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November 1, 2017 2:49 pm

Russian President Vladimir Putin Said to Be Embracing Iran as ‘Strategic Partner’ With Tehran Visit

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Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei in Tehran. Photo: Mehr News Agency.

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Iran for an official visit on Wednesday, in another major demonstration of the burgeoning partnership between Tehran and Moscow, and a further sign of Russia’s enhanced status as a regional power-broker.

Putin met in person with Iran’s “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, before moving on to a trilateral summit with his Iranian and Azeri counterparts, Hassan Rouhani and Ilham Aliyev. Broadly focused on trade, law enforcement and national security issues between the three neighboring countries, analysts say that Russia’s strengthening of its relations with Iran is what lies at the heart of the talks — at a time when Iran is boosting its Shia proxy paramilitaries around the region, and the US Congress debates whether to continue with the JCPOA, the 2015 nuclear deal agreed to by Iran and six world powers, including America.

“The key word here is ‘friendship,'” Anna Borshchevskaya — the Ira Weiner Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank and an expert on Russia-Middle East relations — told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. “Putin said before leaving that Russia and Iran have had 500 years of diplomatic relations, never once mentioning the historic rivalry between them, and it’s on the basis of that friendship that relations will now develop on a number of fronts, including trade.”

Borshchevskaya was skeptical the Russians would accept any changes to the JCPOA advanced by Congress to tighten international monitoring of Iranian nuclear facilities. “They wanted the JCPOA, they wanted Iran to get sanctions relief so they could trade, and they saw the agreement as a victory for their own diplomacy,” she said.

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Neither did Borshchevskaya believe that Putin would voice any objections to the Iranian military presence in the area that extends from Kurdish and Arab regions of Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean coast and Israel’s northern border.

“The Iranians may not have identical strategic goals to the Russians, but these don’t necessarily conflict,” she observed. “I don’t see a wedge between Iran and Russia anytime soon — they have a common enemy in America, and that brings them together more than anything else.”

Iran’s official response to Putin’s visit suggests that a highly special relationship between Moscow and Tehran is in the making. Interviewed by the Qatari government-funded broadcaster Al Jazeera, Mostafa Khosh Cheshm — the head of the Islamic Republic’s semi-official Fars news agency — declared that Russia had “come to realize that if they have a true partner in this part of the world, it is Iran.”

“Russia has revived its lost role,” Khosh Cheshm said. “Once it was the former Soviet Union. It decomposed, it collapsed, and it lost everything. Now it’s back on the stage. It’s rising as a regional power that is soon going to be one of the world powers again.”

All these developments should be of great concern to Israel, Borshchevskaya noted. Israel has voiced its anxiety about the strategic advantage enjoyed by Russia and Iran on at least two occasions this year; in July, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu split with the US by explicitly opposing the ceasefire agreement brokered by Russia in Syria, while in October, Israeli leaders watched with alarm as Iranian-backed Iraqi government forces and Shia paramilitaries seized a large amount of territory controlled by the Kurdish Peshmerga in northern Iraq.

“Israel should have no illusions that Russia is going to be an honest broker, or a voice of reason or moderation,” Borshchevskaya said. “Putin’s primary interest is in having Iran as a strategic partner, and that’s not good news for Israel.”

Borshchevskaya also emphasized the Russian leader’s increasing regional clout, and his evident skill in managing a host of conflicting relationships. “In August, Putin met with Netanyahu, in October, the Saudi king paid a historic first visit to Moscow, and now he’s in Iran; that shows you how much regional influence he has achieved,” she said. “He is very good at balancing all these relationships — Kurds, Iranians, Saudis, Israelis — but his main priority is Iran.”

Meanwhile, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, met separately with his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, in Tehran on Wednesday.

“There is a good military cooperation between Iran and Russia and of course there are many areas for expanding the cooperation,” Bagheri said, in remarks reported by Iranian media outlets. Gerasimov responded that he was looking forward to discussing “the current situation in Syria, as well as the areas for further military and technical cooperation between Iran and Russia.”

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