From the beginning, the new Iranian government of Ayatollah Seyed Ebrahim Raisi made it clear that change in the executive branch would bring about a shift in foreign policy. The new Iranian foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, indicated how this shift would play out under Ayatollah Raisi.
In his speech at the Baghdad summit, Abdollahian reiterated what his predecessor often underlined in such regional platforms that Iran wants closer cooperation with the countries of the region, especially Iran’s neighbors.
But at the same time, he was keen to let it be known that this cooperation should be done in a new spirit, one that would respect the legitimate interests of Iran and refrain from pursuing a zero-sum game. In addition, the top Iranian diplomat made it clear that no one should seek to change the balance of power in the region by relying on outside forces.
Underlining Iran’s support for the Iraqi efforts to create areas for cooperation and interaction among the countries of the region, Abdollahian noted, “Our region has all the religious, cultural and civilizational characteristics as well as material and spiritual capacities for regional cooperation and convergence, but unfortunately, due to foreign interventions and the dominance of security-oriented ideas, it has many problems, including war, instability and insecurity.”
In pointing to a foreign role in the region, the Iranian foreign minister put the focus on the main thrust of the Baghdad summit. The Iraqi government put much energy and effort into holding this summit to bring closer the views of stakeholders of a region suffering from political divergence and polarization.
The Iraqis portrayed the summit as a unique platform to foster intra-regional cooperation and partnership. From their point of view, bringing together officials from rival countries would make Iraq more secure and spare it the prospect of being collateral damage for regional rivalry.
In addition, the Iraqi government was eager to convey the message that they want, and are able, to work with all countries of the region regardless of their political standing.
Iran welcomed the Iraqi efforts and underlined the need to strengthen regional security through dialogue among the players in the region. “What we need today more than ever before is “sustainable regional security” with the participation of regional countries. Regional security will materialize depending on the use of economic resources to build a coalition for peace and development,” Abdollahian told the summit.
He added, “The Islamic Republic of Iran expresses its support for the Iraqi government and people and its internal decisions including the withdrawal of foreign troops and holding early elections, and it welcomes Iraq’s constructive role in promoting a culture of dialogue and regional cooperation. Iran considers cooperation within the region as the basis for establishing stability and peace in this way. The Islamic Republic of Iran, emphasizing the important role of other countries in the region, declares its readiness to advance these goals.”
At the end of his speech, the top Iranian diplomat underlined that Iran is adopting a new approach toward the region under Ayatollah Raisi, who has reiterated more than once that Iran’s foreign policy should focus on regional cooperation particularly in economic arenas.
Abdollahian pointed to this new pivot and said, “With great pleasure, I declare, at the inauguration of Iran’s new government that our foreign policy, being ‘balanced, active and smart’, emphasizes the priority of relations with neighbors and other countries in the region, and we warmly shake hands with all neighboring and regional nations.”
Whether this new approach would lead to the normalization of ties with regional heavyweights such as Saudi Arabia remains to be seen. But it seems that there is still a long road ahead until relations are fully normalized.
Two things happened at the Baghdad summit that dampened hopes for closer regional cooperation. First, Syria was not invited to the summit despite being a major neighbor of Iraq. Some press reports suggested the exclusion of Syria was due to foreign pressure on the Iraqi government.
Iran objected to this exclusion both before and during the summit. “We believe that Syria, as one of Iraq’s important neighboring countries, should have been invited to this meeting, too,” said Abdollahian before leaving Tehran for Baghdad.
During the summit, Abdollahian once again alluded to Syria’s absence. “I would like to emphasize the role and support of regional nations in stabilizing and resorting security to Iraq including the friendly and brotherly country of the Syrian Arab Republic. I would like to express regret that Syria is not attending this summit,” he said.
Second, there were no reports of a meeting between Abdollahian and his Saudi Arabian counterpart Faisal bin Farhan in Baghdad. This is while many important meetings were held on the sidelines of the summit. One such meeting was between the Emir of Qatar and the president of Egypt. Another meeting was between the Emir and the governor of Dubai, who also met with Abdollahian.