This reflects the apparent willingness of a number of Western powers to view Iran as a viable partner in the execution of regional policy. But Iran’s presence at international talks has naturally met with objections from dissenting parliamentarians and from groups like the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which believe that Iranian and Western interests in the Middle East are fundamentally misaligned.
Zarif’s address to the European Parliament arguably highlighted the persistent discord between Tehran and the West over the Syrian Civil War, among other issues. According to Reuters, Zarif reiterated Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, though he framed it as defense of the popular sovereignty of the Syrian people.
Last year, Iran was criticized for supporting plans to hold regularly-scheduled presidential elections in Syria despite the fact that only a fraction of the country was under government control, while millions of the country’s residents had been driven from their homes. The US and its key allies have tended to express the view that a moderate rebellion against the Syrian president cannot be quelled politically unless he steps down, but the Iranians have stymied all efforts to promote transition to an alternative government.
In its defense of the Assad regime, Tehran has tended to characterize all opposition groups as terrorists while also disregarding widely recognized reports of the Syrian army using barrel bombs against civilian populations and otherwise conducting acts that could be described as state terrorism. Zarif also alluded to this talking point on Tuesday, warning the European Parliament that violent extremism was a problem that Europeans now faced at home.
Previously, Iranian officials have blamed Western policies, particularly the defense of moderate Syrian rebels, for contributing to the growth of terrorism. Thereby, Tehran has attempted to alter European policy in the region. But this has prompted Iran’s major critics to highlight the selective application of the term “terrorist” in Iran’s policy discussions. In fact, this observation has even been brought into the light by Western officials who have generally been supportive of the recent policy of outreach to and negotiation with Iran.
For example, Arutz Sheva reported on Tuesday that the American ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power had spoken out against Iran’s ongoing support for Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism during a visit to Israel. In modest defiance of the Israeli government’s strong opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, Power told her hosts that Iran appeared to be adhering to the deal thus far. But she was quick to point out that the Obama administration and the rest of the US government remained highly suspicious of Iran and keenly aware of its destabilizing activities in the region.
Of course, Israel has spoken extensively on this topic. But so too have the US’s other traditional allies in the Middle East. On Tuesday, Gulf News reported that Lana Zaki Nusseibeh, the United Arab Emirates’ permanent representative to the United Nations, had addressed the Security Council in order to call upon Iran to cease its support for extremist organizations.
This came one day after it was reported that the Arab Coalition of which the UAE is a part had intercepted an illicit arms shipment from Iran, which was intended for Houthi rebels fighting against the legitimate government of Yemen.
Meanwhile, other reports in the past two days have raised the specter of a possible increase in the quantity and diversity of these shipments, owing to apparent Iranian plans to buy new and upgraded military equipment from Russia. Fox News reported that Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan had met personally with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to discuss potential shipments that would include by likely not be limited to Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets.
Fox News noted that while the planned delivery of a Russian ground-to-air missile defense system has been made legal by the nuclear agreement, most of the other weapons being discussed by the two countries remain unlawful to sell to Iran, under the provisions of UN Security Council resolutions. These reportedly include “Russia’s most sophisticated tank,” along with other military vehicles and weapons for which Iran is reportedly prepared to pay eight billion dollars, according to the Washington Free Beacon.
The weapons themselves could extend the Iranian influence that has recently been warned against by US allies such as Israel and the UAE. But Tuesday’s meeting between Putin and Dehqan also highlights the growing cooperation between their countries, especially as it concerns their shared defense of the Assad regime.
The Tower reported on Tuesday that that collaboration has contributed to a situation that some analysts have described as a miniature world war in and around the Syrian city of Aleppo. An internationally-brokered cease-fire is scheduled to go into effect there this week, but the fighting has only intensified in recent days as multiple parties strive to secure the best possible positions in the region before that time. That fighting is largely defined by Iranian advisors who are directing Syrian armed forces and foreign Shiite militants on the ground. These are in turn supported by Russian aircraft that have reportedly directed about 90 percent of their bombings against moderate and largely Western-backed rebels.
The Tower went on to criticize the Western plans for the cease-fire by arguing that the terms allow for Russia to continue this bombing campaign and Iran to continue its operations in the surrounding region, potentially cutting off and largely disabling the anti-Assad rebels before the cease fire has the intended effect of redirecting attention against ISIL, the only party in the current fight that is universally regarded as a terrorist threat.