Russian FM discusses regional issues in Tehran

April 13, 2021 - 21:49

TEHRAN – During his visit to Iran, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed regional issues with high-level Iranian officials amid heightened tensions between Iran and Israel over a sabotage operation that targeted a key Iranian nuclear facility.

The top Russian diplomat met on Tuesday with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. His stay in Tehran was part of a regional tour that included Egypt, where Lavrov underlined the need for Syria to return to “the Arab family,” i.e the Arab League.

Speaking at a Monday joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry, Lavrov said, “I can reaffirm our strong conviction that Syria must return to the Arab family and fully reinstate its Arab League membership. This kind of issue cannot be resolved overnight given the differences and emotions that have accumulated over many years. We sense that our consistent calls to create the necessary conditions for resolving it are meeting with an increasingly engaged and positive response. I can reaffirm that this is precisely the takeaway from our recent visit to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.”

The Russian foreign minister said he discussed this issue in detail in Cairo and heard everyone he talked to say that restoring Syria’s membership in the Arab League has “critical advantages” for both Syria and the Arab League.

However, despite Arab willingness to bring Syria back to the Arab League, Russian efforts in this regard have achieved little success due to the U.S. far-reaching economic sanctions on Syria, commonly known as the Caesar Act. The U.S. has effectively vetoed all political and diplomatic efforts by some of its Arab allies, particularly the United Arab Emirates, to return Syria to the Arab fold.

In March, during a visit by Lavrov to the UAE, Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed complained that the U.S. Caesar Act hinders Syria’s return to the Arab League.

The Russian efforts to return Syria to the Arab League seem to be part of the Kremlin’s vision for peace and stability in the broader West Asia region. In Tehran, Lavrov discussed the Syrian issue while outlining Russia’s new concept for peace in the Persian Gulf region.

In addition to usual bilateral issues, the Russian foreign minister held detailed talks on regional issues that seem to be in keeping with what he pursued in Cairo.

During his meeting with President Rouhani, Lavrov said, “Iran and Russia share common and close goals in regional and international cooperation.”

He was referring to the recent nuclear talks in Vienna and the desire by the United States to return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“Moscow considers the unconditional, complete return of the United States to the JCPOA by implementing the UN Security Council Resolution 2231 as the only solution to the problem,” the Russian foreign minister as quoted by the Iranian presidency's website as saying.

The chief Russian diplomat opposed the U.S. and European demands to expand the JCPOA and said other thorny issues should be addressed separately in what appeared to be a new Russian initiative to achieve stability in the Persian Gulf region.

“In our opinion, it is completely useless to ask Iran to accept new conditions within the framework of the deal or to act beyond its obligations in the framework of the deal,” Lavrov pointed out, adding, “Any additional documents on various issues, including regional or military development, can be examined separately outside the framework of the nuclear deal in order to ensure the security of the region and the Persian Gulf with the presence of regional countries.”

The top Russian diplomat once again presented Russia’s initiative of “collective security.”

The Iranian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Lavrov presented a collective security initiative in the Persian Gulf.

“Russia has proposed a collective security initiative with the Persian Gulf, and it continuously adheres to the premise that overcoming accumulated differences in the Persian Gulf region is possible only through comprehensive dialogue and mutual respect, and taking into account the interests and concerns of all parties,” the statement quoted Lavrov as saying at a meeting with Zarif.

Russia presented its initiative to the UN in 2019 as tensions soared in the region following the unilateral withdrawal of U.S. President Donald Trump from the Iran nuclear deal. At that time, the Russian initiative was distributed as an official document approved by the United Nations. Russia’s state news agency TASS published some of the initiative’s contents shortly after it was distributed in the UN.

According to TASS, Russia’s concept of collective security calls for creating a security system that would enhance consultations between countries in the region and outside of it.

“Practical work on launching the process of creating a security system in the Persian Gulf may be started by holding bilateral and multilateral consultations between interested parties, including countries both within the region and outside of it, UN Security Council, LAS [League of Arab States], OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation], GCC [Persian Gulf Cooperation Council],” the document said.

Tensions soared in the Persian Gulf region following Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA. Normalization deals between Israel and some Arab states in the region further escalated the tensions as Iran warned these Arab states against giving Israel a foothold on its doorstep.

During his meeting with Lavrov, President Rouhani underlined the need for Tehran and Moscow to continue cooperation to resolve regional crises and problems but said that “inviting the Zionist regime [Israel], as a destabilizing and tension-promoting element, to enter the Persian Gulf region is a dangerous step.”

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