Iran’s ‘fantasy’ of support from Putin
Iranians watched the news conference given by US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin after their summit in Helsinki last week with particular interest — and with a particular eye on Putin.
Apparently they believed the Russian leader might defend their national interests — a curious about-face, since the Russians are usually portrayed in Iran as users and back-stabbers. Indeed, despite relations with the US having broken down 40 years ago, an American in Tehran would be treated with more compassion than a Russian.
In fact, it was the regime who conveyed to the public the notion that Putin might raise with Trump the issue of the Iran nuclear deal, and find a way to avoid renewed sanctions. Ali Akbar Velayati, special adviser to the Supreme Leader, went to Russia to meet Putin before the summit. Some super-optimistic Iranian dreamers thought he might be carrying a message for Trump to be delivered by Putin.
What actually happened turned out to be something of a cold shower for these fantasists. Putin mentioned Iran only briefly at the press conference, and did not criticize Trump for his withdrawal from the nuclear deal.
“Thanks to the Iranian nuclear deal, Iran became most controlled country in the world, it submitted to the control of IAEA,” Putin said, and the deal “effectively ensures the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program and strengthens the non-proliferation regime.”
Those remarks conveyed only satisfaction that Iran, a Russian neighbor, could not be armed with nuclear weapons.
Putin may already have made a deal with Trump to sell Iran down the river again.
In Iran, the public has historical suspicions of Russia that date from a 19th-century war. In the modern era, Russia earned a fortune when it signed a contract with Iran in 1995 to build the Bushehr nuclear power plant. Work was delayed for several years by technical and financial challenges, and by political pressure on Russia from the West as Iran came under tight international sanctions, and construction stopped in 2007. Approximately $11 billion of investment has gone into Bushehr, and it is still not clear if it is actually operational.
Perhaps this money was paid to the Russians in return for friendship and support at the UN Security Council, but nevertheless the Russians have twice sided with the international community against Iran’s nuclear program.
The Russian S-300 air-defense missile system was part of an $800 million arms deal with Iran signed in 2007. Delivery was delayed, with lots of excuses, and was revived when Iran reached the framework agreement of the nuclear deal in 2015.
Interestingly, a day after the Helsinki summit, and apparently frustrated by Putin’s performance, President Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi revealed that at the UN General Assembly in New York last September Trump had eight times requested a meeting with Rouhani, and was turned down each time.
Perhaps the regime’s strategists are now thinking that if Putin can have a face-to-face with Trump despite allegations of Russian meddling in US elections, then why shouldn’t they?
They may be too late. Putin moves too quickly for them, and he may already have made a deal to sell them down the river again.
Perhaps Rouhani and his “fixer,” Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, are preparing another attempt this year at the UN General Assembly to save the nuclear deal and their regime. If so, this time they will have to call Trump — because he won’t be calling them again.
• Camelia Entekhabifard is an Iranian-American journalist, political commentator and author of “Camelia: Save Yourself By Telling the Truth” (Seven Stories Press, 2008).