Comment: While both Tehran and Moscow have been depicting today’s meeting between Russian and Iranian leaders in Moscow as mainly about trade and energy deals, the conflict in Syria, as Zarif’s remarks suggest, perhaps topped the agenda. Iran and Russia have been cooperating closely in propping up the Bashar al-Assad regime over the past two years. But their tactical cooperation and short-term and immediate-term objectives in Syria do not necessarily mean the two countries share long-term strategic goals in Syria or in the broader Middle East. The Russian military briefly used Iran’s Hamadan Air Base last August to launch air attacks against anti-Assad forces in Syria. But the arrangement was canceled abruptly as a result of a backlash inside Iran after Moscow publicized the secret agreement. A number of Iranian lawmakers, for example, argued that allowing a foreign military to operate on the Iranian soil violated the Islamic Republic’s constitution. The event exhibited the fragility of Iran-Russia defense and military relationship as well as a long-standing and deep distrust between the two countries.
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