By Iran Review
By Hossein Bozorgmanesh*
The year 2015 came to an end with a number of important developments in the field of Iran’s foreign policy during this year. The highlights of those developments included conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and P5+1 group of countries as a result of which after a period of 12 years of tiresome negotiations and suffering tough economic sanctions, Iran succeeded to achieve its main demands, including recognition of its right to enrich uranium on its soil. On the other hand, the international community was assured about the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. With respect to developments in Syria, Iran, as an effective country, was finally invited to international peace talks on Syria in the Austrian capital city, Vienna.
Among failures of Iran’s foreign policy last year, one may point out Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia. The cold reaction showed by Saudi officials after achievement of the nuclear deal, the war of words between Tehran and Riyadh over developments in Syria and Yemen, the military attack on Yemen by the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia, the disastrous death of Hajj pilgrims in Mecca among whom there were 464 Iranian pilgrims and subsequent escalation of verbal tension between the two countries and finally, the execution of senior Saudi Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, on January 2, and storming of Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic buildings in Iran , which led to the severance of diplomatic relations between the two countries, can be considered among major failures of Iran’s foreign policy. At any rate, Iranian diplomats have started the year 2016 with various hopes and preoccupations, the most important of which can be enumerated as follows:
Nuclear case: Perhaps the most important development in the new Christian year was approaching the day when implementation of JCPOA is to start. This is the day that after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) presents its report on the complete fulfillment of Iran’s obligations as per JCPOA, sanctions imposed on the country by the European Union and the United States will be officially rescinded or suspended. Iran must also remove the core of Arak’s heavy water reactor before the day of the implementation of JCPOA reaches. It seems that during the new year, Iran and the P5+1 group will remain committed to their JCPOA obligations and everything will go on as predicted by JCPOA.
The United States: Although it seemed that achievement of JCPOA would reduce tensions between Iran and the United States, in practice, the differences still exist between the two countries in various fields. The new year will most probably be a time for new challenges from the United States as Washington would focus on such issues as Iran’s missile program, Iran’s alleged support for terrorism, and human rights violations. Of course, Iran will show appropriate reaction to the United States’ challenges. However, it seems that such differences will not go beyond usual tensions and will not turn into a full-fledged crisis because due to a host of reasons, both sides are not interested in further escalation of the crisis.
Saudi Arabia: The new year started with two important developments for Riyadh: the execution of senior Saudi Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, on January 2, and storming of Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic buildings in Iran, which led to the severance of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The faceoff between Iran and Saudi Arabia with respect to global oil prices and expansion of strategic influence is expected to intensify in the new year, though the possibility of direct military conflict between the two states seems remote.
Syria: Iran is expected to continue to help the Syrian government in the new year in three ways: 1. Through continuation of diplomatic support with emphasis on the need to elect Syria’s future president by the country’s people, 2. By continued provision of advisory services to Syrian government in the military fields; and 3. Through continuation of financial supports to the government in Damascus. Of course, it is unlikely that the Syria crisis would be resolved in the new year, but the country’s army will probably gain new grounds in various war fronts. However, the year 2016 almost certainly will not be the year for the termination of Syria’s civil war and establishment of cease-fire.
Iraq: Supporting the Iraqi government’s fight against Daesh terrorist group and making efforts to reclaim regions that have come under control of this group can be enumerated as Iran’s foremost priorities in this country. Also, making efforts to reduce ethnic differences between Arabs and Kurds and religious difference between Shias and Sunnis can be of high importance to Iran. In addition, opposition to any measure that would threaten territorial integrity of Iraq is among Iran’s policies with regard to its western neighbor.
The European Union: One of the most important developments in the new year for Iran will be opening a new chapter in relations with the member states of the European Union. As anti-Iran sanctions are lifted in 2016, widespread presence of European countries in the Iranian market can be expected. Of course, by learning from the past, Iranians will show more interest in joint ventures rather than allowing opening of representative offices by European companies to sell their products.
Finally, the year 2016 can be a time for Iran to achieve its goals with regard to nuclear program, fighting against Daesh, and protecting the legal government in Syria. However, the same cannot be said about Iran’s differences with Saudi Arabia and nobody can predict whether the two countries would move toward strategic dialogue in order to put an end to their differences, or toward more tension. At any rate, we must wait and see what plans have been made by Iranian diplomats in order to tackle challenges that lie ahead of Iran in the new year and these question can be only answered in the future.
* Hossein Bozorgmanesh
Expert on Middle East Issues