Tue, Feb 27, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Iran’s eastward shift shows impatience with West

AFP, TEHRAN

Iran’s supreme leader has signaled a decisive shift in favor of relations with China and Russia, indicating that patience is running out with efforts to improve ties with the West.

One of the most popular slogans during the 1979 revolution was “Neither East nor West,” a defiant vow that Iran would no longer favor either of the world’s major forces at the time — US-style capitalism or Soviet communism.

It was therefore striking to hear Ayatollah Ali Khamenei say on Monday last week that: “In foreign policy, the top priorities for us today include preferring East to West.”

Analysts said this does not change the basic idea that Iran refuses to fall under the sway of outside powers, but it does suggest that the latest attempt at detente with the US — represented by the 2015 nuclear deal — is running out of steam.

“Khamenei has repeatedly outlined that the 2015 nuclear deal was a test to see if negotiations with the West could yield positive results for Iran,” said Ellie Geranmayeh, senior policy fellow for the Middle East and North Africa Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“The leadership perceives the US as acting in bad faith on the deal. Khamenei’s statement signals a green light for the Iranian system to focus greater diplomatic effort on deepening ties with China and Russia,” she said.

Khamenei’s comments come at a critical moment, with US President Donald Trump threatening to tear up the deal and reimpose sanctions unless Iran agrees to rein in its missile program and “destabilizing activities” in the Middle East.

Even before Trump, Iran felt Washington was violating its side of the bargain as it became clear that remaining US sanctions would still hamper banking ties and foreign investments, even blocking Iranian tech start-ups from sharing their products on app stores.

Tehran argues this violates a clause stating the US must “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran.”

“From day one, the US, the [former president Barack] Obama administration, started violating both the letter and the spirit of the agreement,” said Mohammad Marandi, a political analyst at the University of Tehran.

He said that Khamenei’s latest statement recognized the simple fact that relations with eastern countries were much stronger, particularly since Iran and Russia allied over the Syrian war.

“It’s a very different world now. Iran’s relationship with Russia and China and an increasing number of Asian countries is much better than with the West because they treat us much better,” he said. “We are partners with Russia in Syria. We are not subordinate.”

Anger over foreign interference was a key driver of the 1979 revolution after more than a century of intrigues, coups and resource exploitation by the US, Britain and Russia, but despite being depicted by critics as dogmatic and uncompromising, the Islamic republic that emerged after the revolution has been surprisingly flexible in its foreign policy.

“At certain moments since 1979, Iran has taken a pragmatic approach to dealings with the United States when necessary or in its interest,” Geranmayeh said.

She highlighted the infamous Iran-Contra arms deal in the 1980s and cooperation in Afghanistan in 2001, as well as the nuclear deal.

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