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Iran Foreign Relations - 1989-2013

Reconstruction Period - Hashemi - 1989-1997

The statesmen of the reconstruction period viewed the consolidation of the Islamic Revolution via an economically developed state as a role model for other states as the way to attain superior regional status. Therefore, the policy-makers in this period sought to normalize relations with the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, the European Union and the United States. Rapprochement with the Arab states, adoption of a constructive policy towards the Kuwaiti crisis, holding several rounds of critical dialogues with Europe, efforts made at freeing Western hostages in Lebanon, active participation in international and regional organizations such as the United Nations, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) were manifestations of this strategy.

In spite of pacifist and cooperative policies pursued by the Islamic Republic in this period, the United States failed to change its policy towards Iran to a large extent. Excluding the Islamic Republic from the 6+2 security arrangements after the end of the Kuwait war, application of the dual containment policy to simultaneously undermine Iran and Iraq, frequent allocations of budgets for regime change in Iran and the ratification of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act in order to boycott and punish investment in Iran’s oil and gas industries are among the salient manifestations of the USA’s confrontational policies towards the status goals of the reconstruction governments.

Of course, in the last two years of this period, with the rise of the Iranian nuclear issue at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), efforts at preserving this technology and preventing its securitization also became one of the major political purposes.

Reform Period - Khatami - 1997-2005

The election of Mohammad Khatami in 1997 led to improved relations with Iran’s neighbors and with most of the West, excluding Israel and the United States. The Khatami government (in power 1997–2005) stressed commercial and geopolitical relations with Western Europe and Japan. Foreign relations have been an area of consensus among conservatives and reformers since the late 1980s. In the early 2000s, attempts by the Khatami government to find common ground with the United States did not achieve the desired normalization of bilateral relations.

In the early 2000s, relations with other regional Arab countries varied from “correct” or relatively good (e.g., with Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates) to relatively strained (e.g., with Algeria and Egypt). By 2014 Iranian proxies controlled Arab capitals in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Iran also had relatively good relations with China, India, and Russia, particularly in the area of military cooperation. Relations with neighbors Pakistan and Turkey have been correct but not close; in 2006 a possible gas pipeline deal had the potential to improve relations with Pakistan.

Iran publicly expresses its support for stability in Afghanistan, having suffered from the Afghan civil war and then the Taliban. Iran has pledged $560m over five years to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The two countries have developed good counter-narcotics co-operation. But evidence exists of arms supplies to the Taleban originating in Iran, which is a worrying development.

The ‘‘opening to America’’ which Khatami seemed to favor was dismissed contemptuously by Ayatollah Kamenei. Khatami then quickly explained that he had been misinterpreted. The United States remains the ‘‘great Satan’’ and the anniversary of the capture of the ‘‘Nest of Spies’’, the American Embassy, was still celebrated. The failure to proceed with a rapprochement with the United States can not be ascribed to Khatami who may well be a closet moderate, a modernizer who would really like to make life easier for his countrymen. He simply did not have the ability — even assuming the will — to make significant changes. His title of ‘‘President’’ implies authority when he has little; he was outranked and frequently overruled by Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the Council of Expediency and by the Supreme Guide himself, the Ayatollah Khamenei.

The confrontational attitude of the US culminated in George W. Bush’s Republican administration in such a way that he called Iran along with North Korea and Iraq an “Axis of Evil” after the invasion of Afghanistan. From the perspective of the Principlist statesmen, this new discourse and placing of Iran along with countries like Iraq and North Korea was an annulment of the reformist governments’ efforts to achieve status and prestige goals at the regional and international levels.

In 2001 Iran signed a 10-year military-technical agreement with Russia that included assistance in aircraft maintenance and design estimated to be worth US$4 billion. In 2002 Iran signed a defense cooperation agreement with India. The latter agreement allows India to use Iranian military facilities in case of a war with Pakistan and provides Iran with Indian technical assistance in the building of aircraft and tanks. Pakistan and North Korea have supplied Iran with an unknown amount of technical assistance and equipment supporting the development of Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Principlist Period - Ahmadinejad - 2005-2013

The foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran underwent fundamental changes with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s coming to power in 2005. These changes were best manifested by the excessive emphasis on the preservation and advancement of nuclear technology; turning away from the West and looking to the East, Muslim countries, Latin America and Africa; intensified hostile attitude towards Israel; and, presence innumerous international meetings -- as compared to the former Iranian presidents -- notably the United Nations General Assembly.

Reform Period - Rohani - 2013- 201?

The third and final round of Iran’s presidential debates was held live on television June 8, 2013, with a focus on the candidates’ foreign policy. Principlist candidate Qalibaf disapproved of the way the former reformist administrations handled foreign affairs and sought affinity with European countries. Reformist candidate Hassan Rohani countered Qalibaf’s argument, stressing that Iran was spared some international crises under the previous administrations. Turnout in Iran’s 11th presidential election was around 80 percent. Candidate Hassan Rohani was in the lead, with Principlist candidate Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf coming in second.

In April 2016, moderates and reformists won a working majority in the Iranian parliament for the first time in more than a decade. Hardliners won just under a third of the seats in a humiliating performance that appeared to position Rouhani for this year’s presidential contest. April’s results were seen as an endorsement of the nuclear accord that Rouhani’s government signed with the U.S. and other world powers to curtail Iran's nuclear program in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

Frustration with the economy was building among ordinary Iranians. Rouhani, during his campaigning for the accord, had led them to believe that lifting the sanctions would have a quick impact. The economy indeed has improved as a result of the deal, growing by 4 percent last year, and the International Monetary Fund had predicted growth to reach 6 percent this year. Most Iranians, however, had not seen any turnaround in their lives.

Rouhani had hoped a nuclear deal with the West would strengthen his political position. The deal was concluded during the administration of President Barack Obama. Public disapproval of Donald Trump’s ban on Iranians entering the U.S., currently suspended by the American courts, and the absence of any obvious economic benefit for ordinary Iranians from the deal, appear to be boosting the prospects of a hardliner winning in May 2017 - or at least it was adding to their hopes of doing so.

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Page last modified: 31-03-2017 19:43:38 ZULU