TEHRAN – A University of London instructor believes Iran “is in the enviable position to be able to establish cordial relations with all major powers.”
Arshin Adib-Moghaddam also says Iran has the potential to reap benefits from both the West and the East.
“Iran has all the potentials to traverse both hemispheres,” Adib-Moghaddam told the Tehran Times in a recent interview.
He added, “In a functional foreign policy that is politically mature, the national interest of Iranians would be maximized in accordance with a new rationale: ham gharbi ham sharghi, jomhouri eslami (both East and West, Islamic Republic).”
Following is the text of the interview:
Q: Some analysts say Russia is likely to get more involved in the Middle East and other hotspots. They say this involvement will not reach the level of the Cold War between Russia and the United States, though it will somehow manifest rivalry between the two powers at flashpoints. In regard to this analysis, how can a rapprochement between Tehran and Washington affect Iran’s relations with Russia?
A: Russia under Putin has pursued a rather more assertive foreign policy, not only in West Asia and North Africa but also in its immediate neighborhood, as the current crisis over Ukraine indicates. Syria is another good example for Russian assertiveness and Moscow’s clear goal to reestablish the country as a strategic player in the region. Iran is pivotal to this strategy. It should not be forgotten that Russia (as well as China and India) have profited both economically and politically from the estrangement between Iran on the one side and the United States and the European Union on the other. These countries maximized their access to the Iranian market, which was only possible due to the sanctions. Iran has lost out because of a lack of competition over investment in the country, especially, of course, in the oil and gas sector. While Russia has an interest in stability in the region, given that it is not insulated geographically from it as the United States is, Moscow is wary about any strategic reengagement between Iran and the United States exactly because it would mean that Iran has a better bargaining position, both diplomatically and economically.
Q: Generally, what is the nature of Russia’s foreign policy toward Iran?
A: It should be noted that in theory Iran is more important to Russia than the other way around. In a situation where Iran has normal relations with the European Union and the United States, Russia (and China for that matter) would be relegated to one factor among many. Iran would not have to be dependent on the whims of Moscow and Beijing when it comes to its international relations. It has been one of the unique achievements of the Islamic Revolution that successive governments are measured in accordance with their ability to safeguard Iran’s independence. Independence, and the realization of the country’s national potential, after all, is what every Iranian citizen wants, inside of the country and beyond. But in the last decade or so, the nation has been confronted with a strange paradox. While we have called for independence from the “West” we have increased our dependence on the “East”. In a functional foreign policy that is politically mature, the national interest of Iranians would be maximized in accordance with a new rationale: ham gharbi ham sharghi, jomhurye eslami (both East and West, Islamic Republic). Iran can take advantage of its immense resources in east and west, north and south. Such a pan-geographical foreign policy maximizes the national interest and by extension the independence of the country within an intrinsically dependent world. It would signal a historic shift from latent independence to manifest independence, which has been one of the central goals of the revolution. I have unravelled this progression in my newest book On the Arab Revolts and the Iranian Revolution: Power and Resistance Today. So far, no Iranian state in modernity has managed to pursue this move towards a pan-geographical foreign policy. We were either too “Western” or too “Eastern”. Iran has all the potentials to traverse both hemispheres.
Q: What is the importance of Iran to Russia?
A: A reconstituted foreign policy orientation that embeds Iran’s foreign policy orbit beyond the confines of geography; strategic preferences that affirm Iran’s potential role as a global player and a force for stability and peace are conducive to relations with regional states and Russia as well. We are not in the early 20th century anymore when Iran was divided along spheres of influence, Russia in the north and Britain in the south. Neither is this the Cold War. We are living in an emergent multi-polar world order. Since the revolution of 1979, Iran has managed to divorce itself, as much as possible until today, from a colonial mindset which is always haunted by an inferiority complex that confines national interests to ideological dependencies. Over three decades into the Islamic Republic it is time to assume a positive attitude towards the present and the future. It is not a coincidence that Iran’s most strident enemies have tried to jeopardize the rapprochement with the United States. They are aware that normal relations with the U.S. will liberate Iranian foreign policy from the current constraints. History should not be a burden: Indeed, if anything, Iranian history records more grievances against Russia (from the “treaties” of Golestan and Turkmenchai to the Azerbaijan People’s Republic, which occupied the north of the country from 1945 to 1946) than against most other countries. Moreover, if the freedom of expression and human rights of Muslims is a factor, then Britain, the United States, Germany, etc. fare by far better than Russia and China, who are both engaged in mini-civil wars against their Muslim minorities. As indicated, Iran’s foreign policy does not need to be selective due to those reasons, historical or otherwise. The country is in the enviable position to be able to establish cordial relations with all major powers. The current changes in world politics promise to deliver a non-colonial world order; best to make the utmost of the opportunities that this brave new world promises and to position Iran as a global powerhouse for international peace and reconciliation.
Arshin Adib-Moghaddam is a reader in comparative politics and international relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London.