Speaking to Fox News host Bill O’Reilly Feb. 5, 70-year-old Donald Trump repeated Washington’s charge that Iran is the world’s chief state sponsor of state terrorism. Whether that’s true or not, it offended Russia who’s battled Saudi-U.S.-backed rebel groups to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. With al-Assad retaking Aleppo from Saudi-U.S.-backed terror groups Dec. 7, 2016, Trump must rethink former President Obama’s failed Syrian policy. Obama backed for six years the Saudi proxy war against al-Assad only to watch his policy vaporize when Russian President Vladimir Putin decided Sept. 30, 2015 to bomb Syrian rebel groups to defend al-Assad’s Damacus government. Comrades in arms saving al-Assad, Sergei Lavrov, defended Iran, including its recent ballistic missile tests. Lavrov doesn’t want Iran interfering in resetting U.S.-Russian relations.
Since Feb. 11, 1979 when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei-backed Iranian revolutionaries booted out the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi government, the U.S. and Iran broke off diplomatic relations. Lavrov knows Iran routinely chants death to America and its No. 1 ally Israel. Trump’s remarks mirror the abysmal state of U.S.-Iranian relations. If Iran would refrain from the “death to America” or “Great American Satan” chants, it might open a door at some point for more cooperative relations. Russia focuses on cooperative military and business venture with Iran, avoiding pointed criticism of Iran’s oppressive theocracy. Unlike Russia that has its own issues with oppressive governing, the U.S. promotes Western-style democracy where the people have more say in their governments. Iran fears the U.S. backs revolution against the current mullah government.
Whatever the differences between the U.S. and Iran, Lavrov should help Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tone down the anti-American rhetoric, something scoring brownie points with Ayatollah Ali Khanenei and Iranian President Hassa Rouhani. “All those who see Islamic State as an existential threat should start to act in a coordinated manner and I’m sure that if we look objectively at potential members of this coalition, Iran should, of course, be part of our joint efforts,” said Lavrov. To get Tehran and Washington on the same page, Lavrov should sit down with Zarif and find common ground with the U.S. Unlike Obama, Trump’s willing to go against war hawks on Capitol Hill led by Sen. John McCain (R-Az.), confront the Saudis, de-fund rebel groups and let al-Assad stay in power. Lavrov needs to tell Zarif to stop the hostile rhetoric toward the U.S. and Israel.
Trump told O’Reilly that “they are sending money all over the place, weapons,” referring to the Iranian’s supplying arms to Shiite Houthi rebels in Aden, currently at war with the Saudi backed Yemen government in Saana. If Trump can reset U.S.-Russian relations, it will improve U.S.-Iranian relations, with Moscow backing the U.S. on a number of joint foreign policy ventures. War hawks on Capitol Hill, like McCain, are out-of-line dictating U.S. foreign policy, especially Trump’s attempt to reset U.S.-Russian relations. With so many hotspots around the globe, better relations with Russia only gives the U.S. more leverage. Whatever U.S. differences today with Tehran, it’s possible Moscow can help soften the belligerent rhetoric and focus both countries on cooperative ventures in the Mideast. Trump needs to resist the heard mentality of openly slamming Iran.
With Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the helm, there’s a better chance of improving U.S.-Russian relations or, for that matter, relations with Tehran and other U.S. adversaries under Obama. Obama deferred U.S. foreign policy to the U.N., taking global positions on key global challenges like the war in Syria. Unwilling to confront Saudi Arabia, Obama let the proxy war go on for six years, killing over 400,000, displacing 12 million more to neighboring countries and Europe, creating the worst humanitarian crisis since WWII. Obama blamed the Syrian crisis on al-Assad, when all he was doing was defending his sovereignty against a determined Saudi proxy war to topple his Damascus government. Going along with the Saudis, Obama never acknowledged the mess he made in Syria but, more importantly, pitting the U.S. against Moscow, driving U.S.-Russian relations to Cold War lows.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov downplayed differences with the U.S. over Iran, preferring to focus on rebuilding U.S.-Russian relations. Trump’s biggest challenge in mending fences with Moscow is containing war hawks like McCain who want to continue the Cold War. Under Tillerson’s leadership, rebuilding U.S.-Russian relations will be a top priority to extend U.S. global leverage around the globe. Unlike former Secretaries of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Kerry, the U.S. abandoned linkage, the important foreign policy idea of joining alliances to work on challenging foreign policy issues. Vice President Mike Pence signaled that improving U.S.-Russian relations could result in the U.S. ending punitive economic sanctions over Ukraine. Unlike Obama, Trump plans to set U.S. foreign policy, not let the U.N. or European Union run the State Department.