Iran’s eastern shift shows patience running out with the West

From L: Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin leave after posing for photos ahead of their trilateral meeting in Tehran, in this November 1, 2017 file photo. (AFP)
Updated 26 February 2018
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Iran’s eastern shift shows patience running out with the West

TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme leader has signalled a decisive shift in favor of relations with China and Russia, indicating that patience is running out with efforts to improve ties with the West.
One of the most popular slogans during the 1979 revolution was “Neither East nor West,” a defiant vow that Iran would no longer favor either of the world’s major forces at the time — American-style capitalism or Soviet Communism.
It was therefore striking to hear its current leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declare on February 19 that: “In foreign policy, the top priorities for us today include preferring East to West.”
Analysts say this does not change the basic idea that Iran refuses to fall under the sway of outside powers.
But it does suggest that the latest attempt at detente with the United States — represented by the 2015 nuclear deal in which it agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of sanctions — is running out of steam.
“Khamenei has repeatedly outlined that the 2015 nuclear deal was a test to see if negotiations with the West could yield positive results for Iran,” said Ellie Geranmayeh, of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“The leadership perceives the US as acting in bad faith on the deal. Khamenei’s statement signals a green light for the Iranian system to focus greater diplomatic effort on deepening ties with China and Russia,” she said.
Khamenei’s comments come at a critical moment, with US President Donald Trump threatening to tear up the deal and reimpose sanctions unless Iran agrees to rein in its missile program and “destabilising activities” in the Middle East.
Even before Trump, Iran felt Washington was violating its side of the bargain as it became clear that remaining US sanctions would still hamper banking ties and foreign investments, even blocking Iranian tech start-ups from sharing their products on app stores.
Tehran argues this violates a clause stating the US must “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran.”
“From day one, the US, the Obama administration, started violating both the letter and the spirit of the agreement,” said Mohammad Marandi, a political analyst at the University of Tehran.
He said Khamenei’s latest statement recognized the simple fact that relations with eastern countries were much stronger, particularly since Iran and Russia allied over the Syrian war.
“It’s a very different world now. Iran’s relationship with Russia and China and an increasing number of Asian countries is much better than with the West because they treat us much better,” he said.
“We are partners with Russia in Syria. We are not subordinate.”

Anger over foreign interference was a key driver of the 1979 revolution after more than a century of intrigues, coups and resource exploitation by the United States, Britain and Russia.
But despite being depicted by critics as dogmatic and uncompromising, the Islamic republic that emerged after the revolution has been surprisingly flexible in its foreign policy.
“At certain moments since 1979, Iran has taken a pragmatic approach to dealings with the United States when necessary or in its interest,” said Geranmayeh.
She highlighted the infamous Iran-Contra arms deal in the 1980s and cooperation in Afghanistan in 2001, as well as the nuclear deal.
Yet many hard-liners in Washington refuse to accept that Iran has ever been serious about rapprochement.
The American Enterprise Institute, a think-tank, this month released a series of articles calling for “a more confrontational policy toward Iran,” including the threat of regime change.
Its main justification was that “the men who run Iran’s foreign policy have no interest in a better relationship.”
But speaking in April 2015, three months before the nuclear deal was finalized, Khamenei explicitly said it could lead to a broader improvement in ties.
“If the other side stops its usual obstinacy, this will be an experience for us and we will find out that we can negotiate with it over other matters as well,” he said in a speech.
Iran’s oil sales have rebounded since the deal, and it has seen an uptick in trade with Europe.
But the threat of US penalties has helped deter many foreign investors and major banks from re-engaging with Iran.
European firms and governments remain far more vulnerable to pressure from Washington than their Chinese and Russian counterparts.
“If the Europeans don’t have the courage to stand up to the US then they shouldn’t expect to be partners with us,” said Marandi.
“If some doors are closed and some doors are open, we are not going to wait outside the closed doors forever.”


Kosovan women returned from Syria face house arrest

Updated 24 April 2019
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Kosovan women returned from Syria face house arrest

  • Four alleged militants, all men, were arrested the moment they were brought to the country
  • The state prosecution said all 32 repatriated women are under investigation

PRISTINA: Kosovo prosecutors have requested the house arrest of 16 women repatriated from Syria, saying they are suspected of joining or taking part as foreign fighters there.

The women appeared on Wednesday in court in Pristina, a day after 10 other women were put under house arrest. None have been charged with a crime.

Four alleged militants, all men, were arrested the moment they were brought to the country.

The women and children were sent to the Foreign Detention Centre in the outskirts of Pristina but were freed to go home after 72 hours.

Ten women were seen entering Pristina Basic Court in a police escort on Tuesday. The court said in a statement later that they had been placed under house arrest on charges of joining foreign armed groups and terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq from 2014 to 2019.

The state prosecution said all 32 repatriated women are under investigation and more of them are expected to appear in front of judges on Wednesday. The prosecution has yet to file charges.

After the collapse of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, countries around the world are wrestling with how to handle militants and their families seeking to return to their home countries.

Kosovo's population is nominally 90 percent Muslim, but the country is largely secular in outlook. More than 300 of its citizens travelled to Syria since 2012 and 70 men who fought alongside militant groups were killed.

Police said 30 Kosovan fighters, 49 women and eight children remain in the conflict zones. The government said it plans to bring back those who are still there.

International and local security agencies have previously warned of the risk posed by returning fighters. In 2015, Kosovo adopted a law making fighting in foreign conflicts punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

On Saturday, 110 Kosovar citizens — the four alleged foreign fighters, 32 women and 74 children — were returned to Kosovo with assistance from the United States, the first such move for a European country.

Authorities say there are still 87 Kosovar citizens in Syria.