Iran's New President and Relations With Russia

Relations between Iran and Russia will continue to develop. But, apart from nuclear energy cooperation and military-technical cooperation, there are no other points of contact. Iran and Russia take similar stances on the Syrian issue and some other issues. Russia faces no threat of Shia extremism.

Why, in your opinion, was Rouhani able to win the latest presidential election? 

As I see it, two factors ensured Rouhani’s successful showing during the election. First of all, the people are somewhat tired of the confrontational political style embodied by Ahmadinejad. Second, the new and sufficiently united national leadership is ready for changes, and it is also prepared to pursue a more flexible policy course. An election campaign “castling” move in which the conservatives were represented by several candidates who eventually divided the vote also played a certain role. The moderates fielded only one candidate who ended up winning.

Analysts are divided on Rouhani’s political persona. Some call him a “reformist,” others say he is a “conscientious conservative,” and some other analysts refer to him as a “master of compromise.” Which view is closest to your own?

I would prefer not to apply any labels to him, because it is still too early to tell. Rouhani has come a long way as a member of the ruling religious elite, which has been ruling Iran since the revolution of 1979. Western analysts often recall his past, and see cause to doubt his commitment to moderate ideas. But every person grows and evolves. And, today, I would say that he really embodies the moderate wing of Iran’s religious establishment. This moderate wing is prepared to compromise with the world and realizes that tilting at windmills all the time is pointless. Rhetoric is one thing, and pragmatism and national interests are something else entirely.

Should we, in your opinion, expect any improvements in Iran’s relations with the West? How can this influence the Iranian nuclear program and Tehran’s stance on Syria?

Iran’s regional policy – the main factor hampering the normalization of relations with the West – is the most important issue. First of all, this means the new leadership’s policy with regard to Israel. The stance of the previous president and his public doubts about the Holocaust were not received well in Israel and the United States. Much will depend on the new Iranian President’s efforts in this direction and also on Iran’s cooperation with various Islamic movements.

Iran and the West might reach some agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program. Iran might display greater flexibility on this issue. I don’t see any dramatic changes here. It is very important that Iran’s regional policy not irritate the West. This is the key to the fate of its nuclear program as well.

And we should not expect any major changes in Iran’s stance on Syria.

What are the implications of Hassan Rouhani’s statements about seeking to improve relations between Iran and the West for Russian-Iranian relations?

I believe that a thaw in Iran’s relations with the West will not cause Iranian-Russian relations to deteriorate. First of all, this can be explained by the fact that no thaw can be very significant, because the Iranian regime is unable to immediately renounce all its basic values that cause discontent in the West. And the West will continue to distrust Tehran. Moreover, both Russia and Iran are interested in energy cooperation. They have to ensure effective cooperation on gas markets and to formulate a joint policy on regional issues. So, again, I don’t think that a limited thaw in relations between Iran and the Western world can negatively impact our cooperation.

Construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant is a testament to the effective cooperation between Russia and Iran in the field of nuclear energy. As for economic cooperation, Russia has no major interests linked with Iran in this sphere. Russia believes it is more important to cooperate with Turkey, another regional power. Nevertheless, it should be noted that Iran and Russia take similar stances on the Syrian issue and some other issues. Besides, Iran is not a source of religious extremism, despite Western perceptions. Russia faces no threat of Shia extremism.

Relations between Iran and Russia will continue to develop. But, apart from nuclear energy cooperation and military-technical cooperation, I don’t see any other points of contact.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.