Iran’s Foreign Policy
The New-Conservative Phase
Foreign policy and diplomacy are major instruments of states to achieve their objectives, realize their values and defend their 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. 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.
What are the patterns and trends of Iran’s foreign policy during the past three decades, especially after the ascendance into power of the new conservative government in the Islamic Republic of Iran? What are the most important challenges and major impediments facing Iran’s foreign policy at this critical juncture? How Iran’s neighbors especially Turkey, react to Iran’s nuclear endeavors?
The functions of foreign policy and diplomacy in their widest meaning are fourfold:
· It must determine state’s objectives in the light actual and potential power available for the pursuit of these objectives;
· 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.
How far Iran’s foreign policy during the new conservative rule is compatible with the above criteria?
Iranian foreign policy after the Islamic revolution in 1979 until now has followed a rather skewed trend with respect to its form and substance. Of course a number of persistent factors (constants) can be observed throughout the period which forms the basic tenets of the Islamic regime’s outlook to the world affairs. These are: the religious-ideological factors, inspired from Islam as interpreted by the Shiite doctrine; the geo-strategic factors which have influenced Iran’s political status throughout the contemporary history; and the legal-constitutional requisites which have dictated certain contentious policies to Iran’s relations with the rest of the world.
Other more dynamic variables in the equation of Iran’s foreign policy are more or less the ones that are differently classified but usually relate to what is generally called idiosyncratic variables concerning the personal characteristics of leaders and decision makers; systemic variables which relate to the international and regional environment; operational and national variables that concern economic, commercial, diplomatic, security etc. involving the daily life of a state.
It goes without saying that all the above constants and variables are interwoven and interact closely together in a way to influence the outcome of the decision making process in foreign policy.
During its life span within the last quarter of century, the Islamic government in Iran has passed through several stages in its domestic and foreign policies. From a purely religious- revolutionary stance at the beginning to a nationalistic-patriotic posture during the war with Iraq; and then from a more pragmatic-realistic approach after the termination of hostilities to a religious-idealistic attitude during the reformist and progressive era; after which a renewed offensive-fundamentalist deportment can be observed during the current conservative hard-line phase which interests us in this paper.
As we can observe, the vicissitudes of Iran’s foreign policy during the past 27 years are so complex that make it difficult to theorize coherently about its trend. However one can safely suggest that the new phase of Iran’s foreign policy has been utterly mired by the Islamic government’s nuclear inspirations and its earnest attempts to acquire the position of a state member of the “nuclear club.”
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 truthful 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.
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 ambiguities during the lifespan of the Islamic regime so far are geared to this very important dimension of the revolutionary Iran.
Contrary to the previous reformist administration which focused the main thrust of its foreign policy on “confidence building,” the new conservative government and policy makers persist on a return to revolutionary slogans and do every thing to show this feature of the Islamic regime. This has created some uncertainties in the international community as to the real direction and objectives Iran’s foreign policy. 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.
We should not forget that there is an intimate relation between states’ capacity to achieve its goals and objectives and the adequate use of the instrument of diplomacy. A successful foreign policy normally depends on the relative position of a state in the international power structure. However, a comparatively self-isolated state can not achieve grand goals and aspirations through without strong alliance, 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 muddle 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 face unpredictable situations that could put in danger Iran’s national interests.
Relations with Neighbors
It is perhaps a staggering fact that almost all states neighboring Iran are somehow allied to the United States of America, the most challenging opponent to the Islamic regime. Iraq and Afghanistan are actually under U.S. de facto control and other neighbors in the Persian Gulf and in the north are strategically tied to this superpower. This factor indeed makes it very difficult for Iran to pursue an active independent foreign policy in a strategically volatile and economically fragile region such as the Middle East. Furthermore, the revolutionary-ideological nature of the political system in Iran has created an atmosphere of skepticism, and lack of confidence among neighboring states paving the path to isolation and hermit position.
Almost all of these states have shown concern about Iran’s nuclear undertaking during the past years, not necessarily out of political expediency regarding their relations with the U.S., but because of their fear of some sort of arms race and WMD proliferation in the region. For example, Turkey as one of Iran’s most important Moslem neighbor, potential ally and strategic partner has expressed concern about an eventual nuclear Iran.
As a member of NATO and American ally, as well as a prospective member of the European Union, Turkey’s reaction to Iran’s nuclear endeavor has been rather cautious. On the one hand, Turkey’s geo-strategic conditions would eventually oppose to a nuclear Iran; of course if ever directed to military objectives. On the other hand, Turkey may not be willing to upset its long-term economic and commercial ties with Iran on the mere assumption of its hostile nuclear strategy. Yet, we shall not overlook the fact that Turkey has also security and intelligence relations with Israel, which has been the focus of antagonistic declarations by the new hard-line president in Iran. Indeed, Turkey might feel somehow uneasy with these recent developments which directly touch its foreign relations.
However, Turkey and Iran have a number of common interests in the region that eventually prevents their relations to be negatively affected by recent developments. The ongoing crisis in Iraq and the problem of Kurds scattered throughout the common borders, the problem of gas pipeline, the potential opportunities in Central Asia, and the inherent religious and cultural ties between the two Moslem nations are among the most important factors that could help to promote friendly relations of the tow neighbors.
With respect to the nuclear issue, it is hopped that Iran will come clean from the recent allegations about its ambitions. This will indeed require good neighborly and proactive diplomatic relations between Iran, Turkey and other states in the region. As a close ally to the U.S. and active partner with the EU sates, Turkey can play a pivotal and positive role in dispersing the clouds of animosity between Iran and those states. The Islamic government’s intransigence on the presumed peaceful use of nuclear technology should not be interpreted as defiance against NPT provisions unless clear evidences are detected by the IAEA on its deviation to military efforts.
Turkey can also engage in a mutually cooperative and beneficial relations rather than exclusive competition with Iran in many domains, particularly in Central Asia. Of course, Iran should distance from provocative and unnecessary positions that could turn its potential friends to foes. It should set realistic criteria in order to identify its potential friends and partners in the region. Iran’s energy resources can play a complementary role in Turkey’s flourishing economy. Social, cultural, scientific and academic relations between the two nations can pave the path for further improvement in the fields of security and strategic issues.
The Wider Perspective
As said before, Iran’s relations with the rest of the world are somehow mired by the nuclear issue. While the European Union (EU), as an important actor in international relations, is aligned with the U.S., other great powers such as Russia and China have been supporting Iran’s position and favor diplomatic efforts rather than a resolution under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter as a solution to the problem, nonetheless, they too have shown concern about Iran’s intransigence with respect to the IAEA and U.N. Security Council demand to halt enrichment activities. They have strong economic and trade relations with Iran but it is not quite obvious that they will stick to their position with respect to the Islamic government’s nuclear endeavor to the end.
Indeed, harsh decisions to solve world problems, either under legitimate authorization of the Security Council or through some other kinds of coalitions, may only aggravate the matter or escalate the crises situations. In order to tackle effectively with critical issues of the region such as WMD proliferation as well as terrorism, human rights and the Palestinian conflict, the United States, the EU and other great powers should seriously consider the promotion of friendly relations among regional states rather than to fuel animosity and hostility. The more friendly ties in this strategically vulnerable region, the more the interests of the world community with regard to peace and order are served.
There is no need to emphasize here that Iranians are pacifist people and have a very low propensity to conflict. They are against any adventurous schemes that would jeopardize Iran’s national interests or endanger peace and security of the region. Great powers, including the U.S., should pursue their diplomatic efforts in order to settle the crisis peacefully and with justice.
Let’s hope for a peaceful world free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Let’s pray the Almighty God to grant His grace and His light of wisdom to all leaders and politicians to decide for a better future for mankind.
* * *
 Paper to be presented to the 1st International Turkish Asian Congress(ITAC) on 25-27 May 2006 in Istanbul, Turkey.
 Ali-Asghar Kazemi is professor of Law and International Relations at IAU, Science and Research Campus, Tehran, Iran. For detail see:www.akazemi.homestead.com
 Cf. K.J. Holsti, International Politics, A Framework for Analysis, Prentice –Hall of India Private Limited, New Delhi, 1981, p.183
 See: Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations, The Struggle for Power and Peace, Alfred A. Knopf. New York, Fifth edition, p.517-518
 See e.g. Jonathan Feiser ''Nuclear Iran: Repercussions for Turkey and Saudi Arabia''
28 January 2005. See also by Ertan Efegil, Leonard A Stone: “Iran and Turkey in Central Asia: Opportunities for rapprochement in the post-cold war era,” Journal of Third World Studies. Vol. Americus: Spring 2003. 20, Iss. 1; pg. 55