On July 13, 2018, the Valdai Club held an expert discussion on Iran’s regional policy featuring Ali Akbar Velayati, Senior Adviser for International Affairs of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ali Hosseini Khamenei. The event was moderated by Andrey Bystritskiy, Chairman of the Board of the Valdai Club Foundation.
Recently the Islamic Republic of Iran has solidified its dual status – on the one hand, of a crucial regional player, and on the other, of a subject of global politics. According to Andrey Bystritskiy, the paradox is that the problems of the Middle East play a key role for the whole world: in this troubled and historically influential region the future architecture of the world is constructed and the ways of solving global problems are shaped.
At the outset, Ali Akbar Velayati said that the term “Middle East” is a Western invention, and that Iran prefers to call this region West Asia and North Africa. The importance of Iran for the region is due to the fact that it is an ancient civilization, whose history goes back about ten thousand years. What we call the Middle East is the most sensitive part of the world, which has always been an arena of international struggle. Therefore, other countries have always sought presence here, and if this presence was friendly, the peoples of the region welcomed it, while if it was associated with deception and threats, they met it with resistance. The current situation in the region, according to the speaker, goes back exactly to the attempts of the West – first England and France, later the US – to assert their hegemony. The American policy is to weaken and dismember the countries of the region, and a vivid example is the fate of Libya and Somalia. Conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen are also linked to the aggressive policies of extra-regional players. The speaker even proposed the concept of “Somalization,” which means the destruction of statehood, depriving countries of borders and defense capabilities.
According to Velayati, Iran is a centre of resistance to such policies. The basis for Iran’s regional policy and its military presence in Syria and Iraq is direct invitation from the legitimate governments of these countries. “Without Iran and Russia, Al-Nusra would have ruled in Damascus, and al-Baghdadi in Baghdad,” the speaker stated harshly. According to Ali Akbar Velayati, with the support of the United States and Israel, terrorists have seized most of Syria and are ready to return if Iran and Russia stop providing military support to the country. “We came here not at the invitation of the United States, and we will not leave because of its threats,” he said. Therefore, Iran will maintain its presence in Syria, despite the destabilizing presence of American and French troops there.
Questions from the audience touched upon various aspects of regional policy and Iran’s attitude to the international agenda. One of the most pressing problems today is the preservation of the Iranian nuclear deal, or JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), which the United States quitted. “We do not violate our obligations under this agreement and continue our commitment, but an important point is that Iran ... should get economic benefits from its membership in the JCPOA,” Velayati said. At the same time, Iran constantly coordinates with Russia and China. The speaker emphasized the importance of Iran’s cooperation with Russia, pointing out that relations between these countries were established five centuries ago, and both sides are serious about supporting them and developing them both politically and economically. However, in its macro policy Iran also cooperates with the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union and is going to become a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Another question was about the Putin-Trump summit, which is to be held in Helsinki on July 16. Ali Akbar Velayati expressed doubts that this meeting could be productive: “It is unlikely that Mr. Trump will be able to bring some logic into the process. This is my forecast,” the expert said. “Trump is unpredictable ... and this, of course, is to the detriment of the world community and the people of the United States. It is difficult to predict what will result from the summit.” Iran itself does not intend to negotiate with the Americans: “These are people who violate agreements approved by the UN Security Council. Why should we trust them, negotiate with them?” Velayati asked.
At the end of the meeting, the Iranian guest once again stressed the value of consultations between different players, which allow to bring together thoughts and views in a situation of confrontation with hostile forces. Despite the complexity of the situation, the peoples of the region are fully determined to continue struggle for independence and the right to determine their own destiny.