TEHRAN (Press Shia) – A prominent political expert based in the Italian city of Milan praised Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s recent visits to India and Iraq and said the Islamic Republic “is dealing a major blow to US influence in those countries”.

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“Zarif's visit — first to India then Iraq, and finally to Sulaymaniyah — shows a coherent regional policy from Tehran, which seeks to expand its alliances and partnerships in order to circumvent the pressure imposed by the US together with Israel and Saudi Arabia,” Federico Pieraccini said in an interview with the Press Shia News Agency.

“Furthermore, by implementing important synergies with US allies like India and Iraq, Tehran is dealing a major blow to US influence in those countries,” he added. 

Pieraccini is an independent freelance writer and political expert based in Milan, Italy. He specializes in international affairs, conflicts, politics, and strategies. He has covered conflicts in Ukraine, Libya, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq.

The following is the full text of the interview:

Press Shia: As you know, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the head of a high-ranking economic and political delegation recently made official visits to some regional countries, including India and Iraq. His trips come against the backdrop of Iran’s efforts to boost its foreign trade in the US sanctions era. What do you think about the objectives behind Zarif’s visits? Is Iran moving toward its traditional allies?

Pieraccini: Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s visit to India, Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan is part of a broader Iranian strategy in the Middle East. The increase of US pressure has obliged Iran to respond asymmetrically, using every tool at its disposal. Economically, Iran has intensified its contacts with India, selling oil and other commodities. New Delhi has responded favorably, increasing oil imports and diversifying payments away from US dollar and towards rupees and euros, partly thanks to the opening in New Delhi of a branch of an Iranian bank called Pasargad Bank that facilitates currency exchange. Of significant importance is the port in Chabahar, now operated by India and located in a strategic position, that will be used as a gateway for Iran and India to trade with Afghanistan and Asian countries. This new development should promote commercial exchange between Iran and India as well as create the necessary conditions to implement the rail-trade corridor between the north and south, thereby linking Russia and India.

In Iraq, Zarif paid particular attention to the diplomatic aspects of the relations between Iraq and Iran. In recent months, Baghdad and Tehran have increased cooperation and synergies, especially in antiterrorism. Iran is aware of the importance of Iraq in the Middle East region, mainly in the medium term, as a way of pacifying the area through anti-terrorism operations. Equally important for Tehran is the development of a lasting relationship with Baghdad as a way of placing pressure on the US, which has a strong presence in the country. Ejecting the US from Iraq should be an objective of both Baghdad and Tehran, since US troops are an ongoing source of chaos and destabilization.

The visit to the Iraqi Kurds consolidates links with Tehran with a view to fighting extremism in the region, often fueled by such regional enemies of Iran as Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US. Zarif’s response to US economic pressure is to increase cooperation with countries that have in recent years shown a particular openness to the US. Recent cooperation and developments with Iran by both India and Iraq confirm that Tehran is filling the gap left by Washington's failing policies in the region.

Press Shia: The Iranian top diplomat’s trips were concurrent with the regional tour of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that took him to eight countries in one week. Jetting from capital to capital, meeting with kings, princes, and presidents, Pompeo’s goal was to get Arab countries to work together to roll back Iranian influence in the region. What is your take on that? What does the concurrence mean?

Pieraccini: The tour undertaken by Pompeo to countries in the Middle East and North Africa comes after Trump’s announcement of the “withdrawal” of US troops from Syria. Trump's declaration is aimed at a domestic audience, to show how he is endeavoring to keep his electoral promises, one of which was his promise to withdraw US troops from areas like the Middle East. Clearly this promise does not coincide with the strategic plans of the US deep state, which seeks to foment chaos and destruction as a way of undermining geopolitical rivals in the region (Iran). Pompeo's tour to historic allies has confirmed that Washington is under heavy Israeli and Saudi pressure, which views the prospect of US withdrawal as an irreparable strategic error.

Tel Aviv and Riyadh are fully aware that they are unable to support their obsessive battle against Tehran without the military assistance of the US. Washington's withdrawal from Syria entails Israel and Saudi Arabia waving a white flag to Iran in Syria and the abandonment of efforts to overthrow Assad. Pompeo's tour sought to reassure allies that Washington will not abandon the region and therefore the overall goal to counter Iran. The idea to create an Arab NATO to counter Iranian influence in the region seems dead, but it could very well be revived as a way of compensating US allies. Much will depend on the split between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are both important players in the Middle East. Pompeo has sought to end the dispute, which, as he himself said, “benefits common adversaries (Iran)”.

Press Shia: Nearly a week after Pompeo’s visit to Iraq and the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, Zarif went to Baghdad, Erbil, and Sulaymaniyah. He was warmly welcomed by top Iraqi officials and the Kurdish leaders. During a Tuesday meeting with Zarif, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani praised Iran’s support for the Iraqi Kurdish people during attacks by the Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) terrorist group and said the Kurds will never forget Tehran’s backing. What do you think about the economic and political achievements of Zarif’s visits?

Pieraccini: Zarif's visit to Sulaymaniyah and his tributes to former (Iraqi) President Talabani are of considerable importance in the Middle Eastern balance of power and an important development. Zarif has promised high-level economic cooperation to implement industrial cities that can create synergies between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran. The fight against terrorism has been a common factor that has strengthened the link between the Iraqi Kurds and Iran.  

This development marks an important turning point for cooperation against terrorism in the region, above all paving the way for a wider project of reconstruction of cities and infrastructure damaged by conflict and intentional US bombing. Zarif's visit — first to India then Iraq, and finally to Sulaymaniyah — shows a coherent regional policy from Tehran, which seeks to expand its alliances and partnerships in order to circumvent the pressure imposed by the US together with Israel and Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, by implementing important synergies with US allies like India and Iraq, Tehran is dealing a major blow to US influence in those countries.  Iran is one of the countries with which Iraq does most trade, electing to exchange oil and other assets in currencies other than the dollar.

Tehran is pursuing asymmetrical responses to US destabilization and threats, and as Zarif's visits have shown, Iran has, in addition to its major military deterrence, the ability to be an alternative regional hub that fosters trade, diplomatic relations and alternative currency exchanges, thereby undermining US efforts to contain Iran as a regional hegemon.