Tehran summit: Much ado about little

putin raisi
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi hold a meeting in Tehran on July 19, 2022. Iran's president will host his Russian and Turkish counterparts for talks on the Syrian war in a three-way summit overshadowed by fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo: AFP)
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Osama Al Sharif

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

Tuesday’s three-way summit in Tehran, the first to bring the leaders of Russia, Turkey, and Iran together since 2019, puts many common issues on the table, but had diverse agendas. So diverse that chances that Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Ebrahim Raisi will agree on everything, when each is facing unique challenges, is remote at best.اضافة اعلان

The Tehran meeting comes a few days after US President Joe Biden participated in an extraordinary high-level meeting in Jeddah, hosted by Saudi Arabia, and attended by GCC leaders plus the heads of Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq. The outcome of the Jeddah summit is in contrast with the bilateral US-Israel declaration signed only two days before while Biden was visiting Israel.

While the main component of the so-called Jerusalem Declaration was a vow not to allow Iran to militarize its nuclear program, the message from Jeddah was articulated in a way that keeps the door open for an Arab reconciliation with Iran. There was no mention of an anti-Iran Middle Eastern version of NATO, with Israel as a member, and certainly no concessions given to Washington on hiking oil production by OPEC anytime soon. More relevant, Saudi Arabia reiterated its position on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, brushing aside any talk of imminent normalization with Israel.

The Iranian leadership will appreciate the value of messages coming from Jeddah. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud said that Riyadh continues to extend its hand to Tehran. The UAE announced that it is considering sending an ambassador to Iran, which Tehran has welcomed.

But the leaders meeting in Tehran have other issues to consider. Putin wants to sign a comprehensive strategic treaty with Iran, whose main objective is to lessen the effect of Western sanctions on Moscow and create an anti-American alliance. Tehran can go as far as siding with Putin, but not at the expense of losing an opportunity, feeble as it may be, to end Western oil sanctions.

For Iran, where a close advisor to Ali Khamenei, Kamal Kharrazi, announced this week that Tehran has the capability of building a nuclear bomb but it chooses not to, an 11th hour deal to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement remains possible. An anti-Western alliance with Moscow at this stage would not help conclude a deal that Tehran badly wants.

For Putin, any semblance of support from states with an axe to grind with America is a good thing. But there are limits to such support. For Tehran, normalizing ties with Riyadh carries a huge geopolitical value. Such rapprochement could end many of the region’s conflicts. After all, Iran is aware of its geographical destiny as a neighbor of Arab Gulf states.

For Erdogan, a pragmatic leader who has no qualms about shifting sides and switching positions, cementing Turkey’s presence and influence over two anti-US countries is enough to keep his country a major geopolitical player, regionally and beyond. He has been threatening to launch a major military operation in northern Syria for weeks. But Moscow and Tehran have different takes on such an operation. Why Ankara wants to engage in a risky military adventure in northern Syria is difficult to fathom.

Iran had stated that it opposes any operation that threatens the territorial integrity of Syria. Neither is Moscow happy with Turkey’s meddling in Syria, which it sees as an extension of its own geopolitical influence in the region. The fact that Moscow is caught up in the Ukrainian quagmire makes it apprehensive about any serious shift in the balance of power in Syria.

Topping all this is the fact that Israel, in the wake of Biden’s visit, has made direct threats vis-à-vis Tehran. On Monday, Israeli army chief Aviv Kohavi said that the military is preparing for the possibility that it would have to act against Iran’s nuclear program.

Israel and Iran have been engaged in an indirect war for years. But the fact that Israel is considering an attack on Iran does not please anybody. The US, the Europeans, and the Arab countries are in no mood to see another unpredictable war break out in the region. Certainly, when it comes to igniting another war in the region, Israel is in a minority of one.

While the Tehran summit offers much in terms of a photo op, a platform for some fiery statements, and a semblance of an accord, the reality is that the three leaders have less in common than it appears. Their personal agendas are not in harmony, and while the challenges may bring them together form now, dealing with them leaves much to be desired. 

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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