An Emerging Russia-Iran-Syria Axis?
Inflaming the West's longstanding suspicions of an emerging Moscow-Damascus-Teheran axis, the Foreign Ministers of Russia, Syria, and Iran held an unprecedented trilateral meeting in Moscow to fine-tune their positions ahead of Syrian peace talks (Geneva-2, scheduled to commence on January 22).
The three ministers discussed the situation in Syria and the region in the context of preparations for the peace talks as they shared "common positions" on the Syrian crisis, said the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, while emphatically denying the West's charges of having any "hidden agenda" or a "trilateral project."
On behalf of his Iranian counterpart Mr. Zarif, Mr. Lavrov vowed to push for Iran's participation in Geneva-2 which is not acceptable to the United States in light of U.S. insistence that Iran must first commit to the results of the first Geneva conference on Syria last year. Rejecting any preconditions for participation, Mr. Zarif said that Iran would attend the Geneva-2 if invited. "We are proceeding on the basis that Iran should and inevitably will be part of a set of measures to settle the Syrian problems," Mr. Lavrov told a joint press conference with the Iranian minister.
In fact, Russia has emerged as one of the fulcrums of diplomacy ahead of Geneva-2 against the backdrop of its bilateral cooperation with Iran. The Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Iranian leadership for its role in getting off the ice talks on Iran's nuclear programme while opening a meeting with Mr. Zarif. "The potential for bilateral cooperation is great and is far from having been exhausted," Putin said after accepting credentials from Iran's new envoy to Russia.
Both the Russian and Iranian foreign ministers have already had talks concerning next week's meeting on Syria and wish to define the contours of a strategic partnership that could include Iranian oil sales to Moscow, involving a possible oil for goods swap that would make Moscow a major importer of Iranian oil, notwithstanding concerns raised by the U.S. that the deal would defy Western sanctions imposed upon Iran. Under the proposed $1.5 billion swap, Russia could buy up to 500,000 barrels of Iranian oil daily in exchange for Russian equipment and goods. As it goes, the deal could be crucial in adding strategic cement to Moscow-Teheran ties ahead of President Putin's upcoming visit to Iran, which also includes an effort to find a solution to the cancelled S-300 missile deal with Moscow while considering various alternatives that are likely to be proposed during the course of the forthcoming interaction.
Obviously, the U.S. is alarmed at the rising influence of Russia in the Gulf and West Asian region as it has successfully forged an axis with Syria and Iran which may alter the U.S.'s existing deep penetration in the region and consequent damage to American economic and commercial interests. Further, increasing Russian influence here will bolster the morale of Syrian President Basher-al Assad in his battle with U.S.-supported rebels.
Both the U.S. and Russia are competing with each other with a view to maintain their permanent presence for securing and promoting their strategic and economic interests, but in this ongoing fight the worst sufferers are the member countries of this region.