Turkey sent troops into Syria yesterday. This caused Russia to declare its unhappiness with Turkey. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Turkey yesterday. The atmosphere may not have been loving, but it was cordial, with none of the venom that had been visible since the coup attempt. The Russians have agreed that to halt operations from Iran’s Hamedan air base, but might return at some point. There is some sort of political battle raging in Iran over giving the Russians permission to use Hamedan in the first place. All of these apparently distinct threads tie together into a single, geopolitical story.
Let’s begin with Iran. Iran has kept its independence for centuries, fending off two threats. One was Turkey, in its Ottoman guise. The other was Russia, both the empire and the Soviet phase. As an example, during World War II, Iran remained formally independent, but was occupied in the north by the Soviets and in the south by the British. After the war, the Soviets showed themselves reluctant to leave. It was American pressure on both the Soviets and the British that restored Iranian independence. It wasn’t American goodness. The Americans opposed Soviet expansion and were undermining the British Empire. Iranian and American interests coincided.
The United States increased its power and influence in Iran, until the Islamic Revolution tore the relationship apart. The United States became Iran’s main adversary, but not its only one. Iran remained extremely cautious about Soviet designs, particularly in the early phase of the Islamic Republic. It remembered its long history with Russia. As for Turkey, it was weak in this period and didn’t present a threat. Iran was hostile to the United States and cautious about Russia.
The recent deal on nuclear weapons was forced through in Iran by factions who argued that a policy of complete hostility toward the United States was undermining the Iranian economy and political interests. Another faction (or several) opposed the deal as a betrayal of Iranian interests and as a capitulation to the United States. This faction, rooted in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, fought and lost the fight. But it did not give up.