Iran is an ancient state known as Persia, which has a long and glorious history. Unlike many other empires, Persia (Iran) managed to keep stability, to prevent losing territory and to remain its independence. Early Persia was an intimidating empire in its time, however, it was invaded by Arabs, Turks, and Mongols. Iran created its own national identity through its leadership, power, and policy, which over years has evolved into regional power to be reckoned by other powers.
The discovery of oil in early XX century put Iran under spotlight. After 1907, England and Russia agreed to divide Iran into influence spheres, before and after World Wars, USA became increasingly interested in its oil resources.
The modern history of Iran started from nationalist movements against the Shah in 1905, and continued with the adoption of the new limited constitution in 1906. In 1921, Reza Khan took control and made proclaimed himself the Shah in 1925 and installed new Pahlavi dynasty.
Under his leadership, Iran started growing into a modern country and secularizing its policy. They changed the official name of the country into Iran in 1935. In 1941, Western Iran was occupied by the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, however, Reza Shah was forced to draw back and quit from its position. Later his son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi came into force and ruled the country until 1979, Islam revolution. Ayatollah Khomeini was the spiritual leader during 1970’s and consequently, Khomeini took power and started to lead the country after returning from years in exile in France.
Today Iran has a population of over 70 million including ethnic groups. Iran is a theocratic Muslim country with 89% Shia, 10% Sunni Muslims and 1% Jewish, Bahai and Zoroastrian. Iran is located east of Persian Gulf and borders with Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey. Tehran is the capital city of Iran.
Timeline of Iran’s foreign policy, diplomatic relations and reflection on events
After Islamic Revolution, Syria recognized the new regime and administration and President Hafez al Assad sent a telegram of congratulations to Khomeini. Until 1979, there were 76 embassies in Iran with 62 diplomatic missions to different destinations. However, in 1979 Iran shut down diplomatic relations with Israel and the new regime caused a great crisis between Iran and the USA. Students, who followed Imam’s Line, seized the US Embassy in Tehran. The reason behind this was that disposed Shah had traveled to the US for medical treatment, whereas, Islamic students demanded him to return. The crisis lasted 444 days and led to all trade relations being cut off with the US. In addition, President Carter gave an order to freeze Iranian bank deposits in the US. In the following year, the US cut off diplomatic relations with Iran and sent a rescue team in order save hostages, which failed due to sandstorm and death of eight American servicemen.
In 1980, Iran-Iraq war started with the invasion of Shatt al-Arab waterway by Iraq and lasted 8 years. Iran-Syria relations grew closer on the backdrop of the war and Damascus demonstrated full military and diplomatic support. Iran had always been against governments, who stood by Iraq. Iran cut ties with Jordan after Amman declared that it sided with Iraq. Iran did not resume relations until 1991.
Relations with Israel and the USA remained strained throughout the. In 1982, Iran reacted to Israel-Lebanon war and sent 1000 revolutionary guards to Lebanon in order to support the formation of Hezbollah, however never directly clashed with Israel. The following year, the USA blamed Iran for assisting the suicide bombing of Marine peacekeepers in Lebanon, which was the largest loss for the American military in a single incident after World War II. In 1984, the Reagan administration declared Iran a supporter of terrorism. After this issue, Iran continued its support to foreign regimes, for instance, executed American hostages including CIA station Chief William Buckley in Beirut. After William Buckley’s death, Washington warned Iran would be held responsible for all actions against American hostages. By mid-summer of 1985, USA began behind-scene diplomatic efforts for a hostage swap. Later on, Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, who was the heir apparent to Ayatollah Khomeini, encouraged Iranian diplomats to build and improve relations with the Western World. Negotiations were continued up until missiles were delivered to Iran in exchange for American hostages, who were freed in Lebanon. In addition, after the speech of Rafsanjani, Iran emphasized “good will” of US based on unfreezing Iranian assets by US Government. At the end, the US returned 450 million dollars back to Iran. All these events, later on, were published in Ash-Shiraa magazine and became known as the “Iran-Contra affair”.
In 1988, Saudi Arabia cut off all diplomatic relations with Iran. Saudi Arabia claimed that Iranian demonstrators clashed with law enforcement agencies of Saudi Arabia in Mecca. According to Saudi Arabia, two-thirds of pilgrims were Iranian. Saudi Arabia banned all political activities and blamed Iran. Official relations between the two countries were restored in 1991.
After the death of Khomeini, Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani was elected as a President in 1989. The same year, the USA released 567 million dollars of frozen Iranian assets. In 1990, Iran restored its relations with Iraq and stood neutral in Iraq-Kuwait crisis. In addition, the last American hostage walked free through Iran’s mediation.
By 1990, the number of diplomatic missions dropped down due to the mentioned events and there were only 63 embassies remaining in Iran. From 1990, Iran started to restore its relations with the West, to catch up modernization and integration. In this regard, UK, Tunisia, Iraq, Jordan, Germany, and Mauritania opened their embassies in Iran and started developing economic, cultural and political relations with Iran. The following year, Iran and China agreed on “nuclear energy” cooperation during the visit of President Rafsanjani to Beijing. The main aim of this agreement was to convert uranium ore into uranium hexafluoride gas. However, they had to abandon the idea due to the pressure by the Clinton administration in 1996. Regarding integration of Iran into the world community, The European Council declared a “critical dialogue” with Iran in terms of reducing their isolation and improving human rights record. However, they dropped the dialogue after a few months, because German Court discovered that the Iranian government had a role in the murder of four Kurdish dissidents in Berlin. In addition, in 1995 Rafsanjani government tried to sign a contract with the oil giant Conoco to develop an oil field, however, it was blocked by President Clinton with the executive order banning US investments in the Iranian oil industry. This was followed by a total embargo on Iran trade and investments because of sponsorship of “terrorism”, nuclear ambitions and negative role in the Middle East peace process. It is a fact that President Clinton signed Iran and Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA), which penalized foreign companies, who were doing business with the US, and at the same time with Iran oil industry. On the contrary, Turkish Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan negotiated with Iran and signed an agreement, which provided natural gas supply and pipelines. Moreover, he also emphasized that an agreement stated only trade, not investment, which is why it was not a violation of ILSA. As ILSA also stipulated sanctions on countries, who were doing business with and investing in Iran.
In 1994, Iran restored its diplomatic relations with South Africa. Before 1979, the Shah regime and South Africa used to have good ties, which however, ended immediately after the Islamic revolution. The tension between Iran and Israel gave rise again under the new President. The so-called “Islamic Jihad Organization” bombed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992, which claimed 30 lives and wounded over 300 people. Israel then claimed that this group was linked to Iran and Hezbollah, whereas Iran and Hezbollah denied their involvement. Two years later, the Jewish community was once again bombed in Buenos Aires, which resulted in 85 deaths and 300 injuries. Iran and Hezbollah denied their involvement again, but later in 2006 Argentina prosecutors announced the search for the arrest of former President Rafsanjani.
In 1996, Iran and Kazakhstan agreed on oil trade and as of January 1997 they began shipping oil across the Caspian Sea.
In 1997, Ali Mohammad Khatami-Ardakani was elected the president in a landslide victory amidst his pledges of political and social reforms as well as economic revitalization. During this presidency, Iran started to construct a system based on the pillars of religiosity, liberty, and justice. They demonstrated this willing by not going to an ultimate war after depletion of troops to its borders with Afghanistan after Taliban killed eight Iranian diplomats.
President Khatami visited Italy in 1999, which was the first official visit by an Iranian leader since 1979. Iran also fully restored diplomatic relations with Britain the same year. By the end of the century, Iran hosted 93 embassies in its territory and had diplomatic missions in 92 countries.
The year of 2001 was an important period in Iranian diplomatic relations. In 2001, President Khatami officially visited Moscow and signed the first cooperation and security agreement since the Iranian revolution. Ayatollah Khamenei and President Khatami condemned the al Qaeda 9/11 attacks and cooperated with the USA, Russia, and India by providing support for the Northern Alliance against Taliban, during the US intervention in Afghanistan. Iranian diplomats played an active role during meetings with Western countries over the new regime in Afghanistan.
In 2005, new presidential elections were held, when Mahmoud Ahmedinejad won. During the first three years of his reign, UN applied different sanctions on Iran due to its nuclear energy program. The World Community claimed that Iran tried to reach and to make nuclear weapons rather than using it for energy.
Iran – Western relations under the presidency of Ahmadinejad
Starting from 2009, Iranian government tried to soften relations with the USA. On the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, President Ahmadinejad gave a speech about relations with the USA based on mutual respect and fairness. In the meantime, President Barack Obama sent a Nowruz message to the Iranian people emphasizing that Iran could also achieve a place in the international community through peaceful actions rather than through terror and arms. Ayatollah Khomeini called this speech deceptive due to their actions. These mutual speeches led to the aggravation of relations between Iran and the USA. One of the biggest reasons for that was the April 2010 report released by the US State Department, which called Iran the “most active state sponsor of terrorism”. In contrast, Tehran rejected this report and blamed the US for its actions at Iraq Abu-Gharib prison and Guantanamo Bay.
In 2010, after the proposal of nuclear fuel swap among Iran, Turkey, and Brazil, the US pushed UN to apply tougher sanctions on Iran. In addition, European foreign ministers agreed on comprehensive sanctions against Iran in terms of trade, financial services and energy, as well as visa bans and asset freezes. After sanctions, Iranian protesters stormed the British Embassy in Tehran against the imposed sanctions. The UK evacuated its diplomatic staff and expelled all Iranian diplomats from London, however, did not cut off relations completely. But this incident caused the recall of ambassadors of France, Germany and Netherlands and bilateral sanctions by the US, UK, and Canada. Following these events, Canada completely cut off their relations with Iran, closed its embassy in Tehran, expelled Iranian diplomats from Ottawa and deemed Iran the most dangerous actor against peace and security. In 2013, the US government tried to soften relations with Iran by reducing their nuclear energy program, but Supreme leader Khomeini rejected the proposal and emphasized that it would not bring a positive solution because Iran never tried to achieve a nuclear weapon.
To this day, negotiations are still on the agenda, and neither side has reached a solution in terms of sanctions, nuclear activity, and diplomatic crisis. Iran always played a significant role in the world domination since it was an empire. When Ahmadinejad came to power, Iran’s foreign policy became more confrontational and assertive which showed that Iran was seeking to become a regional power. It seems obvious that Iran repeatedly tried to build and restore diplomatic relations with Western countries. However, it remains a fact that the way these relations are shaped depends solely on the West. Iran’s foreign policy in itself is pragmatic and realistic, where constant patterns deter its enemies and guarantee its security. In spite of all this, Iran hosts 88 embassies within its borders and has diplomatic missions in 100 countries.
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