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Iranian And Russian Presidents Meet In Moscow


The president of Iran is in Moscow today. Hassan Rouhani meets Russia's president Vladimir Putin. The two countries are allies supporting Syria's embattled government. Russia is also one of the powers that struck a deal over Iran's nuclear program. So now what? Karim Sadjadpour is here. He's a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Karim, thanks for coming by.

KARIM SADJADPOUR: Great to be here.

INSKEEP: What do these two nations have in common Russia and Iran?

SADJADPOUR: Well, in many ways, Iran and Russia are kind of an axis of aggrieved nations.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

SADJADPOUR: They both have very strong grievances against the United States, against the West and the world order there. They oppose those things. Historically, Russia and Iran have actually really been geopolitical competitors. It's an historic anomaly that America is Iran's chief foe and Russia is Iran's chief ally. It used to be very different, and I think at the moment what sustains them is this common antipathy towards the United States and a common cause in the Middle East particularly in Syria.

INSKEEP: But you mentioned that in the past they were not friends at all. Do they trust each other now?

SADJADPOUR: There's no trust between the two countries. In many ways, the alliance between Iran and Russia kind of for many people resembles a celebrity wedding because it appears to be tactical. It appears to be temporary. It's deeply mistrustful. A lot of countries including the United States would like to see the two divorce, but the reality is that, you know, this common cause against the United States has really sustained the relationship.

INSKEEP: OK. Let's talk about the United States. How awkward is it that the Trump administration would like better relations with Russia, but at the same time, wants to take a harder line on Iran but those two countries are on the same side and in some cases pursuing similar interests to the United States?

SADJADPOUR: Well, U.S. policy is currently in conflict with itself because as you mentioned it's very difficult to have a co-operative approach towards Russia and a more - a policy which tries to contain and push back Iran...

INSKEEP: Or confront Iran.

SADJADPOUR: ...Confront Iran when, as you mentioned, Russia and Iran are working very closely with one another in Syria. And so I think Trump's national security brain trust really has a coherent view towards Iran. What they haven't come up with yet is a coherent view towards Russia, and that's something they'll have to reconcile.

INSKEEP: The reason that the president has said he would like warmer relations with Russia is to use them as an ally against ISIS. Iran says it's also against ISIS, and that's a place where the U.S. and Iran can make common cause. Do any American officials see it that way?

SADJADPOUR: I think the Trump administration's national security brain trust would see both Iran and Russia as two countries which on the surface are fighting ISIS, but in reality what they do actually fuels Sunni radicalism more than it eliminates it and that, you know, Iran and Russia - they're bombing a lot of Sunni civilian outposts and just Iran's role in the Middle East, Russia's role in the Middle East tends to anger Sunni communities more than allay them.

INSKEEP: Help me understand another thing, Karim. There had been talk of revoking the Iran nuclear deal. Many national security experts have said it's impossible for the United States alone to do that. It involves a lot of other nations, and that has led to talk in Washington of keeping the Iran nuclear deal, but pressuring Iran in other ways because this is an actor the United States does not like its role on the world stage in particularly in its region. How tense are relations between the United States and Iran right now?

SADJADPOUR: I think they are likely to become more tense at the moment. I think the United States is so focused internally that it hasn't had time to pursue external quarrels. But...

INSKEEP: We're busy you're saying.

SADJADPOUR: ...We're busy internally. But I do think that when you look at America's role in the Middle East and the intention to reset relations with our traditional allies in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia and Iran, that's going to warrant a more hostile approach towards Iran.

INSKEEP: Saudi Arabia and...

SADJADPOUR: Saudi Arabia and Israel - sorry.

INSKEEP: Saudi Arabia and Israel - that's going to lead to a more hostile approach toward Iran over time.

SADJADPOUR: Yeah. I think that what Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel and the leadership in Saudia Arabia want to see from the United States is a policy which goes back to status quo ante on Iran which is pushing Iran back in the Middle East. And so what may happen isn't that the Trump administration tears up the nuclear deal, but the nuclear deal unravels indirectly.

INSKEEP: OK. Karim, thanks very much for coming by.

SADJADPOUR: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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