Foreign Ministers of Russia and Iran have held talks in preparation for next week’s Geneva-2 talks, and to define the contours of a strategic partnership that could include Iranian oil sales to Moscow.
Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif flew into Russia on Thursday after completing a burst of visits to Amman, Beirut, Baghdad and Damascus. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem accompanied him on the flight to Moscow, which has emerged as one of the fulcrums of diplomacy ahead of Geneva 2 - the conference on Syria, which will commence on January 22 in Montreux, the Swiss resort, before shifting on its second leg to the UN office in Geneva two days later.
Ria-Novosti reported that Russia and Iran are negotiating a possible oil-for-goods swap that would make Moscow a major importer of Iranian oil, notwithstanding concerns raised by the United States that the deal would defy Western sanctions imposed against Tehran.
Under the proposed swap worth $1.5 billion, Russia could buy up to 500,000 barrels of Iranian oil daily in exchange for Russian equipment and goods, Reuters reported last week.
Analysts say that the deal could be crucial in adding strategic cement to Moscow-Tehran ties ahead of President Putin’s upcoming visit to Iran. Iran and Russia are also trying to find a solution to the cancelled S-300 missile deal, with Moscow considering offering various alternatives that are likely to be proposed during the course of the upcoming interaction.
Observers point out that major geopolitical, security and economic considerations are shaping the positions of major global and regional powers towards the conference on Syria in Switzerland. Russia, China, Iran and Syria are working feverishly to prevent “regime change” in Damascus. After calling for the fall of Bashar al-Assad, the position of the United States and its NATO allies appear to have shifted as prospects of a blowback on account of the growing dominance of al-Qaeda affiliated groups in Syria has begun to generate considerable anxiety in Western capitals.
The divergent perceptions on Syria’s future are casting its shadow on the list of invitees to the conference. The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, the Russians and Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League special envoy on Syria are insisting on Tehran’s participation at Geneva-2. But the Americans say that Iran can be invited only if it agrees to the establishment of a transitional structure of governance in Syria that could govern if Mr. Assad relinquished office.
In its riposte, Iran is refusing any conditional participation. During a meeting with Mr. Ban on the sidelines of a Syria donors conference in Kuwait on Tuesday, Amir Abdollahian — Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister on Arab and African Affairs — stressed that Tehran is ready to participate if it is invited without pre-conditions, Iran’s Fars News Agency reported.
The Iranian position was reinforced at a Moscow press conference on Thursday, where Mr. Zarif acknowledged that the Geneva-2 conference is crucial for the region, but stressed that Iran would be willing to participate, provided it was invited to event, officially and unconditionally.
In Kuwait, the donors pledged $2.4 billion to alleviate Syria’s humanitarian plight; the result of a relentless conflict that surfaced nearly three years ago. Significantly, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two Gulf states that have been on the forefront of supporting the so-far unsuccessful “regime change” in Syria, decided to pitch only $60 million. Kuwait pledged $500 million, while the US assistance amounted to $ 380 million.