Iran is formally joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an important regional group that includes China and Russia. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that Iran would soon be formally admitted to the group. At the same time, Iran’s Ali Akbar Velayati, a close adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, said Iran-Saudi ties are very important. He urged countries in the region to “unite against the Zionists,” according to pro-Iran regime media outlet Fars News.
“The strategic relations between Iran, China, and Russia are gradually taking shape,” Velayati said. “Stating that Iran’s relations with Russia are strategic, the Iranian official added that differences in some issues do not have a negative impact on them,” Mehr News in Iran said. The recent interviews with this key Iranian figure clearly illustrate Iran’s current strategic thinking. Iran was supposed to join the SCO on July 4.
Iran also wants to join the BRICS grouping, alongside Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. This is important because the more Iran joins these regional groups the more it can work against Israel in forums where Israel may not be present. As the US administration encourages regional “integration,” clearly Iran is thinking of a different type of integration.
It’s important therefore to note that the comments from Tehran come as the US also announced that the State Department had selected Dan Shapiro, a former ambassador to Israel, to work in the State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs bureau towards “regional integration.” The US wants to strengthen the Abraham Accords and Negev Forum. However, it is clear that Iran is trying to spoil this and other issues are also creating tensions in the region.
Velayati now believes that there are key ties between Iran and Russia that are growing. These are strategic relations, he says. “We have seen that the two countries have developed their cooperation significantly... What is certain is that a kind of strategic tripartite relationship between Iran, Russia, and China is gradually being formed, which is unprecedented in the foreign policy of the three countries. The membership of the three countries in the Shanghai Pact has become very decisive and influential in the balance and strategic correlations.”
He also highlighted the recent joint military exercises the countries have embarked on. He characterized this as a challenge to the AUKUS grouping, which unites Australia, the UK, and the US. “This new arrangement of the forces of the two sides, on the one hand, the United States, [Britain], and Australia, and on the other hand, Iran, Russia, and China, determines the future of the defense balance in Asia and the Pacific.”
A triumvirate of nations
What comes next? The adviser suggests that Iran, Russia, and China are working on strategic issues and that this will enable Iran to get around sanctions. “In addition, the hostile policies of America against Iran and Russia have caused the two countries to expand their cooperation in various political, military, and economic fields.”
Iran believes that Russia will rely on Iran now to challenge NATO. “Russia considers the US-NATO combined war against Iran and the weakening of the Islamic Republic of Iran as a threat to its security and national interests.” As such Iran supplies Russia with drones to target Ukraine. He didn’t mention this, but this is the clear implication behind his statements.
Velayati referenced Qasem Soleimani, the Quds Force commander who was killed by the US in 2020, as one of the key figures behind Iran-Russia ties. Indeed, it is believed Soleimani was responsible for encouraging Russia to intervene in Syria.
After the first Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and the Syrian intervention in 2015, Russia likely believed the US and the West would not back Ukraine in 2022 when the invasion began on a larger scale. Russia was wrong, but Iran has now benefited and is becoming a necessary ally for Russia.
The Iranian official also praised renewed ties with Egypt and Saudi and framed them as a way for Iran to challenge Israel. Clearly, Iran believes it is making important diplomatic inroads in the region.