The reactions to the war in Ukraine in the region are revealing. Several countries in the region considered to be allies of the United States have taken positions that reveal fractures between the United States and its allies in the region. Israel, the most important ally of the United States in the region, reluctantly condemned the war in Ukraine. Turkey attacks the West even as it condemns war.
Fractures are most evident in the Persian Gulf region. Arab allies of the United States in this vital region have taken an almost neutral position, calling for de-escalation without openly criticizing Russia. Arab allies, who happen to be the oil-exporting countries supposed to cushion the blow of soaring oil prices by pumping more oil, are reluctant to rush to Washington’s aid. In doing so, they send messages of complaints about the United States’ past neglect of their needs.
The only country in the region taking a balanced position is Iran, which has called for dialogue and diplomacy to settle differences. At the same time, Iran has clearly highlighted the risks associated with NATO’s eastward expansion.
This position was pronounced by Iranian President Ebrahim Raeisi during a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. Raeisi said NATO’s eastward expansion is creating tension, according to a reading released by the Iranian presidency.
“NATO enlargement is a serious threat to the stability and security of independent countries in different regions,” the Iranian president told President Putin.
But the enlargement of NATO does not make us forget the need for diplomacy. Thus, Iran stressed the need for diplomacy and dialogue. Ali Bahadori Jahromi, the Iranian government spokesman, said concerns about NATO expansion are understandable but diplomacy is needed.
“Security concerns about NATO’s growing and provocative eastward expansion trend are understandable to all independent nations and those who oppose US domination. At the same time, respect for international law and humanitarian law and the use of dialogue and diplomacy are necessary to end conflicts,” the spokesperson said on Twitter.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian clarified Iran’s position on Twitter. “The #Ukraine crisis is rooted in NATO provocations. We do not believe that recourse to war is a solution. It is imperative to establish a ceasefire and find a political and democratic solution,” tweeted Amir Abdollahian.
Earlier, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh expressed regret over the start of military actions and the escalation of hostilities in Ukraine. He said Tehran was following developments in the country with concern.
Iran’s stance on the Ukraine crisis is twofold: understanding Russia’s concerns about NATO expansion and favoring diplomacy over war.
This was clear from Khatibzadeh’s statement on the situation in Ukraine. He said: “Unfortunately, the provocative actions of NATO led by the United States have led to a situation that has pushed the Eurasian region to the brink of a great crisis.”
He stressed that Iran calls on both sides to stop hostilities and establish a ceasefire for immediate talks to resolve the crisis through political means.
Khatibzadeh also urged Russia and Ukraine to respect international law and international humanitarian law during the conflict.
The Iranian position was measured from the start. As the crisis unfolded in Ukraine, Khatibzadeh said Iran urges all parties to exercise restraint and believes that any action that could escalate tensions should be avoided. Khatibzadeh also called on all parties to work to resolve disagreements through talks and in a peaceful setting.
But the spokesperson also drew attention to concerns about NATO enlargement. “Unfortunately, interference and provocative NATO and US-led measures have made things more complicated in this region,” he said.
First published in Tehran Times