Ce.S.I. Researchers Visit the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies Ce.S.I. Researchers Visit the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies
On November 10, 2015, the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies (IMESS) hosted an Italian research delegation from the Centre for International Studies (Ce.S.I.) . In a joint session, some of IMESS’ and Ce.S.I.’s researchers discussed issues such as the Russian intervention in Syria and the regional and International implications of Iran’s nu...

Ce.S.I. Researchers Visit the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies

On November 10, 2015, the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies (IMESS) hosted an Italian research delegation from the Centre for International Studies (Ce.S.I.). In a joint session, some of IMESS’ and Ce.S.I.’s researchers discussed issues such as the Russian intervention in Syria and the regional and International implications of Iran’s nuclear deal with the P5+1. The participants included Prof. Andrea Margelletti, the Chairman of Ce.S.I. and a a member of the Advisory Board of ICNND - International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, Francesca Manenti, the analyst in charge for Asia and Pacific affairs at the Centre for International Studies, Mr. Gabriele Iacovino, the Analysts Coordinator of Ce.S.I.; and Professor Kayhan Barzegar, Director of IMESS, Behzad Ahmadi Lafuraki, Abdolrasool Divsaslar, Fahimeh Ghorbani, and Sahar Taghipour, all researchers of the Institute.
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At the beginning of the session, Dr. Barzegar welcomed the Italian researchers, introduced the Iranian participants and explained the Institute’s activities. Then, Andrea Margelletti, Professor of Roma Tre University talked about the activities of Ce.S.I. briefly and introduced the Italian participants. He mentioned that the objective of Ce.S.I. is to understand and to explain, in the shortest time and in the clearest way possible, complex events occurring on the global scale. The Ce.S.I.’s intention is that of furnishing the analytical tools which enable policy-makers to adjudicate and decide on their own.

Afterwards, Francesca Manenti said that our Center is trying to discover and deepen the role Iran is playing in the region. We have written a lot about the Iran nuclear deal because we think this deal has been a really important issue in the relations between Iran and the international community especially In the Iran-Europe relations. Many issues of Iran's nuclear deal have the political value, because for the first time, the international community started to talk and to get Iran involved in open discussions. What we are trying to understand is the perception of Iranian people of the process of these discussions, the nuclear talks and the possible impact that the deal can have on the Iranian internal politics and Iranian stance in the region. Thanks to the trust that the nuclear deal has built between Iran and the European countries and the international community, Iran now can have more choice to be seen by the international community. 

Then, Gabriele Iacovino mentioned that in this way, we would also view not just the perception of the politics of the region by Iranian perspective but the role that Iran would like to have or should have in the future, not just in the (Persian) Gulf but in the broader range, starting from Syria and of course, also from the situation and crisis in Yemen. We are also very interested to know your perspective about the Russian role in the region and of course, in the Syrian crisis.
 
With regard to Iran nuclear deal, Abdolrasool Divsallar noted that one of the major issues is that Iranians would really like other countries have a positive perspective towards Iran because as you said, Iran has not been seen before in the global stage. He also said that one of our goals at this Institute is to clear those misperceptions. In his view, most of Iranians believe that the nuclear deal with the U.S. is a sign of Iranian power and that power comes from the country’s stability. Mostly Iranian people believe that this deal is the fruit of that stability. This is also what Iranian politicians think about the Iran's nuclear deal with the U.S. and European countries. The second point is that that stability needs to be used for the economy. 

Then Behzad Ahmadi Lafuraki mentioned that we are witnessing an emerging regional order in MENA and in this context, we can analyze the Russian intervention in Syria. In nowadays MENA we have traditional player such as US and EU or Iran and Saudi Arabia, Newcomers such as China and Russia, and swing-states such as Qatar and Turkey and the new order is the outcome of interactions between these players. Regarding the relations between Iran and the EU, he believes that the EU and Iran have common grounds based on mutual interests such as fighting against terrorism in the region, drug smuggling, and the refugees' crisis in the European countries. Therefore both sides can play a positive role in all these issues. 
After these initial exchanges, Dr. Barzegar maintained that he thinks  Europe is coming to this conclusion that Iran is an important player in the region and that without engaging Iran, possibly no regional problems can be solved. This trend in the European countries that Iran should be engaged, started by Britain and Germany, has somehow spread out to all the European countries. However, we still have problems in expanding relations with the U.S. because Iran-U.S. relations are much influenced by the ideological issues and incidents happened in the past. Dr. Barzegar also noted that in this situation, Europe's reaching out to Iran is best in terms of making confidence building and the Iran-West context. Regarding the domestic effects of the deal, no doubt that this a good step for establishing further cooperation on other issues of common interests. 

With respect to the Syrian crisis, Dr. Barzegar mentioned that this crisis is the hardest part of the regional policy. Also, in relation to the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1, he stated that this deal is likely to change Iran's understanding of insecurity from the U.S. policy in the region. This deal would change this sense of insecurity and that makes Iran more interactive in the region. Regarding the Syrian issue, he stated that Iran will try to initiate more peace plans; of course, based on its own interests and priorities. In terms of the Iran-Saudi relations, he said that the problem is on the Saudis’ side right now that are waiting to see what would be the fate of the Yemeni crisis first. He also pointed out that in the regional context, Iran is trying to express itself in a more accommodative pakage.

Regarding the Russian intervention in Syria, Divsallar noted that the current image coming out from the Western media and research groups needs to be noticed that we usually think that the Russian military modernization was an unsuccessful plan. From his viewpoint, what is happening on the ground regarding the Russian military is quite a different issue because of different points, from the logistical aspect or because of the technology that they are using on the ground. Even one and half year ago, after the Russian operations in Ukraine, very few analysts believed that Russia would involve in Syria. In his opinion, Russia is on the brink of a new power shift from security power and military power to a more contribution in defining the regional order and world order. For Iran, it also has restrictions and also has good points in that. So, this is a very interesting point for Iran to see what the next step in our relations with the Russians should be. 

In response to Divsallar’s statements, Mr. Margelletti maintained that the military structure of Russia is old. In order to be successful, Russia needs several thousand soldiers. The U.S. had 25 thousand soldiers in Panama. There is no match in the technology and capability between the U.S. and Russian. It is not about one missile going further the other one, the problem is we, as a NATO member, have a kind of joint integration that no one has and everyone dreams about it. Also, in relation to Iran nuclear deal, he mentioned that Europe is made by 28 countries. There is no one European foreign policy. Because of the existence of several European think tanks, there is no unique European point of view. We had 28 approaches to foreign policy. Iran nuclear deal was made by P5+1; it was not made by Iran, the U.S. and Europe. 

Then, Gabriele Iacovino raised two questions: One was that both in the Syrian crisis and in the Iraqi crisis, a new balance in the region is being seen because of the crisis in Sykes-Picot Agreement and the issue of the borders. The old borders are not recognized anymore, especially the border between Syria and Iraq, not just due to the activities of ISIS but also this border was created on the paper. So, we would like to know what you think could be the next situation in the region not just the balance of power issue that could be Iran in the [Persian] Gulf and whatever but just the balance at the real center, the region between Iraq and Syria in the near future. For example, can we imagine Iraq as we used to know before 2011, or do we have to imagine a new Iraq, a new balance, not just fragmented but also a federalized Iraq? The second question was about the balance in the region. He stated that we can see Iran and Saudi Arabia are trying to balance each other’s influence in the region but we have also seen other actors in the region, especially after the so-called Arab Spring like Qatar or the Emirates. What do you think about the role of these new actors? Could they have the same Saudi Arabia’s perspective or could they have a new approach towards the region and also have a global perspective?

Afterwards, Manenti talked about Iran’s security-oriented nowadays that the main focus is the crisis in Syria and Iraq. Of course, in her opinion, the central role of Iran in the region makes Iran a big actor. 

Then, Fahimeh Ghorbani mentioned that the nuclear deal would not change the current situation of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. She also maintained that one of the advantages of the deal is that Iran will become more interactive at the international level.  

Regarding the new balance of power in the region, Mr. Ahmadi Lafuraki explained a new balance of power is emerging in the region. The existing balance is against Iran. After Iran nuclear deal with the P5+1, an all-inclusive balance of power is observed that Iran is also included. With regards to the Russian intervention in Syria, he said that it is very important that Russia sees the intervention in Syria as required steps to have impact on the new regional order in Europe. Russia now has a lot of political gains; they have a say in the Middle East affairs now. 
Concerning Iran’s increasing power in the Middle East region, Divsallar stated that Iran's power in the region comes mostly from its political-security advantage in Syria. What happens in the Middle East right now is that Iranian capability and power goes over its borders to Iraq, Syria and even Yemen. The great game here is that both U.S. and Russia have a huge tendency to control the rising power of Iran.  

After that, Dr. Barzegar, talked about the need for changing this “traditional balance of power,” which is not favoring the stability of the region. Also, in his opinion, the Russian intervention in Syria will not decrease Iran’s political role in the region because as a matter of fact, there are not much strong threatening perceptions between Iran and Russia. From his viewpoint, there is no threatening perception between Iran and Europe too. Europe does not have any problem with Iran being a regional power, but the U.S. has this problem because of its regional allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel’s interests; the whole issue of nuclear program was based on the balance of power. This issue triggered rivalry between Iran and America in the regional issues.
Then, Mr.  Margelletti said that for them, the interest in the Middle East is important; we are living in the Mediterranean Sea region; we are living in the Middle East; we are living in [the neighbourhood of] North Africa. We would prefer to live in California but we live in the Mediterranean Sea region. So for us, your world is our world. 

With respect to solving the regional problems, Ahmadi Lafuraki said that this +1 formula is a very good formula. In the case of nuclear deal, this +1 was Germany but in the case of Vienna negotiation about the future of Syria, this +1 was +3, namely Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Such formula can be used for other problems in the region and I think the EU can play a positive role in this case. The transition of the experiences and somehow mediation is very important and some European countries such as Italy and Germany have a very good image. They can play a very good and constructive role.
 
In relation to Iran’s regional role, Manenti strongly noted that Iran is important for all the region. During the nuclear deal, we underlined many times that putting Iran on track in discussions on several tables would be absolutely crucial not only to the Middle East but to Southeast Asia. For us, Iran can be a bridge to Central Asia and Southeast Asia like Italy for Europe. 
Prof. Margelletti then talked about changing their mind about Iran. Iraq's ambassador in Italy said that Iran was, is and will be an opportunity for Iraq and we need to have business with Iran. This is why the Israelis are so upset about the nuclear deal because they know that in the future, there could not be a central gravity of American interests in the Middle East. So, they worked to put fire on the deal and say no to a deal with Iran. So, the most important for me and my colleagues is the Italian interest and in order for that to happen, we need to have increased relations with Iran.

Afterwards, Iacovino emphasized on Iran being an opportunity for all of Europe. This issue was seen in the fight against terrorism in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. He went on to add that from their side, Europe will be engaged in this part, also to put Italy like a bridge between Europe and Iran. Of course, from Iranian side, we can work together and cooperate in this way. 

In conclusion, Dr. Barzegar talked about the need for withdrawing from the “traditional balance of power” situation in the region. This itself could be a source of instability because of this perception that Iran and Saudi Arabia for instance must balance each other so that the security is preserved in the region. The Turks at some point pushed to go in that direction but they have been smart enough not to go in that direction. What Iran wants is not necessarily to disengage the U.S. in the regional politics. Rather it is trying to express itself in a way that it should be a part of the regional issues. That needs us to think that if Europe would like to be helpful or the U.S. would like to be helpful, the best is to lead and push the situation towards a new kind of “multilateralism,” trying to engage all actors, finding regional solutions for regional crises, the issue of the Middle East nuclear weapon free zone, and cooperating on the energy security issues. For this reason, improvement of the Iran-Saudi Arabia's relations is vital. 

Report: Fahimeh Ghorbani, a researcher at IMESS

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