(photo credit: STEPHANIE KEITH/REUTERS)
Iran continues to try to increase its clout in the region and beyond by hosting important high level meetings and portraying the US and its allies as isolated.
A key meeting took place on Saturday in Tehran between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and officials from China, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey and Afghanistan. Rouhani used the meeting to attack “the US, the West and the Zionist regime,” which he claimed are supporters of terrorist groups. As such he leveraged a meeting on terrorism to attack Iran’s adversaries. The Tehran meeting came a day before the Gulf Cooperation Council, which consists primarily of western allies, gathered in Riyadh on Sunday.
The gathering of leaders in Tehran was the second “Meeting of the Parliament Speakers on Combating Terrorism and Extremism.” According to pro-regime media in Tehran, the meeting also highlighted “regional connectivity.” The attendees at the meeting are important because Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan are ostensibly US allies, while China and Russia are two of the most powerful global states challenging the US on different fronts. China is engaged in arguments with the Trump administration over trade while Russia is involved in putting pressure on western allies, such as Ukraine, by detaining Ukrainian naval boats, harassing shipping and supporting proxies.
Iran, which is supposed to be under new US sanctions and which the Trump administration has been attempting to confront, showed its ability to arrange a high-level conference in Tehran and slam the US both among American allies and adversaries.
Speaking with the Pakistani National Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser, Iran’s leader claimed that the two countries must battle “terrorism” and then said that this would mean “resisting US bullying.” Iran wanted to expand relations, Press TV reported.
Iran also sought to reach out to Turkey. This is part of a growing relationship that has developed in recent years, partly over trade but also over security issues relating to Kurdish opposition groups. Speaking with Turkey’s Binali Yildirim, the Iranians sought to drive a wedge between Ankara and Washington.
Iran “hailed the Turkish government’s positive stance vis-à-vis illegal sanctions imposed by the US against Iran.” Iran said that it viewed Turkey’s security as important as its own. This is a tremendous statement considering the fact that Turkey and Iran are on different sides of the Syrian conflict, with Turkey supporting the opposition and Iran supporting the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad.
Turkish news site Anadolu Agency also highlighted the meeting, showing its importance to Ankara. It noted that Iran was eager to work on issues such as “banking and energy” as well as security and regional “stability.” Turkish media also highlighted a joint exercise between China and Pakistan as well as comments by Iran’s foreign minister attacking US arms sales.
Russia is also part of this important and growing counterbalance to the US’s role in the region. During a speech on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the world was in a state of transformation and he urged Russia not to lag behind.
Significantly, Russia is seeking to hold a four-way summit on Syria, this time with Germany, France and Turkey, though Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the date of the meeting had not yet been set.
What’s clear is that Russia and those meeting to discuss Syria are excluding the US from these discussions even though the US is operating in eastern Syria.
Taken together, the growing relationship between Russia, Iran, China, Turkey and Pakistan does not auger well for US policy in the Middle East or globally. Together these are some of the most important economies in the world as well as important militaries, but they also present a challenge to the US in different regions. While US policy in the Middle East appears to lack clarity, such as US-Saudi relations and US policy in Syria, these countries increasingly see eye-to-eye on certain issues, particularly their views on Washington.
Pakistan and Turkey, two former Cold War allies, are in the process of apparent drift in their policy while the US does not acknowledge these changes. For other US allies these kinds of meetings send a message that one can be both a US ally in name and also work with Washington’s adversaries.
Allies of Washington from the Gulf Cooperation Council gathered in Riyadh on Sunday. In addition to Saudi Arabia, these include Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE. On the agenda were discussions about Syria, tension in Iraq and Yemen. Among the discussions will be an attempt to take a “firm position in the face of Iranian interference in Arab affairs,” according to Al-Arabiya. The problem is that the meeting comes amid a continued crisis between Qatar and its neighbors, and as Saudi Arabia faces condemnation for the murder of former Saudi insider Jamal Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate in October.
There is also a crisis in OPEC after Qatar said it would withdraw from the oil cartel.
All of this puts these western allies in disarray at a time when Tehran is gathering together lines of influence with its neighbors and portraying itself as a stable country contributing to the region.
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