Not much time has passed since the election of Iran’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. During this period, numerous questions have been raised about the domestic and foreign policies that his government might pursue.  Given the important and sensitive developments that are occurring in the region and international politics, it is important for other actors in the international realm to understand the foreign policy of Iran’s new government. Various speculations have been made about the Ahmadinejad Administration’s policies that fail to conform to realities.  Because the cabinet has not yet been formed and the policies of the new government have not yet been declared, relying upon my experiences and the perceptions of the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in this article I will try to examine and analyze the prospects of the new government in the field of foreign relations.

1- Constant and Permanent Goals of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Like any other political system, the Islamic Republic of Iran is characterized by a number of defined foreign policy principles and goals, which do not necessarily change in substance with a change in government.  It is necessary to note that the overall orientations of the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran are stipulated in its Constitution and that the grand strategies of the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran have been defined, explained, and ratified within the country’s 20-Year Vision Plan.

As a result of extensive work by experts, the 20-Year Vision Plan (2005 –2025), which enjoys the consensus and support of all of Iran’s factions and ideological groups, was approved by the Expediency Council in 2004. Its implementation will undoubtedly be on the new government’s agenda and constitutes one of the main tasks of future governments.  This Vision outlines the Islamic Republic of Iran’s 20-year grand strategy (The 20-Year Vision Plan) within the two next decades, the country’s trajectory toward development and progress, and its main framework and objectives. On this basis, Iran will be “a developed country with the first scientific, economic, and technological status in the southwest Asian region” in 20 years."  Obtaining this status will constitute the main objective of the Islamic Republic of Iran over the next two decades, and naturally Iran plans to mobilize all domestic and external potentials in a way to reach that end. In order to take advantage of international opportunities and to remove the obstacles to achieving this goal, a behavioral pattern of “constructive and effective interaction” has been determined in the grand strategy of the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy.

To realize Iran's 20-Year Vision Plan in its foreign policy field, three areas of cooperation are of great importance:

1- Continuing the policy of mutual confidence-building;

2- Giving priority to regional cooperation;

3- Expanding economic and industrial ties with various countries of the world.

On these grounds, behaving within a pattern of “constructive and effective interaction” appears to be an indispensable necessity and a means for all of Iran’s institutions involved in foreign-policy decision making to reach these goals.

2- Areas for Action by the New Government

A- Perspectives

After Iran’s recent elections, the perception created in the West, as influenced by their media propaganda, encouraged rumors that radicalism would dominate the country’s internal and external policies.  While the approach of the new government’s foreign policy will become more transparent with the passing of time, it is possible to speculate theoretically on certain issues that concern observers and researchers

 Ideological rhetoric and its related terminology will appear more prevalent in the language and discourse of the new government’s foreign policy.  This characteristic, however, will not necessarily mean ideological behavior or a return to the first decade following the Islamic Revolution of 1979, although a change in behavioral and negotiation patterns is likely.  Essentially, the conditions in Iran, the region and the world cannot be rolled back.  Here the role of Iran’s interaction with outside players will be more important than uncalculated conduct and foreign presumptions may make the new government’s attitude strict and rigid.  Conversely, unchallenging actions could help it become more pragmatist. At any rate, the language of threat in treating the new government would have a negative impact, and the West’s tough policy would lead to the hardening of Iran’s foreign policy.

The harmony of Iran’s new government with the other power centers involved in the country’s foreign policymaking will give it the necessary ability to make decisions and resolve problems, particularly in strategic realms, because contrary to the case in the past, competition over strategic decision-making will diminish. This will provide the new government an opportunity to use diplomatic means to realize its goals.

B- Policies

Based on the preceding predictions, the future foreign policy of the new government may be analyzed at three levels:  bilateral, regional and international relations.

Bilateral Relations:

In the area of bilateral relations, the emphasis will be put on relations with neighboring and regional countries. Considering important geopolitical developments occurring in Iran’s eastern and western neighbors, namely Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran can play a crucial role in the stabilization and reconstruction of the countries. Moreover, it seems that given the vital interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the two countries’ stability and security, Iran will proceed to enhance and continue cooperation with these nations. In line with its confidence-building initiative, Iran is also likely to expand its cooperation and relations with its other neighboring countries. It can also be predicted that Iran will pay attention to bilateral relations with Islamic and Asian countries and possibly change its approach toward some western countries if their non–constructive positions persist.

Regional Relations:

At the regional level, the stability and security in the Persian Gulf region will continue to hold importance in the new government’s policies, as will Iran’s policy of confidence-building with these countries.  The Middle East in general and the Persian Gulf in particular, because of their geostrategic location and the persistence of the two complicated issues of Iraq and Palestine, will continue to attract the attention of the world’s great powers. It is completely natural that developments in this sensitive region and in the international system can affect Iran’s foreign policy, notably its regional and strategic interests.

Obtaining stability and security in the region in general and in Iraq in particular is closely linked to the indiscriminate struggle of all countries, especially the great powers, against the vicious phenomenon of terrorism.  Because of its long borders with Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran will naturally be harmed by any instability and insecurity in the region. Therefore, Iran is ready to combat terrorism and contribute to establishing sustainable stability in these countries under the auspices of the United Nations.

A noteworthy point is that the developments in Iraq and in the Middle East should not distract us from Afghanistan. The present situation in Afghanistan suggests that the process of nation- and state–building is slowly progressing. The continuation of this process requires the serious support of all countries. There is some fear that if world governments continue to neglect Afghanistan, the country will return to its previous situation.

As for Iraq, three future alternative scenarios, each of which has advocates in Iraq and abroad, could take place:

1- A return to dictatorship;

2- Instability;

3- The continuation of the nation- and state- building process and the move toward democracy.

Tehran has always supported the democratic process in Iraq, and Iran’s new government will pursue this course.        

The expansion of cooperation with Muslim countries will also be given more priority in the foreign policy of the new government, and it is expected that Iran’s relations with the Organization of Islamic Conference will become more dynamic.

International Relations:

At the international level, collaboration with international organizations, confidence-building with the world, and the extension of bilateral ties with the advanced industrialized countries of Asia and Eurasia will be on the top of the new government’s agenda. In this regard, a deepening of Iran’s strategic relations with China and Russia is expected.

With regard to Iran’s nuclear issue, the country aims to take advantage of peaceful technology as its legitimate right within the framework of international conventions. Nuclear talks took shape with three European countries in order to realize this goal. Talks with Iran have helped Europe improve its status in the international scene. Nevertheless, it seems that if Europe hesitates in implementing its obligations toward Iran or resorts to delay tactics under the pressure of the United States, it will face a reaction by the new government and ultimately, the rupture of nuclear negotiations at an unspecific point as well as the resumption of fuel cycle activities.

However, a change in negotiation methods and diplomatic behavioral patterns is predicted under Iran’s new government. Given the national and international importance of Iran’s nuclear issue, the mutually beneficial direction of negotiations over this issue can provide the grounds for wider cooperation, instead of creating an undesirable conflict.

In the oil sector, in order to create stability in the markets, we will witness the continued interaction between producers and consumers of this vital product. Therefore, the new government will also pay more attention to the Asian energy market and cooperate more closely with Asian oil companies.

The new government will pursue balanced and stable economic and trade ties with Iran’s traditional partners.  It will also likely pay more attention to regional and Asian markets. It is predictable that if certain political obstacles to ties with the West are removed, because of rising oil prices and for the realization of the economic goals of Iran’s 20-Year Vision Plan, the country’s industrial and economic relations with Western countries will increase as well.


Considering these predictions, Iran’s look toward its strategic and regional areas of interest in the next government can be predicted as follows:


- Ideological rhetoric and its related terminology will appear more salient in the new government, although this will not mean the radicalization of its foreign policy.

- Security and stability in the Persian Gulf will continue to remain an issue for the interests of Iran, the region, and the world.

- Continued cooperation and stabilization in Iraq and helping resolve Afghanistan’s state-building dilemmas will remain on the agenda of Iran’s new government and will provide a basis for regional cooperation.

- Tranquility and growing relations with the neighboring countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia are a priority for Iran. It is expected that Iran will interact more closely with Asian and Eurasian countries.

- Considering the new government’s emphasis on addressing domestic issues, it will likely use its foreign policy to achieve its domestic goals.

- Iran’s will increasingly look to the East and within this context, relations with Asian countries, notably China, India and even Russia, will be strengthened.  This approach will provide Iran with a strategic background as well as large tactical capacity in its foreign relations.

- Ties with the Muslim World will be increasingly considered.

- In the short term, no change can be imagined in Iran’s policies toward the United States, but in the midterm, some developments will be likely in certain fields of interaction.

- With respect to relations with Europe, the continuity of delay tactics on the part of the European Union, particularly by the EU-3, in all aspects or in changing the agenda of negotiations and ties will seriously impair Europe’s constructive role and destroy past achievements. Iran’s new government demands transparency, speed and action, and it will probably shift its direction if it does not receive a desirable reaction. Hence, opportunities should not be easily lost. Europe needs to find a different language for continued dialogue with the new government. Appropriate and calculated behaviors will in turn reinforce the inherent realism and pragmatism of this government. In contrast, a negative attitude by the West will toughen the positions of the new government.

-  Finally, it seems that in determining the priorities of the foreign policy of the new government in the short term, the type of actions and reactions by other parties can prove influential.  In this regard, the role and behavior of the West, particularly Europe, in nuclear talks will be considerable.

In general, it can be suggested that the overall principles of the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran are clear, although the new government has yet to present its short-term policy and related tactics.