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Was Rouhani’s visit to Russia actually successful?

Although Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's visit to Moscow resulted in his signing numerous cooperation agreements, the main purpose may have been less about substance and more about show.

The Russian media portrayed the visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Moscow March 27-28 as a big deal. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart discussed numerous issues, ranging from international conflicts to culture, signed 16 cooperation agreements and declared an unprecedented increase in bilateral trade as the pivotal indicator of their successful relations. Analysts were largely optimistic about the meeting, forecasting a bright future for the Moscow-Tehran alliance, or at least a credible effort. The real reasons for the meeting between the two leaders, who could have settled issues without a high-ranking official display, lies offstage. One reason was Rouhani’s desire to make his last official trip before presidential elections a memorable and high-profile visit.

Any suggestion of possible Russian interference in Iran's May 19 presidential election with the aim of installing a more desirable, conservative candidate is likely a conspiracy theory. What should be considered, however, is how Rouhani's Moscow visit serves the aims of his re-election campaign. Indeed, he is the person whose name is attached to the decision to invest in improving Iran’s relationship with the West. As hopes of continuing on this path began to fade with the election of Donald Trump as US president, followed by Trump's executive orders on travel affecting Iranians, Rouhani felt the need to publicly demonstrate good relations in another area of his administration's foreign policy. Today in Iran, domestic issues are being overshadowed by discussion of Trump’s victory and its consequences for Iran and not least the threat of the Islamic State.

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