Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is looking east, rather than to Vienna, where talks are supposed to take place regarding the Iran deal. This symbolic move shows that Iran is putting on a strong face in Europe and showing it doesn’t need the talks to go anywhere. From April 5 to 8, Iran’s top diplomat will be in Central Asia.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said promoting “civilizational, historical and cultural” affinities with Central Asian states has been among Iran’s priorities. Zarif will go to Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, the ministry announced on Saturday.
This is important because Iran increasingly wants to work with these states and China, Russia and Turkey to balance the US. China’s Press TV said that a recent deal with Beijing was a “game changer” for Tehran. This is a very clear statement.
The Islamic Republic is also saying that Washington must remove all sanctions in order to get back on board the Iran deal of 2015.
In short, Iran is messaging that it doesn’t need the US and has the upper hand.
Fars News said that Zarif “will hold talks with high-ranking officials of the region on bilateral relations and other regional and international issues of interest.” They will discuss the China deal and also other aspects of the region.
Talks in Dushanbe in Tajikistan are important. Iran has signaled in the past through international conferences how much importance it puts on Central Asia.
“Considering the signing of the document on long-term and comprehensive cooperation between Iran and China more than a week ago, Zarif’s visit to the region has received a lot of attention – not only in the domestic and foreign media, but also in the political circles and think tanks of the region,” said Iranian media.
According to Bakhtiar Irgshov, director of the Mana Research Initiatives Center, “if the document is reached between Iran and China, the US sanctions wall against Iran will be torn apart. And if Tehran joins the Eurasian Economic Union as a permanent member, the wall will be completely destroyed: It will collapse,” said Iran’s media.
“In his view, Iran could be the first country to show [that it can survive] full-blown global sanctions by the US and its allies. Iran’s experience can be used in other countries subject to US sanctions.”
Iran will focus on new transport links during the Central Asia visits. Therefore, Tehran will pay attention to the implementation of transportation infrastructure projects, including the “China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan” and “Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-Iran” railways, the report said.
Iran will also talk counterterrorism. “Countries in the region are concerned that a number of terrorist and extremist groups are based in Afghanistan, and some have plans to infiltrate Central Asia,” said the report.
“This analyst of political issues in the region believes that increasing Iran’s role and presence in Central Asia is not in conflict with the interests of the most important players in this field, especially Russia and China, which should be understood by these parties,” the report said.
It’s quite clear Iran is making a play to build up links with China and Russia; Turkey is doing the same.
“If Tehran can act accurately and carefully, in the not too distant future we will see its active role in various areas of the region, with the great, joint, cultural and civilizational support of Iran and Central Asian countries,” said a commentator in Iran. “This issue will be quite achievable.”