(Persia Digest) – Former Iranian Ambassador to China believes: “None of the countries defined in the ‘Look to the East’ strategy will play nursemaid to Iran during the sanctions. They will probably not extend the limitations and extent of sanctions, but will try to find solutions and propose more cost-effective ways for them to deal with it.”

Some experts in Iran believe that the world is on the threshold of a historic transfer of power and wealth, shifting from the West to East. Furthermore, the attitude of the West towards Iran in general, and following Trump coming to power in particular, strengthens the viewpoint that Iran must pursue the look to the East strategy more vigorously. Others believe that the East is still unable to stand up to the West. Also, the East is not only thinking about its maximum interests, it is even taking advantage of Iran’s limitations. This claim can be seen in Russia's decision to increase oil production under the circumstances, or China's conditions for settling Iranian oil payments with Chinese goods.

Former Iranian Ambassador to China, Hossein Malaek, has spoken to Persia Digest (PD) in an interview wich follows.

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Can the strategy of looking to the East be in Iran’s interest under the circumstances?

In principle, it is not right to say that forecasts of power and money being transferred to the East, meaning China, are correct. Of course, the East comprised of China, Japan, and the ASEAN countries will be the wealthiest ones. But, military power and technology is still in the West and will remain there for the foreseeable future. To evaluate that Iran must base its “Look to the East” strategy on forecasts that power and wealth will be transferred to the East is not correct. Ultimately, the definition of the East in terms of Iran’s political system does not include only Japan and similar countries. China is at the center of it, and India, Malaysia, and Indonesia are also there from a distance. Russia also has its own place in this definition.

In my opinion, there are two approaches in Iran’s strategy of “Look to the East”. The first one is an economic approach, providing Iran’s requirements for development by selling oil, industrial spare parts, and consumer goods. This is a natural and perhaps even competitive approach in which China and other similar countries have a relative advantage. Although this potential on the Chinese side has been overlooked in many cases or opposed by the ideological encounters of some Iranians. These conditions are highlighted under the sanctions. Due to the limited options of Iran, approaching these countries becomes more and more necessary, and opponents of such relations are marginalized.

The second one is a political and security approach. In this approach, China has traditionally been on Iran’s side since the revolution and has almost identical positions with Iran on most international issues. Despite periodic economic conflicts with China, this approach has been slowly but surely expanding since the beginning of the revolution.

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Do countries such as China, Russia, India…change the quality of their relations with Iran to its detriment due to US sanctions, or are the sanctions a pretext to use Iran’s particular circumstances to their own benefit?

None of these countries will play “nursemaid” to Iran during the sanctions. To use the term “taking advantage” has negative political connotations; this must be analyzed separately in each case. They will probably not extend the limitations and extent of sanctions, but will try to find solutions and propose more cost-effective ways for them to deal with it. For instance, using national currencies when there is no access to the dollar for any reason is not taking advantage of Iran. Russian oil production during the sanctions imposed on Iran cannot be analyzed separately in a void.”

If Iran, for any reason, does not choose to change its relationship with the West, especially the United States, and follow the strategy of looking to the East, what would be the requirements of such a strategy?

There are no signs of relations normalizing with the West (USA) given the stability of the regime and the behavior of the Islamic Republic; it is rather out of reach. Politically and security-wise, Iran is in the eastern camp. But, some idealists in governance will not allow the situation to be exploited to its full extent. They mostly prefer not to develop Iran than have it make achievements through working with China and Russia.

Some in Iran call Russia a strategic partner and cite the two countries’ cooperation in the Syrian crisis as an example. Can the Iran-Russia relations be strategic?

Due to its identity and uniqueness of political system, the Islamic Republic of Iran is unable to establish strategic relations in the true sense of the word where the loss and interests of an issue impacts both parties in a similar manner. But the IR of Iran has demonstrated that it can have “strategic cooperation” with world powers in certain cases. In the case of Saddam Hussein, for example, Iran had a real strategic cooperation with the US and UK. Currently, it is working with Russia in Syria. These two countries have had positive and negative experiences in Syria together. This seems to have the potential for development and promotion to higher levels.

From an American perspective, China and Russia are among the most important threats to its national security. To the contrary, Iran is trying to establish a link between itself and these two countries. Will such a link increase Iran's security? To what extent will the China-Russia-Iran triangle be a danger to the US?

If the China-Russia-Iran triangle is seriously and strategically formed, this will be a day of serious decline for US power – at least in Asia and the Middle East. But, given the current developments, this is not likely to happen in the near future.

In a simple search in professional political texts it becomes apparent that the number of times Russia and Iran have been cited as dangers to US interests is by far more than China. But, China also has the potential to replace America in terms of soft power, which is a vital threat to the United States. As such, China is the first security threat to the US who is currently using most of its political tricks to besiege China.

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