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Iran’s Pivot to East: How It Works

Alwaght– After his East Asia tour last week, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif flew to Moscow to discuss regional and international cases with the Russian officials. Upon his arrival, he said that after G7 meeting in France, he visited China to inform the “Chinese friends” of the nuclear deal developments and that he now visits Moscow to inform the Russians of the same developments. The intensified trips to Eastern countries raises a question about how the Islamic Republic can expand the relations with the East in a bid to foil the American sanctions on Tehran.

Iran’s role in the global power cycle 

Charles Doran in his “power cycle theory” explains its aspects, saying that the power shift follows a neat pattern of rise, maturity, and demise. So, each actor’s role is a function of its power. On the other hand, he continues, the balance in the international order is about the power cycle, the emergence of new powers, and the players’ efforts to fill the gaps of structural limitations.

With this theory considered, the US power is declining and China rises to become the superpower challenging the American hegemony. The US sanctions against Iran, Russia, and North Korea, as well as the trade war waged against China all mark attempts to prevent the power shift. Russia and China, themselves under US threats, are struggling in the world’s contradictory arena to expand their diplomatic and security cooperation with regional states. Their push is marked by such moves like founding Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Although Iran is not yet part of the bloc, it is catching the world blocs’ attention for its geopolitical, geoeconomic, and geocultural significance.

Iran’s place in the Eastern bloc

A set of areas define Iran’s place in the Eastern bloc while the world order is moving from the unipolar status to multipolar one. Countering the US unilateralism, the Western intervention and hegemony promotion in West Asia, Iran’s key geopolitical position in creating a link between the East and West, and its energy wealth.

Confronting NATO expansion eastward 

After NATO redefined its mission, something showed itself at 2002 Prague and 2004 Istanbul meetings, new tasks like the fight against terrorism, facing nuclear arms proliferation, and providing security of global energy flow were added to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s duties. The new duties gave the organization the pretext to expand to the East and Afghanistan to neighbor Iran, China, and the near abroad states bordering Russia. On the other hand, the US since 2001 organized and armed such terrorist groups as al-Qaeda and ISIS, challenging the security on Iranian, Chinese, and Russian borders. Seeing for itself a key role in Afghanistan’s security, Iran last year proposed a meeting gathering together the neighbors of the Central Asian country. The suggestion received Afghanistan and the other countries’ welcome. So, the first security meeting was held in Russia with the presence of Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, Pakistan, China, and India. Tehran, thus, took a significant step in promoting a regional mechanism of security to effectively push to sidelines the largely destabilizing role of the Western players. Due to the significance of the issue, Tehran is scheduled to host the second Afghanistan meeting in the second half of this year.

Iran’s efforts to ease the crisis in Syria and fight against terrorism in association with Russia and even China represent proof to success of Iran-East security cooperation that came in opposition to the West’s plan to topple the Syrian government to change the political and security geography of the region.

Energy significance 

Iran is one of the most reliable energy providers for India, Japan, and China. The country holds 17 percent of the total regional and over 9 percent of the world’s energy resources. The Islamic Republic’s gas reserves are also huge. Many analysts note that Trump’s trick to put the brakes on the Chinese economic growth is represented by his efforts to cut Beijing’s access to the secure energy supplies whose hub is West Asia. Iran is the only regional country that has not gone under US control with its rich energy resources. It has been the main energy provider in the golden age of China’s growth.

Geopolitical position

Iran, with regard to its position in the ancient Silk Road, tries to make the most out of China’s ambitious “one belt, one road” project. Its access to the Persian Gulf, Sea of Oman, and the Caspian Sea has made Iran a point of focus for the world’s major producers and exporters.

In his China visit last week, Iran’s Zarif said Tehran fully supported Xi Jinping’s one belt, one road initiative that connects the continents. He admired the plan as a major push towards the economic and social development of many of the global countries.

Pivot to East from security aspect 

Iran’s security cooperation with China and Russia is increasing remarkably. Ahead of his 27th official trip to Moscow within six years, Zarif said that he will inform the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of the latest status of the Iran nuclear deal. He added that Moscow and Tehran have strategic relations and that Russia stood by Iran in tough times. The visit to Moscow was also important to Russia. The Russian foreign ministry stated that the discussions will focus on the nuclear deal, the Persian Gulf, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen.

As part of continued security cooperation and in response to the US military presence, Iran and Russia have recently announced a security agreement in the Persian Gulf. Iran’s navy chief Admiral Hussein Khanzadi said in early August that Tehran and Moscow will soon hold military exercises in the Indian Ocean, Strait of Hormuz, and the Persian Gulf.

Furthermore, Russia and China have recently offered Iran fighter jets and other military equipment. The purchase can go ahead after arms embargo is lifted in a year according to the UN resolution approved after the nuclear deal. Such a suggestion is an outcome of the growing security cooperation of the Eastern camp, something driving Washington angry and worried especially that the US can no longer get UN consensus for fresh arms ban on Tehran.

Pivot to East from the economic aspect 

Driven by historical and geopolitical roots, the Iranian trade with East Asian countries and Russia has been constant and continuously increasingly for centuries. Tehran makes the most out of this business capacity to weather the American sanctions. In addition to Japan, China is a major trade partner of Iran. The Chinese-Iranian trade was $3.5 billion in the second quarter of this year. It can reach $7 billion in the short run, reports say.

Russia is another trade partner. Moscow itself is a victim of the US sanctions. The two have begun to ditch dollar from bilateral trade in favor of national currencies. The two countries’ trade was $1.7 billion in 2018. In 2019 it even increased. Iran is also about to join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union. Iran’s membership of the EEU paves the way for the rise of a powerful trade bloc as Iran’s convenient geopolitical position allows for EEU member states’ connection to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.

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