September 28, 2023

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Moscow, Tehran have taken proactive approach to address misunderstandings: Russian professor

MOSCOW – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s endorsement of a GCC statement on the three Iranian islands of Abou Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunbs in the Persian Gulf have ignited criticism and intense debate among some politicians, political experts and media outlets in Iran.

In light of the significance of understanding the situation from a different perspective, the Tehran Times sought the valuable insights of Professor Alexander Bobrov, Director of the School of Government and International Affairs at MGIMO University.

As a prominent Russian expert, Professor Bobrov’s perspective offers a unique vantage point on the complexities of Iran-Russia relations and the unfolding regional dynamics.

This interview delves into the repercussions of the media campaign in Iran, explores mechanisms for resolving misunderstandings, and examines the broader implications for Iran’s diplomatic landscape. Through this in-depth dialogue, I seek to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the Persian Gulf as one of the most geopolitically critical regions in the world.

Following is the text of interview with professor Alexander Bobrov:

Q: What do you think about the current minor differences regarding Iran-Russia relations? Will it impact the future of our bilateral relations?

A: What is going on at the moment in the Iranian media is just a certain form of simple miscommunication between Iran and Russia, and I really hope it won’t affect the future of our bilateral relation, as they are oriented towards the future and our two countries really share many things in common. So, I hope it was just a bump on the road towards our bright future.

Q: Why do you think there is strong criticism by certain Iranian media outlets of Lavrov’s endorsement of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council’s statement that questioned the Iranian sovereignty over the three islands of Abu Mousa and Greater and Lesser Tunbs?  

A: Some analysts consider it a sign of unstable relations between Iran and Russia. I believe that this whole campaign against Russia that we can witness in this case in some Iranian mass media has to do with the fragility of the reconciliation process between Tehran and the Arab countries of the region. Russia also praised all Chinese efforts to bring together countries of the region, although Beijing faced the same diplomatic ambiguity in 2022, in the wake of signing the so-called Riyad declaration. It really tarnished the reputation of Chinese diplomacy as it was brokered. It always has to do with this sort of tug of war between Iran and the Arab countries because of the very simple notion of this region, the Persian Gulf. I believe there could be absolutely no argument this gulf should be called Persian, but every single time Russia uses this geographic notion in any statements when signing a declaration with an Arab country, they actually accuse Russia of siding with Iran. And that’s why this process is so fragile, and we really hope that Iran and Saudi Arabia will be wise enough not to reiterate the very same problems that we have in this region itself.

I really hope this bump in the road will not affect the future of Iran-Russia ties because they are very deep and based on future trust.

Q: Can you say why Russia’s moves in mediating conflicts may lead to accusations from conflicting parties that Russia supports the other side?

A: This is actually what diplomacy is all about. Whatever actions an honest broker, be it China or Russia or any country, would try to take, all warring parties will accuse this honest broker of supporting the opponents, whatever actions will be taken. That’s why it is really so hard to be diplomats and be in the middle of different conflicts, and that’s why we do understand how it is important to hold direct negotiations.

Q: What mechanisms do you propose to resolve the dispute over the three islands and disputes in general in the region?

A: About the mechanisms we can use to resolve the dispute, not only on the three islands but in general, I believe that one of the best projects that we can see is the one proposed by Russia. We should create a security framework in this region that could be like the Helsinki agreement of 1975 in the midst of the Cold War, where the USSR and the USA, backed by their regional allies NATO and Warsaw Pact organizations, agreed to discuss military issues, economic cooperation, and human rights in the region. These Helsinki accords are one of the decliners of the Cold War, which was the rapprochement of the warring sides, which was helpful in terms of pacifying the situation in Europe, which was quite tumultuous.

There are many analogies to what was going on in Europe back in the time and what is going on now in this region as well. So, I really hope this bump in the road will not affect the future of our relations because they are very deep and are based on future trust, multitude on different projects – political, economic, and others – and we really appreciate all the actions taken by the Iranian government to support Russia’s position in the international arena, and we don’t have that much of a close allies and Iran is one of the closest allies that we really have, not only in the region but in international relations in general. So, I really believe that those who started this whole media campaign against Russia are doing that in order to tarnish the reputation of Russia as the predictable partner.

I believe there could be absolutely no argument this gulf should be called Persian.Moreover, these are the very same segments of the Iranian society that are trying to grow any form of reconciliation between Iran and the USA, and I would actually warn against these actions because you do know that the U.S. is not a reliable partner whatsoever. And the fate of the JCPOA on the Iranian nuclear deal is one of the best cases and points. You do remember how hard it was to find the agreement in 2015, and the USA trumpeted as if it were their sole diplomatic victory and ignored the role of Russia, China, and the EU, only to withdraw from this agreement three years afterward.

I believe any agreement that could be reached by the incumbent U.S. president Joe Biden is also very risky because we don’t know who is going to win the elections in 2024. If it’s going to be Democrats, there might be certain solutions, but if Republicans will come to power – I’m not talking about Donald Trump, but any Republican candidate – I’m more than sure that they will like to do every single action that was taken by their predecessor, and that’s why Iran once again will fall prey to the U.S. domestic policy. I really believe that your officials are wise enough not to do so, and in this case, nothing should be in the middle of U.S.-Iran but also Russia and China-Iran and other relations that your country is now promoting with different regions of the world. I believe they are self-sufficient and should not be affected by the dynamics of other bilateral relations.

It also should be mentioned that in the face of recent misunderstandings, Iran and Russia have taken a proactive approach to address concerns at the highest diplomatic level. Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Hossein Amir Abdollahian and Sergey Lavrov, engaged in a crucial conversation to clarify Iran’s historical claim to the three islands in the Persian Gulf. Both ministers reaffirmed their commitment to respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each other, showcasing the enduring strength of their bilateral partnership. This dialogue exemplifies the importance of direct communication and mutual understanding, laying the groundwork for continued stability and cooperation in the region and beyond.

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