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The U.S. Factor in Iran’s Geostrategic and Foreign Policy Calculations

Part of the Studies in Iranian Politics book series (STIRPO)

Abstract

The United States has played a key role in the geostrategic and foreign policy calculations of the Islamic Republic since its establishment after the 1979 revolution in Iran. Even though diplomatic relations severed after the hostage crisis later that year, the Cold War-like rivalry between Tehran and Washington became an omnipresent factor in Iran’s policy-making calculus. The primary reason for the high level of importance given to the U.S. can be attributed to the Islamic Republic’s quest for recognition and legitimacy at the regional and global levels. This chapter delves into understanding the U.S. role in Iran’s geostrategic and foreign policy decision-making process through three different angles. First, the U.S.’ structural role in Iran’s foreign policy calculations is assessed under the broader framework of Iran’s geostrategy in the post-revolution period. The chapter then presents an analysis of the areas in which the geostrategic interests of both countries aligned in regional developments. This section examines the Iran–US cooperation in helping form democratic governments in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2005), as well as the fight against terrorism in the Levant region (since 2011). Lastly, this chapter examines the process that led to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which, for the first time, allowed for direct diplomatic engagements between Iran and the United States since the 1979 revolution. Moreover, the Nuclear Deal is used to examine the changing role of the U.S. in Iran’s geostrategic calculations during the 2013–2021 period. The concluding section of the chapter looks at the trends in, and the trajectory of, Iran–U.S. relations in 2021 and onward.

Keywords

  • Iran–U.S. Relations
  • Iranian Foreign Policy
  • Geostrategy
  • Persian Gulf
  • U.S. Foreign Policy
  • Iran Nuclear Deal

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Mohammad Javad Zarif, What Iran Really Wants: Iranian Foreign Policy in the Rouhani Era. Foreign Affairs (May/June 2014): 1.

  2. 2.

    Ibid.

  3. 3.

    Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran: Translation of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (1989 Edition), Iranian Studies 47, no. 1 (2014): 159–200.

  4. 4.

    Translation by Iran Primer at the United States Institute of Peace. Supreme National Security Council of Iran, Iran Primer—United States Institute of Peace, updated on July 15, 2020, accessed on February 23, 2021.

  5. 5.

    Mohammad Ali Shabani and Mahsa Rouhi, Rowhani the Decision Shaper, The National Interest, August 26, 2013.

  6. 6.

    David Menashri, Iran’s Regional Policy: Between Radicalism and Pragmatism. International Affairs 60, no. 2 (2007): 165.

  7. 7.

    Rouhollah Ramazani, Ideology and Pragmatism in Iran’s Foreign Policy, Middle East Journal, 58, no. 4 (Autumn 2004): 549.

  8. 8.

    Farhad Rezaei, The Negotiated Political Order and the Making of Iran’s Foreign Policy, in “Iran’s Foreign Policy After the Nuclear Agreement: Politics of Normalizers and Traditionalists,” ed. Farhad Rezaei, Palgrave Macmillan (2019): 13.

  9. 9.

    Menashri, 155.

  10. 10.

    The quote is by Jimmy Carter, former president of the United States, during his visit to Tehran in December 1977. See Andrew Glass, Carter lauds shah of Iran, December 31, 1977, Politico, December 30, 2018.

  11. 11.

    Micah Zenko, Revisiting President Reagan’s Iran Arms-for-Hostages Imitative, Council on Foreign Relations, August 3, 2016.

  12. 12.

    Ibid.

  13. 13.

    Gregory Gause, The Illogic of Dual Containment, Foreign Affairs 73, no. 2 (March/April 1994): 59.

  14. 14.

    Ibid.

  15. 15.

    Ibid.

  16. 16.

    The Iranian nuclear program was established in 1954 in response to the Atoms for Peace initiative by U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower and the first operating reactor in Iran was built with U.S. technology and assistance.

  17. 17.

    Menashri, 153.

  18. 18.

    Robert Litwak, Nuclear Diplomacy with Iran: A Deal, Not a Grand Bargain, Wilson Center, July 2015.

  19. 19.

    Rezaei, 16.

  20. 20.

    Zarif, 7.

  21. 21.

    Lindsay Maizland, What Is the Taliban?, Council on Foreign Relations, March 2021.

  22. 22.

    Steve Bowman and Catherine Dale, War in Afghanistan: Strategy, Military Operations, and Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, April 2011.

  23. 23.

    Barnett Rubin and Sara Batmanglich, The U.S. and Iran in Afghanistan: Policy Gone Awry, MIT Center for International Studies, October 2008, 2.

  24. 24.

    James Dobbins, Negotiating with Iran: Reflections from Personal Experience, The Washington Quarterly 33, no.1 (2010): 153 (149–162).

  25. 25.

    Afghanistan: Donors Pledge $4.5 Billion in Tokyo, United Nations Development Project, January 2002.

  26. 26.

    Text of President George Bush’s 2002 State of the Union Address. The Washington Post. January 29, 2002.

  27. 27.

    President Applauds Congress for Passage of Iran Freedom, White House Archives, September 2006.

  28. 28.

    Hossein Mousavian and Shahir Shahidsaless, “Iran and the United States: An Insider’s View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace.” New York: Bloomsbury (2014): 195.

  29. 29.

    Analysis—The “Grand Bargain” Fax—A Missed Opportunity? Frontline —Public Broadcasting Service, October 2007.

  30. 30.

    Mousavian and Shahidsaless, 198.

  31. 31.

    Kimberly Kagan, Iraq Report VI: Iran’s proxy war against the U.S. in Iraq, The Weekly Standard, August 2007.

  32. 32.

    Statement by the President on ISIL, White House Archives, September 10, 2014.

  33. 33.

    Ibid.

  34. 34.

    Dina Esfandiary and Ariane Tabatabai, Iran’s ISIS Policy, International Affairs 91, no. 1 (January 2015): 8.

  35. 35.

    Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary, Cooperating with Iran to Combat ISIS in Iraq, The Washington Quarterly 40, no. 3 (2017): 138 (129–146).

  36. 36.

    Mehran Haghirian, Why Iran and the United States Should Negotiate, Atlantic Council, August 8, 2018.

  37. 37.

    David Sanger, Obama’s Leap of Faith, The New York Times, July 14, 2015.

  38. 38.

    Shai Feldman and Ariel Levite, Seven Realities That Made an Iran Deal Almost Inevitable, The National Interest, July 21, 2015.

  39. 39.

    Ibid.

  40. 40.

    David Kenner, Why Saudi Arabia Hates the Iran Deal, Foreign Policy, November 14, 2013.

  41. 41.

    Mahjoob Zweiri and Majed Al-Ansari, Competing Radicalisms: A Comparison of Saudi and Iranian Foreign Policies After 2015, in “The 2017 Gulf Crisis: An Interdisciplinary Approach,” ed. Mahjoob Zweiri et al., Springer Nature (2021): 236.

  42. 42.

    Bulent Aras and Emirhan Yorulmazlar, Turkey and Iran After the Arab Spring, Middle East Policy 21, no. 4 (2014).

  43. 43.

    Muhammad Saleem Mazhar and Naheed Goraya, Geneva Deal: Beginning of a New Era Between Iran–U.S. Relations, South Asian Studies 29, no. 1 (2014).

  44. 44.

    Luciano Zaccara and Mehran Haghirian, Rouhani, the Nuclear Deal, and New Horizons for Iran–U.S. Relations, in “Foreign Policy of Iran under President Hassan Rouhani’s First Term,” ed. Luciano Zaccara, Palgrave Macmillan (2020): 64.

  45. 45.

    Remarks by President Barack Obama at A Press Conference after Meeting with GCC Leaders, Camp David, United States, May 14, 2015.

  46. 46.

    Jeffrey Goldberg, The Obama Doctrine, The Atlantic, April 2016.

  47. 47.

    Tweet by Mohammad Javad Zarif, July 14, 2015. https://twitter.com/jzarif/status/620946867371810816

  48. 48.

    Readout of the GCC + 2 Ministerial, Office of the Spokesperson, United States Department of State, September 28, 2018.

  49. 49.

    Mehran Haghirian, “Arab States of the Persian Gulf Must Choose Between Paths Proposed by Iran and Israel,” Atlantic Council, February 22, 2017.

  50. 50.

    Dahlia Kholaif, Oman: No Gulf Wide Union for Us, Al Jazeera, December 15, 2013.

  51. 51.

    Zweiri and Al-Ansari, 231.

  52. 52.

    Paul Salem, Building Cooperation in the Eastern Middle East, Carnegie Papers 24 (June 2010): 3.

  53. 53.

    Mehran Haghirian, The Rivalry Between Iran and the GCC States in the Eurasian Context, in “Iran’s Bilateral Relations in the New Eurasian Context,” ed. Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, Middle East Institute—Insights (July 2020): 7.

  54. 54.

    Ibid., 14.

  55. 55.

    Ibid., 10.

  56. 56.

    Mohsen Milani, Is U.S.–Iran Detente Possible? Current History 112, no. 758 (December 1 2013): 347.

  57. 57.

    Iranian Public Opinion at the Start of the Biden Administration, Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) and IranPoll, March 2021.

  58. 58.

    Colm Quinn, Blinken Threatens May 1 Afghan Troop Withdrawal, Foreign Policy, March 8, 2021.

  59. 59.

    Younes Zangiabadi, Biden Must Revive “Six Plus Two Group” to Successfully Exit Afghanistan, The National Interest, February 27, 2021.

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Haghirian, M., Zangiabadi, Y. (2021). The U.S. Factor in Iran’s Geostrategic and Foreign Policy Calculations. In: Leandro, F.J.B.S., Branco, C., Caba-Maria, F. (eds) The Geopolitics of Iran. Studies in Iranian Politics. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-16-3564-9_7

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