TEHRAN, Jan. 20 (MNA) – A European think tank director believes Russia is ready for partnership and seeks one with Iran.

The Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javaf Zarif visited last week four countries and the Geneva-2 conference is scheduled forJanuary 22. We spoke with Dr. Mateusz Piskorski – General Director of European Centre of Geopolitical Analysis- who says “Syria is coming out of the civil war and heading towards a period of unstable, but still peaceful, recovery.”

- On the wake of the Geneva2 talks, how significant do you think the visit of Mr Zarif to the Arab neighbors of Syria (Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan) and especially Russia can be?

- It is worth to notice that Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s level of diplomatic activity in the recent months is quite high, thus reminding of Iran as one of the major players in the regional politics of the Middle East. One cannot think about comprehensive solutions of the Syrian conflict without including and making arrangements with neighboring Arab countries. It is their attitude and policy, which decide about the situation on the battlefield in Syria. On the other hand, you cannot even think or imagine coming to a long lasting solution of the conflict without Iranian participation. The fact is that Islamic Republic of Iran remains one of the most significant players in regional geopolitics and international relations. We should also remember that Minister Zarif has visited Turkey in the first days of January, which means that he has met representatives of all countries bordering with Syria and engaged in the conflict to different extent, with the exception of the one occupying Golan Heights, of course. Lebanon cannot be ascribed in the ranks of important geopolitical actors in the Middle East, however its territory is crucial for several non-state entities active in the region and shaping the course of events. Minister Zarif’s long list of meetings with Lebanese politicians representing various factions indicates that Iran’s role in the country is not restricted to supporting Hezbollah. It is definitely more complex and ambitious although Hassan Nasrallah remains to be the main and leading partner and reliable source of information on the situation in Lebanon. And the situation is not simple, and moreover, the neighboring Syrian war can spread (to some extent it has already spread) to the Lebanese territory, thus igniting another long lasting tensions in the country, which has experienced its own bloody conflict not long ago. The activities of al-Qaeda – the case of Majid al-Majid and November attacks on the Iranian embassy in Beirut – are a clear proof for that. The terrorist threat is also spreading in Iraq, which is even more important for the security of Iran. On the other hand, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could be called one of the most consequent allies of Tehran in the region. Lebanon and Iraq are actually areas of extended Syrian conflict, which becomes thus not a national turmoil of a civil war in one country, but rather a chaos-spreading nightmare for several countries and nations. Jordan is bordering this unsafe zone, and its support for the armed opposition and / or terrorists in Syria doesn’t make it invulnerable in the future – if Syria falls, Jordan will have to face terrorist threat coming from most of its neighboring countries. Minister Zarif’s diplomatic offensive in the mentioned countries could perhaps help them comprehend the complexity of the whole situation.

Minister’s visit to Moscow (together with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Muallem), has been the most significant one, without any doubt. Russia’s successful diplomacy, which helped to avoid US led war against Syria, marks Moscow’s long awaited return to the regional politics of the Middle East.  Iran’s rapprochement with the West and suspending of its nuclear program may not last forever. I don’t think that comparing the Islamic Republic with countries in Northern Africa would be correct, but – as an example – we can remind Libya, when Colonel Ghadaffi tried to appease the West, and – as a result – he finally got foreign intervention, regardless his peaceful and friendly gestures and endeavors. Thus, for Teheran a strategy of building complimentary relations with a global power, which Russia undoubtedly is, might be a rational way to diversify its foreign policy. President Rouhani’s conversation with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, then meetings of Minister Zarif with Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and President Putin as well, clearly indicate that there is a new opening in Iranian-Russian relations. Russia has officially admitted that Iranian participation in Geneva-2 talks on Syria’s future are highly important. Thus Moscow regards Tehran as a country, which has serious influences in Syrian Arab Republic, and might be a significant part of any peaceful, political solution, which might bring end to the civil war. The end of Iran’s international isolation enables Russian Federation to participate in a competition for Iran, where other countries and their companies are striving to get a grip on Iranian natural resources. The difference between competing parties is that Russia may propose a strategic partnership, and the West will be trying to impose Iran’s exploitation. That is why Minister Zarif’s visit to Moscow might be a breaking point, and at least an important factor for: 1) Geneva-2 process; 2) economic cooperation; 3) showing the West that Iran has an alternative. Russia and Iran share not only common interests, but have common problems – particularly with the threat of Saudi sponsored Wahhabi terrorism spreading not only in the Middle East, but in the volatile region of North Caucasus as well.

- In the situation that there is a discord between Western countries and Mr. Brahimi- Russia about the presence of Tehran in the talks and, what message this trip -especially to Moscow- has for the West?

- The main message for the West is that Iran cannot be forced to bow before all demands of the so-called West, and particularly United States. Let me give you an example. The news spread by Reuters about Iranian-Russian deal on barter trade (Russian goods for Iranian oil) has caused panic in Washington. This panic shows what the White House is really afraid of – building an alliance of Iran with Russia as the driving force of Eurasian integration. Alexander Novak, the Russian Minister of Energy has already stated that both countries will develop their strategic ties in the field of oil and gas exploitation and trade. There are also rumors that partnership with Russia might include military cooperation, which makes the West particularly anxious. Meanwhile, Iran as a sovereign state has its fundamental right to choose its allies and strategic partners.

- The situation in the Syria conflict has had a dramatic change compared from Geneva1 and Damascus regime forces have now the upper-hand, how to you see the effect of it on the next negotiations?

- The situation in Syria is definitely better than it used to be over one year ago. But this does not mean that the government has already taken control of state’s territory. What is the most important now is that majority of the Syrian people totally and definitely reject the armed opposition and its tactics. That is why the conflict will probably evolve from a stage of civil war to a stage of terrorism – torn country. First foreign companies are starting to negotiate tenders in reconstruction and rebuilding of the country, which is definitely a sign that Syria is coming out of the civil war and heading towards a period of unstable, but still peaceful, recovery. The government has real popular support, but this support may vanish, if the authorities will not be able to solve the main task – to rebuild the country and guarantee fundamental means of security.

- Recent months have seen a surge of conflicts between the rebel/terrorist in Syria, what will be the effect of this change on the outcome of the Geneva2 and the perspective of the ongoing crisis? 

- First, we have to notice that the so-called opposition based in Turkey and in other countries abroad, I mean its political wing, does not control the armed groups in Syria. Thus any arrangements made with them will not come into force immediately, but will bring certain PR effect, changing the international image of Syrian government. Second, the armed opposition is in state of total chaos, which means that it will commit more and more crimes and atrocities, being in convulsive state of war of all against all. There is also definitely one risk, especially springing from the fights within, against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – decreasing the influence of this particular group does not mean that other terrorists will become peaceful opposition activists. There are several other groups – to mention only Jabhat al Nusra – which are linked to al-Qaeda and which will probably continue with their terrorist activities. In case of success of the Geneva-2 conference, I presume that there will be a long period of terrorist threat in Syria, perhaps somehow reminding the situation in the neighboring Iraq. To bring peace into effect, there must be two stages: 1) the elections which could legitimize once more President’s Bashar al-Assad authority over the country and show support for all his state-rebuilding and antiterrorist actions; 2) the international support for Syrian government (probably a new one, widened by the representatives of political opposition) in fighting terrorist threat. Syria will need several years to eliminate terrorists, but will also need significant support in terms of equipment, training etc. This support might be provided only by those countries which still have some credibility in the country – namely Russia and Iran.


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