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Renewal Of An Old Treaty Follows Moscow’s Cool Reception Of Khamenei's Overture

Iran's ambassador to Moscow, Kazem Jalali told reporters on Friday, March 12 that the Islamic Republic and the Russian Federation have agreed to extend a cooperation treaty Tehran and Moscow signed 20 years ago during a visit to Moscow by then President Mohammad Khatami.

The treaty, officially known as "Treaty on the basis for mutual relations and the principles of cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Russian Federation," was signed on March 22, 2001 for 10 years, and has already been "automatically" extended twice for 5-year periods.

According to the Iranian press, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called for the extension of the treaty for another five years during his visit to Russia in late July, when there was a lot of media coverage about a 25-year contract between Iran and China that has led to nowhere so far.

At the time, China had not responded to Iran's repeated statements about the "strategic cooperation agreement" and Tehran was desperate to show to the world, and particularly to the United States, that Iran was not an isolated country and would finally have a long-term cooperation contract with a world power.

According to the Tehran Times, Zarif told reporters at the time that "The agreement's extension is on our agenda and can be considered if the Russian friends are ready to have another long-term contract, but the agreement's extension is definitely on our agenda."

Some observers believe that Khamenei's recent letter to Russian leader Vladimir Putin was at least partly about extending or possibly expanding this treaty. The letter was supposed to be delivered by Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf during his visit in February, but Putin refused to see him. This was seen as a barely concealed affront to both Khamenei and Ghalibaf.

Putin finally replied to Khamenei's message last week. However, it is not known what exactly Khamenei wrote to Putin and what Putin wrote in reply, sent via Moscow's ambassador in Tehran, another low-key step by Moscow.

Although Iranian media call the treaty a "20-year cooperation contract" between Tehran and Moscow, in fact the 10-year treaty with the provision of five-year extensions, contains very little about economic cooperation. "In their mutual relations, each Party undertakes not to use force or the threat of force and not to use its territory for the carrying out of acts of aggression and subversive and separatist activities against the other Party," states Article 2 of the 21-article treaty which effectively makes it a bilateral non-aggression treaty.

Article 3 reflects Iran's hard feelings about Russia's military assistance to Iraq in the 1980s when Iran and Iraq were engaged in a bloody deadly war: " In the event that one of the Parties is subjected to aggression by any State, the other Party shall not offer any military or other assistance to the aggressor which would promote the continuation of the aggression, and shall contribute to the settlement of any disputes that arise on the basis of the Charter of the United Nations and the rules of international law."

The treaty also briefly acknowledges the post-Soviet changes in the region that made Iran deal with all the littoral states of the Caspian Sea rather than the Soviet Union as a single state.

The rest of the treaty is a formulaic rhetoric about general "economic, financial and commercial cooperation," as well as "joint capital investment" that can be found in any friendly document signed between Iran and other countries.

A late February Tehran Times commentary observed that "The essence of Iran-Russia relations is regulated by the thermometer of tension with the United States, not the interests of both sides.” This is especially important when we know that Iran and Russia usually define their relationship in terms of confronting the United States, not just mutual interests.

The daily quoted Iranian analyst Hassan Beheshtipour, as saying that "Iran-Russia relations have always been dependent on Russia's relations with the United States."

Although Iran's state-controlled media always pretend that relations between Iran and Russia are flourishing, Iranians' distrust of Russia has a long history and episodes such as the long delay in delivering S-300 anti-missile systems to Iran, and Russia's votes against Iran at the UN Security Council in the early 2010s have made the hard feelings even stronger.

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