After eight years of a confrontational foreign policy, which reflected the frustrations of been stonewalled in the nuclear negotiations with the West, there are signs of change in Iran's foreign policy. 

In his presidential campaign, Hassan Rouhani chose “the key” as a symbol for his prospective government to open the doors and to tackle the problems that he perceived the country is facing now. From all evidence, including the surveys done during months before the elections, the main concern of the people is the dwindling of their purchasing power due to rampant inflation and unemployment.

Obviously, to open the gate to a flourishing economy, the Rohani administration has to use a ' key' that would primarily open the gates to better foreign relations especially with the Western countries, chief among them the United States. 

From this perspective, the main economic problems that Iran is facing are somehow related to the foreign policy issues, namely inflation and unemployment which are closely linked to the multi/unilateral sanctions imposed on Iran, or the economic development projects which are in dire need of international flow of investments and transfer of technology. The tense relations that exist between Iran and the West have also increased the cost of military and security preparedness of the country adding to the burden of expenditure. 

The signs of new approach to foreign policy came after the recent presidential elections in Iran. President Rohani is quoted saying that "One of the messages of the voters in the presidential election was that they wanted a change in foreign policy." 

Presently, all indications point to the fact that the removal of the sanctions will be the key to any progress in the future negotiations on Iran's nuclear file, or in any prospective Iran-US bilateral talks. 

However, to avoid the past failures in the nuclear negotiations, it is important to keep in mind that Iran has paid a very high price over many years to master the nuclear technology. Meanwhile, despite its achievements in nuclear capability, Iran as a loyal member of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has been consistent in its commitment for not seeking nuclear weapons. 

A close look at the sanctions imposed on Iran reveals the fact that the raison d'être of these sanctions has waned long time ago. If the intention were to stop Iran from attaining nuclear capability in the fear of a nuclear breakout, it is clear now that worry was misplaced. 

Unsurprisingly, all speculations during the past two decades about Iran's nuclear breakout scenarios never proved to be true. As suspected, the intention was merely to keep pressure on Iran and finding justifications for tougher sanctions. But the effects of these sanctions were not limited to Iran. Most strikingly, many third-party countries were also affected. Chief among them were those countries that the U.S. had promised to bring peace and stability to them. Afghanistan is one example, which has suffered from the sanctions imposed on Iran. Many of the hundreds of thousands of Afghans who live and work in Iran are supporting their families in Afghanistan by sending the remittances to their families. They were among the victims of the U.S. policy aimed at the devaluation of the Iranian currency (Rial). Apart of that, many development projects aimed to bring prosperity and stability in Afghanistan were hampered due to the tightening of sanctions on Iran. 

Another case is Pakistan, a country that, due to decades of nascent insurgency, is facing many structural development problems. At present, this country is faced with dire shortage of energy. But unfortunately, instead of helping them, some policy makers in Washington are busy at work to stop a very important project, mainly financed by Iran, for a gas pipeline that would carry Iranian gas from gas fields in the Persian Gulf to Pakistan. Apparently, the pretext to stop the project is the unilateral U.S. sanctions that have been imposed against Iran. Undoubtedly, here, the sanction policy serves contrary to the goals of bringing peace in the war-torn Afghanistan/Pakistan region through peace-building mechanisms. 

Thus, removal of the sanctions should be a priority policy since it has lost its declared purpose and it is now hurting other non targeted parties some allies of the U.S. Obviously, at this stage when a web of sanctions have been devised and while there are influential interest groups in the U.S. Congress who support it, any attempt to scrap the sanctions would be challenging. But sooner or later Washington has to face realities of the region that Iran has an influential role and is showing willingness for interaction with all concerned parties. 

Interestingly, in the recent presidential elections, Iranians have overwhelmingly demonstrated their choice for “moderation” namely in the foreign policy. Pursuant to that demand, President Rouhani in his first public address after winning the election has emphasized that he will follow moderation in the foreign policy. He further elaborated that: “Moderation in foreign policy is neither surrender nor conflict, neither passiveness nor confrontation, but rather is interaction.” It seems that these and other similar opinions in Iran are indicative of readiness for a meaningful and a comprehensive dialogue with the West and especially with the U.S. for better relations and cooperation.  It is now interesting to see how President Obama and his administration would react to these new developments in Iran.


* Nasser Saghafi-Ameri is a former senior Iranian diplomat, and a scholar and author in the fields of foreign policy, international security, and nuclear disarmament.