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Iran's Foreign Policy Strategy after Saddam

Kayhan Barzegar
Iran’s Foreign Policy
Strategy after Saddam
During President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s first term, Iranian foreign
policy had two key enduring components. First, Tehran sought to deal with Iran’s
new security dilemma brought about by the U.S. presence in both Iraq and
Afghanistan after 2003. Iran responded with an ‘‘accommodating policy,’’ which
consisted of expanding cooperation after Saddam’s fall with the main Arab world
actors, principally Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and seeking direct talks with the
United States. This included Iran’s engagement in direct talks with Coalition
Forces regarding the prevailing security situations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
In this way, Iran hoped to avoid both a new round of rivalry with its Arab
neighbors and a new security dilemma in its relations with the United States.
The second component was to seek an ‘‘alliance policy’’ while regionalizing
the nuclear issue, in which Iran sought to tie and interweave the nuclear issue
with broader regional dynamics such as Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal and
the Arab-Israeli conflict. By building relationships with friendly states (e.g.,
Syria) and political movements (e.g., Hezbollah or Shi‘ite factions in Iraq),
Iran tried to deter the U.S. or Israeli military threat in the short term and to
prevent the institutionalization of a U.S. role in its backyard in the long term.
The prevailing view in the United States is that Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy
and Iran’s increasing presence in the region has been offensive, expansionist,
opportunistic, and often ideological. Though Iran has occasionally taken
advantage of new opportunities, these characterizations have been exaggerated
in the United States. Instead, Iran’s action should be perceived in a more
Copyright #2010 Center for Strategic and International Studies
The Washington Quarterly • 33:1 pp. 173189
DOI: 10.1080/01636600903430665
Kayhan Barzegar is an assistant professor of international relations at Science and Research
Campus, Islamic Azad University, a senior research fellow at the Center for Middle East
Strategic Studies in Tehran, and a research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and
International Affairs at Harvard University. He can be reached at kayhan_barzegar The author would like to thank Eskandar Sadeghi, doctoral candidate at
St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, for his suggestions and comments.
pragmatic light. Though Ahmadinejad may
himself be an ideological and divisive figure,
Irans foreign policy strategy predates him and
ought to be viewed as a wider Iranian effort to
secure its geostrategic interests and national
security concerns. Despite Ahmadinejads
tendencies to indulge his eccentricities, the
logic of Irans foreign policy decisionmaking
process always ensures this return to
If the Iranian leaderships actions are perceived as offensive and expansionist,
then the rational choice for the United States is to maintain robust deterrence.In
contrast, if Irans policies are defensive, then the rational choice for the United
States is to seek cooperation with Iran and eventually to help integrate Iran into
the regional political-security architecture. Such integration is certainly
inseparable from settling the ongoing nuclear dispute and reaching a broader
and much anticipated de
´tente with the United States. It is essential that
Washington not misinterpret Irans actions. Misreading Iran prevented the Bush
administration from pursuing engagement and cooperation. President Barack
Obama must not make the same mistake. He should reexamine the current
perception of Irans regional aims and redefine Irans place in U.S. Middle East
After Irans June 2009 presidential election, Western commentators and
policymakers have speculated about divisions among the Iranian political elite,
and how to exploit them to gain leverage on Irans nuclear program and various
outstanding regional disputes. Such a policy, however, will bear little fruit.
Though there are of course differences of style and approach among the elite, it
is clear that Irans nuclear program has the capability to unite them, especially in
the face of foreign threats of increased sanctions and military attack. What,
therefore, should be the Obama administrations stance toward Ahmadinejads
second term in office?
Iran’s New Security Challenges
In Ahmadinejads first term, Iran was most concerned with the new security
challenges posed by the U.S. military presence across Irans national borders in
Iraq and Afghanistan. There is, however, a historical legacy at play as well with
their concomitant historical traumas. Iranians have been wary and sensitive to
the presence of foreign armies along their immediate borders and incursions into
Iran proper since the Qajar dynasty suffered two humiliating defeats at the hand
of the Tsarist armies in the nineteenth century. History repeated itself in World
Iran faced a new
security dilemma
brought about by the
U.S. presence in Iraq
and Afghanistan.
Kayhan Barzegar
War II when Iran was carved in two by the Soviet and British armies, the MI6
Central Intelligence Agency orchestrated coup, which ousted the democratically
elected government of nationalist Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, and
most recently, in the era of the Islamic Republic of Iran, U.S. backing of the
Baathist regime during its eight year (1980 1988) conflict with Iran, which is
estimated to have cost as many as one million casualties.
To return to the present day, with the arrival of the Obama administration,
there has been much talk of a substantive change in the U.S. approach to Iran.
From the Iranian perspective, however, the long-term U.S. approach to the
regional balance of power remains largely unchanged. For over half a century,
U.S. policy in the Middle East, and especially in the Persian Gulf, has been to
maintain a balance of power while preventing regional supremacy. As a result, the
Iranian leadership perceived Obamas overtures to Syria to be a continuation of
the Bush administrations policy to isolate Iran and minimize its ability to
influence regional developments. Obamas tactical visits and public diplomacy in
Turkey and Egypt, as well as his conciliatory pronouncements toward the broader
Islamic world, were all seen as efforts to shore up regional support against Iran
and weaken its ability to withstand international pressure. It is this belief
that led the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to reply to Obamas Persian
New Year greeting by stressing that a change in Iranian attitudes would be
contingent on ‘‘genuine’’ and ‘‘real’’ changes in the U.S. position vis-a
`-vis Iran.
Although the geopolitical changes following the Iraq and Afghanistan crises
place Iran at the center of the regions politics and have created various new
opportunities, they are also a source of serious security challenges for Irans
national security. While the empowerment of the Shia and Kurdish groups in
Iraqs governance have strengthened Irans role in the region, they have
simultaneously presented unprecedented challenges such as ethnic geopolitical
rivalries, Sunni extremism, religious and civil war, the probability of territorial
disintegration, and the spread of insecurity and instability more generally across
the region. Furthermore, the ongoing tensions surrounding the issue of Iraqi
federalism remain a matter of great national security concern for Iran. An Iraq
consisting of smaller and weaker parts would provide a basis for the increased
influence of Irans regional rivals (e.g., Israel) in areas such as Iraqs Kurdish
regionor Irans backyard.
Challenges to political sensitivities and rivalries among regional countries have
also been emerging along Irans borders. Fear of Iraqs fading Arab identity has, for
instance, prompted Saudi Arabia to be more involved in the Shia and Kurdish
issues. Turkey is now more interested in the Shia and Sunni issues involved in Iraqi
federalism, and Jordan and Egypt infamously warned against the creation of a ‘‘Shia
crescent’’ with Iran in a leading role in the region.
Through concerns about
Hezbollahs relations with Shia militias remain prevalent, Iraqi issues are now more
Irans Foreign Policy Strategy after Saddam
germane than ever to Lebanese domestic issues. Based on the theory of making
alliances with non-Arab states in the region, Israel today is more involved in Kurdish
majority areas in Iraq, and is also more concerned about Irans increased activity in
the southern Shia-dominated areas and their effect in the entire Persian Gulf
Lastly, because of increasing transnational cooperation between al Qaeda
operatives and sympathizers, Iraq and Afghanistans issues are increasingly
Irans security dilemma, however, is more a consequence of a variety of U.S.
policies over the last eight years. The Bush administration tried to diminish
Irans regional role by installing like-minded elites in Iraq, attempting to
transform Iraq into a potential model for Iran in the hope of forging a new
balance of power in the region, creating an unfriendly coalition with the regions
Sunni regimes against Iran and opposing Irans nuclear program. These policies
were all perceived as attempts to redefine the regions political-security order
with a minimum role for Iran in its own immediate security circle.
As a result, Iran and the United States saw each other as strategic adversaries,
each trying to gain the upper hand over one
another. Actions that Washington considered
as security-enhancing were regarded by
Tehran as sowing the seeds of insecurity and
vice-versa. Though there is hope that the
Obama administration will not continue the
same policies, no concrete measures have yet
been taken. Consequently, Iran continues to
call for U.S. troop withdrawal, and was
vehemently opposed to the 2009 U.S.Iraq
Political Security Agreement, which installed
U.S. troops for many years, subsequently
institutionalizing the U.S. role in Irans political-security backyard. Obamas
planned Iraq troop withdrawal for August 2010, however, has elicited a positive
response from Tehran.
Though Iran is being receptive to the Obama administrations change of
diplomatic style and greater appreciation of regional subtleties, it is still too early
to think of direct U.S.Iran relations. Furthermore, imposing additional sanctions
on petroleum-based products is steadily gaining ground in Washington. The belief,
however, that this will induce a fundamental change in Iranian behavior will
prove to be misguided. Ahmadinejad will continue to pursue a foreign policy that
aims to secure Irans geostrategic interests and regional status in his second term,
albeit tempered to accord with the Obama administrations change of style and
emphasis on diplomacy. Even an improved security situation in Iraq and
Afghanistan should not disguise the fact that, when and if necessary, Iran can
Foreign threats
against the nuclear
program have
the capability to
unite Iran’s political
Kayhan Barzegar
assert its influence in ways that could be highly problematic for coalition forces in
the months and years to come. From Irans perspective, Iranian cooperation in the
region has more often bred Western complacency and arrogance vis-a
`-vis Iran.
Perhaps the most glaring instance of this dynamic was after Iranthen led by
reformist president Mohammad Khatamiand its allies provided considerable
support to the U.S.-led coalition forces in the aftermath of the September 11,
2001 attacks in its initial invasion of Afghanistan and ousting of the Taliban,
only to be later denounced as a member of the infamous ‘‘axis of evil’’ in George
W. Bushs 2002 State of the Union address. This not only vastly undermined the
incumbent Iranian president, but proved to the more skeptical factions that
cooperation with the United States would do little to ameliorate the
administrations unswerving hostility toward Iran. Though Iran is fully aware
that the United States is an essential part of any equation which would assure
Irans regional role, it continues to be highly suspicious of U.S. actions, despite
Obamas positive rhetoric.
The Iranian leadership has reiterated time and again that a genuine change of
policy by the Obama administration is necessary. This would involve changing
the traditional policy of balance of power, which is itself a source of tension and
potential conflict in Irans relations with its neighbors. The Iran-Iraq War was
the result of an arms race that had begun due to a similar policy. This policy has
proven neither efficient nor acceptable to Iran. The region can not be secured at
the expense of Irans insecurity. Instead, Obama should advocate a policy that
amounts to a balance of interests in which all actorsinterestsregional or
transregionalare secured. He should also challenge the existing perception in
the United States that a powerful Iran will endanger U.S. regional interests.
Ahmadinejads Second Term
Ahmadinejads proactive foreign policy combines practicality with ideological
elements, geared to securing Irans geostrategic interests and national security.
Such a policy seeks to confront challenges to Irans security, while availing itself
of opportunities opening up as a result of the regional vacuum created by the
toppling of the Iraqi Baathist and Taliban regimes. This proactive policy will
continue to hold sway and dictate the behavior of the incumbent Iranian
government in Ahmadinejads second term. Whether Irans regional activities
are ideological or pragmatic has different policy implications for the United
States. Given the cultural, political, and security characteristics of its manifold
sources of power, Irans regional and foreign policies have always been driven by
two factors: geopolitics and ideology.
Irans policy toward Iraq is a good example. Since March 2003, Irans policies
have been shaped by two considerations: the first stresses Iraqs territorial unity
Irans Foreign Policy Strategy after Saddam
and understands that maintaining Iraqs unity must be the prime objective of
Irans policy. As such, Irans policy of supporting Shiite factions will imbalance
power equations in Iraq and hence will not serve Irans interests in the long run.
From an Iranian perspective, any tendency to empower federalism in Iraq would
be a prelude to greater regional instability. Such a situation, given Irans ethnic
geopolitics, would be devastating for Irans national security.
The second consideration, which was especially at the center of Irans policy
during the Bush administration, focuses on supporting ‘‘ideological and religious’’
elements, stressing that Irans support for friendly Shiite factions has been
crucial in empowering these groupsrole in Iraqs power distribution. This policy
can also benefit Irans interests to help tackle future security challenges,
especially those stemming from the current U.S. presence. Rather than a long-
term strategic policy, Tehrans occasional relations with hard-line Shiite
factions, such as the al Sadr faction, are primarily tactical and short term.
And these primarily exist with an eye to undermine the unilateral U.S. policy of
excluding Iran from Iraqi politics.
Iran has always stated its support for the
Nouri al Maliki government and the
moderate factions (e.g., al Daawa and
Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq) in Iraqs
politics because of their avowed long-term
policy to improve strategic relations with
Iran. Irans successful mediation on March
30, 2008 between the al Maliki government
and Shiite militias in Sadr City in Baghdad was a sign of Irans support. Iran in
fact overtly supported the Iraqi government forces against the Mahdi Army and
Sadr neighborhood militia, who in the past have harbored and issued hostile
statements regarding Iranian influence inside Iraq.
Contrary to the prevailing
view in the United States and the Arab world, which often interpreted the
success of al Malikis party in Iraqs provincial elections as a challenge to Iran,
such outcomes have proven to accord with Irans interests. Because of a balanced
and modest role in post-Baathist Iraq, Iran has and will continue to avoid new
rounds of rivalry with its Arab neighbors and simultaneously seek to prevent the
creation of a new security dilemma in its relations with the United States.
Iran, therefore, has applied both pragmatic and ideological instruments in
regulating its policy toward Iraq. On one hand, through its support of friendly
Shiite factions, Iran has attempted to tackle the perceived threat posed by the
U.S. military in times of insecurity, beginning with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
On the other hand, by stressing the unity of Iraq, Iran has tried to foil the
damaging impact of Iraqs ideological, ethnic, and sectarian divisions on Irans
It is still too early
to think of direct
U.S.-Iran relations.
Kayhan Barzegar
national security. In this regard, even the factor of ideology, a dynamic element
of national power, has served Irans national interests.
Irans Foreign Policy and Defense Strategy
Iran currently views security in the region as a non-zero-sum game in which the
best action for securing Irans national interests is to advance a win-win game.
Iran knows that the United States has vital interests in Iraq, as well as the region
at large, and is not likely to leave the region completely. Iran also knows that the
public, in both the United States and the region, will not welcome a long-term
U.S. presence. From Irans perspective, therefore, a feasible middle ground is to
help the United States secure its interests without an excessive regional
presence. The strategic value of this deal is to establish a new kind of balance
of interests and balance of security between Iran and the United States. In this
respect, Irans previous cooperation with the United States and other regional
actors in settling the Afghanistan crisis in 2001 is a vivid example.
Likewise, advancing cooperation with the United States and other relevant
regional actors in settling Iraqs insecurity is another sign of Irans pragmatic
inclinations. The strong willingness to proceed with direct talks with the United
States on Iraqs security issues means that Iran has strategically accepted the role of
the United States in Iraq. Tehran simply seeks to minimize the threat posed by the
U.S. presence in the region through cooperation and engagement. In this manner,
Iran has decided to advance a win-win game. Similarly, Iran has been very cautious
not to engage directly in any conflict with the United States in Iraq and the
Persian Gulf.
Regarding the relations with other major actors in the region, such
as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Iran has pursued a strategy of maintaining amicable
relationships mostly through reassurance and cooperation. For instance, Iran has
attempted to advance regional cooperation by actively participating in regional
conferences regarding the crises in Iraq and Lebanon.
Yet, from a strategic point of view, Irans geopolitical position, its sources of
power, and unique political-cultural dynamics require that it take on a greater
regional presence than it has in the past. Tehrans political elite views Irans
increased regional involvement as imperative, notwithstanding the numerous
cosmetic changes that have accompanied the Obama administrations
‘‘reorientation’’ about Iran. This rationale is based on three fundamentally
defensive policy assumptions:
An Insecure and Unstable Neighborhood
Living in an unstable neighborhood has been costly for Iran over the past
decades. The continued instability and sectarian conflict across the western
border (Iraq), failed and unstable states in the east (Afghanistan and Pakistan),
transforming states in the north (Central Asia and the Caucasus), and
Irans Foreign Policy Strategy after Saddam
authoritarian and security dependant regimes in the south and Persian Gulf,
each subject to political-social changes in the future, have formed the basis for
Irans insecure and unstable backyard. Such an insecure environment has the
potential to spread regional rivalries, military conflict, crises, and subsequently
foreign powerspresence. The revival of the Taliban in Afghanistan in recent
years is a pertinent example. A major portion of Irans political and economic
stamina is being spent on tackling these varied threats in the region. The need to
continuously maintain a powerful army to protect Irans national borders is
rooted in this dimension of Irans national security demands. The Shahs regime,
for instance, justified the perpetuation of a great Iranian army to tackle future
military threats from the Iraqi Baathist regime.
Interconnected Security
To tackle the threats emerging on its immediate borders, Irans defense strategy
has mainly focused on constructing the concept of ‘‘interconnected security,’’
which means having an ‘‘offensive defense’’
or defense through active military
From the perspective of
Iranian governing elites, the regions
security has been seen as synonymous
with Irans security and vice versa. Iran is
paying a great price for preserving regional
security, without receiving appropriate
gains in return. If the regions security is
significant to the United States and
regional states, there needs to be an
acknowledgement of the reality that Iran is an essential part of the regions
security system. Iran will not continue to ensure that the region is secure at the
expense of Irans own insecurity.
By pursuing this policy, Tehran also aims to warn other states in the region of
the cost of helping the United States in any possible future military operations
against Iran, making it clear that such actions would result in greater insecurity
for the entire region. The future of U.S.Iran bilateral relations in the Obama
era is very much dependent on the United States coming to terms with the very
real cost incurred by Iran in ensuring regional stability, such as the costs of
dealing with the Taliban regime, and Irans indispensability to guaranteeing such
stability, especially in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf in the coming
years. It is very difficult to see how U.S. Iran relations can proceed beyond mere
rhetoric as long as the Obama administration seeks to circumvent Iran by
cultivating regional rivalries in order to pressure Iran to cede ground on the
nuclear and other outstanding regional issues.
Iranian cooperation in
the region has more
often bred Western
complacency and
Kayhan Barzegar
Preempting Future Security Threats
Irans geopolitical realities, ethnic politics, and cultural-religious characteristics
intimately tie its national security to that of the region as a whole. To preempt
future security threats, Iran reserves the right to modestly engage in the regions
political and economic architecture and activities. With the acquisition of a
greater role, effective responsibility, and assurances that it can preempt future
threats, Iran will be able to use its political and military energy for the sake of
economic and political development. Viewed in this context, establishing
bilateral and mutual economic, cultural, and political-security agreements with
neighboring states will lead the region toward greater stability and mutual
Irans engagement in Iraq is aimed at preempting future
challenges. By supporting those political factions or groups in Iraq that are, in
a remarkable break with the past, friendlier today toward Iran and unwilling to
participate in an anti-Iranian coalition for the foreseeable future, Tehran has
attempted to coax Baghdad into fulfilling the role of a strategic partner in the
Accommodating and Alliance Foreign Policy
During his first term, Ahmadinejads foreign policy consisted of two
complementary elements: first, a policy of ‘‘alliance building’’ and second, an
‘‘accommodating’’ approach to the conduct of foreign policy. Both elements have
always featured prominently in the conduct of Iranian foreign policy, since each
dimension has deep roots in the geostrategic position and ideology of Iran. What
has differed from administration to administration is the priority given to these
respective elements.
In the Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani era (19891997), in the wake of the Iran-
Iraq War, Tehran prioritized an accommodating foreign policy toward states like
Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. This policy was continued by the Khatami
administration, which formulated its foreign policy with an eye for de
and confidence-building.
Iran continued to maintain its strong ties with Syria
and Hezbollah but tended to lean toward mending relations in the region, which
had been severely strained immediately after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Ahmadinejad, however, reversed the priorities of Iranian foreign policy. While
he still sought to maintain cordial relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, he
stressed the importance of Irans regional allies, such as Syria, and friendly
factions such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Unlike his predecessors, therefore,
Ahmadinejad sought to tie regional grievances to Irans broader regional role and
its nuclear program.
Thus, by becoming especially vociferous on the Palestinian issue and the
Israeli military assault on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, Ahmadinejad
endeavored to carve out a role for Iran on a broader regional scale. Such
Irans Foreign Policy Strategy after Saddam
conflicts, which he sees as having roots in longstanding historical issues of
contention and injustices, are inseparable in his mind from Western efforts to
retard Iranian development by depriving it of a raft of modern technologies, most
prominently civilian nuclear technology. He also believes that by speaking out
on regional issues and contextualizing them vis-a
`-vis Irans own embattled
relationship with the West, he will improve Irans public diplomacy and will be
able to garner and engender support among the masses of a slew of Muslim
majority states.
An accommodating foreign policy, however, focuses on the geopolitical
factors in conducting Irans regional policies. Accordingly, and given the
geopolitical realities, Iran should only be engaged with the political-security
affairs of its immediate neighbors such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Persian
Gulf. From this perspective, too much engagement with the Arab world, which
is not geostrategic or culturally related to Irans national interests, has been
costly for Iran, wasting the countrys energy
and wealth.
Experience has shown that the more Iran
feels threatened, the more likely it is to
expand its regional presence. Though in the
short term, Irans greater regional presence
will promote its deterrent power to engage
potential security threats, in the long term it
will bring unnecessary tension and strategic
discord to Irans relations with the regions
key players such as Saudi Arabia and the United States. Viewed from this
perspective, Iran should align itself with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, maintain
strategic relations with Syria, continue its support of Hezbollah as a friendly
Shia entity in order to institutionalize its political role in Lebanese politics, and
implicitly accept the two-state solution regarding Israel and Palestine.
Irans longstanding alliance-building foreign policy lends considerable weight
to both geopolitical and ideological factors, focusing more on a political-security
foreign policy approach. Such a standpoint maintains that Irans alliance with
Syria is aimed more at either balancing the Israeli military threat or deterrent
power to counter the perceived threats currently stemming from the U.S.
military presence on its borders. The chief purpose of Irans close relationship
with Hezbollah is to obtain benefits of strategic significance for both parties,
such as tackling the Israeli military threats and institutionalizing the Shia role in
the regions power politics, though the two undoubtedly possess close cultural
and ideological ties fostering political and moral solidarity, which inevitably play
a vital role in the battle for hearts and minds.
Iran has strategically
accepted the role of
the United States in
Kayhan Barzegar
Meanwhile, Iran should take advantage of all the influence its foreign policy
has managed to accrue so far. The Islamic revolution transformed Irans
marginalized position into an active regional player. Its growing potentiality
and friendly political factions in the region, moreover, demand Irans increased
regional role. Iran, as a non-Arab state, has generally fewer levers of influence in
the regions politics. Tehran, therefore, has reckoned it essential to take
advantage of its natural attributes to counterbalance any negatives in its
relations with its Arab neighbors. For example, by establishing a coalition with
friendly Shia political factions in Iraq, Iran has been able to shift Iraq from a
traditional political rival, as well as a conventional military threat, into a
friendly state. This development not only alleviates the need for much of Irans
political and military stamina but provides Iran with a unique status in the Arab-
dominated region.
By drawing a broader circle of security, therefore, Iran has linked its security
with regional dynamics, enhancing its role to tackle the current threats
emanating from its immediate security environment. This has been key to
Ahmadinejads foreign policy approach in his first term and, in all likelihood,
will be continued in his second. The essential point to note is the linking of
Irans nuclear program with broader regional dynamics. In this way, his
government and the Iranian political elite have sought to package together
Irans nuclear program with outstanding regional disputes and Iranian security
concerns in order to afford Iran greater strategic value and bargaining power in
any future negotiations.
The Comprehensive Package Deal
Negotiating on several disparate fronts is not in Irans or the regions interests,
nor will it lead to a lasting settlement. The single most effective route is to
accept the aforesaid mutual areas of concern as a comprehensive package, which
would afford Iran strategic parity in the course of negotiations. Only then will
Iran feel confident enough to make genuine concessions and acquire the
assurances it has long sought. Irans security strategy in this context is more
defensive and based on an interconnected security and concomitant domino
effect: Irans security is equivalent to regional security and Irans insecurity will
produce regional insecurity.
Building alliances and coalitions with friendly
factions in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon are thus aimed to support Irans reactionary
defensive foreign policy, supporting the fact that Irans decisive engagement in
the region is pragmatic in nature. Three issues will now dominate Irans foreign
policy: the nuclear issue, U.S.Iran bilateral relations, and outstanding regional
Irans Foreign Policy Strategy after Saddam
The Iranian leadership knows very well
that only the nuclear issue has the power to
bring the United States to the negotiating
table and provide impetus for a settlement of
other outstanding issues of ‘‘secondary’’
concern (e.g., Iranian support for Hezbollah,
Hamas, and Islamic Jihad). The nuclear
program serves as a point of convergence in
which U.S.Iran interests coincide and
thereby has the unrivalled potential to act as
a catalyst to reconcile any outstanding issues and grievances. Unlike other issues of
foreign policy over which there may be disagreement or vigorous debate, when it
comes to the nuclear issue and Irans preservation of its independent nuclear fuel
cycle, there is a strong elite consensus that runs across the political spectrum.
Moreover, despite recent post-election controversies, the nuclear issue continues to
have domestic grassroots support, and the continued potential to act as a source of
legitimacy for the Ahmadinejad government in the face of foreign criticism. Today,
the nuclear program is perceived as a matter of technological advancement, national
pride, and solidarity that bolsters Iranian identity and status regionally and
internationally. Consequently, all political parties in Iran demand the pursuit of a
tough stance in talks on the nuclear program. The nuclear program, therefore, is
beyond standard reformist or hard-line policy disagreementsthere is only one line
and that is the line of national interest.
Among elite support, the program has the backing of supreme leader
Khamenei. Irans numerous legislative, judicial, executive, and military bodies,
along with the supreme leader, have representatives at the National Security
Council, which is the main body that decides the direction of Irans foreign
policy. Despite differences that exist among all bodies and representatives, the
council ensures a consensus among them. Hence, Western efforts to try to
exploit apparent elite divisions in Iranwhich have largely subsided in the
months following the presidential electionwill not be successful. Furthermore,
Ahmadinejad will continue to pursue his proactive foreign policy to counter
Western pressure, if Washington refuses to take genuine steps toward a
substantive change in policy. The United States needs to formulate a long-
term strategic perspective instead of making short-lived and fleeting gains due to
a miscalculated and erroneous understanding of the significance and future of
Iranian politics after its presidential election.
At present, the main controversy between Iran and the United States is who
should take the first step, and what should that step should be. While the Bush
administration spoke of preconditions and demanded suspending uranium
enrichment, the Obama administration has spoken of negotiations without
Only the nuclear
issue has the power
to bring the United
States to the
negotiating table.
Kayhan Barzegar
preconditions but arguably has fallen into old patterns by setting vague and
unilateral deadlines in late September 2009. Diplomacy is undoubtedly a
painstaking and time-consuming process, but Iran has agreed to open its Qom
facility (which is still under construction) to International Atomic Energy
Agency inspectors. Very quickly in the course of the October 2009 Geneva talks,
Tehran has further agreed to send its declared enriched uranium to Russia for
Though Obamas reaction to the Iranian presidential election was
measured, the belief that Washington can exploit apparent divisions within
Irans elite is gaining ground, as witnessed by many of the sentiments expressed
in the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearings on Iran in July 2009, which
tried to make sense of Irans post-election developments.
Such a strategy, however, will fail for several reasons. First, Ahmadinejad has
the confidence and support of Khamenei, who has final authorization over
policy. In fact, it would have been nearly impossible for a strong reformist
candidate to proceed in forging ahead with a U.S.Iran de
´tentethe deeply
entrenched institutional obstacles to such action would have made such a feat
nearly impossible. Ahmadinejad, however, is eager to forge ahead along the path
of U.S.-Iran diplomacy. The question, of course, is whether the Obama
administration will continue along the diplomatic trajectory outlined by
Obama in the U.S. presidential campaign and following his inauguration, or
whether the administration will return to delusions of regime change in the
hopes of destabilizing Iran and extracting gains from the Iranian leadership,
which will prove unacceptable to all across the Iranian political spectrum.
Furthermore, regional issues cannot be isolated from the broader picture. By
initiating an active foreign policy and engaging decisively in places such as
Afghanistan, Gaza, Iraq, and Lebanon, Iran has been comparable to the United
States, providing Iran with the opportunity to reorient the regions traditional
zero-sum game (typically lose for Iran, win for the United States) to a win-win
game. Regional activeness has offered Iran the opportunity to redefine its role in
its security backyard, especially in the Persian Gulf and Iraq. In fact, Irans active
presence in the three rounds of direct talks with the United States on Iraqs
political-security issues was the result of Irans increased regional role.
Irans nuclear program has certainly presented the option of direct talks. Now,
the desire to hold direct talks is present on both the U.S. and Iranian sides. In
Washington, Irans increased role in the region, as well as its involvement
in important global and strategic issues, has made engagement inevitable. In
Tehran, having a strong and comparable stance vis-a
´-vis the United States on
regional issues, together with Irans self-reliance in tackling perceived U.S.
military threats, has intensified internal desires to start direct talks.
If Obama, however, falls into the trap of resorting to the threats and dogmatic
policies adopted by his predecessors, a historic opportunity could well be missed.
Irans Foreign Policy Strategy after Saddam
Iraq and Afghanistan are far from
stabilized and Iran could prove vital to
bring lasting security to the region.
Ahmadinejad, however, will not concede
Irans claim to the nuclear fuel cycle.
He has staked far too much of his
governments legitimacy and personal
credibility on the matter. In any case, the
nuclear portfolio has never been under
his undisputed control. The important
question, as far as the United States is concerned, is whether the Obama
administration is willing to take the courageous step of engaging in meaningful
diplomacy, while resisting the temptation to bow to internal and external
pressures. Continued attempts to isolate and weaken Iran will only be to the
detriment of U.S. goals, which are oriented toward assuring stability,
nonproliferation, and the peaceful resolution of ongoing regional conflicts.
The Endgame: What Happens Now?
Policymakers should, therefore, pay close attention to the three key issues which
will define Ahmadinejads second term and the future of U.S.-Iran relations as well
as Middle East stability: Irans defensive foreign policy, the nuclear crisis, and U.S.-
Iran de
There is no doubt that the key to solving the Iranian puzzle and ameliorating
the profound distrust between Iran and the United States lies in coming to a
realistic and lasting resolution of the nuclear crisis. It is crucial because it will
not only serve as the door to a potential ‘‘grand bargain,’’ but may also serve as a
vehicle to resolve regional points of contention by facilitating U.S.-Iran
cooperation. From Irans perspective, in the long term, anything less than the
continued presence of the independent nuclear fuel cycle on Iranian territory is
unacceptable and contrary to the broad and deep-rooted consensus of Irans
political elite. The United Statesrecognition of Iran as a peaceful nuclear power,
in exchange for an international monitoring consortium with U.S. participation
based at Irans nuclear facilities, with rigorous and persuasive guarantees of non-
militarization and nonproliferation, might be the only feasible option.
The settlement of the Iranian nuclear crisis should not be seen as separate
from the various regional crises, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and the ongoing
tensions and disputes surrounding the Arab-Israeli conflict (where the role of
Hezbollah is key). Settling the nuclear issue, acknowledging Irans status as a
regional power, and incorporating it into the regions security architecture would
allow Iran to work in coordination with the United States, as opposed to playing
The nuclear crisis
should not be seen as
separate from the
various regional
Kayhan Barzegar
the roles of strategic adversaries, to bring greater security to the region. If the
crisis is resolved and the U.S. military presence is wound down to a level at
which Irans security fears are attenuateddue to the essentially defensive
character of Iranian foreign policyIranian and U.S. regional aims and goals
could move toward coexistence instead of mutual exclusivity.
Ahmadinejads second term will continue to be proactive, although with
greater emphasis on obtaining tangible benefits. The crux of the matter is how
the United States will react. If the Obama administration seeks to bring further
pressure to bear on Iran in the form of another round of sanctions at the UN
Security Council, Obamas promise of reorienting U.S. strategic relations with
Iran will be irreparably damaged, and the Iranian leaderships pronouncements of
distrust and fears of U.S. double-speak will be vindicated. Eloquence and
pleasant new year greetings will prove to be far from enough, if there is any hope
of breaking the deadlock. Obama has to make a choice between going for long-
term stability in a region that is strategically important to the United States and
the world or for short-term gains in the futile hope that such leverage will yield a
win-lose outcome in which the United States will be the sole victor. The coming
weeks will tell the tale.
1. Ali Akbar Dareini, ‘‘Iran Leader Rebuffs Obama Overtures,’’ Washington Times,
March 21, 2009
2. For an Iranian perspective on the issue of ‘‘Shia crescent’’ see Kayhan Barzegar, ‘‘Iran
and the Shia Crescent: Myths and Realities,’’ Brown Journal of World Affairs XV, no. 1
(Fall/Winter 2008): 8799.
3. See Yossi Alpher, ‘‘Stopping Iran Must be the Objective in Iraq,’’ Forward, October 10,
2007,; Yossi Alpher, ‘‘Except That the Regime
in Iran Is Here to Stay,’’ Forward, February 6, 2008,
4. See David Menashri, ‘‘Irans Regional Policy: Between Radicalism and Pragmatism,’’
Journal ofInternational Affairs 60, no. 2 (March 2007): 154 157; R. K. Ramazani,
‘‘Ideology and Pragmatism in Irans Foreign Policy,’’ The Middle East Journal 58, no. 4
(Fall 2004): 550.
5. See Dilip Hiro, ‘‘Wining Iraq Without Losing to Iran,’’ Daily Times, April 25, 2008,\04\25\story_25-4-2008_pg3_6.
6. See Juan Cole, ‘‘Iran Supported al-Maliki against Militias: OSC; Is the Baker Plan
Back? Did Iran Expel Muqtada?’’ Informed Comment Blog, April 13, 2008, http://; Leila Fadel, ‘‘Iranian
General Played Key Role in Iraq Cease-Fire,’’ McClatchy Newspapers,March 30, 2008,
Irans Foreign Policy Strategy after Saddam
7. See Mohsen Milani, ‘‘Irans Policy Towards Afghanistan,’’ The Middle East Journal 60,
no. 2 (Spring 2006): 246247.
8. In the course of Iraqi forcesconflict with the Sadrists in Basra in March 2008, Iran
mediated to settle the crisis. See Hiro, ‘‘Wining Iraq Without Losing to Iran.’’
9. For example, Iran has hosted and participated in most of the regional conferences at the
different levels of foreign and interior ministers held on Iraq’s security during 2004
2008: May and November 2004 in Sharm el-Sheikh, November 2004 and July 2005 in
Tehran, August 2007 in Damascus, November 2007 in Istanbul, and April 2008 in
Kuwait (See ‘‘Kuwait Conference: 20 Regional, Int’l Events but did they Bring Security,
Stability to Iraq?’’ Iraqi News, April 23, 2008,
iraq.html?Itemid126). Iran also actively participated in the Doha conference held to
bring a ceasefire in Lebanon in May 2008. Iran’s involvement itself, however, is an issue
of concern to Arab countries in the Middle East.
10. See Asaddollah Alam, The Diaries of Alam (Tehran: Maziyar Publication, 2003) (in
11. For more information on offensive defense, see Michael E. Brown, Sean M. Lynn-Jones,
and Steven Miller, eds., ‘‘Preface,’’ in The Perils of Anarchy: Contemporary Realism and
International Security (Boston, MA: MIT Press, March 2005), p. xi.
12. Assertions on enhancing bilateral and mutual economic and political-security
cooperation have always been initiated by Iran’s officials. See for instance,
Ahmadinejad’s 12-article initiative presented in the Gulf Cooperation Council’s 28th
summit, held in December 2007 in Doha, Qatar. See ‘‘Iran Presents 12 Proposals at
PGCC Summit,’’ Payvand’s Iran News, December 4, 2007,
news/07/dec/1029.html. Also see the 10-article initiative presented by Hassan Rohani,
former secretary of Iran’s National Security Council at the World Economic Forum in
Doha, Qatar in April 2007. See Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, ‘‘Iran unveils a Persian Gulf security
plan,’’ Asia Times, April 14, 2007,
13. See Kayhan Barzegar, ‘‘De
´tente in Khatami’s Foreign Policy and its Impact on
Improvement of Iran-Saudi relations,’’ Discourse: An Iranian Quarterly 2, no. 2 (Fall
2000): 163164.
14. See Mahmood Sariolghalam, ‘‘The Shia Revival: A Threat or an Opportunity,’’ Journal
of International Affairs 60, no. 2 (Spring/Summer 2007): 205.
15. This defense strategy has repeatedly been asserted by Iran’s high rank official such
as Khamenei, Speaker of Majlis Ali Larijani, Secretary of National Security Council
Saeed Jalili, and head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp [IRGC] Major
General Jaffari. See ‘‘Iran’s Leader Warns U.S. Against Attack,’’, February
8, 2007,; ‘‘Iran: Middle East Security at Risk,’’, February 8, 2007,
index.html; ‘‘IRGC Commander Gen. Mohammad Ja’fari: If Attacked, Iran Will Target
U.S. Forces in Neighboring Countries,’’ MEMRI Special Dispatch, no. 1833, February 8,
16. See Kayhan Barzegar, ‘‘The Paradox of Iran’s Nuclear Consensus,’’ World Policy Journal
26, no. 3 (Fall 2009): 21 30.
17. Steven Erlanger and Mark Landler, ‘‘Iran Agrees to Send Enriched Uranium to Russia,’’
New York Times, October 1 2009,
Kayhan Barzegar
18. See ‘‘Iran: Recent Developments and Implications for U.S. Policy,’’ Hearing of the
House Foreign Relations Committee, July 22, 2009,
Irans Foreign Policy Strategy after Saddam
... With a tricky action of Iran binding up with Lebanon (Shaery-Eisenlohr, 2008) and Iraq, effectiveness in the region is going to reach towards further extend by three authorized developments. One is building up of Shi'ite central government in Iraq by the support of Iran (Barzegar, 2010). Secondly, as the escalating protests in Saudi Arabia against the government has mounted to be supposed as a predominant threat by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. ...
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The strategic rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran has been worsened for the last two decades. This historical sectarian divisions led by Saudi Arabia and Iran has now morphed into a struggle for regional influence between Shia political power led by Iran and Sunni political power led by Saudi Arabia. Against this backdrop, the study examines the contours of the Middle Eastern security in the context of Saudi and Iran strategic rivalry in various conflicts such as crisis in Syria, Yemen, and situation in Iraq including proxy wars and Iran’s nuclear program. The study finds out that the security situation of the Middle East would have been much better if Saudi and Iran would have cooperated on various issues such as Yemen and Syrian crisis. In addition, the internal vulnerabilities of the Middle East with Iran and Saudi strategic antagonism provided opportunities to the external power intervention that further has intensified the conflicts in the region. The study concludes that the solution of the Middle Eastern problem would lie in building cooperation between Iran and Saudi Arabia relations and in this respect the current rapprochement between the two states is a positive development for Middle Eastern security.
Numerous studies have examined the decades-old Saudi-Iranian rivalry, which has played out in various regional arenas, notably Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and the Gulf. This article explores the place that Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq occupies within this rivalry. As the KRG’s foreign relations have attracted scholarly attention since the late 1990s, the article examines the Saudi Arabia–KRG relations in the post-2003 Iraq War, with a special focus on growing Iranian influence in Iraq. The end of Saddam Hussein’s rule and the subsequent rise of Shiite-dominated governments in Baghdad has shaken the regional balance, bringing out Iran as an influential actor in the Middle East. This laid the foundation for new understandings in the Saudi regional policy as Riyadh emphasized its relations with Iraq and the KRG, which became a crucial factor that can balance and imbalance power in the Middle East. It argues that common concerns for security and relative gains paved the way for a closer relationship between Riyadh and Erbil to counter threats emanating from both Iran and ISIS. Through case-specific information to those interested in Kurdish politics and the Middle East, it not only delves into the driving forces behind Riyadh-Erbil relations but also aims to present the Saudi interpretation of the 2017 Kurdish referendum.
This chapter analyses Ahmadinejad’s political career between 2005 and 2013 by examining his approach to domestic and foreign politics, his relationship with military institutions and the issue of rising securitization, and his political use of Mahdism and how it affected relations with the Iranian clergy. It presents a comprehensive overview of Ahmadinejad’s political behaviour on different levels, offering insight into his various approaches and the political purposes they may have served. The chapter reconstructs his two presidential tenures within the broader framework of domestic factionalism, delving into the polarization of the conservative front and the weakening of the Republic at an international level, due to the deadlock in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme. Lastly, this chapter demonstrates how, beyond mere ideological drivers, Ahmadinejad adopted a pragmatic and strategic use of established slogans for his own personal political gain.
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Oriente Próximo es un espacio geoestratégico marcado en la actualidad por diversos conflictos y crisis, que condicionan las relaciones entre los actores estatales y no estatales involucrados, así como el establecimiento de estrategias y alianzas. En el trasfondo de algunas de estas complejas dinámicas está la rivalidad entre dos potencias: Irán y Arabia Saudí. Los dos Estados persiguen el objetivo de erigirse como los únicos referentes políticos y religiosos de la zona. El antagonismo de sus intereses genera un clima de elevada tensión y enemistad, que se traduce en una forma de enfrentamiento indirecto: Guerra Proxy. Esta repercute en varios escenarios de la región, y trae como consecuencia mayor inestabilidad e inseguridad.
This chapter investigates the concept of “Strategic stability in Iran’s foreign policy conducts and national security strategies in the Middle East. The author argues that in the course of time and during previous decades Iran’s understanding of strategic stability has changed and evolved as a result of its perception of the strategic postures of other great powers, especially toward the United States, and their allies in the region. In this respect, the threats emanating from the extension of rival states, political ideologies, and terrorism have affected Iran’s understanding of strategic stability. Dealing with these threats, Iran has always strived to increase its relative security in the context of an active regional presence to preempt any strategic instability for the state. To this aim and before the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran perceived strategic stability rather in making coalition and close cooperation with the Western bloc and its regional allies. At present, however, and given the changing circumstances, achieving strategic stability is focused on relying on independent national strategies, strengthening regional cooperation, and boosting regional multilateralism. Conceptually, the two factors of “geographical centrality” and “identical values” have been significant in shaping Iran’s perspective in this regard. The author concludes that the dynamism of regional politics such as the continued crises in Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by the Arab Spring developments, especially the Syrian crisis and emergence of Daesh (ISIS), and in the latest development coming to power of President Trump in the U.S. and the conduct of the so-called “maximum pressure” policy, has further centered Iran’s sense of strategic stability on the concepts of containment and deterrence through increased regional presence, taking advantage of its geopolitical centrality and soft power for eradicating the new emerged national security threats. In this regard, a concept such as self-reliance has become more significant in Iran’s understanding of strategic stability, consequently leading Iran to become a more security and economic “inward looking” state. This state of affairs is likely to continue during the Joe Biden presidency, unless Iran’s sense of strategic insecurity from the U.S.’ aims and intentions in weakening Iran’s regional status is removed by some constructive actions on the U.S. side.
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This chapter seeks to place Iran’s recent foreign policies in the Cold War and beyond in the broader context of the country’s experiences in international affairs. Modern Iran emerged around 1501, when Esma‘il I, a youthful prince descended from Muslim, Georgian, Turkish, and Byzantine royalty and nobility, proclaimed himself shah and re-established a Persian state after a hiatus of nine centuries. From that time onward, ensuring Iran’s security and at times its survival repeatedly impelled its leaders to seek support from imposing external allies or patrons who could help the new state to resist the threats, demands, and assaults of powerful and often threatening neighbors. From the late fifteenth to the early eighteenth century, the Ottoman Empire was by far the most dangerous international opponent of Iran. In response, Esma‘il and his successors turned to European powers and Russia for assistance. From the late eighteenth century, expansionist Russia represented the greatest threat to both Iran and the Ottoman Empire, prompting both states to seek the protection of the British Empire. In practice, for much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this often meant that Britain and Russia effectively colluded in dividing Iran into spheres of influence. This pattern recurred when Britain and the Soviet Union were allied against Adolf Hitler’s Germany during World War II, a conflict that also brought the United States into direct involvement in Iran’s affairs. As British power in Iran declined, the United States stepped in, organizing a coup that cemented the hold on power of Shah Reza Mohammad Pahlavi and effectively replacing Britain as Iran’s foremost international ally and patron. Following the Shah’s overthrow in 1979 and the Islamic Revolution, which left the nation locked in bitter antagonism with the United States and vulnerable to attack by neighboring Iraq, Iran was initially somewhat friendless. From 1980 to 1988, it was locked in a bitter, stalemated war with Iraq, in which up to one million Iranians died or were seriously wounded. Facing continued hostility from the United States and also from Israel and Saudi Arabia, together with threats to its nuclear program, in the early twenty-first century Iran turned for security to post-Soviet Russia. As China’s reach expanded dramatically in these years, stretching well into Central Asia and beyond, Iran’s leaders also believed it profitable to align their country with the ambitious and increasingly influential new global superpower. The history of Iran’s involvement with major external powers nonetheless suggests that the purported new triple alliance will soon find itself navigating treacherous territory and troubled waters.
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In 1991, following its defeat in the Second Gulf War and as a response to the international humanitarian protectionist umbrella provided to the three Kurdish-population governorates in Northern Iraq, the Government of Iraq (GOI) under Saddam Hussein centrally seceded from the area. The vacuum that ensued was soon filled by the leadership of the Iraqi Kurdistan Front (IKF) and soon a de facto state resurrected from the ashes of destruction besieging Iraqi Kurdistan for many decades. Hence, the precarious existence of what came to be known as the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) in a highly challenging geopolitical environment and the strategic imperative of preserving the de facto independence of the entity forced the Kurdish leadership to give high priority to building foreign relations and pursuit of foreign policy. Foreign policy as a political activity is of paramount importance to all actors including sovereign states to preserve and promote their national interests. The practice of foreign policy, however, is particularly acute for de facto states. As internationally non-recognized entities, the international system of sovereign states is often skeptical if not hostile to engage in foreign relations with de facto states. Yet, projection of foreign policy and building foreign relations is extremely vital for the continued survival and consolidation of de facto states. By exploring the case of the KRI as a case of de facto statehood, this book argues that mutatis mutandis, de facto states can pursue independent foreign policies. By identifying major transitions in the KRI from 1992 to 2011, this book seeks to better explain foreign policy determinants, objectives, and instruments of implementation of foreign policies of the KRI. In doing so, this book further seeks to contribute to the analysis of de facto statehood in general and to contribute to the study of the KRI as the only case of de facto statehood in the Middle East region, as well as contributing to the Kurdish studies in general.
This article explores Iran’s soft power strategy in Syria in recent years. It first reviews the definition of and approaches to soft power in the literature, followed by Iran’s overall soft power strategy during the past few decades. The second part of this article addresses the close relationship between Syria and Iran since the latter’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, which has developed due to shared values as well as shared threats. Thirdly, drawing on a rich array of primary source material in Persian, this article explores Tehran’s exercise of soft power in Syria in the cultural, religious, social and economic spheres. It demonstrates that Iran has invested significant resources in developing and promoting its soft power in Syria, in particular during the past few years. The article concludes that Tehran sees investment in soft power resources as imperative to the prolongation and maximization of its influence in Syria.
By exploring the IRI’s foreign-policy schools of thought, this chapter will deal with “geostrategic discourses”, defined as ‘particular discursive speech acts about “national security”, and the “strategic interests” of the state’, and “geopolitical discourses”, defined as the ‘crafting and design of a particular spatial account of international affairs by institutions, and by practitioners of foreign policy’. Before doing so, Part A will first outline the specific framework of institutions relevant to foreign-policy decision-making in the IRI. Part B will then set the stage of our ensuing discussion by introducing the most important foreign-policy schools of thought in the IRI and their views on regional and global geopolitics, which expands on the analysis offered by Farhi and Lotfian. Part C will then delve into important foreign-policy debates and controversies of the 2000s, bringing the various schools into conversation with each other.
Since 1979, Iran's objectives in Afghanistan have changed as Afghanistan's domestic landscape changed. Still, Iran has consistently sought to see a stable and independent Afghanistan, with Herat as a buffer zone and with a Tehran-friendly government in Kabul, a government that reflects the rich ethnic diversity of the country. Toward those and other goals, Iran has created “spheres of influence” inside Afghanistan. During the Soviet occupation (1979-88), Iran created an “ideological sphere of influence” by empowering the Shi'ites. Iran then created a “political sphere of influence” by unifying the Dari/Persian-speaking minorities, who ascended to power. Iranian policies added fuel to the ferocious civil war in the 1990s. Astonishingly slow to recognize the threat posed by the Taliban, Iran helped create a “sphere of resistance” to counter the “Kabul-Islamabad-Riyadh” axis by supporting the Northern Alliance. Since the liberation of Afghanistan, Iran has also established an “economic sphere of influence” by engaging in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Today, Iran's goals are to pressure the Afghan government to distance itself from Washington, and for Iran to become the hub for the transit of goods and services between the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan, Central Asia, India, and China. While Iran has been guilty of extremism and adventurism in some critical aspects of its foreign policy, its overall Afghan policy has contributed more to moderation and stability than to extremism and instability.
This essay hypothesizes that the tension between religious ideology and pragmatism has persisted throughout Iranian history. The Iranian Revolution simply put it on graphic display in the contemporary period. The essay also suggests that the dynamic processes of cultural maturation seem to be shifting the balance of influence increasingly away from religious ideology toward pragmatic calculation of the national interest in the making and implementation of foreign policy decisions. The obvious implications of all this for US-Iran relations are mentioned.
Iran Leader Rebuffs Obama Overtures Washington Times
  • Ali Akbar
Ali Akbar Dareini, ''Iran Leader Rebuffs Obama Overtures,'' Washington Times, March 21, 2009
Stopping Iran Must be the Objective in Iraq ForwardExcept That the Regime in Iran Is Here to Stay Forward
  • See Yossi
  • Alpher
See Yossi Alpher, ''Stopping Iran Must be the Objective in Iraq,'' Forward, October 10, 2007,; Yossi Alpher, ''Except That the Regime in Iran Is Here to Stay,'' Forward, February 6, 2008, 12643/.
Iran's Regional Policy: Between Radicalism and PragmatismIdeology and Pragmatism in Iran's Foreign Policy
  • See David
See David Menashri, ''Iran's Regional Policy: Between Radicalism and Pragmatism,'' Journal ofInternational Affairs 60, no. 2 (March 2007): 154 —157; R. K. Ramazani, ''Ideology and Pragmatism in Iran's Foreign Policy,'' The Middle East Journal 58, no. 4 (Fall 2004): 550.
Wining Iraq Without Losing to Iran Daily Times
  • See Dilip Hiro
See Dilip Hiro, ''Wining Iraq Without Losing to Iran,'' Daily Times, April 25, 2008,\04\25\story_25-4-2008_pg3_6.
Iran Supported al-Maliki against Militias: OSC; Is the Baker Plan Back? Did Iran Expel Muqtada?'' Informed Comment Blogiran-supported-al-maliki-against.html; Leila Fadel, ''Iranian General Played Key Role in Iraq Cease-Fire,'' McClatchy Newspapers
  • Juan Cole See
See Juan Cole, ''Iran Supported al-Maliki against Militias: OSC; Is the Baker Plan Back? Did Iran Expel Muqtada?'' Informed Comment Blog, April 13, 2008, http://; Leila Fadel, ''Iranian General Played Key Role in Iraq Cease-Fire,'' McClatchy Newspapers, March 30, 2008, THE WASHINGTON QUARTERLY/ j JANUARY 2010
Détente in Khatami's Foreign Policy and its Impact on Improvement of Iran-Saudi relations
  • See Kayhan
  • Barzegar
See Kayhan Barzegar, ''Détente in Khatami's Foreign Policy and its Impact on Improvement of Iran-Saudi relations,'' Discourse: An Iranian Quarterly 2, no. 2 (Fall 2000): 163-164.