The presidents of Russia and Turkey met with Ayatollah Khamenei on July 19, 2022. These meetings were held at the time of the tripartite summit known as The Summit of the Guarantor States of the Astana Process.
In a detailed interview with Ali Akbar Velayati, Khamenei.ir has examined the important, diverse issues that were discussed and about which opinions were exchanged during these meetings.
Interviewer: Regarding the recent visits of the officials of Russia and Turkey to Iran and the holding of a tripartite summit, we would like to first examine the logic behind relations with the East, the formation of the view toward the East, and in general relations with neighbors and especially with Russia. What is your opinion regarding these relations and alliances with China and Russia in contrast to relations with the West and the United States?
Velayati: The view toward the East is an outlook that both the Imam (ra) and the Leader of the Revolution have spoken of. They said we should look in the direction that is on the rise. At present, it is clear that the East has arisen in various fields, India in one way, China in another way, Russia in a different way, and other countries in the region in other ways. The Imam (ra) and the Leader said that it is important to discover the rising East.
I once met with the German chancellor, Mr. Helmut Kohl, in Bonn. We were sitting next to each other when he said, “Mr. Gorbachev once sat next to me in your place and told me, ‘Just as the water of the Rhine River goes and does not return, communism will not return to the Kremlin.'” Mr. Putin’s behavior and his beliefs, which are reflected in his actions, are a belief in spirituality. In the past, the rulers of the Kremlin were unbelievers and atheists, but now, from the president to the lowest echelons, the people of that country are typically either Christians or Muslims. They either attend church or go to a mosque. In China, Mr. Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China, was an ardent communist. After China’s Second Revolution (i.e. the Cultural Revolution), which was carried out by the Red Guards, he became more extreme. After Mao’s demise, Deng Xiaoping became the leader of the Communist Party of China and started the current transformation of the economy in China. Now, China’s economy, the way Chinese society is governed, and their interactions with the outside world are not in the communist style. They are a so-called evolved Chinese model and it has been successful. Unlike the 60s and 70s in the 20th century, they do not support any so-called popular movement under the name of Maoism or others. Rather, they insist that they have no intention of interfering in the affairs of other countries. They don’t really wish to intervene, unlike in the time of the Maoists.
Some people may say that it is true that these countries are not Marxists, but they are strong countries that can try to force their opinion on Iranian affairs. However, people who say this are not paying attention to the fact that Iran is not now the country of the Pahlavi and Qajar era. Rather, this country is more powerful than any time after the coming of Islam, and neither former Soviet Russia nor China is the violent expansionist country that we thought of before. Hegemony is effective when one side is weak. But Iran is a strong, powerful country. As we want to have relations with countries, and the issue is China and Russia, we are doing this with the utmost authority, and neither China nor Russia can interfere in our domestic affairs.
At one time, the Pahlavi government was such that what the people understand of the Pahlavi political system that the British brought it to power. In several places in history, the British themselves have acknowledged this matter, but this is beyond the scope of our discussion. Well, it is clear that such a government would enter into negotiations with superpowers from a position of weakness. But this is not the case with the Islamic Republic of Iran. During these 44 years, we have implemented and demonstrated the slogan “Neither East nor West” in the best way.
Once, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the former Soviet Union visited me in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I asked him, “Why do you give missiles to Saddam and not to us? Saddam has fired eight rockets at four points around the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” He told me, “Stop supporting the Afghan Mujahideen, and we will support you and sell weapons to you.” But we did not deviate from our principles, we stood firmly while ignoring the support of the West (for Saddam’s war with Iran) and we played the most fundamental role in helping the Afghan Mujahideen. And in the end, Iran played an essential role in the victory of the Mujahideen.
Mohammad Reza Shah himself said in the book Answer to History (1979) – which he either wrote himself or someone wrote on his behalf – that, “Yes, unfortunately, the Americans did not support me even though I had served them very much.” At that time, the Shah had sent troops to the Congo, Dhofar, and Vietnam to help the Americans. He says, “I had served them so much, but Sullivan didn’t help.” You see, the highest official of the country was looking for help from the ambassador of a foreign country.
Indeed, the credibility of the political system established by the Islamic Revolution has always been the presence and support of the people. A government that the people support, like Iran, can stand up to everyone, from the Americans to the Soviets, that is, ” Neither East nor West” and only the Islamic Republic. Considering all these issues, if such an independent political system seeks to deepen relations with influential countries in the world, does this mean they are accepting the dominance of superpowers?
We are one of the few countries in the world that clearly stands against the United States, strongly continues its political life, and establishes relations and deals with other countries. So, what’s wrong with us having relations with countries like Russia, China, and India?! These countries have advanced technology, and many times, unlike the West, they have been responsive to our requests and offered their capabilities to us. What else should we expect from an allied country?
Interviewer: With regards to economic benefits in terms of geopolitics, economic benefits, and transit, what opportunities and capacities does Russia have that can be useful for us?
Velayati: This is one of the most important areas of our regional cooperation with the East. Let’s take a closer look. Let me show you an example on the map. If India wishes to export its products to the Baltic region and pay less for transit, it has to go through our territory. This means it must use the port of Chabahar and the transit lines going from the Southeast to the Northwest of Iran. In this way, it will save at least 40% in costs and 40% in time, instead of gaining access by way of the Bab al-Mandab Strait, the Suez Canal, Gibraltar, and the Mediterranean to the Baltic region.
The same applies to Russia. The route from the Chabahar Port and the transit line going from the North to the South of Iran is considered to be the best and most economical transit route for Russia. China’s transit route is on the Silk Road, which has a historical precedent. So if we carefully examine this map, we will see that one of the blessings given to our country by God is our geopolitical situation and that we are located on the main East-West Corridor. Thus, we have good options for dealing with other countries. If you look at the map, you will see that the closest way to access the Central Asian republics and Afghanistan is by way of Iran’s access to the high seas. Furthermore, the closest way to access the Far East including Russia, the former Soviet republics, Eastern Europe, and even some Arab countries and Turkey is by way of Iran and using Iran’s transit facilities.
This is also true in the field of energy dealings. Right now, we swap gas with Turkmenistan. Namely, we get gas from Turkmenistan and pump it to (the existing facility in) Khorasan. Then, we supply the same amount of gas to Azerbaijan in return, thus reducing the cost of Turkmenistan’s gas exports. Certainly, we are benefiting from this too. We do something similar for Russia and Kazakhstan. We get oil from Kazakhstan and Russia through the Caspian Sea and pump it for our domestic consumption. Then, we supply the same amount of oil to these countries’ customers in the South. Therefore, one can claim Iran’s geopolitics constitutes the best commercial route in the region.
Interviewer: This also applies to other neighbors and nearby countries such as China and India.
Velayati: Yes, during the years of sanctions, our best customer has been China, and in some years, we have traded goods worth up to 52 billion dollars with China. This dealing between us and China shows that in recent years after the Iran–Iraq War, economic and commercial relations between Iran and China have grown despite the opposition of the United States and its Western allies. This is the best answer to those who question relations between Iran and China. To be clearer, since the beginning of the Revolution and up until now, the US has not shown the slightest sign of goodwill toward us over these 44 years. And in international spheres, they have adopted more restrictive measures against Iran and sanctioned wherever they could. By their own admission, they provoked Saddam Hussein to attack Iran and supported him in this war. You may have seen the picture of Mr. Rumsfeld, who worked as a military envoy in Iraq for the United States during Reagan’s time. He was talking in a meeting with Saddam. In this meeting, he agreed to provide large amounts of military and intelligence aid to Iraq, especially by way of satellites.
In the case of the JCPOA, Obama acted contrary to his initial promise, which was sent to Iran in the form of a letter through the Sultan of Oman. In this letter, he implied that if Iran only committed itself to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, the United States would lift sanctions and would not oppose its peaceful use of nuclear energy. He broke his promise. And Trump was even worse than Obama. He willingly and without any logical reason put more pressure on Iran.
Unfortunately, in terms of compliance with American policies and unconditional acceptance of their impositions in foreign policy, European countries have degraded their position to such an extent that is unprecedented in European history. In such a situation, how can some people naively say we should take a step toward the West?! Which West?! The same West that is always spreading false propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran under pressure from the United States and the false insinuations of the Zionist itinerants, bringing political pressures and stopping at nothing to weaken the Islamic Republic. This is the same West for which some naive officials in the past encouraged us to stop cooperating with China in the field of oil and gas for a French oil company. This recommendation was accepted, and that company’s delegation came to Iran. They just took a souvenir photo with the officials of the Ministry of Oil, said goodbye, and left. What benefit did this have for the Islamic Republic of Iran? While the majority of oil purchases and transfers in technology were being made with China, this was ignored due to the inexperience and trust of some officials in the Ministry of Oil in the past.
Another example is related to technology. As soon as the Revolution was victorious, the Germans abandoned and quit the construction of the nuclear reactor, which had already been completed by 50% in Bushehr, under the pressure of the United States. The semi-constructed complex remained half-finished for years until the Russians came and completed it. I negotiated for many years, but they refused to take even a tiny step in opposition to American opinion in favor of Iran. That is, during the 44 years after Iran’s Islamic Revolution, a full-scale war has been waged by the United States and its allies against Iran.
In many cases, Russia assisted Iran with advanced technologies. What does logic tell us? Should we take a step toward the side that has always been hostile to this nation and the country, or should we move toward the side that has helped as much as they could? Of course, I must say that China and Russia have not signed a pact of brotherhood with us and they surely act based on their own interests, but they act more wisely than the West! Today, there are three important powers in Asia. This includes Iran, Russia, and China, which are independent and stand against the expansionism of the United States and the West.
In recent months, the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom have started naval drills against China in the Indian Ocean. In a countermeasure, the Islamic Republic of Iran, China, and Russia immediately conducted joint naval drills in the northern Indian Ocean. Regrettably, India, Japan, and the UAE also joined that first group later on. What is certain is that the reason for the Islamic Republic of Iran’s interest in cooperating with China and Russia is the interaction of the parties in cooperation and support of each other. All three of these countries (Iran, Russia, and China) cooperate with each other based on these common goals:
Countering the expansionism and hegemony of the United States and the West against the independent East.
All three countries are independent and none of them are connected to any foreign power and do not try to appease them.
All three countries are supported by their nations.
Iran and China are the custodians of the culture and civilization of the East, and Russia too upholds two sides. From the Ural Mountains to the West, it is European, and from the Ural Mountains to the East, it is Asian. However, it does not oppose the development of the Eastern culture, as the second largest ethnic group after the Orthodox Slavs in Russia are Muslims. Moreover, we have long-standing cultural, commercial, and economic relations with both countries. We had long historical, cultural, and commercial relations through Khwarazm with Russia through Slavic lands and through Transoxiana with western China under the name of Khita (Xinjiang) and Hotan (Tibet). Saadi said the following about this, “In the year when Mohammad Khwarazm Shah had made peace with Western China due to his good will, I saw a young man in the mosque of Kashgar who recited Zamakhshari’s An Introduction to Syntax (Muqaddimat al-Adab), ‘Zayd hit Amru’.”
We are neighbors with Russia in the North of Iran, in the Caucasus, in Central Asia, and in the Caspian Sea. And we are neighbors with China from a distance (viz. Afghanistan) in the East. All three countries are the main members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which is a rapidly growing, comprehensive organization. God willing, it is an arena for Iran’s economic growth. Our membership, along with Russia, in the Eurasian Customs Union is remarkable, and it has recently had some good advantages for Iran. Among those which we can mention is the removal of customs tariffs or their significant reduction, resulting in significant exports from Iran to this Union within a short period of time. The Caspian Sea is one of the most important elements of Iran’s biological life, and we share it with Russia and three other countries. Recently, in the latest move made by the West and led by the United States, a resolution was supposed to be issued against us (in the UN Security Council), but it was vetoed by both Russia and China.
In the past, before the Islamic Revolution, joint maneuvers were launched at the orders of the United States and Britain without considering the interests of Iran. Some may question that if there are not the United States and Britain, there are Russia and China now. But this is not the case. At that time, the location of the maneuvers and their targets were determined by the Americans. For example, consider the naval drill in the Indian Ocean for the joint attack of Iran and the West on Dhofar in the South of Oman in which Iran’s interests were not respected in any way. Quite the opposite, throughout the history of Iran and Oman, these two countries have always supported each other, including Nader Shah’s support for the Sultan of Muscat. Once the desert-dwelling Najdis occupied Muscat, Nadir Shah deployed his troops there, recaptured Muscat, and gave it back to the Sultan of Oman. But it was the opposite in Zafar’s case. That is, under the guidance of Britain and the support of the United States, Iranian forces fought against the people of Southern Oman at the order of the Shah (of Iran).
Now, if the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia hold naval drills against China in the Indian Ocean, they are endangering the maritime affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, and the Sea of Oman. America, the United Kingdom, and Australia are not from this region and we seek to demonstrate to them that one day if they wish to enter the territorial waters of Southern Iran and the Indian Ocean against Iran’s interests, Iran is not alone and will secure its interests with the help of Russia and China. Of course, it should also be pointed out that Iran can defend itself alone, but common sense dictates that we need to have a strategy of prevention for the future together with countries that share our goals.
Furthermore, Iran is not the only one defending its interests, because past colonial movements such as that of the Portuguese in the 15th century, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the United States in the 20th century and the first two decades of the 21st century, have caused the most damage to the security of Islamic countries, especially in West Asia. God willing, with the efforts of the people of Iran and the help of our true friends, we will defend not only the territorial integrity of Iran but also the Islamic world to the extent that is essential, within our capabilities, and convenient.
Interviewer: What impact does the 7th Summit of the Guarantor States of the Astana Process in Tehran have regionally and internationally?
Velayati: Holding this summit with the participation of Iran, Russia, and Turkey after Mr. Biden’s futile, failed trip to the region, is a very important step that shows how relations between the three countries of Iran, Russia, and Turkey are genuine and growing. The difference between this trip (of the presidents of Russia and Turkey to Iran) and Biden’s trip is that his trip not only failed from the very beginning, but there is also a very fundamental difference. American presidents always visit with a retinue and entourage and address the countries they visit from a position of power, arrogance, pride, and as if they are owed something.
American presidents and their elders, such as the British Prime Ministers, have inexhaustible demands from some countries in the region that they should provide free oil for them and implement their plans in relation to the Zionist regime. If they don’t, they will be reprimanded. They always bring up strange, far-fetched plans such as the Treaty of Madrid, the Oslo Accords, the Wye River Memorandum, the Camp David Accords, the Washington Consensus, and recently the Aqaba Conference. Instead of stopping their support for this rebel regime created by the West so that Muslims can carry out their duty to destroy this regime, they buy time with these childish, sidetracking plans. This is a summary of the scenario of American trips and the consequences they have. It is clear in advance that there will be no outcome from these trips because they are not successful in deceiving countries. But the Tehran Summit is held between countries that are effective in maintaining regional security and leading in important, forward-looking cooperation. In this Summit, no country gives orders to another country. Rather, all three countries participate together with dignity and authority, and they discuss regional, international, and bilateral or multilateral issues.
Interviewer: In the meeting with the President of Russia, the Leader of the Revolution explicitly emphasized the weakening of the policies of the United States and the West in West Asia. What are the reasons for the weakness of the United States and the West and the signs of this, and also what are the reasons for the decline of their power in the region, especially in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine?
Velayati: These last few years, we have been constantly witnessing the failure of America’s destructive policies in the region. These were policies that were imposed on the region with the expenditure of a great deal of money and which did not succeed due to the resistance of the people of the region. Let’s review some examples of these together:
America withdrew from Afghanistan after 20 years of occupying that country under the pretext of removing the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and after the Taliban had been re-established in executive affairs.
There is a plan to expel Americans from Iraq, which is being seriously followed by the Parliamentary representatives of the striving people of Iraq. After the attack on Saddam, the United States took the place of Saddam’s crimes in Iraq, and its intention was to permanently occupy this country. This is a matter that, God willing, will be resolved with the efforts of the people of Iraq who are striving on the path of God.
There is the defeat and desperation of the United States’ regional allies in Gaza and Yemen, that is, Israel, which is armed to the teeth due to the help of the United States. It has been attacking the most densely populated area in the world for 51 days and was forced to retreat due to the resistance of the people of Gaza. In addition, the wave of protests reached the occupied lands after a long time. Then again, the Saudi-Hebrew-American coalition in the war against Yemen has not yet been able to advance after nearly a decade of bloodshed and its invasion of this country. When the United States’ allies in the region are in a problematic situation in this way, in fact, it is the United States’ policies that have failed.
Most importantly is the conflict in Syria, where the West and a few ignorant countries in the region came out with all their might to topple Assad. The goal was to turn the country of Syria into something similar to Libya, to detach one of the main countries of the axis of Resistance from the circle, and in this way to deal a serious blow to the Resistance. But the Resistance and the sacrifices of the Syrian government and people along with the sacrifices of the defenders of the Holy Shrine disturbed their sweet dreams and now they are looking for a way to save themselves.
Interviewer: The expulsion of the US from the East of the Euphrates River was another issue that was emphasized by the Leader of the Revolution in this meeting. What was the reason for his emphasis?
Velayati: When he is talking about the region to the East of the Euphrates River, the issue is related to one of the most important areas of Syrian territory, because this part of Syria includes the largest, most important land of that country. This is the area where vital, agricultural products are grown in Syria. It is said that %80 of Syrian products come from here. The most important thing is the oil fields in this region, from which about 300,000 barrels of oil are extracted and exported per day.
However, the Americans have shamelessly continued their presence in these areas and have not only limited the Syrian government’s access in order for them to exploit these strategic areas, but they are also openly looting Syria’s oil reserves daily. The emphasis of the Leader of the Revolution is on this issue and it is from this point of view that he says that the East of the Euphrates must be freed so that we will no longer witness the looting and distribution of the interests of the Syrian state. Of course, it is good to remember that the presence of an enemy inside a country is condemned no matter what it is for. We will see how due to the struggle of the Syrian nation and government, God willing, the US will be forced to leave these areas.
Interviewer: The Leader of the Revolution said that if the Russians had not taken the initiative, the other side would have started a war taking their own initiative, and with regards to this, he emphasized the hegemony and arrogance of NATO. Basically, according to today’s international dealings and developments, what are the security and political signs, reasons and proofs behind this view? What plan is NATO pursuing by expanding its sphere of influence and the scope of its avarice?
Velayati: To examine this matter, the main issue regarding the Ukraine crisis should be examined first. One of the agreements between NATO and Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union was the agreement to the non-membership of the countries separated from the Soviet Union in NATO and the preservation of the buffer zone between the Soviet Union and NATO. NATO did not respect this at all. It got to the point where there was news of a confrontation between the Russian and NATO air forces over the Baltic Sea and other neighboring areas every day. In addition, European and American interventions in the domestic affairs of Ukraine led to numerous coups until a government that was affiliated with the West was established. At the same time, the request for Ukraine’s membership in NATO was raised with the support of the European Union and the United States. This was in direct conflict with the agreements made between Russia and NATO. Well, Russia has repeatedly stated that its red line is the non-adjacentness of NATO to its borders. This is the same concern that the United States has about its borders right now, and we see pressure being brought on the countries in the region of Caribbean.
Of course, the NATO forces were ready for war before the Russian forces were. The existing preparations and arrangements that had been made indicated that first NATO had prepared for war and an attack on Crimea so that if the Russian government hesitated, it would have taken the first step by separating Crimea. Then it would have completed the puzzle of weakening Russia in Eastern Europe with Ukraine’s membership in NATO. Every war requires some preparations, and NATO had prepared for war before Russia. But Russia’s initiative in this matter not only stopped the next steps that were to be taken by NATO and the US with regard to Russia, but it also turned the energy supply for Europe and the United States into their main concern.
Interviewer: In the meeting of the President of Turkey with the Leader of the Revolution, the Leader emphasized that a military attack on northern Syria is detrimental to the region and would not achieve the political action expected from the Syrian government. If you could please elucidate on this in detail?
Velayati: During recent conflicts in Syria, Turkey’s stance was to equip terrorists in the form of the Free Syrian Army, which failed to achieve Turkey’s expectations and its policies with regard to Syria. On the other hand, the presence of armed Kurds in Northern Syria remained a bone of contention for Turkey, because Turkey always dealt with the Kurdish forces as an opposing force. To solve this matter, it had considered two practical solutions for Northern Syria which were specifically spoken of in the Turkish media. The first solution was to maintain a military presence 30 kilometers into Syrian soil and create a Kurdish-free zone in the buffer zone between Turkey and Syria. The second solution was to move more than two million Kurds to refugee camps in order to reduce the danger of them attacking Turkey.
As for the first solution, the issue of the territorial integrity of the Syrian country is at stake here, which would naturally face the resistance and counteraction of the Syrian army. This would not only not extinguish the fire of war in the region, but it would also inflame it even more. Regarding the second solution, the issues of human rights and forced migration have been raised along with ethnic cleansing, which may be clearly seen in the history of the region, especially in the Caucasus, where frequent documents have condemned such actions.
With all these issues, the best way to handle this mutual problem, namely, the presence of terrorists in the Northern regions of Syria, is to hold negotiations between the countries of the region while respecting the sovereignty of the Syrian state. In this way, no distinction would be made between terrorists, so that the region would become free from the existence of insecure agents.
Interviewer: How do you see cooperation between Iran and Russia in the medium and long term considering the need of the two countries to increase cooperation?
Velayati: As it has been stated many times in the goals mentioned by the Leader of the Revolution, and Mr. Putin, the president of Russia, has also emphasized this, is that the strategic depth of relations between Iran and Russia can be expanded to the level of strategic relations. And the mission of both countries is to expand the level of relations to this extent.
Keep in mind that the basic principle of relations between countries is the concept of mutual interests. In the case of Iran and Russia, a wide range of mutual interests can be specified. Not only do both countries have technology and knowledge, but they also have good resources. In addition, both of them have been affected by the cruel sanctions of the West. This provides a suitable platform for joint cooperation. It is hoped that this will be achieved with continuous follow-up by way of diplomacy in line with a strategic view of the East.
In Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to the country, this matter was pursued to some extent by signing agreements of cooperation in various fields. Here, I will give one example to clarify the issue. In the South, Iran benefits from vast gas fields that are being successfully benefited from using domestic capacities. However, Russia has an old company with technology in the fields of oil and gas, which is called Gazprom. Cooperation with this Russian company can increase Iran’s knowledge in these fields. This is a matter that has been delayed after the withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA and Western companies going back on their promises.
Interviewer: Considering Biden’s trip to the region, especially to Saudi Arabia, and comparing the results of his trip with Putin’s trip to our country, some analysts have spoken of the decline of trust in the United States, even among its long-time allies. What is your opinion on this?
Velayati: For several decades, the region has been an area for the implementation of the US’s wrong policies, and the allied countries of the United States have paid the cost for these policies. Meanwhile, not only the share of these countries has been nothing but failure and wasteful spending, but in addition, the way American presidents look from above has targeted the national pride of these countries to the point that the American president claims that Saudi Arabia would not survive for even a few hours without our support. Trump referred to Saudi Arabia as a “milk cow” that must continually carry out the orders of the United States by taking from the pockets of its people. Recently, in order to solve the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine, the United States has ordered an increase in production to reduce the global price of oil. Saudi Arabia has had no choice but to accept this.
If you compare this with the recent Summit of the Guarantor States of the Astana Process, you will see that the three independent countries of the region are cooperating with each other based on their national interests in order to deepen relations and solve regional problems, and God willing, they will reach these goals. This is of great importance. Fortunately, inch by inch, the countries of the region, especially the countries of the Persian Gulf, are trying to redefine relations with the Islamic Republic. They have realized the destructiveness of cooperation with the United States, and this will be a decisive point in relations between the countries of the region. Because we have emphasized this point many times that solving regional problems must be by way of cooperation between the countries of the region without the interference of foreign powers.