August 07, 2005

New Government in Iran : Some Options for the Foreign Policy

A Glance at Some Options for the Foreign Policy of the New Government in Iran

The following paper was presented to a conference held in Paris last month to review the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Dr. Mahmood Vaezi is a researcher and university professor. He is also vice-president for international affairs at the Strategic Studies Center in Tehran.

Not a long time has passed since the election of the new president in Iran. During this period, numerous questions have been raised about the possible policies that will be pursued by the new government in the domestic and foreign scenes.

Given the important and sensitive developments occurred in the region and international politics, to understand the foreign policy of the new government in Iran will be of importance for other actors in the international realm. For this reason, given the existing ambiguities, various guesses have been made in this regard some of which fail to conform to the realities.

Since the cabinet has not yet been formed and the policies of the new government have not been declared, relying upon my experiences and the perceptions of the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, I try to examine and analyze the prospects of the new government in the field of foreign relations.

1- Constants and Permanent Goals of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Like any other political system, the Islamic Republic of Iran is characterized by a number of defined principles and goals in the foreign policy realm, which do not necessarily change in substance with the change in governments. It is necessary to note that the overall orientations of the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran are stipulated in the Constitution, meanwhile, the grand strategies of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy have been defined, explained, and ratified within the 20-Year Vision Plan.

As a result of extensive and profound work by experts, the 20-Year Vision Plan (2005 –2025) that enjoys the consensus and support of all factions and ideological groups was approved by the Expediency Council in 2004.

Undoubtedly, its implementation will be on the agenda and constitutes one of the main tasks of future governments. In this Vision, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s grand strategy within the two next decades, the country’s trajectory towards development and progress and its main framework and objectives have been delineated.

On this basis, 20 years later, Iran will be “a developed country with the first scientific, economic, and technological status in the southwest Asian region”. To reach this status will constitute the main objective of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the next two decades and naturally all domestic and external potentials and possibilities should be mobilized in a way to reach that end. In the Islamic Republic of Iran’s grand strategy in the foreign policy area, a behavioral pattern of ‘constructive and effective interaction’ has been determined in order to take advantage of international opportunities and to remove threats to the aforementioned objective.

In order to realize the 20-Year Vision Plan in the foreign policy field, three areas of cooperation are of great importance:

1- Continuing the policy of mutual confidence-building;

2- Giving priority to regional cooperation; and

3- Expanding economic and industrial ties with various countries of the world.

On this ground, behaving within the pattern of ‘constructive and effective interaction’ appears an indispensable necessity and a means to reach determined goals for all institutions involved in decision-making in the foreign policy realm.

2- Areas for Action by the New Government

A- Perspectives

The perception created following recent Iran’s elections in the West, as influenced by their media propaganda, encouraged the rumors of the domination of radicalism in the internal and external policies. Obviously, the approach of the new government’s foreign policy will become more transparent with the lapse of time, but on certain issues which concern the observers and researchers, it is possible to speculate theoretically.

Ideological rhetoric and its related terminology will appear more salient in the language and discourse of the new government’s foreign policy. This character will not necessarily, however, mean ideological behavior or a return to the first decade following the Islamic Revolution in the 1980s, although the change in behavioral and negotiation patterns is predictable.

Essentially, the conditions in Iran, the region and the world cannot be rolled back. Here the role of interaction becomes more important. Uncalculated conducts and foreign presumptions may make the new government’s attitude strict and rigid or conversely unchallenging actions are able to flourish its pragmatist character. At any rate, the language of threat in treating the new government will have a reducing impact and the West’s tough policy will cause the toughening of Iran’s foreign policy.

The harmony of the new government with the other power centers involved in foreign policy-making in Iran gives it necessary capacity to make decision and resolve problems, particularly in strategic realms, because contrary to what was the case in the past, competition over grand decision-making will be declined. This is an opportunity that the new government can use it by diplomatic means to realize its goals.

B- Policies

Based on what was mentioned above, the foreign policy of the new government may be predicted at three levels including bilateral, regional and international relations.

Bilateral Relations

In the areas of bilateral relations, the emphasis will be put on relations with neighboring and regional countries. Considering important geopolitical developments occurring in Iran’s two eastern and western neighbors, namely Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran can play a crucial role in the stabilization and reconstruction of the countries.

Moreover, it seems that given the vital interests the Islamic Republic of Iran has in the two countries’ stability and security, it will proceed to enhance and continue reciprocal cooperation with those nations. Iran’s expanded cooperation and relations with the other neighboring countries are also predictable in line with the confidence-building initiative. Paying attention to the bilateral relations with Islamic and Asian countries and possibly changing the approach toward some western countries, if their non – constructive position persist, could be predicted.

Regional Relations

At the regional level, the stability and security in the Persian Gulf region will continue to have importance in the new government’s policies and the policy of confidence-building will be kept with these countries. The Middle East in general and the Persian Gulf in particular, because of their geostrategic location and the persistence of two complicated issues regarding Iraq and Palestine, will continue to attract the attention of the world’s great powers. It is completely natural that developments in this sensitive region and in the international system can affect Iran’s foreign policy notably its regional and strategic interests.

Obtaining stability and security in the region in general and in Iraq, in particular has a close link with the indiscriminate struggle of all the countries, especially, great powers against the vicious phenomenon of terrorism. Due to its long borders with Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran, naturally, will bear a loss in case of any instability and insecurity in the region.

Therefore, Iran is ready to struggling against terrorism and contribute to establishing sustainable stability in these countries under the auspices of the U.N.

The remarkable point is that the developments in Iraq and in the Middle East should not distract us from Afghanistan. The present situation in Afghanistan suggests that the process of nation and state – building is slowly in progress. The continuation of this process requires the serious support of all countries. There is some fear that in case of the negligence of world governments, Afghanistan would return to its previous situation.

As for Iraq, it should be said that its future is subject to three alternatives, each of them has advocates in Iraq and abroad:

1- Returning to dictatorship

2- Anarchy

3- Continuation of nation and state – building process and moving toward democracy.

Iran has always supported the democratic process in Iraq and the new government will pursue this course.

Moreover, the expansion of cooperation with the Muslim countries will be given more priority in the foreign policy of the new government and it is expected that Iran’s relations with the Organization of Islamic Conference will increasingly take a more dynamic form.

International Relations

At the international level, the collaboration with the international organizations and confidence - building with the world and the extended bilateral ties with the advanced industrialized countries in Asia and Eurasia will be on the top of the new government’s agenda.

In this regard, the more deepening of Iran’s strategic relations with China and Russia is expected.

With regard to nuclear issue, the country aims at taking advantage of peaceful technology within the framework of international conventions as a legitimate right. Nuclear talks took shape with three European countries in order to realize this goal. Europe has gained a privileged position in the process of nuclear talks with Iran to find a an appropriate place in the international scene.

Notwithstanding, it seems that if Europe hesitates in implementing its obligations towards Iran or resorts to delay tactics under the pressures exerted by the United States, it will face a reaction by the new government and ultimately the rupture of nuclear negotiations in an unspecific point as well as the resumption of fuel cycle activities.

However, the change in negotiation methods and diplomatic behavioral patterns will be predictable. Given the national and international importance of nuclear issue, the mutually beneficial direction of negotiations over this issue can provide a fertile ground for wider cooperation instead of creating an undesirable conflict.

In the oil sector, in order to create stability in markets, we will witness the interaction between the producers and consumers of this vital product. Therefore, the new government will also pay more attention to the energy market in Asia and cooperate more closely with Asian oil companies.

In the new government, considering economic priorities within the country, balanced, stable and defined economic and trade ties with Iran’s traditional partners will be followed and Iran will likely pay more attention to regional and Asian markets. It is predictable that if certain political obstacles to ties with the West are removed, due to the rising oil prices and the realization of economic goals of 20 Year Vision Plan, Iran’s industrial and economic relations with those countries will increase as well.

Conclusion

Therefore, considering what was suggested above, Iran’s look toward the strategic and regional areas of interest in the next government can be predicted as follow:

- Ideological rhetoric and its related terminology will appear more salient in the new government, although this will not mean the radicalization of its foreign policy.

- Security and stability in the Persian Gulf will be a continuous issue for the interests of Iran, the region, and the world.

- Continued cooperation and stabilization in Iraq as well as helping the resolution of state-building dilemmas in Afghanistan will remain on the agenda of the new government and provides a basis for cooperation.

- Tranquility and growing relations with the neighboring countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia are of priority. It is expected that more serious interaction with interested Asian and Eurasian countries will be made.

- Given the precedence given to addressing domestic issues in the new government, foreign policy will be used as means to attain the goal.

- The view toward the East will be enhanced and within this context, relations with Asian countries notably China, India and even Russia will be enhanced. This attitude will possess a strategic background as well as large tactical capacity in foreign relations.

- Ties with the Muslim World will be increasingly considered.

- In the short-term, no change can be imagined towards the United States, but in the mid-term some developments will be likely in some fields of interaction.

- With respect to relations with Europe, the continuity of delay tactics on the part of the European Union particularly by the EU3 in all aspects or changing the agenda of negotiations and ties will seriously impair Europe’s constructive role, while destroying the past achievements. The new government demands transparency, speed and action, and will probably shift its direction, if it does not receive desirable reaction. Hence, the opportunities ought not to be lost easily. Europe needs to find a different language for continued dialogue with the new government. Appropriate and calculated behaviors will in turn reinforce the inherent realism and pragmatism of this government. In contrast, the negative attitude by the West will toughen the positions of the new government.

- Finally, it seems that in determining the priorities of the foreign policy of the new government in the short term the type of actions and reactions by the other parties can prove influential and in this regard the role and behavior of the West particularly Europe in nuclear talks will be considerable.

In general, it may be suggested that the overall principles of the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran are clear, though short-term policy and related tactics is yet to be presented by the new government.







Mahmood Vaezi, Ph.D

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