International Strategy and Foreign Policy of Iran

Unlike other aspects of its foreign policy, Iran's approach toward Central Asia and the United States is remarkably free of ideological influences. Any problems that Iran's ideology posed to its relations with Central Asia were byproducts of its ideologically motivated behavior in other regions, notably the Middle East. Two factors explain this absence of ideological influence. Iran's foreign policy was becoming de-ideologized as early as the mid-1980s, largely as a result of the inevitable learning and adjustment process that revolutionary regimes undergo (Hunter).

This process accelerated under the impact of Iran's defeat–or at least its inability to win–the war with Iraq. Iran's loss led to national soul-searching and widespread questioning of all aspects of the Islamic government, both its leadership and the ideology underpinning it. The conduct of Iran's foreign policy and its basic determinants did not escape this scrutiny and criticism, even by key figures of the Islamic leadership, notably the Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

A major criticism was that Iran had put undue and costly emphasis on achieving vague Islamically oriented ideological goals rather than striving to secure more immediate national interests. This new currency of the term "national interest"–viewed in the early years of the revolution as anathema to the more universal and transcendental interest of the Islamic community (Umma)–reflected a shift in the Iranian people's attitude away from religion and toward Iranian nationalism.

This shift became more pronounced in the 1990s and beyond. By the time Iran faced the challenge of devising a policy toward the Central Asian countries, it was less burdened by the weight of its official ideology In addition, despite a shared history of several thousand years, the Central Asian countries were virgin territories for Iranian diplomacy. Consequently, Iran's revolutionary leaders had no preconceived ideas regarding the region. Ayatollah Khomeini made no special pronouncements regarding Central Asia.

Nor did the region hold any symbolic significance for the regime, as does the Palestinian issue and the status of Jerusalem. Hence, Central Asia had no relevance to the ideological and political rivalries and power struggles within the regime. The election of Muhammad Khatami to Iran's presidency in May 1997 further advanced the process of the de-ideologization of Iran's foreign policy. President Khatami built Iran's foreign policy approach on the twin themes of reduction of tensions (Tashanojzedai) and the so-called Dialogue of Civilizations.

To sum up, Iran has largely succeeded in conducting a policy toward Central Asia that is free of ideological overtones. It has emphasized state-to-state relations rather than supporting Islamic groups of various shades of militancy in Central Asia. The best example of this aspect of Iran's policy is its approach to the devastating civil war in Tajikistan (1992-1997) that pitted Islamist forces against the government.

Iran not only failed to provide military assistance to the Tajik Islamic forces in their confrontation with the Nabiyev and Rakhmanov governments, but it also failed to offer any ideological or rhetorical support. Iran refrained from identifying the conflict in Tajikistan as an ideological battle between those wanting to establish a new system of government based on Islam and the Soviet-era leadership. Rather, it attributed the war to Tajikistan's regional differences and clan rivalries.

This approach caused tensions in its relations with the Islamic opposition in Tajikistan and prompted criticism within segments of the Iranian press. Nevertheless, Iran retained contacts with the leaders of Tajikistan's Islamic and secular opposition. These contacts later enabled Iran to play a crucial role in bringing about an end to the Tajik civil war, a critical role acknowledged neither by Russia, which took full credit, nor by other regional countries. Nor did Tehran actively support the Uzbek Islamist movement, despite Uzbekistan's hostile attitude toward Iran.

The Iranian media, including the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), occasionally criticized the mistreatment of Muslim activists and observant Muslims by the Uzbek authorities, but by the mid-1990s the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan became the major concern of Central Asian states as primary sources of support for Islamist groups in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (Rubin). Wahhabism, rather than the Iranian-style revolution, emerged as the principal ideological challenge (Turdubayev).

The common threat that the Taliban posed both to Iran and to the Central Asian states, as well as Iran's support for the anti-Taliban forces, contributed to an improvement in Iran's relations with such Central Asian states as Uzbekistan. Other Central Asian countries, even before the rise of the Taliban, did not view Iran as an Islamist threat. When questioned about the threat of the contagion of Islamic fundamentalism from Iran, Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov said that he "could see neither an exporter nor anybody who can use such exports (Nourzhanov).

" A Kazakh ambassador to Tehran also criticized the attitude of some of his compatriots who, according to him, viewed Iran only through the prism of Islamic fundamentalism. Because of systemic and other factors, Iran's non-ideological approach toward Central Asia has not enabled it to establish extensive and warm relations with all Central Asian states. Nonetheless, it has avoided demonization in the eyes of most Central Asians. (Sajjadpour, 198) The Centrality Of Relations With Russia

Iran's policy toward Central Asia and the United States is heavily influenced by its desire to remain on good terms with Russia, even when the latter is less than enthusiastic for close ties with Iran. As noted above, this was the case from 1990 to 1994. Even after the warming of Russian-Iranian relations, strong opposition within important Russian policy circles and powerful interest groups cautioned against forging a close partnership with Iran (Freedman). In fact, Russian-Iranian relations have been highly one-sided.

Russia has used Iran to advance its own purposes, namely to ensure its own economic gains; meanwhile, it has reneged on its promises and changed its position on issues of great importance to Iran. Russia's shifting position on the legal status of the Caspian Sea and the sharing of its resources exemplifies this behavior (Gousher). Viewing Tehran as a potential rival in a region it considers its special sphere of influence, Russia has not encouraged Iran's interaction with Central Asian countries.

Nonetheless, Iran maintains a Russia-centered approach toward Central Asia and the United States, an approach that may have cost it influence with some regional countries. To understand this strategy, it is necessary to look to Iran's troubled relations with the United States. In its desperate search for a counterweight to American power and for a supplier of military and industrial goods, Iran has sought the support of China and the European Union.

Such efforts have not been fruitful because of strong U. S. opposition. In the case of Europe, disagreement over issues related to human rights and the Middle East peace process were also at fault. Thus Iran has continued its unequal partnership with Russia and refrained from undertaking actions viewed as objectionable by Moscow. Iran's Foreign Policy Objectives Iran has come a long way ever since the post-revolution days when it was indicted of “exporting revolution” and endured aggressive relations with the majority of its neighbors as a result. Now, the overturn is true.

Iran looks inward, giving uppermost precedence to motivating the economy in order to create jobs for its restless unemployed youth. That, sequentially, places a premium on preserving decent relations in the immediate neighborhood so that finances are not needlessly diverted for national defense. It also means drawing European investment for industry and in oil and gas mining. Reformers would like to adjoin American firms to those offering on projects, but they are hindered by conservatives in both Tehran and Washington (Nass and Precht, 41).

Iran's foreign policy is not bereft of ideology, though three such reasons remain significant for the rulers—if not likewise attractive to the ruled. One is the defense (with carefulness) of Shi'i co-religionists where they are ill-treated. Iran supported rivals of the Taliban when Afghanistan's Shi'i minority was being victimized, but, dreading a no-win war, did not assault when Kabul had 13 Iranian diplomats executed. Good relations with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia take priority over assist to their Shi'i populations.

Iran's most active backing has been to Hezbollah in Lebanon during Israel's occupation of the Shi'i south. That support has ebbed since the pullout of Israeli troops. (Israel calls Iran's support for Hezbollah sponsorship of terrorism; Iran calls it resistance to occupation. ) Second, Iran's insistent clerics are remorseless enemies of a Jewish state in Palestine. However, while some aid may go to help Hamas, it is certainly less than the course from the Arab world. For most Iranians, not like their rulers and the Arabs, Israel is not a fiery concern.

President Mohammad Khatami has said that Iran could live with any solution to the clash that Palestinians would accept. The third, and internally most troublesome, issue is the attitude toward America. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his group are stubbornly opposed to any thought of civilizing relations with Washington. Partly because of their strong dislike for the controlling clerics, students and much of the population favor a normalization of that connection. American values—jeans, music, technology, and political ideals—are popular, even if American policy is not.