A dozen foreign ministers are to converge in New Delhi this week for the Raisina Dialogue but all eyes will be focused on Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif who will speak at the event.
This isn’t Zarif’s first appearance at the forum, co-hosted by the Indian foreign ministry and a New Delhi-based think tank. However, it will provide Zarif a platform to put forth his country’s views in the aftermath of the killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iran accepting that it downed an Ukrainian passenger jet “unintentionally“ killing 176 people on board.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov is also expected in New Delhi with speculation rife of a possible meeting between Lavrov and Zarif. Lavrov telephoned Zarif on 4 January to express his condolences over Iranian general Qasem Soleimani’s killing in a US drone strike in Baghdad a day earlier, according to a Reuters report.
The deputy national security advisor of the US, Matt Pottinger, is also among the speakers.
The summit organizers are expected to ensure that Zarif and Pottinger do not cross paths, but people familiar with the developments on the Indian, Iranian and Russian side say New Delhi could be the venue for a Zarif-Lavrov meeting. Officials from Iran and Russia have been careful not to rule it out but cite constraints of time. Both Lavrov and Zarif are to arrive in New Delhi on Tuesday and have Wednesday for a potential meet as Lavrov is expected to depart the same day. Zarif is to conclude his visit on Thursday. “If the two want to meet, things will be arranged," said a person familiar with the matter on the Russian side who did not confirm or deny that a meeting had been sought from the Russian side.
There seems to be a consensus among analysts that the current confrontation between Iran and the US has blown over. However, that does not mean that there will be a reduction in tensions.
If they meet, Zarif and Lavrov could have an extended conversation about the situation in the region, which is normal given that leaders do take time out for discussions on the margins of conferences and events, said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, who also served as India’s ambassador to Russia.
A recent article in the Foreign Policy magazine by former US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott and colleague Maggie Tennis noted Russia’s increasing strategic clout in West Asia. “Poorly reasoned US foreign policy decisions, such as, most recently, (the US) abandoning Kurdish partners in Syria, helped create a power vacuum that Russia has stepped in to fill. Friday’s strikes (that killed Soleimani)—and every Trump administration action taken since—will likely improve Russia’s position in Syria and the broader region," the two said in a co-authored piece.
Dennis Ross, who was a special assistant to former US President Barack Obama, in a column in The Washington Post pointed out that Russian President Vladimir Putin had visited Syria the week after the Soleimani killing.
Ross described the killing of Soleimani as “a potential game-changer in the Middle East," and said the aim of Putin’s visit to the region was to show that Russia remains a central player and cannot be relegated to the sidelines rather than shore up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“Putin draws much of his legitimacy at home from his apparent success at restoring Russian power on the world stage," Ross said. Given that neither Trump nor Iran’s leaders want war, Putin could well become an intermediary between the two, he said.