Iran’s Foreign Policy: Misperception Or Really Escaping The Pitfall? – Analysis


By Aygul Hanova

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his recent speech pointed out that all the Western powers intervene in countries only for their self-interest; further claims were made toward their financial incapability to afford intervention.[1] Whether this address was made on policy grounds or there are other motives, one should examine Iran’s foreign policy intentions. Whether Iranian ambitions lead it to a pitfall where it has to give up its current stance, or in contrast Iran whether will manage to be accredited for the motives it stands for, is another question to consider.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Iran is gaining more and more attention in the current international arena. Developments of its nuclear program and its stance over the conflicts in the Middle East, intensifying dialogue with regional neighbors and its rapprochements with various actors, domestic, economic and political challenges, and due to similar shifts checking Iran’s activities remains a top priority on the current international agenda. Accordingly, the attitudes of actors toward Iran are also changing. On the one hand, Iranian leadership is constructing an image of a country that strives to change and participate in global affairs. On the other hand, there is opposition to Iran’s nuclear development program by various nations, mostly Western. For the latter actors and for Israel, there seems to be an image of an Iranian threat, a threat from its nuclear power and from its different attitude toward the world order. Nevertheless, there are a third group of actors who remain in favor of partnership with Iran. The Iranian leadership is trying to demonstrate that Iran is striving for regional leadership. Iran, being a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, a group of states against any major power bloc, could gain more partners within this bloc, yet equally it could gain adversaries as well. One might be getting a blurred image of the standpoint of Iran’s foreign policy due to the shifts in and around Iran, and the formation of various opinions about the current Iran. Although, to balance opinions, one should acknowledge both negative and positive viewpoints on Iran, but looking at the de facto Iranian foreign policy stance and grasping its ideology in depth could help to see things the way they are.

Sanctions have become a challenge for the economic sustainability of Iran. Iran has recently called for measures to preserve the economy in light of the emerging crisis, therefore announcing the program of “economic resistance” which shall seek the best ways out of a possible crisis by reducing dependence on its oil exports. Along with new domestic economic plans, partnerships with the neighborhood are vital for Iran’s survival. Observing its latest developments, one is reminded of several actors which regardless of the sanctions favor partnership with Iran. Turkmenistan, both a Caspian and Central Asian state, is one of the closest regional partners of Iran. Apart from considerations that Iran will become a transit country for trade with Europe, in the energy sector and serving as a gateway to the Persian Gulf, the bilateral relations of Iran and Turkmenistan are also improving due to their common economic agreements. Turkmenistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs affirmed that bilateral ties will not be influenced by such issues as sanctions since Iran is the closest neighbor and partner of Turkmenistan.[2] A railway connecting Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran with further prospects to connect the Persian Gulf states of Qatar and Oman is a project that would put Iran in a better position, as it would serve as a transit country but would also trade across this corridor. Afghanistan is another immediate neighbor of Iran. Although, in terms of security, the situation between Iran and Afghanistan is tense, Iranian aid to Afghanistan and their interstate railway project could signify Iranian interest in Afghanistan.[3] Yet Iran had suffered from the flow of drugs from Afghanistan, and Iran’s rapprochement with Pakistan could be a cause for tensions with Afghanistan.[4] The construction of an Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline is another prospect for the Iranian economy. Going further to the East, it had been previously perceived that Iran’s relations with China, an increasingly influential actor on the global stage, had been constrained due to Beijing-Washington political relations.[5] Nevertheless, China favors relations with Iran first because Iran can secure China’s growing energy security concerns and second Chinese foreign policy is based on the principle that “’it is easier, and cheaper, to have friends than enemies.”[6] Furthermore, China has reached a 25-year agreement to import Iranian natural gas, while it also develops oil fields in Iran.[6]

While the regional economic alignments of Iran could aid its economy, the latter is already suffering from a 21.5% inflation rate.[7] Therefore, one would assume that economic survival is a major point on the short-term foreign policy agenda. However, one should not be guided by merely this point because Iran’s foreign policy has long focused and relied on regional partnerships, opposing those with Western powers.

Since the 1979 Revolution, Iran’s foreign policy has been based on the view that it should rely solely on Islam rather than depend on political ties with the capitalist West or socialist East.[8] In fact, Iran’s stance is phenomenal: on the one hand there is a realist image of a country that has a capacity to arm itself, on the other hand the Iranian government denies power-centrist and materialist visions of its foreign policy. Rather, it can be claimed that Iran’s motives are to secure the world and to form an Ummah – a united world community.[9] Whether it succeeds in the latter objective depends on Iran’s position in countries where Islam is the religion of the majority. This explains Iran’s quest for regional leadership in the Middle East and its long rivalry with Saudi Arabia to acquire the status of regional leader. However, the Muslim world stretches beyond the Middle East, including the earlier presented countries of Central Asia and beyond. Yet acceptance of Iran as a regional leader by these countries is also important. In fact, the partnering sides believe that good relations with Iran will help to keep their Muslim populations stable, e.g. Russia and Central Asia.[10]

There is assurance that Iran’s foreign policy and developments are rational. Iran as any sovereign nation has a right to shape its own development path and use available resources. With this in mind, nuclear technology and uranium enrichment can potentially reduce Iran’s dependence on its hydrocarbon resources and demonstrate that the country is progressing industrially and scientifically.[11] In fact, one should also notice that most of the countries in the surrounding region heavily rely on the production and export of their fossil fuels. If one follows the theory that the geographical proximity of states causes the spread of certain trends in the region,[12] then an industrially developed Iran could serve as a trend-setter for surrounding regions. However, this is an ideal scenario because the situation in the surrounding regions is far from being stable: conflicts in the Middle East and instability in Afghanistan. Such issues will in the best case postpone the vision of regional development and the acceptance of Iran as a major regional power.

There are several factors that one has to bear in mind. First, for the sake of self-sufficiency one solution is to improve Iran’s standing with the IAEA, which would assure the peaceful nature of its uranium enrichment program.[11] Second, Iran’s membership in the Non-Aligned Movement, often equally identified as South-South cooperation, is also significant for its projection of a secure and stable community. Southern nations aim to transform the world order if there is imbalance in international relations.[9] Iran in the international arena is an opportunistic player; it challenges other players in order to gain in its short-term policy goals.[10] Hence, the success of its ideology and policies toward the external world depends on its further actions and attitudes toward allies; whether compromise can be achieved or allies will develop different stances toward Iran. Overall, if Iran is able to convince the rest of the world of its peaceful goals through its peaceful actions, Iran’s ideology may survive. Thus far, the ideology has been able to resist both domestic and international challenges.


1. “War and meddling by big powers cannot produce reforms: Ahmadinejad”, Press TV, August 10, 2012,

2. “Iran, Turkmenistan’s Growing Interactions Signify Failure of Sanctions” Fars News, August 1, 2012

3. Nader, Alireza and Joya Laha. “Iran’s Balancing Act in Afghanistan”, RAND National Defence Research Institute, 2011

4. Saghafi-Ameri, Nasser. “The “Afghan Drugs” Problem – A Challenge to Iran and International Security”, Iranian Review of International Affairs, vol.1. no.2., Summer 2010

5. Sahriatinia, Mohsen. “Iran-China Relations: An Overview of Critical Factors,” Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs, vol.1, no.4, Winter 2011, pp.57-85

6. Brown, Kerry. “China, Iran and the United States”, Chatham house, February 20, 2010

7. Nasseri, Ladane. “Iran’s Inflation Rate At 21.5%”, Bloomberg, April 18, 2012

8. Waltz, Kenneth. “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb”, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2012

9. Hosseini Matin, Seyed Mahdi. “Iran’s Desired Power Status”, Iran Review of Foreign Affairs, vol. 3, no.1, Spring 2012, pp 183-206

10. Perthes, Volker. “Ambition and Fear: Iran’s Foreign Policy and Nuclear Programme”, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Survival, vol. 52, no. 3, June-July 2010, 95-114)

11. Dalton, Richard. “Nuclear Diplomacy After Istanbul,” Chatham House, April 19, 2012,

12. Reiche, Danyel. “Energy Policies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – possibilities and limitations ofecological modernization in rentier states.” Elsevier, 2010


JTW - the Journal of Turkish Weekly - is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

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