The visit of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to China is being watched closely and cautiously in the West. The three-day visit from February 14 to 16 to Beijing was being held at a time when Iran and China are facing western criticism on human rights and democracy. Both countries see this visit as a “common political will and strategic choice.” However, critics say that Tehran is facing problems at home and seems unhappy with Beijing’s role in giving the UAE three islands (Abu Musa, Greater Tunb, and Lesser Tunb) that Iran had claimed in the Strait of Hormuz. In addition to this, Iran and China also signed a “Strategic Cooperation Pact” in 2021, for which Iran also expressed concern over its progress. American sanctions, issues related to the nuclear deal, and domestic protests have equally affected the socioeconomic lives of the people in Iran.
Despite these challenges, Iran’s strategic restraint, patience, pragmatic foreign policy, people’s resilience, growing influence in the region, and national integration have surprised many in the west. In this brief analysis, I discuss how Iran’s strategic choices have evolved over the course of their respective regimes, as well as the factors that have shaped Tehran’s strategic choices in the region.
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Understanding the matter better
It is important to note that a variety of historical, geopolitical, and economic factors have influenced Iran’s strategic decisions over the course of its history. In the past, before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran was a strong ally of the U.S. and had strong political, military, and economic ties with Western countries. It was a force in the area and acted as a barrier against the Soviet Union’s power in the Middle East at the time. After the Iranian Revolution, when the Islamic Republic of Iran was made, it tried right away to break away from the West and connect with other countries. However, the Iranian Revolution led to a radical shift in Iran’s foreign policy.
Also, after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the country has stuck to a policy of “neither the East nor the West,” or a “non-aligned” foreign policy, in order to keep its independence and sovereignty. Even so, Iran had to deal with a lot of problems, the biggest of which was the Iran-Iraq War and the sanctions that the US and other Western countries put on Iran. As a direct consequence of this, Iran started developing strong ties with other countries in the region, such as Syria and the Hezbollah group in Lebanon.
However, Tehran had a more antagonistic stance toward the West during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005–2013), particularly in regard to the matter of its nuclear program. Iran worked to improve its military capabilities, notably its missile program, and forged closer ties with countries such as Russia and China. Its goal was to build up its military capabilities. At the same time, it was subjected to mounting pressure from the international community, which manifested itself in the form of sanctions and diplomatic isolation.
Tehran adopted a conciliatory approach towards the west during President Hassan Rouhani’s period in 2013. In his efforts to reach an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program with the United States and other Western nations, Rouhani was successful in reaching a deal in 2015. Iran was able to strengthen its economic links with other nations when the sanctions against it were lifted, particularly those in the Asian region. It has been compelled to look to other nations once again in order to counteract the pressure that is coming from the West as a result of the United States exit from the nuclear deal in 2018 and the reimposition of sanctions.
There is a juxtaposition of historical, geopolitical, and economic elements that have played a significant role in molding Iran’s strategic choices in the region. With the changing geopolitical dynamics in the Middle East, the country’s strategic choices will continue to develop and morph in response to the emerging threats and possibilities in the region. Iran’s geopolitical position, economic interests, and political connections are pivotal for determining its strategic choices in Asia.
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Being in a pivotal strategic position in the Middle East, Iran is bounded by two different bodies of water: the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. Geographic positioning offers access not just to Central Asia but also to the Arab world. It is now in a position to play a significant role in regional affairs and exert influence over the distribution of power in the region. The importance of the oil industry to Iran’s economy cannot be overstated.
As a consequence of this, Iran has worked to strengthen its economic connections with other nations in the region, particularly China and India, both of which are significant purchasers of Iranian oil. Iran has made efforts to diversify its economy by establishing other industries, such as manufacturing and petrochemicals, which might help it increase its trading links with Asia. These efforts are part of Iran’s broader strategy to modernize its economy.
Iran’s efforts to develop political alliances in Asia have been motivated by a desire to offset the influence exerted in the region by the United States and its allies. Iran has developed close ties with Russia and China, both of which have offered to back Iran’s nuclear program and protected Iran against Western sanctions. Iran’s nuclear program has received help from both of these countries.
Having worked to build ties with countries in the Arab world, such as Syria and Lebanon, Iran shares its antagonism toward Israel. Examples of these countries are Syria and Lebanon. It has a number of security problems in the region, including the risk of military involvement by the United States as well as the threat posed by terrorist organizations. Its efforts to address these concerns have included expanding its military capabilities and cultivating alliances with other nations in the area.
It is expected that Iran’s strategic decisions in Asia will continue to be defined by the country’s economic interests, political alliances, and security concerns in light of the aforementioned variables. However, the future of Iran’s relationships with significant countries in the area, such as China, Russia, and India, will also depend on larger global trends and developments in geopolitics. These factors will play a role in shaping Iran’s diplomatic ties in the years to come.
Its goal recently has been to strengthen its ties with the nations that are immediately surrounding it and increase its level of influence in the area. In recent years, it has implemented a policy known as “Look East,” in which it has sought to strengthen its ties with Asian countries, mainly China and Russia, in order to offset the influence of the West.
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The way forward
The two countries have inked a 25-year strategic cooperation deal (2021) that includes collaboration on energy, transportation, and other economic sectors. China is Iran’s largest trading partner, and the two countries have also signed the pact. People think that this agreement will help Iran become less dependent on the West while also improving its relations with China and other economic sectors. China is Iran’s largest trading partner, and the two countries have also signed the pact. People think that this agreement will help Iran become less dependent on the West while also improving its relations with China. Russia is also a major part of Iran’s foreign policy, especially when it comes to the country’s nuclear program. Iran has gotten help from Russia on both the political and economic fronts. Russia has also been a key mediator in the dispute between Iran and the West over the country’s nuclear program.
Tehran considers India among its most significant allies, particularly in terms of the economic cooperation they share. India has been one of the largest buyers of Iranian oil and has been actively working to strengthen its relations with Iran in other areas, such as the transportation and infrastructure industries.
In addition to this, Tehran has also been seeking to strengthen its relationships with countries in the Arab world, particularly Syria and Lebanon, both of which are Iran’s friends and share its opposition to Israel. Syria and Lebanon are particularly important to Iran because they share this opposition. Iran has supplied backing to both nations in their confrontations with Israel, and through these partnerships, Iran has sought to build up its power in the area and increase its sphere of influence there. Having said that, Tehran will continue to strike a balance between its relationships with major powers in the region and its alliances with other countries and non-state actors.
Written by Dr. Pervaiz Ali Mahesar
The writer works at the University of Jamshooro. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.