A top Iranian official has expressed support for Japan's call for negotiations with Russia over the disputed Kuril Islands, amid feelings of betrayal in Tehran over Moscow’s backing of the UAE demand for talks over three Iranian islands in the Persian Gulf.
Kamal Kharrazi, head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, told Japan's ambassador to Tehran that the best resolution to the territorial dispute over the four southernmost Kuril Islands annexed by Russia after WWII would be through “direct negotiations”.
Iran's decision to add to tensions over the Kuril Islands disagreement might hint that all is not well in the political, economic and defence cooperation that has sprung from Tehran's supportive approach to Moscow over the Russia-Ukraine war, which has included the delivery of hundreds of Iranian attack drones to the Kremlin. There is some speculation that Iran is unhappy that Russia has failed to deliver it military kit including Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets, while Tehran could also be wary of the consequences of being too closely aligned with Russia as its international isolation deepens.
The Japanese envoy noted that Russia has halted bilateral talks over the Kuril Islands since invading Ukraine. Kharrazi, notably, stated that Tehran opposes military interventions and violations of countries’ sovereignty, while advocating bilateral discussions to resolve the Kuril dispute.
His stance on discussions mirrors Russia's position taken last week over the Iranian islands claimed by the UAE. A Russia-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) statement supported UAE’s demand for talks over the islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa, proposing “bilateral negotiations or the International Court of Justice.”
The Iranian regime’s mild reaction to the Russian position was seen as a compromise by many in Tehran who were outraged at the Russian backing for the UAE demand. Officials in Tehran went no further than summoning Russia's ambassador and tweeting that Iran would not allow for any compromising of its territorial integrity, without naming Russia.
Analysts said Russia was sacrificing Iran's interests to help end its relative international isolation with attempts to stay on good terms with Gulf Arab nations. Former diplomat Qasem Mohebbali criticised Iran's pro-Russia policy in light of its so-called ally teaming up with regional rivals.
Conservative newspaper Jomhouri Eslami wrote: "This is not going to be Russia's last treason against Iran." It said relations required an “essential revision” and that officials should force Russia to “regret their treason".
UAE has repeatedly claimed the Gulf islands, calling Iran's control over them "continued occupation."
Britain controlled the islands until 1971 when Iran seized them prior to the declaration of UAE's independence that came a year later. Iranian forces maintain a presence on the islands, with the civilian population only found on Abu Musa, where joint UAE-Iran police forces patrol.
In another slight to Moscow that followed the Russian snub, Iran's former foreign minister Ali-Akbar Salehi said in an interview that Tehran and Washington have to share responsibility for the longstanding negativity in their relationship.
Salehi told the newspaper Etemad that ties with the US have been plagued by antagonism for 44 years since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
He said that the two countries had negotiated selectively on issues such as prisoner swaps, Afghanistan and Iran's nuclear programme, but had never held comprehensive talks to resolve core differences.
“Now, considering all regional and international conditions, it is a good and appropriate opportunity to hold multi-faceted political talks with the West, including Europe and the United States,” Salehi was quoted as saying.
As foreign minister from 2010-2013, Salehi was Iran's chief nuclear negotiator and launched the initial, secret talks with the Obama administration in 2013 that eventually led to the 2015 nuclear deal, or JCPOA, agreed between Iran and world powers.