International Affairs
March 24, 2014
Will tensions in Russia and the Middle East grow worse?

Iran and six major world powers clinched an agreement on Nov. 24 that they hailed as a major breakthrough in years-long efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. In Egypt, the military in July overthrew Mohammed Morsi’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood government, which had been democratically elected a year earlier, shaking a region still awash in post-Arab Spring turmoil. In Syria, where the death toll from the country’s three-year civil war topped 100,000, last-minute Russian intervention in September halted a U.S. and French move to intervene militarily after a chemical weapons attack killed up to 1,400 people, mostly civilians. In Ukraine, the Russian-speaking region of Crimea voted on March 16 to secede and join Russia, and two days later Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty to annex the peninsula on the Black Sea. The crisis was triggered by the fall of Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych following months of protests against his efforts to favor Moscow over the West.

A Russian soldier sits atop a military personnel carrier outside a Ukrainian military base in Crimea. (Getty Images/Dan Kitwood)   A Russian soldier sits atop a military personnel carrier outside a Ukrainian military base in Crimea. Russian President Vladimir Putin asked the parliament to vote on a treaty to annex Crimea after citizens of the Black Sea peninsula voted on March 16 to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. The crisis was triggered by the fall of Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych after months of protests by pro-Western demonstrators who opposed his pro-Moscow stance. (Getty Images/Dan Kitwood)

The election of the pragmatic Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on June 14 created a new dynamic in Iran’s relations with the world. Rouhani declared both before and after the election that his top priority was to reach a settlement with the so-called P5+1 bloc — China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — over Iran’s nuclear program. Iran says it wants to enrich uranium only to generate energy. But many Western governments want to stop the enrichment program altogether, fearing Iran intends eventually to manufacture nuclear weapons, which Iranian leaders deny.

According to Hadi Semati, a former political science professor from the University of Tehran, Rouhani’s strategy on the nuclear issue is “to demand less and walk more slowly.” Rouhani has organized an experienced, supportive cabinet supported by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the national security establishment. However, Rouhani’s position could be vulnerable if his efforts to improve Iran’s relations with the rest of the world fail to reap results, Semati predicted. 1 Iran’s new, more conciliatory stance has been motivated in part by the severe economic pain the country has felt from years of ever-tighter European Union (EU) and U.S. trade sanctions, including an oil embargo and the freezing of overseas bank accounts. 2

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