Iran: new foreign policy outlook


“Economic multilateralism” and broader relations with the world, particularly neighboring countries, is to be Iran’s new foreign policy outlook.

Many decades have passed since the early days of the 1979 Revolution when neither leaning toward the East nor the West was considered to be in the interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Iran still maintains independence but with friends in both the East and West, Iran is veering more Eastwards. That’s after a demolished JCPOA, or 2015 nuclear deal, dragged on as the Western parties to the deal just stood by and watched, doing next to nothing, as Iran continued its commitment to that multilateral deal almost unilaterally.

Early signs of this policy of strengthening ties with Eastern powers and neighbors, surfaced with Iranian President Raeisi’s visit to Tajikistan, whereby he initiated the process of upgrading Iran’s status with SCO the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. And Iran’s observer status turned into permanent membership.

It didn’t stop there, but led on to talks with Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Talks with Russia were to prepare for an agreement with that eastern giant, similar to the one Iran signed with China; meaning the 25-year Iran-China strategic partnership agreement.

Iranian Foreign Minister Amirabdollahian announced the imminent implementation of the sweeping economic and security document signed in September between Iran and China.

According to the document China will invest nearly $400 billion in a wide range of projects in Iran in exchange for discounted oil for two decades.

Iran and China have had relations with each other, very good ones at that. If you look at the data on Iran’s imports from and exports to China, you’ll see that China would buy Iranian oil and do projects in the country. Finance was going on too.

Apart from the pandemic and Trump’s maximum pressure campaign, Iran and China have had normal relations. What’s changed is that the ties have taken a strategic angle.

Before the agreement, Iran and China have had project-based cooperation. This meant that, for example, a deal would be reached for China to buy a specific amount of oil from Iran for the next two years and then the tankers would go back and forth. Or, they’d say we’re going to make roads or Tehran’s subway lines.

But now it’s different. The ties are strategic now. We need to look at the ties as long-term relationships.

Hamed Vafai, China Affairs Analyst, Tehran University

During President Ebrahim Raeisi’s visit to Moscow he spoke with President Vladimir Putin on how Iran had resisted America for 40 years.

Pointing out how Russia’s own confrontation with America was escalating, Raeisi said it was time to take on “the power of the Americans with an increased synergy between our two countries.”

So, modeled on the 25-year Iran-China document, Iran and Russia discussed a similar bilateral 20-year trade and investment agreement.

The deal would focus on technology transfers from Russia, and the purchase of Russian military equipment, as well as Russian investment in Iranian energy infrastructure.

Creating alliance depends on each country’s national agenda. Improving relationships and also in security matters with Russia, will obtain both countries results. We have seen this cooperation in Syria. Russia has a part to play in the Middle East and that was in Syria.

In my opinion signing a 20 year contract with Russia will bring many economic benefits to Iran beside security advantages. Because if they improve their relationship, together they can thwart any plots against them which come from the west

Ali Rezvanpour, Analyst of Caucasus Affairs, Expediency Discernment Council

China is the upcoming global economic giant, but Russia remains the military giant of the eastern bloc, no longer the all-consuming Soviet Union.

Iran opted for Russia as friend and partner in the face of a belligerent America that might have attacked Iran after its invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003 respectively, which rendered Iranian borders vulnerable.

And so 20 years ago Tehran came to an understanding with Moscow that Russia would not only not attack Iran but that it would neither help any attacking force nor allow attacks from Russia on Iran.

Given regional changes in the past 20 years, however, Iran has now presented Russia with a new document as the foundation for rebooted ties between the two states.

The proposed 20-year pact between Iran and Russia would boost trade ties between the two up to $10 billion, probably with national currency, which would, in turn, break the dominance of the US dollar for transactions.

Iran and Russia need to make a long-term deal without a doubt. There are different reasons warranting a deal, including shared borders, the Caspian Sea, Central Asia, issues related to Afghanistan, and other matters of shared interests.

China has recently entered the calculations in West Asia and displayed interest in the region. The visit of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council’s foreign ministers to China is another signal showing China’s interest in West Asia.

Iran must definitely have a long-term plan with such a country.

Hamed Vafai, China Affairs Analyst

While energy cooperation MOUs were signed during Raeisi’s visit to Moscow, the two countries also agreed to identify mutual agricultural capacities for an exchange of agricultural products, and to activate the north-south transport corridor.

Sending goods through Iran would make the time and distance of transiting goods from Russia, and other northern countries, to southern regions such as India much shorter

A renewed emphasis on stability and continuity of close ties between Tehran and Moscow despite US pressures is another message of this visit.

It showed that despite the differences especially those in the Caucasus that led some observers to believe their bilateral ties would suffer, Iran and Russia enjoy close relations.

Mr Raeisi’s visit to Moscow showed that small differences won’t get in the way of Tehran and Moscow’s continued and close cooperation.

Rahman Ghahremanpour, Political Analyst

But for Iran, “More important than an economic partnership with Russia is a military and intelligence alliance.” And given relaxed sanctions thanks to the JCPOA—whatever its sate—Iran has become more intent on purchasing Russian military equipment, especially Sukhoi Su-35 fighter planes, S-400 missile system and military satellites.

No deal has been signed publicly 

But both Russia and Iran also face a challenge that is Iran’s peaceful but suspected nuclear programme. Russia both wants to hold onto Iran, and is itself wary of Iran making too much progress with its nuclear programme.

Russia, like China, has played a positive role in supporting Iran’s rights with nuclear issues and removing the embargo, while at the same time convincing Iran to agree to negotiate on the basis of the earlier talks.

Regarding the recent Iran-Russia talks, Foreign Minister AmirAbdollahian said:  “Today, we are following up on more important agreements so that we can reach a good agreement in Vienna in a short period of time. In this regard, China’s role alongside Russia is very important.”

This triangle has already been shaped in the past couple of years especially in the last 10 or 20 years. Because china is the main consumer of Iran’s oil and Russia counts on Iran for security in the Middle East region.

So Iran is a great player in these two countries equations in international relationship. They cannot isolate Iran. Neither Russia or china or EU or US; no one can ignore Iran or isolate it. They must accept Iran’s power because Iran is corridor of east west [sic].

Ali Rezvanpour, Analyst of Caucasus Affairs, Expediency Discernment Council

Iran’s balanced foreign policy approach is planned within a framework of “balanced foreign policy, and dynamic, intelligent diplomacy and interaction”, with a focus on three East-leaning priorities: “a neighborly policy,” “an Asia-oriented policy,” and “an economy-oriented diplomacy.”

Improving relations with our neighbors is the main priority of President Raeisi’s foreign policy approach. The first step toward releasing pressure regarding sanctions was the permanent membership of Iran in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization which was a very good sign because this organization is the most important seller and also buyer of energy in the world. 42 percent of the world population belongs to the shanghai cooperation organization.

Ali Rezvanpour, Analyst of Caucasus Affairs, Expediency Discernment Council

Neighborly relations haven’t been without a downside and Iran still has outstanding debts to collect. To date, “Iran has been able to reach an agreement with Iraq on debt collection and resolve the debt problem with Turkmenistan, and enter a new chapter of interactions with regional countries, including Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait. It has also re-entered cooperation with the UAE as well as talks with resuming the talks with Saudi Arabia and taking it to a new level,” as exemplified by Amirabdollahian.

We’re now a regional power. There are several trans-regional powers, including China, Russia, and the US. There are also some emerging powers, including India and Brazil.

Iran has to balance its relations with them. Whenever the balance is disturbed, we’ll suffer the consequences. It’s interesting to note that we’ve seen these policies implemented by both the Reformists and Principlists.

During Mr. Ahmadinejad’s term in office, Iran favored the East too much and broke with the West. The result was that Eastern countries voted against us at the UN Security Council. That was while we were on their side.

China’s vote at the Security Council is very significant and getting that vote could be very helpful.

Hamed Vafai, China Affairs Analyst

It was on March 27, 2021 that Iran and China signed the 25-year comprehensive cooperation agreement. It was when Wang Yi the Chinese foreign minister visited his then Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif in Tehran.

The agreement which guarantees economic and cultural interaction between the two states introduces Iran to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, a plan through which China aims to build a wide network of infrastructure projects from East Asia to Europe worth trillions of dollars.

These long-term partnerships are quite helpful in nature. But it depends on how the two sides perceive it and how much understanding is there between them.

When two nations have a strategic look toward their ties, they’d need a long-term plan; otherwise, the strategic part wouldn’t materialize.

It’s like a marriage. When two people make a deal to live with each other for a long time, they have to have a plan, the basis of which is how much they know each other.

They must first get to know each other, have a plan, and then make a long-term deal.

Hamed Vafai, China Affairs Analyst

As it is, even with US sanctions in place, China has been in a postion of sufficient power and will to buy Iran’s boycotted oil; even if by barter and at a third of its optimum price.

But it has helped keep the Iranian economy afloat. In December 2021 China reportedly imported 1.9 m barrels of Iranian oil which is around 265,000 tons. By 21 Jan 2022, China had offloaded nearly four million barrels of Iranian crude oil into state reserve tanks.

The 25-year agreement with Iran shows that China considers Tehran a top player in regional equations, along with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt.

This shows China attaches great importance to adjusting ties with Iran. We know that China buys a majority of its oil from the Persian Gulf region; therefore the region’s security is paramount for Beijing.

We know that Iran and Saudi Arabia play important roles in establishing security in the Persian Gulf. Then the 25-year agreement shows the regional significance of Iran for China [sic].

Rahman Ghahremanpour, Political Analyst

Iran made sure to adress its new approach at the 67th United Nations General Assembly, when its foreign minister spoke with western officials, according to his German counterpart Heiko Maas.

He said:  “the other signatories to the JCPOA must have flexibility and understand the new situation following the inauguration of the new Iranian administration.”

In other words, they best speed up the sanction-lifting promised in the JCPOA, as Iran did its part of limiting its nuclear programme, till before the US binned the deal in 2018 and left western European signatories gaping, helpless in despair.

There is no doubt that expanding relations with different countries can reduce the pressure that the United States puts on Iran and also help Iran to neutralize the sanctions imposed by the United States. Of course, we don’t know how exactly these measures can cancel out the sanctions yet. But what’s clear and we’ve experienced in the past is that expanding ties with emerging powers, especially China and Asian countries, helps Iran to reduce the effectiveness of the sanctions. As you might know, Iran has found new markets for its oil over the past couple of years.

Rahman Ghahremanpour, Political Analyst

Regarding its Russia-Iran talks, Iran stressed the importance of expanding cooperation in the fields of science, society, culture and media, for stable long-term relations.

And the Administration supports Russia’s initiative to hold a meeting of Speakers of the Parliaments of Iran, Russia, Turkey, Pakistan and China in the fight against terrorism. Iran and Russia have recognized the fight against terrorism in the region as common ground.

Iran prides itself as the winner on two fronts, in the battles against terrorism and the US maximum pressure campaign of sanctions. At the same time, this country has extensive economic potential in the energy, trade, agriculture, industry and technology sectors.

This makes for beneficial bilateral and multilateral ties with various countries.

Some Western countries are critical of this policy and advocate unilateralism. But the reality is that the world is changing.

The international system is moving toward multilateralism and multipolarity. In that case, it’s logical for us to move toward the different poles.

But we emphasize balance in the relations. We need to ensure that the balance isn’t tipped to a specific country, region, or bloc’s favor. The balance must be maintained.

Hamed Vafai, China Affairs Analyst

Leaning more East, India is among countries Iran has an eye for deepening relations with.

Iran’s location on the north-south corridor can make trade from India to Russia and Europe less expensive and more lucrative.

As for neighbouring or West-Asian Muslim states:

By mid-January, three Iranian diplomats arrived in Saudi Arabia to reopen Iran’s representative office to the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Jeddah.

Saudi Arabia has accepted that improving relations with Israeli regime will not bring security to Persian Gulf. They improved relations with Israel under the Abraham Accord which was the outcome of Donald Trump’s pressure on these two countries that is UAE and Saudi Arabia.

So they came to this conclusion that if they expand their relations with Iran, which is the main player of the greater Middle East, they will gain more security in the Persian Gulf and the greater Middle East.

Ali Rezvanpour, Analyst of Caucasus Affairs, Expediency Discernment Council

Ties were severed in early January 2016, by Saudi Arabia. That’s when a number of angry protestors attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran in reaction to the Saudi execution of the prominent cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

But since April 2021, the regional powers have engaged in four rounds of direct negotiations facilitated by Iraq, and a fifth round is underway. Another cause for contention between Iran and Saudi is the war in Yemen, as they have supported opposing sides.

Mojtaba Zonnoori member of Iran’s national security parliamentary committee, has confirmed that: “a new chapter is opening in Iran-Saudi Arabia relations. And talks have been held on the conservation, furnishing and equipping and reopening the Iranian and Saudi embassies [in one another’s territories].”

Iran and Saudi Arabia are two important powers in West Asia and have significant common interests in the region. For example, security in the Persian Gulf would not be sustainable without the cooperation of Iran and Saudi Arabia.

As in the 1970s, Nixon’s policy was based on US cooperation with Iran and Saudi Arabia to establish security in the Persian Gulf. In addition, the conflicting interests and rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia have cost countries like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.

This logic over the past few years has made Iran and Saudi Arabia try to reduce the intensity of their rivalry and tensions.

Rahman Ghahremanpour, Political Analyst

During his visit to the State Dumas of Russia, President Raeisi delivered a speech that hints at Iran’s foreign policy goals and objectives. It is diametrically opposed to the US strategy of hegemony and occupation which has ended in failure, with the US having had to flee Iraq and Afghanistan, as he put it.

“Today Strengthening Iran-Russia relations in bilateral and multilateral forms will boost the economies of the two nations and strengthen regional and international security. … The purpose and basis of this cooperation and interaction is the mutual interests of nations and the increasing formation of a “civilized global community”.

President of Iran, Ebrahim Raeisi



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  1. That’s what I was saying about Iran becoming a superpower in the region. It has happened and US kept playing games with sanctions – until, it got check-mate! This is another Zionist blow to US.

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