TEHRAN — From the start, the new Iranian government of Ayatollah Seyed Ebrahim Raisi made it clear that a change in the executive would lead to a change in foreign policy.
Iran’s new foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, has outlined how this change will unfold under Ayatollah Raisi. In his speech at the Baghdad summit, Abdollahian reiterated what his predecessor often emphasized in such regional platforms: that Iran wants closer cooperation with countries in the region, especially Iran’s neighbors.
But at the same time, he insisted on making it known that this cooperation must take place in a new spirit, one that would respect Iran’s legitimate interests and refrain from pursuing a zero-sum game. Furthermore, the senior Iranian diplomat made it clear that no one should seek to shift the balance of power in the region by relying on outside forces.
Stressing Iran’s support for Iraqi efforts aimed at creating spaces for cooperation and interaction between countries in the region, Abdollahian noted: “Our region has all the religious, cultural and civilizational characteristics as well as the material and spiritual for regional cooperation and convergence, but unfortunately, due to foreign interventions and the predominance of security-oriented ideas, it is experiencing many problems, including war, instability and insecurity.
Emphasizing a foreign role in the region, the Iranian foreign minister emphasized the main focus of the Baghdad summit. The Iraqi government has put a lot of energy and effort into organizing this summit to bring together the views of stakeholders in a region suffering from political divergence and polarization.
Iraqis described the summit as a unique platform to foster intra-regional cooperation and partnership. In their view, bringing together officials from rival countries would make Iraq safer and spare it the prospect of being collateral damage to regional rivalry.
Furthermore, the Iraqi government was eager to send the message that it is willing and able to work with all countries in the region, regardless of their political position.
Iran hailed Iraqi efforts and stressed the need to strengthen regional security through dialogue among regional actors. “What we need now more than ever is ‘sustainable regional security’ with the participation of the countries of the region. Regional security will materialize based on the use of economic resources to build a coalition for peace and development,” Abdollahian said at the summit.
He added: “The Islamic Republic of Iran expresses its support for the government and people of Iraq and its internal decisions, including the withdrawal of foreign troops and the holding of early elections, and welcomes the constructive role of Iraq. in promoting a culture of dialogue and regional cooperation. Iran sees cooperation within the region as the basis for establishing stability and peace in this way. The Islamic Republic of Iran, stressing the important role of other countries in the region, declares that it is ready to advance these objectives.
At the end of his speech, the senior Iranian diplomat underlined that Iran was adopting a new approach towards the region under Ayatollah Raisi, who reiterated more than once that Iran’s foreign policy should focus on regional cooperation, particularly in economic areas.
Abdollahian highlighted this new pivot and said: “With great pleasure, I declare, at the inauguration of the new Iranian government, that our foreign policy, being ‘balanced, active and intelligent’, 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 will lead to the normalization of ties with regional heavyweights such as Saudi Arabia remains to be seen. But it seems there is still a long way to go until relations are completely 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 an important neighbor of Iraq. Some press reports have suggested that Syria’s exclusion was due to foreign pressure on the Iraqi government.
Iran opposed this exclusion before and during the summit. “We believe that Syria, as an important neighboring country of Iraq, should also have been invited to this meeting,” Abdollahian said before leaving Tehran for Baghdad.
During the summit, Abdollahian again alluded to Syria’s absence. “I would like to highlight the role and support of the nations of the region in stabilizing and securing security in Iraq, including the friendly and brotherly country of the Syrian Arab Republic. I would like to express my regret that Syria is not participating at this summit,” he said.
Second, no meeting between Abdollahian and his Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan in Baghdad has been reported. It was then that many important meetings were held on the sidelines of the summit. One of these meetings took place between the Emir of Qatar and the Egyptian President. Another meeting took place between the Emir and the Governor of Dubai, who also met Abdollahian.