Iran is an ancient nation known as Persia, which has a long and glorious history and relations. 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 variously 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 the early XX century directed all attention on Iran. 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 (a person, who is in power) in 1905, and continued with the adoption of the new limited constitution in 1906. In 1921, Reza Khan took control and made himself Shah in 1925 and installed new Pahlavi dynasty. Under his leadership, Iran became to be a modern country and secularized its policy. Iran is adopted as the country’s official name in 1935. In 1941, Western Iran 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 the 1970s and consequently, Khomeini took power and started to lead the country after returning from years in exile in France.
Today this country 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 the Persian Gulf and bordered with Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey. Tehran is the capital city.
Timeline of Iran’s foreign policy, diplomatic relations and reflection on events
After the Islamic Revolution, Syria recognized new regime and administration and President Hafez al Assad sent a telegram of congratulations to Khomeini. Until 1979, there are 76 embassies in Iran and 62 diplomatic mission to different destinations. However, in 1979 the government shut down diplomatic relations with Israel and the new regime was caused a great crisis between Iran and the USA. Students, who followed Imam’s Line, seized US Embassy in Tehran. The reason behind this was that disposed Shah entered the US for medical treatment, however, Islamic students demanded him to get back. The crisis lasted 444 days and resulted in cut off trade relations 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 and sent a rescue team in order to save hostages, however, it failed due to sandstorm and death of eight American servicemen.
In 1980, the Iran-Iraq war started with the invasion of the dispute of Shatt al-Arab waterway by Iraq and lasted 8 years. During this period, Iran-Syria relations were tightened and Damascus demonstrated its feelings with military and diplomatic support. In addition, the Iranian regime was always against governments, who gave support to Iraq. In this regard, Iran destroyed its relations between Jordan after Amman declared its position beside Iraq which were not resumed until 1991.
In this decade, relations with Israel and the USA were always strained. In 1982, Iran reacted to Isreal-Lebanon war and sent 1000 revolutionary guards to Lebanon in order to support the formation of Hezbollah, however never directly clashed with Israel. Next year the US blamed Iran for assisting the suicide bombing of Marine peacekeepers in Lebanon, which was the largest loss of American military in a single incident after World War II. In 1984, the Reagan administration declared Iran as a supporter of terrorism. After this issue, Iran continued its support to foreign regimes, for instance, excused American hostages including CIA station chief William Buckley in Beirut. After the death of William Buckley, Washington warned the Iranian regime would be responsible for all actions against American hostages. By mid-summer of 1985, USA began behind-scene diplomatic efforts that arms 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 Western World. Negotiations were continued until delivery of TOW missiles to Iran instead of American hostages, who were freed in Lebanon. In addition, after the speech of Rafsanjani, Iran emphasized “goodwill” of the US by unfreezing Iranian assets by the US Government. In 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. At the same year, the US released 567 million dollars of frozen Iranian assets. In 1990, Iran restored its relations with Iraq and stand neutral in Iraq-Kuwait crisis. In addition, the last American hostage was feed by Iran’s mediation.
By 1990, diplomatic missions were decreased due to the mentioned events and there were only 63 embassies in Iran. From 1990, Iran started to restore its relations with West, to catch up modernization and integration. In this regard, UK, Tunisia, Iraq, Jordan, Germany, and Mauritania opened their embassies in Iran and started to develop economical, cultural and political relations with Iran. Next year Iran and China agreed on “nuclear energy” cooperation by the visit of President Rafsanjani to Beijing. The main aim of this agreement was to convert uranium ore into uranium hexafluoride gas. However, it was abandoned due to the pressure of the Clinton administration in 1996. Regarding integration of Iran to the world community, The European Council declared a “critical dialogue” with Iran in terms of reducing their isolation and improving human rights record. But the dialogue was not continued further than a few months because the German Court founded 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 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-Libya sanctions (ILSA), which penalized foreign companies who were doing business with the US and at the same time with the Iranian 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, that’s why it was not a violation of ILSA. Because, according to ILSA, the US puts sanction on those countries, who are doing business and investing in Iran.
In 1994, Iran restored its diplomatic relations with South Africa. Before 1979, the Shah regime and South Africa had good relations, however, it ended immediately after the Islamic revolution. During the period of the new President, the tension between Israel and Iran again raised. So-called “Islamic Jihad Organization” bombed Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992, which caused to death of around 30 people and be wounded over 300 people. Later on, Israeli side claimed that this group was linked to Iran and Hezbollah, nevertheless, Irani and Hezbollah denied their involvement. Two years later, again the Jewish community was bombed in Buenos Aires, which resulted in 85 dead and 300 injured people. It denied by Iran and Hezbollah as well, but in 2006 Argentina prosecutors announced the search for the arrest of former President Rafsanjani.
In 1996, Iran and Kazakhstan agreed on oil trade and starting from January 1997 they began shipping oil across the Caspian Sea.
In 1997, Ali Mohammad Khatami-Ardakani was elected to the presidency in a landslide victory amidst his pledges of political and social reforms as well as economic revitalization. During this period, Iran started to construct a system based on the pillars of religiosity, liberty, and justice. They demonstrated this willing by not going to ultimate war after depletion of troops to its borders with Afghanistan after killing eight Iranian diplomats by the Taliban. President Khatami visited Italy in 1999, which was a very first official visit by an Iranian leader since 1979. Also, Iran fully restored diplomatic relations with Britain in 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 2001 was the 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. Also, 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, when US intervention happened in Afghanistan. Iranian diplomats actively played a role during meetings with Western countries over the new regime in Afghanistan.
In 2005, new presidential elections were held and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad was elected as a president. During his term, the first three years the UN put different sanctions on Iran due to its nuclear energy program. World Community claimed that the Iranian regime tries to reach and to make nuclear weapons rather than promising of nuclear energy for use.
Iran – Western Countries relations in the presidency of Ahmadinejad
Starting in 2009, the Iranian government tried to soften relations with the USA. In anniversary of Islamic Revolution President Ahmadinejad gave a speech about relations with the USA based on mutual respect and in a fair atmosphere. In contrast President Barack Obama sent a Nowruz message to the Iranian people which emphasized that Iran’s place in the international community can also be reached through peaceful actions rather than through terror and arms. However, after this note, Ayatollah Khomeini called this speech as a deceptive due to their actions. These mutual speeches led to the aggravation of relations between Iran and the USA. One of the biggest reason for that was the April 2010 report released by US State Department which called Iran as 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 the UN to put tougher sanctions on Iran. In addition, European foreign ministers agreed on comprehensive sanctions against Iran in terms of trade, financial services, energy, and energy, as well as visa bans and assets freezes. After sanctions, Iranian protesters stormed the British embassy in Tehran against imposed sanctions. The UK evacuated its diplomatic staff and expelled all Iranian diplomats from London, however, did not cut off relations completely.
However, this incident caused the recall of ambassadors of France, Germany and Netherlands and bilateral sanctions by the US, UK, and Canada. Later on, Canada completely destroyed its relations with Iran, closed its embassy in Tehran, expelled Iranian diplomats from Ottawa and mentioned Iran as the most dangerous actor to peace and security. In 2013, 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.
Until present negotiations are still on the agenda, and both sides have not reached a solution in terms of sanctions, nuclear activity, and diplomatic crisis. Iran always played a significant role in world domination since its empire period. When Ahmadinejad came into power, Iran’s foreign policy became more confrontational and assertive which showed that Iran is seeking became a regional power. It seems obvious that Iran time to time tried to build and restore diplomatic relations with Western countries. However, the fact is that how these relations are shaped depends on the West. Iran’s foreign policy in itself is pragmatic and realistic which constant patterns deter its enemies and guarantee its security. But in spite of all this Iran hosts 88 embassies in its borders and has diplomatic missions in 100 countries.