Iran is Looking Towards East: Dr. Akram Zaheer

Dr. Muhammad Akram Zaheer

The president of Islamic Republic Iran Ibrahim Raeesi preferred east instead of west to make his first foreign visit. He participated in the summit of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), also known as Eurasian political, economic and security alliance and skipped the United Nations meeting. The visit also was substantive for Iran because it was to be a permanent member of SCO. Tehran believes that Asian powers are rising and they may disservice to the United States influence in the region and may on globe. China and Russia have no common interests with the United States to control Iran and to suppress its economy. On the contrary, they may be willing to accept Iran in order to develop their interests in the Middle East and in Persian Gulf.

The President Raeesi’s visit to Tajikistan to participate in SCO summit was not symbolic but it was very substantive. He expressed his future aim in the conference to expand political, economic and cultural ties with countries across the region to protect Iran from unilateral punishments from the West. The speech predominantly emphasised his main stated foreign policy goal. He stated “The world has entered in a new era, hegemony and unilateralism is failing. The international balance is moving toward multilateralism and redistribution of power to the benefit of independent countries.” He talked, “Sanctions or economic terrorism as major hurdles for regional progress, and called on the SCO member states to develop structures and mechanisms to fight against the sanctions as a group. Mr. Raeesi viewed that diplomacy is an only tool to secure national interest and this will be effect when all the major powers abide it. “Unilateral sanctions are not against only one country but it has become evident in recent years, sanctions have targeted more independent countries, especially members of the organisation”. He further said, “Iran’s geopolitical position, population, energy supplies, transport potential, workforce and culture can provide “meaningful momentum” to major regional master plans, including China’s Belt and Road Initiative and Eurasian economic Union”.

President Raeesi is trying to recover all the broken strips of the JCPOA deal and nuclear program by President Donald Trump. At the time, when indications of negotiation are growing from both the sides Iran and United States, China may play important role to facilitate and support negotiation between Tehran and Washington. China has several options like diplomatic engagement, BRI and foreign direct investment in Iran to bring Iran on the table negotiation with United Sates. China already has the experience to engage Iran for the nuclear deal. Iran’s acceptance as a SCO permanent member is a great achievement and China has supported to Iran in this regard.

The entry of Iran in the SCO may enhance its cooperative relationship with member states China, Russia Pakistan, India, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. This move can neutralize Western countries to isolate Iran and also can strengthen Iran’s position in West Asia. Iran thinks that JCPOA was not about Iranian nuclear program’s legitimacy it was only for the containment of Iran and also was a try to limit Iran’s power and influence in the Middle East particular in Persian Gulf. Once former president Hassan Ruhani said, “The West never helped Iran, it will hit Iran whenever it can.” Therefore, they have to learn that West never be trustful.   Even that, Ruhani’s effort to revive JCPOA was as kind of look towards West approach which has dead. President Ibrahim Raeesi also has criticized the policy of Ruhani who depended on the West to prevent Iran from sanctions. Iranian think sanctions are a Washington’s tool to thwart their nuclear and missile programs and their growing influence in the Middle East. Therefore, they believe that the only way for Iran is to find new strategic and powerful partners like China and Russia. Iran optimises that China and Russia might support during the nuclear talks. The membership of SCO follows the way to the East.

On the other hand, China-Iran also has signed 25 year agreement of $400 billion investment including security ties. Iran would like to join Belt and Road Initiative and want to attract Chinese investment in other mega projects. Tehran believes that Chinese investment may turn Iran’s geopolitical potential in to reality. The geography of Iran makes it a bridge between Asia and Europe. The joining with world’s largest regional organization can protect Iran from the isolation and American sanctions. Then Iran may be able to play a significant role in economic activities and security of the region and beyond the region. The withdrawal of USA from the Afghanistan also has enlarged its role in the peace and stability of Afghanistan. As well as it may promote its trade and defence cooperation with all SCO member states.      

  Russia also has agreed to expand its bilateral cooperation with Iran. Russia can sale more sophisticated arms to Iran. As the member of SCO, Iran may extend its defensive perimeters, military manoeuvre and security cooperation with Russia. Iran and Pakistan do not have ideal relations since the Islamic revolution 1979. Both the countries have complaints about uncertainty and instability in border areas.  Recently Iran follows the assumption that about Pakistan’s backing of the Taliban in squashing the northern alliance’s resistance in Panjshair region of Afghanistan. Although both the countries have complaints for each other but there is a great potential of bilateral cooperation. Iran has expressed its desire to join CPEC a mega project of China and Pakistan for the regional connectivity. To be permanent member of SCO Iran has a large potential to become beneficiary of the CPEC.

However Iran may avail opportunities to generate more leverage for the SCO member states and overreliance on the east. But if Tehran thinks that only by becoming the part of different regional organizations in neighbouring regions, including Eurasia, could spontaneously break the wall of sanctions and lead to diversify fruitful foreign relations, it would not be bad but illusory.

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