Foreign relations of Iran

From Academic Kids



Missing image
Darvazeh-e-Bagh-e-Melli; The main gates to Iran's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tehran, Iran.

In Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini's revolutionary regime initiated sharp changes from the foreign policy pursued by the Shah, particularly in reversing the country's orientation toward the West. Following Iran's initial post revolutionary idealistic and hard line foreign policy and the Iran-Iraq war, the country has begun to settle down into a more objective and rational foreign policy. However, this is still occasionally overshadowed by rhetoric.

In recent years Iran has made great strides in improving relations with its neighbours, particularly Saudi Arabia. Iran's regional goals are dominated by wanting to establish a leadership role, curtail the presence of the United States and other outside powers, and build trade ties. In broad terms, Iran's foreign policy emphasizes:

  • Anti-U.S. and anti-Israel stances: The former as a military power that threatens it in the Persian Gulf, and the latter as part of its continuing post revolutionary Islamic Propaganda.

See article on U.S.-Iran relations.

  • Eliminating outside influence in the region: Iran sees itself as a regional power, when it is not superseded by global powers such as the United States or Britain. It seeks to reduce their presence in the Persian Gulf where possible.
  • A great increase in diplomatic contacts with developing countries: As part of an effort to build trade and political support, now that it has lost its pre-revolutionary US backing.

Despite these guidelines, however, bilateral relations are frequently confused and contradictory due to Iran's oscillation between pragmatic and ideological concerns.

Post Revolution Period (1979-1980)

The country's foreign relations since the revolution have been tumultuous. A number of varying factors account for this, the most important among them is Iran's significant anti-western backlash after its revolution (the roots of this were in the west's support for the Shah).

At this time, Iran found itself very isolated due to its hardline and aggressive Islamic foreign policy, which wanted to see its revolutionary ideals spread across the Persian Gulf.

This resulted in confrontation with the U.S. in the hostage crisis.

Iran-Iraq War Period (1980-1988)

Iran's relations with many of its Arab neighbors were also strained by Iranian attempts to spread its Islamic revolution. In 1981, Iran supported a plot to overthrow the Bahraini government. In 1983, Iran expressed political support for Shi'ites who bombed Western embassies in Kuwait, and in 1987, Iranian pilgrims rioted at poor living conditions and treatment and were consequently massacred during the Hajj (pilgrimage) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Nations with strong fundamentalist movements, such as Egypt and Algeria, also began to mistrust Iran. Iran created Hizballah with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Furthermore, Iran went on to oppose the Arab-Israeli peace process, due to it seeing Israel as an illegal country.

Iran also concerned European nations, particularly France and Germany, after its secret service executed several radical Iranian dissidents in Europe.

Tensions with Iraq had never been good historically; however, they took a turn for the worse in 1980, when Iraq invaded Iran, in the Iran-Iraq War. Much of the dispute centered around sovereignty over the waterway between the two countries, the Arvandrud (Shatt al-Arab), although underlying causes included each nation's overt desire for the overthrow of the other's government.

Iran demanded the withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Iranian territory and the return to the status quo ante for the Arvandrud as established under the 1975 Algiers Agreement signed by Iraq and Iran. This period saw Iran become even more isolated—with virtually no allies, Iran was forced to sign UN Security Council Resolution 598 in July 1988 after the United States and Germany began supplying Iraq with chemical weapons. The cease-fire, resulting from the UN Resolution, was implemented on August 20, 1988; neither nation had made any real gains in the war. It left 1 million Iranians dead and had a dramatic effect on the country's foreign policy. From this point on, the until then radical Islamist government recognised that it had no choice but to moderate and rationalise its objectives.

Post War Period (1988-present)

Since the end of the war, Iran's new foreign policy (see introduction) has had a dramatic effect on its global standing.

Relations with the European Union have dramatically improved to the point where Iran is a major oil exporter and trading partner for countries such as Italy, France, and Germany.

China and India have also emerged as friends for Iran. Together, the three of them face similar challenges in the global economy as they industrialize and consequently find themselves aligned on a number of issues.

Iran maintains regular diplomatic and commercial relations with Russia and the former Soviet Republics . Both Iran and Russia believe they have important national interests at stake in developments in Central Asia and the Transcaucasus, particularly on energy resources from the Caspian Sea. Russian and other sales of military equipment and technology concern Iran's neighbors and the United States.


  • Iran and Iraq restored diplomatic relations in 1990 but are still trying to work out written agreements settling outstanding disputes from their eight-year war concerning border demarcation, prisoners-of-war, and freedom of navigation and sovereignty over the Shatt-al-Arab waterway.
  • Iran occupies two islands in the Persian Gulf claimed by the UAE: Lesser Tunb (called Tunb as Sughra in Arabic by UAE and Jazireh-ye Tonb-e Kuchek in Persian by Iran) and Greater Tunb (called Tunb al Kubra in Arabic by UAE and Jazireh-ye Tonb-e Bozorg in Persian by Iran).
  • Iran jointly administers with the UAE an island in the Persian Gulf claimed by the UAE (called Abu Musa in Arabic by UAE and Jazireh-ye Abu Musa in Persian by Iran) - over which Iran has taken steps to exert unilateral control since 1992, including access restrictions.
  • The Caspian Sea boundaries are not yet determined among Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan. Although this problem is set to be resolved peacefully in the coming years through slow negotiations.

Illicit drugs: Despite substantial interdiction efforts, Iran remains a key transshipment point for Southwest Asian heroin to Europe; domestic consumption of narcotics remains a persistent problem and Iranian press reports estimate that there are at least 1.2 million drug users in the country. Iran has been trying to increase the profile of its anti-drugs campaign abroad, but it is having little success. Most countries support it politically, but refuse Iran the critical equipment and training it needs.

Current policies of The Islamic Republic of Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran accords priority to its relations with the states of the region and with the Islamic world. This includes a strong commitment to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Non-Aligned Movement. Relations with the states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), especially with Saudi Arabia, have improved in recent years. An unresolved territorial dispute with the United Arab Emirates concerning three islands in the Persian Gulf continues to mar its relations with these states, however. Tehran supports the interim Governing Council in Iraq but strongly advocates a prompt and full transfer of state authority to the Iraqi people. Iran hopes for stabilization in Afghanistan and supports the reconstruction effort so that the Afghan refugees in Iran (approximately 2.5 million) can return to their homeland and the flow of drugs from Afghanistan can be stemmed. Iran is also pursuing a policy of stabilization and cooperation with the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia, whereby it is seeking to capitalize on its central location to establish itself as the political and economic hub of the region.

Relations with the United States of America and the Member States of the European Union

Main article: U.S.-Iran relations

Relations between Iran and the United States have been disrupted since the revolution in Iran. Iran does not maintain diplomatic relations with either the United States or Israel. It views the Middle East peace process with skepticism. Relations between Iran on the one hand and the European Union and its Member States on the other hand are slowly but surely increasing in importance, a fact underscored by President Seyed Mohammad Khatami's visits to Italy, France and Germany in July 2000 and to Austria and Greece in March 2002 as well as by reciprocal visits of European heads of state and government to Tehran and a lively exchange at ministerial levels. In 2002 the European Union launched negotiations on a Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) with Iran. Parallel to these negotiations, the EU voiced its expectation that the political dialogue with Iran must lead to concrete results in the areas of human rights, efforts to counter terrorism, Iranís stance on the Middle East peace process and issues associated with the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. During a joint visit to Tehran in October 2003, the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the United Kingdom successfully prompted the Iranian government to sign an additional protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and commit itself to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and voluntarily suspend its uranium enrichment and processing activities.

Kamal Kharrazi is the current Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran.


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