Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Dilemma of Iran's Foreign Policy...

(First Draft: March 4, 2006)

The Dilemma of Iran’s Foreign Policy
Identifying Friends and Foes

Ali-Asghar Kazemi

Keywords: Iran’s foreign policy, nuclear diplomacy, NPT, International Atomic Energy Agency -IAEA,


One of the major impediments of Iran’s foreign policy, almost three decades after the establishment of the Islamic Republic, seems to be the continuing persistence on its revolutionary nature. In fact, this feature has created a strong barrier before Iran’s national objectives and aspirations in setting clear criteria for determining friends and foes. This does not suggest however that the same quandary is settled in domestic sphere. Perhaps many unfortunate events and vicissitudes during the lifespan of the Islamic regime so far are geared to this very important dimension of the revolutionary Iran.

Nevertheless, when states choose to engage in interactions with their peers, they must have a lucid definition of their ends and means, a realistic assessment of their partners and above all a faithful commitment to certain primordial standards (rules of the game) in international relations. Indeed revolutions have their own peculiarities and manners and do not necessarily follow conventional norms and expected behavior. They usually have a tendency to challenge the status quo and even alter those rules. Thus, many states prefer not to be in love with revolutionary regimes which by nature have a propensity to be rejective rather than receptive.

Is there a clear understanding of Iran’s vital national interests and capabilities in the decision making system? How far a state claiming to be guided by its ideological aspirations and revolutionary fervor can achieve its goals in international relations? Who is interested to make real friendship with an unpredictable partner? What are the consequences of foreign policy failure in the current nuclear crisis?

The Instrument of Diplomacy

Diplomacy is the major instrument of foreign policy by which a state can achieve objectives, realize values and defend national interests. Governments have the function to communicate through their diplomatic agents with those whose actions and behavior they wish to influence, deter, alter or reinforce.[1] This process requires a clear definition of a state’s objectives, rationalizations for them, threats, promises, and the setting up plans and strategies to tackle with problems and contentious issues.

Thus, in its widest meaning the task of diplomacy is fourfold:
· It must determine state’s objectives in the light actual and potential power available for the pursuit of these objectives;[2]
· It must assess the objectives of other nations and the power actually and potentially available to them for the pursuit of their objectives;
· It must determine to what extent these different objectives are compatible with each other;
· It must employ the means suited to the pursuit of its objectives.

It goes without saying that failure in any of the tasks cited above may jeopardize the success of foreign policy and is susceptible to increase the risk of confrontation and hostility[3]. Therefore, a logical deduction from this statement is that a nation that sets itself goals and objectives which it has not the power to attain may have to face the risk of war, unless it changes its aspirations or its strategies. Unattainable goals, which have become national slogans, may induce a sense of national frustration, strain national resources in vain and lead a country to confrontation, isolation or internal crisis.

By the same token, a wrong assessment of other nations’ objectives and capability may end up to similar disasters. Therefore, nations must always have a realistic assessment of their friends and foes’ power and capabilities as well as the objectives they pursue. This is in fact one major limitation of Iran’s foreign policy during the whole life of Islamic regime after the revolution. The impending nuclear issue, which has created a major foreign policy crisis, might be considered as the consequence of poor assessment of international strategic and political environment.

The Nuclear Diplomacy

The problem of not being able to distinguish between its ideological concerns and vital national interests has impeded the revolutionary Iran to identify its friends and foes and this has almost paralyzed Iran’s diplomacy during recent nuclear crisis. While international pressure was gradually increasing in order to push it to stop all nuclear activities, Iran was helplessly looking for friends here and there in order to get some support for its intransigent position. To this end, a number of lucrative deals were offered to some potential partners,[4] but, at the critical moment when Iran needed their help, they turned to its opponents.

Iranian leaders should not be surprised by this unfortunate experience. Indeed, this is the golden rule of the game in international relations; states only have permanent interests and no permanent friends or foes. Yet, an intelligent and rational foreign policy should put the right emphasis at any particular moment on the means and leverages it has on its potential friends in order to neutralize or bypass the negative impacts of its presumed foes’ actions and decisions. When a state puts all of its eggs in one basket, it may soon end up with unpredictable situations in which it should sacrifice all at once. No diplomacy that would stake everything on mere rhetoric and intimidation or concessions deserves to be called intelligent.
When the IAEA adopted a Resolution on September 24, 2005 on Iran’s nuclear activities[5] the matter rather surprised Iranians who were counting on the negative votes of NAM[6] states as well as Russia, China and India. The two first abstained from voting and India voted for the resolution. The only negative vote was that of Venezuela, which presumably because of its quarrel with the United States and perhaps not necessarily out of its amicable relations with Iran, did not support the resolution.
Immediately after the adoption, Iran rejected the resolution as purely political and blamed countries which had voted in its favor, and cautioned that it shall review its economic relations with them. High officials in the government threatened to retaliate against any state which would support any document with the effect of referring Iran’s nuclear case to the UN Security Council. Among other retaliatory measures, Iran’s vainly threatened to use its economic leverage, including the stoppage of Iranian oil to unfriendly nations. Furthermore, it claimed it will withdraw from the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty and its Additional Protocol, signed but not yet adopted by the Parliament. It also announced that it will resume all nuclear activities, voluntarily suspended in earlier agreement with the EU3, and will bar IAEA agents from any further arbitrary inspections of nuclear sites.
In fact, soon after when the negative impacts of each of the above tentative actions was assessed by the opponents, the whole campaign suddenly faded and a more compromising stance emerged in official statements. However, when the IAEA decided to report the case to the Security Council by a resolution adopted on February 4, 2006,[7] Iran decided to put into action only some of its previous threats, including the resumption of some limited nuclear activities. Even this retaliatory measure proved to be mere symbolic gesture, since it was immediately declared that this was part of research scheme which had nothing to do with enrichment activities. This meant that we are indeed not so much serious in our claims and contentions and with a bit of more pressure we are ready to do more to satisfy international demands.
A number of diplomatic actions took place by Iranian officials since the time the IAEA adopted the resolution of February 4, 2006. On the one hand, the prime preoccupation was the Russian plan on the nuclear enrichment which had to be decided upon before March 6, 2006 (the prospective date for the final report of the IAEA Director General to the Board of Governors). On the other hand, Iran had to gather some friends with the hope to use them as buffer to the mounting pressure against it with a view to halt the referral of the nuclear case to the U. N. Security Council. However, due to lack of insight and concrete position, the endeavor did not prove to induce much help.[8]
The problem at this stage with Iran’s nuclear affair is that the consensus is so much strong that no single state dares to contradict the demand of the international community, except of course those few who for one reason or another have decided to support Iran. It is worth to be noted that the supporting states have no leverage or influence on the matter and almost all of them have their own particular problems.

The Price of Foreign Policy Flop

While new conservative government and policy makers in Iran persist on a return to revolutionary slogans of the regime and do every thing to show this feature, the international community seems quite alarmed with the development. Thus, most states are reluctant to engage in deep interaction with a nation defying the prevailing norms. This is not to suggest that those norms and rules of the game are necessarily ethical, just or fair.[9]
We should not forget that there is an intimate relation between power politics and the function of diplomacy and a successful foreign policy normally depends on the relative position of a state in the international power structure. However, a comparatively weak and small state can achieve grand goals and aspirations through tactfulness and arts of statesmanship. Unfortunately, the new conservative hard-line government in Iran lacks both of these attributes and this might cost a lot for the fate of the overall nation at this critical juncture of history.
Iranian president’s ambiguous and controversial declarations during his short tenure in office, very much complicated the already volatile situation of Iran. He has taken unnecessary positions with respect of a number of critical issues without knowing that he willingly paved the way for building a strong international consensus against Iran’s nuclear issue. This whole mess happened at an untimely and critical point in time. Indeed, if the present trend continues the way it has gone during the last months, the nation should be prepared to pay an unbearable price.

[1] Cf. K.J. Holsti, International Politics, A Framework for Analysis, Prentice –Hall of India Private Limited, New Delhi, 1981, p.183
[2] See: Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations, The Struggle for Power and Peace, Alfred A. Knopf. New York, Fifth edition, p.517-518
[3] Ibid. p.518
[4]The recent deal on liquefied gas with China, which amounts to an overall value of $100 billion, is one such undertaking which would tie Iran’s political fate to China’s growing needs for energy over the next 25 years. Russians on the other hand, are very happy about the current nuclear plant in Bushehr and the prospective other nuclear plant deals with Iran and seemed not to be ready to forego this lucrative business just for the sake of giving a hand to American plan to contain Iran’s ambition to use nuclear technology, which in their view, is not harmful. But, as we have seen, both of them voted against Iran at the IAEA. India was also supposed to support Iran for promoting its interests in the prospective gas line project, but this did not happen either.
[5] The International Atomic Energy Agency’s governing board approved the resolution despite threats by Iran to begin enriching uranium. The resolution was drafted by Britain, France and Germany and backed by the United States, who had wanted Iran to be immediately referred to the Security Council, but it was watered down by the Europeans. With 22 votes for, one against and 12 abstentions, the outcome highlighted the split between Western nations and others such as Russia, China and South Africa, which disagree with the EU three and Washington on how to deal with Iran. The resolution requires Tehran to be reported to the Security Council at an unspecified date, meaning Iran would probably not be referred to the Security Council until the IAEA board meets in November,

[6] Non-Aligned Movement
[7] The vote had been expected on Friday February 3, 2006, but was delayed by an attempt by NAM (developing countries of the Non-Aligned Movement) to soften the resolution, which was rejected by EU3 (Germany, France and the UK,) who had drafted it. Egypt made a proposal to include a reference to making the Middle East a nuclear weapon free zone. This was rejected by the US, which saw it as an attack on Israel's nuclear arsenal. But it was finally accepted the clause after it received overwhelming backing from European allies. BBC NEWS World Middle East Iran reported to Security Council.htm. Russia and China agreed to support the resolution on condition it did not contain any immediate threat of sanctions against Iran. Only Venezuela, Cuba and Syria voted against it. India voted in favor of the motion in spite of the government coming under intense domestic pressure to stand by Iran. US ambassador to the IAEA Gregory Schulte said the vote sent a "very powerful signal" and the ball was now in Iran's court. He further said. "Iran, rather than threatening the world, should listen to the world and take steps to regain its confidence."

[8] Successive visits by Iranian president to Kuwait and Malaysia, Foreign minister to EU Parliament, Japan, Pakistan; and National Security Secretary to Russia and EU3 foreign ministers, are among the diplomatic attempts in the interval.
[9] See my paper: Ali-Asghar Kazemi, Iran: The Price of Going Nuclear, Middle East Academic Forum, October 2005

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