Why the U.S. Should Worry About Putin's Visit to Iran
condo Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to be visiting Tehran this week in order to meet with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran. Putin and the newly-elected Rouhani will also meet at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on September 13. In recent weeks, Russia has been blasted by the American political sphere for harboring NSA leaker Edward Snowden. In addition, President Putin’s political rhetoric has come under fire by everyone from President Obama to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Putin has been accused of acting under the Cold War paradigm, and the conflict over Syria’s Assad regime has heightened international friction. The meetings this week and in September are set to provide even more fuel to the fiery dialogue between Washington and Moscow. In addition, they may threaten the optimism many had had for Rouhani regarding Iran’s nuclear program and further alienate Iranian leadership from diplomacy from the West
The main focus of this week's talks seems to be arms sales. Russia is selling an S-300VM Antey-2500 air defense system, a surface-to-air missile shield that would allow Iran to stop up to 16 ballistic missiles in their tracks. An agenda like this is sure to cause agitation on the part of both the U.S. and Israel, both of which are concerned about Iran’s nuclear program. With this missile shield, Iran might be able to further guard their nuclear installations Israeli attacks. At the same time, there are rumors that Putin may be also attempting to convince Iran to adopt transparency in its nuclear program in order to rehash negotiations with the United Nations. However, this could potentially shift the focus away from arms sales. President Obama’s cancellation of a meeting with Putin coupled with his statement on the drift between the two countriesindicate both countries must take steps to rewarm the tension between them. President Obama stated, “I think we saw more rhetoric on the Russian side that was anti-American, that played into some of the old stereotypes about the Cold War contest between the United States and Russia." Russia’s armament of Iran supports the theory that Russia is trying to gain a stronger foothold in the Middle East and is playing a power game against the United States.
Iran’s role in propping up Assad’s regime also supports that the dialogue with Russia could be related to Syria's civil war. An aide to Putin said about the September meeting, “We were grateful to the Iranian side for such initiative and naturally supported it and gave our consent... We are now preparing for the meeting.” The topics set for discussion include the two countries’ relationship, the nuclear program, and other policy issues. Putin’s officials have voiced specifically that they believe Iran has the right to develop their nuclear program. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said, “Iran has held consultations with the Russian side and soon an agreement of mutual understanding will be signed on the construction of a new nuclear power plant.” The new plant could further harm Iranian-American relations as the U.S. may now lose favor with Rouhani. Russia’s rift with the U.S. is causing far-reaching effects in the Middle East.