.
"We discussed important issues related to stability and fighting crime and terrorism, but economic matters were our primary focus. My colleagues have already spoken about this, and I do not wish to be repetitive.
"I would merely like to add that this very important North-South transport corridor has already gone through a test run. Last year supplies from India via Iran travelled to Russia and beyond. This route has proved its economic expediency and efficiency.
"It is well known that Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan are large hydrocarbon producers, but this does not mean we should compete. This means that we should coordinate our efforts.
"Incidentally, coordination within OPEC has already produced positive results, and this would have been impossible if this work had not been joined by countries that are not part of this cartel. The same is taking place in the organization of gas producers. We are cooperating in this area too and will continue to do so.
"I would like to point out that despite large-scale production of hydrocarbons in each of our countries, there is, strange as it may seem, interest in supplying hydrocarbon to each other, having in mind the internal logistics.
"For instance, we confirm our readiness to deliver gas to the north of Iran via the pipeline system in Azerbaijan, which may make economic sense for our partners.
"We spoke about developing relations in other sectors. We believe humanitarian cooperation is very important: in education, medicine, contacts between the regions of our countries, and cultural ties.
"Needless to say, and my colleagues also spoke about this, all of us are Caspian states. I hope we will soon finalize all the parameters of our agreements on the Caspian issues and status, which should be signed in the near future.
"Bilateral talks were also held during today's visit. I often meet with the President of Azerbaijan too. We compared notes on several of the most important questions, noted the growth of bilateral trade and discussed promising areas of our cooperation.
"I talked with President Rouhani about bilateral contacts, including economic ties in the power industry, transport engineering and agriculture. I also had a very detailed conversation with the Supreme Leader of Iran. It was very substantive and very useful.
"In both cases, we discussed in detail security in the region, issues linked with Iran's nuclear program, and, of course, the situation in Syria.
"I would like to note that our work with Iran is very productive. We manage to coordinate our positions on Syria-related problems.
"Owing to our joint efforts and the efforts of Turkey the fight against terrorism in Syria is proceeding very well. The negotiating process in Astana is producing positive results. The latest round of talks has just been successfully completed there.
"There are plenty of issues and none of them can be resolved unilaterally. No one side, no one country can resolve this problem on its own.
"We are hoping for further productive cooperation with our Iranian partners and friends, and I give high marks to the results of today's visit.
"I would like to thank the President for the atmosphere that was created during today's work.
"Thank you for your attention.
President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Hassan Rouhani: "... Today we have held the second trilateral summit meeting in Tehran. This meeting is based on friendship and neighborly relations between our three countries. Friendship, geographical proximity and cultural ties will serve our nations' prosperity.
"During the summits in Baku and Tehran, we discussed several issues the progress of which we will be monitoring. One of these important issues concerns transit routes between our three countries, that is, transit routes between Asia and Europe. The North-South transport corridor will connect the two continents. We believe that Bandar Abbas will be connected to Helsinki in the future, thereby connecting Asia and Europe. The route will go via Azerbaijan and Russia and on via Eastern and Northern Europe.
"We talked about the development of motorway and sea transport. Our three countries are located on the Caspian Sea, which we should use as the sea of peace and friendship for all the regional countries and to use its resources accordingly.
"We also intend to continue to promote economic relations between our three countries. We are making a big step towards joining Eurasia and towards positive cooperation between Iran and Eurasian countries. We plan to create a green customs corridor between our three countries and to coordinate our customs standards.
"During this summit in Tehran, we talked about cooperation in banking and about the use of national currencies in Iran-Azerbaijan and Iran-Russia trade, as well as in trilateral trade, so that we would be able to use our national currencies both in the bilateral and in the trilateral format.
"We discussed cooperation in the energy sphere. All three countries are rich in oil and gas resources and have a unique regional and international location. We spoke about cooperation in the area of oil and gas extraction equipment. And we also talked about investments in the energy sector, which plays a very important role for our countries.
"Our power grids must be synchronized as soon as they become interconnected so that we could use each other's current power generating potential.
"Apart from economic matters, we also touched upon environmental issues, especially as regards the Caspian Sea. Our countries, all three of us, are Caspian states, so we discussed ways to speedily finalize the legal status of the Caspian Sea, which would enable us to exploit the existing potential of this sea.
"Mr. Putin proposed holding the next summit in Russia. We accepted it. Let me thank Mr. Putin and announce that the next summit will be held in Russia.
"In addition to economic cooperation, we also talked about regional cooperation and the trilateral cooperation format between Iran, Russia and Turkey in this area.
"During this summit, all three countries reiterated the need for regional stability, as well as the need to fight terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime.
"Relations between our three countries are developing steadily. We intend to use our potentials for the prosperity of our nations..."