Iran embarks on military diplomacy

October 18, 2021 - 21:17

TEHRAN – In the latest sign of activating Iran’s new policy orientation, a senior Iranian general started a regional tour that included visits to two pivotal neighbors of the country in a bid to strengthen regional ties and dispel threats emanating from recent developments in the region.

Iran’s Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Bagheri arrived in Moscow on Sunday as part of his renewed efforts to improve relations with a number of Iran’s neighbors. The visit was done at the official invitation of Russian Defense Minister General Sergei Shoigu.

In addition to Shoigu, the Iranian general also met his Russian counterpart, Valery Gerasimov. During his visit, Bagheri discussed two main things: Arms deals with Russia and regional developments, especially Afghanistan. 

The Iranian embassy in Moscow said in a mid-October announcement that Bagheri will “exchange views with Russian officials on the development of cooperation and joint defense and military relations, the fight against terrorism, and reviewing regional and international changes.”

Bagheri himself said upon his arrival in Russia that he will pursue the implementation of an arms deal for purchasing fighter jets, training jets, and combat helicopters from Russia. During a meeting with Iranian experts at the Iranian embassy in Moscow, the senior general pointed out that the deal had been signed in the aftermath of the lifting of a UN arms embargo on Iran in October last year. 

He confirmed that discussions on mutual cooperation, defense, and military relations, the latest regional and international developments, as well as the fight against terrorism, are on the agenda of his visit to Moscow.

“We need a roadmap to have strong relations with countries, especially Russia and other neighboring countries,” the general said, according to Iran’s state news agency, IRNA. 

The visit to Russia came at a time when Afghanistan still has no internationally recognized government in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul. Iran has voiced concerns over the possible rise of terrorism in Afghanistan after the Taliban overran Kabul. Recent suicide attacks against Shi’ite prayers in two mosques in Afghanistan have only exacerbated these concerns. Iran warned of sectarian sedition in Afghanistan after these attacks claimed the lives of dozens of Shi’ite Muslims. 

“The Foreign Ministry also warns of plots by the enemies of the Islamic ummah to cause divisions, and stresses the need for unity and solidarity among Shias and Sunnis and for rejection of violence and extremism in the name of Islam. This heart-wrenching incident and the past tragic events including the terrorist attack in Konduz highlight more than ever before the need for beefing up security and boosting protection of Shia and Sunni worshiping places and other gatherings in Afghanistan. The Islamic Republic of Iran is confident that our Muslim brothers and sisters in Afghanistan will foil the divisive schemes of their enemies through solidarity, co-thinking and joint efforts,” the Iranian foreign ministry said in a statement earlier this week.

Bagheri said the developments in Afghanistan were an important part of his talks with the Russian officials. His visit to Russia also came on the heels of another visit to Pakistan where he met with high-ranking Pakistani military officials to discuss Afghanistan. 

In Moscow, Bagheri said he succeeded in dispelling “negative mentalities” just as he did in Pakistan. 

General Bagheri rarely makes foreign visits. So, his tour of Pakistan and Russia is of real importance particularly in terms of reiterating the new trend in the foreign policy of Iranian President Ayatollah Seyed Ebrahim Raisi’s administration, which is based on closer cooperation and consultations with neighboring countries.