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Iran - Foreign Relations

By 2015 Iran was in its most favorable geopolitical position since the revolution in 1979. Iran is located at the center of the ‘uncontrollable center” of post-Cold war and post-9/11 world politics.

A true example of an international system that is based on “self help”, Iran’s “anarchical” regional environment has all the ingredients of an strategic nightmare: Too many neighbors with hostile, unfriendly or at best opportunistic attitudes, no great power alliance, a 25 years face-off with greatest superpower in history, living in a war infested region (5 major wars in less than 25 years), a region ripe with ethno-territorial disputes on its borders (Iran has been a major regional refugee hub), and with a dominant Wahabi trans-regional movement which theologically and politically despises Iran, and finally a region with nuclear powers; Pakistan, Israel, and India.

Many observers saw Iran's regional activities as anti-Western, reactive, entirely self-focused, and frequently driven by an opaque and unpredictable decision making process outside formal government structures. One result is that Iran currently possesses minimal ability to effectively advocate its interests, project meaningful political or economic influence, develop significant economic links, or shape regional political and economic trends and debates. Such regional clout as it has is negative. Despite its unimpressive short-term achievements, most commentators believe that Iran desires and anticipates significantly increased regional clout in future, perhaps buttressed by nuclear weapons.

As protests have flared in Iraq and Lebanon amid widespread discontent with the political class in both countries, Iran has showed signs of anxiety about the popular movements, which threaten to weaken its influence abroad. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei took a very skeptical stance towards the Lebanese and Iraqi popular movements. “I recommend those who care in #Iraq and #Lebanon remedy the insecurity and turmoil created in their countries by the U.S., the Zionist regime, some western countries, and the money of some reactionary countries,” he wrote on 30 October 2019. Given its important political role in Iraq and Lebanon, it’s inevitable that Iran is worried; Tehran needs to maintain its power in these two countries after investing a great deal to give itself influence. Invoking the predictable conspiracy theory of Zionist interference to try and discredit these protest movements shows a certain weakness” on Iran’s part.

The one country among its northern neighbors with which Iran has not had cordial relations is Azerbaijan. Iran provided de facto assistance to Armenia during the 1992–94 war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Armenian-populated province of Nagorno–Karabakh in Azerbaijan. That war was a disaster for Azerbaijan, ending with Armenia in control not only of Nagorno–Karabakh but also of the Azerbaijani territory between Armenia and Nagorno–Karabakh. Possibly in retaliation, Azerbaijan has not cooperated with Iran on issues of concern to Tehran, such as the decline of caviar-producing sturgeon and increased pollution of the Caspian Sea. Furthermore, newspapers and politicians in Azerbaijan continue to assert territorial claims on Iran’s Azeri-speaking provinces of East and West Azarbaijan. Although such claims are not official, they have provoked angry responses from Tehran. Iran has cultivated closer relations with Armenia in economic and transportation policy, building a new pipeline and a new railroad across the mutual border.

Iran is a member of the following international organizations: Colombo Plan, Economic Cooperation Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization, Group of 15, Group of 24, Group of 77, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Control Commission, International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), International Development Association, International Development Bank, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Finance Corporation, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Labour Organization, International Monetary Fund, International Organization for Migration, International Telecommunication Union, Islamic Development Bank, Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Pollution Control Agency, United Nations, United Nations Committee on Trade and Development, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Universal Postal Union, World Confederation of Labor, World Federation of Trade Unions, World Health Organization, World Tourism Organization, and World Trade Organization (observer status).

Iran is a signatory to international environment agreements on Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change –Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands (signed but not ratified), Environmental Modification, Law of the Sea, and Marine Life Conservation. In the arms control and nonproliferation area, Iran is a signatory to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Biological Weapons Convention, Chemical Weapons Convention, International Atomic Energy Agency Safeguards Agreement, Partial Test Ban Treaty, and Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Iran - Caspian Sea

Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, "equitable" distribution of Caspian Sea resources was an item of contention between the five littoral states: Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan. According to press articles, the Caspian is said to contain some 12% of the world's oil reserves, as well as huge deposits of natural gas.

In past treaties signed between Iran and the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1940s, the two parties designated the Caspian as a lake; agreeing to divide the body of water into two parts and commonly share resources - which at the time was mostly fishing. If a body of water is labeled a "sea" then international treaties come into play, obligating access permits to foreign vessels - whereas if a body of water is designated a "lake," there are no such obligations.

Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, did not recognize the earlier treaties between Iran and the Soviet Union, and the five states had been attempting to "equitably" resolve issues pertaining to energy resources, fishing rights and security since 1991. The former Soviet States signed a host of bilateral treaties amongst themselves, and with Russia --demarcating borders and apportioning resources; none of which are recognized by Iran. Iran was insistent that a single, multilateral agreement between all five parties be signed.

Security and military rights are a topic of much concern. In October of 2007, the five States agreed not to let foreign militaries use Caspian waters as a launching point for any potential attacks. Iranian Commander Seyyed Mahmood Mousavi called for the prevention of any "alien" presence in the Caspian Sea on 18 April 20088, saying that the littoral states do not want the Caspian to "become like the Persian Gulf."

After failing to convince the other four members to stay with the original 50/50 split - forcing Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Russia to share half of the Caspian resources, Iran "compromised" pushing for an "equal" 1/5 division of the Caspian among the five countries. Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan have consistently insisted that each state should be awarded a proportionate share of the Caspian based on its coastline. Under this scheme, Iran would only be eligible for roughly 11%-13% of the Caspian. Russia initially suggested a more complex equation of dividing the seabed (and the mineral resources that go along with it) along a sectoral line and sharing the surface (a.k.a. the fishing rights) commonly - with each state receiving an exclusive zone and sharing the center.

In 2007 the the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy, or IRIN, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, or IRGCN, underwent a reorganization that included new base openings and a re-division of duties between the navies. Although the two navies had traditionally shared operations in the Caspian Sea, Persian Gulf, and Gulf of Oman, the reorganization split the IRIN and IRGCN areas of responsibility. The IRIN was assigned to the Gulf of Oman and Caspian Sea, while the IRGCN was given full responsibility for operations in the Persian Gulf.

Foreign nationals in Iran are systematically arrested and detained so the government can use them as leverage to gain political concessions from other countries. Islamic Revolutionary Courts are used to try people suspected of wanting to overthrow the government, the proceedings usually take place behind closed doors and evidence is rarely disclosed. Prisoners are held in isolation for long periods and interrogated for hours without legal counsel, in an attempt to find something incriminating. Lawyers are often only given access to the files shortly before the trial begins. In the end, they have no chance of defending their clients against the charges, for which there is no evidence.

If the citizens of a certain country are arrested and sentenced in Iran then it has to be assumed that Iran is upset for some reason or other and has a score to settle. They are taken hostage, in order to be exchanged at a later date. There is no reliable information on how many foreign nationals are behind bars in Iran. The Islamic Republic's hostage diplomacy is well known to all.

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Page last modified: 20-05-2022 17:50:57 ZULU