Persia Digest – A university professor in the US believes: Under these circumstances, Iran should not put all its hopes in one or two countries. Instead, it should have acceptable relations with all major players and thus improve its bargaining position.
Some experts in Iran believe that power and wealth are shifting from West to East and the world is on the threshold of a historic transfer of power. Furthermore, the attitude of the West towards Iran in general, and following Trump coming to power in particular, strengthens the viewpoint that Iran must pursue the look to the East strategy more vigorously. Others believe that the East is still unable to stand up to the West. Regarding Iran, the East is not only thinking about its maximum interests, it is even taking advantage of Iran’s limitations. This claim can be seen in Russia’s decision to increase oil production in the current situation or China’s conditions for settling Iranian oil money with Chinese goods.
Persia Digest (PD) has conducted an interview on this topic with Shireen Hunter who is a Research Professor at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington DC, and she has published many books and articles on Iranian issues.
You can read the interview here:
Can the strategy of looking to the East be in Iran’s interest under the circumstances?
Iran’s strategy of “Looking to the East” is nothing new. It experienced with it in the 2000s. A major problem with this strategy is that it still conceives of East and West in Cold War terms, whereas the dynamics of international relations have fundamentally altered. Unlike the Cold war era, inter-state relations are far more asymmetrical and a mixture of conflict and accommodation. Under these circumstances, states cooperate with others on some issues while disagree on others. This applies both to Western states as well as to other countries, including Russia and China. By not having constructive relations with the West, Iran puts itself in a position of disadvantage vis a vis Eastern states and enables them to take advantage of it.
Do countries such as China, Russia, India…change the quality of their relations with Iran to its detriment due to US sanctions, or are the sanctions a pretext to use Iran’s particular circumstances to their own benefit?
China, India, Russia and other states are after their own interest. In relations with Iran they want to maximize their own profits and not help Iran economically or otherwise. For example, neither China nor India want Iran to become a powerful state economically and thus compete with them. They also have no intrinsic strategic interest in Iran. For example, China still sees Pakistan as an important part of its security strategy, but it does not have the same view of Iran. China and India want to sue Iran to their own interest. As Iran has narrowed its options through hostility towards the West, these countries have treated Iran unfairly. Sanctions have given them an added excuse to try to gain advantages at Iran’s expense.
If Iran, for any reason, does not choose to change its relationship with the West, especially the United States, and follow the strategy of looking to the East, what would be the requirements of such a strategy?
If Iran does not improve its bargaining position by resolving its problems with the West, especially America, Eastern states will continue to take advantage of it. But if Iran comes out of its isolation, then Eastern states would have to compete with the West in gaining Iran’s cooperation on many fronts, and they would be more willing to invest in Iran and otherwise help it.
Some in Iran call Russia a strategic partner and cite the two countries’ cooperation in the Syrian crisis as an example. Can the Iran-Russia relations be strategic?
Russia has never considered Iran a strategic ally. On the contrary, throughout the post-Soviet years it has used Iran as a bargaining chip in competition with the West and as an instrument of its regional policies. Russia has treated Turkey much better than Iran and has even sought cooperation with Saudi Arabia on oil issue at Iran’s expense. On the Caspian. it has sided with Azerbaijan and the Central Asian states. It has not even gotten Iran into the Shanghai treaty organization, while because of the Chinese support Pakistan is a full member. This, too, is natural since Iran has narrowed its option by its hostility towards the West. Russia has felt that Iran has nowhere else to go, Thus, the idea of Russia as a strategic ally is worse than an illusion. In general, in the post-Cold War era there are not many strategic alliances. Even US-Europe alliance is fraying.
From an American perspective, China and Russia are among the most important threats to its national security. To the contrary, Iran is trying to establish a link between itself and these two countries. Will such a link increase Iran’s security? To what extent will the China-Russia-Iran triangle be a danger to the US?
In the foreseeable future, I do not see any coming together of China and Russia to counter America on the pattern of Cold War era politics. The relations among these states will be competitive but far from full scale conflict. Iran’s participation in a so-called triangle will not have much impact, since neither China nor Russia will provide Iran with sufficient capacity to challenge America say in the Persian Gulf. If Iran were to do such a thing it would suffer total devastation. To protect its interests, Iran must finally realize that the Cold War distinctions between East and West are no longer valid. China and Russia do not have ideological dispute with America. Theirs is more of a classic great power rivalry. Under these circumstances, Iran should not put all its hopes in one or two countries.
Instead, it should have acceptable relations with all major players and thus improve its bargaining position.