Iran’s Diplomacy: Embarrassment and Unpredictability
Ali Asghar Kazemi
December 14, 2010
If somebody ventures to delve into the decision making process in Iran’s foreign policy, he will probably end up to frustration. Thus, the rationale behind sudden firing of the incumbent foreign minister, while he was in a diplomatic mission abroad, and the appointment of Iran’s chief Nuclear Agency in his place, shall remain in shadow for some time. The truth of the matter is that the overall decision making process in Iran in domestic and foreign affairs does in no way follow any established rule or pattern. In other words, one might say that it is very personal, rudimentary, and emotional.
One of the major impediments of Iran’s foreign policy, more than 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 rejectionist than receptive.
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, but, at the critical moment when Iran needed their help, they turned to its opponents. Russia and China are two exemplary cases that prove this argument.
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.
While the conservative government and policy makers in Iran persist on a return to revolutionary slogans of the regime and do everything 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.
The mere fact that the newly appointed in charge of foreign ministry comes from a nuclear background in Iran may suggest that the government is sending a somber signal to the West and the rest of the international community that it has no intention to soften its intransigence on the nuclear issue and that this latter is on the forefront of Iran’s foreign policy.
But, the truth of the matter is that this reshuffle seems to stem rather from a personal and emotional grudge of the hard-line president vis-à-vis the outgoing minister and should not be construed as a fundamental change in the decision making process in foreign policy,. Since, neither the criteria for the nuclear objectives in the overall national interests nor the actual pattern of negotiations are to be expected to follow a professional and rational pattern devised by the foreign ministry. Thus, those who eventually expect a breakthrough in the future round of 5+1 meeting with Iran next January in Istanbul, Turkey are giving up to illusion./