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Foreign relations of Iran

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Title: Foreign relations of Iran  
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Subject: Politics of Iran, Iran–North Korea relations, Iran–Uruguay relations, Australia–Iran relations, Denmark–Iran relations
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Foreign relations of Iran

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Darvazeh-e-Bagh-e-Melli: the main gates to Iran's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran.

Foreign relations of Iran refers to inter-governmental relationships between Iran and other countries. Geography is very significant factor in informing Iran's foreign policy.[109] Following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the newly born Islamic Republic, under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini, dramatically reversed the pro-American foreign policy of the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Since then the country's policies have oscillated between the two opposing tendencies of revolutionary ardour, which would eliminate Western and non-Muslim influences while promoting the Islamic revolution abroad, and pragmatism, which would advance economic development and normalization of relations. Iran's bilateral dealings are accordingly sometimes confused and contradictory.

Iran currently maintains full diplomatic relations with 99 countries worldwide.[110]


Iranians have traditionally been highly sensitive to foreign interference in their country, pointing to such events as the Russian conquest of northern parts of the country, the tobacco concession, the British and Russian occupations of the First and Second World Wars, and the CIA plot to overthrow Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq. This suspicion manifests itself in attitudes that many foreigners might find incomprehensible, such as the "fairly common" belief that the Iranian Revolution was actually the work of a conspiracy between Iran's Shi'a clergy and the British government.[111] This may have been a result of the anti-Shah bias in BBC Radio's influential Persian broadcasts into Iran: a BBC report of 23 March 2009 explains that many in Iran saw the broadcaster and the government as one, and interpreted the bias for Khomeini as evidence of weakening British government support for the Shah. It is entirely plausible that the BBC did indeed help hasten revolutionary events.[112]

Revolutionary period under Khomeini

The newly renovated building of Iran's Ministry of Foreign Affairs uses pre-Islamic Persian architecture extensively in its facade.

Under the Khomeini regime Iran's foreign policy often emphasized the elimination of foreign influence and the spread of Islamic revolution over state-to-state relations or the furtherance of trade. In Khomeini's own words,

We shall export our revolution to the whole world. Until the cry "There is no God but God" resounds over the whole world, there will be struggle.[113]

The Islamic Republic's effort to spread the revolution is considered to have begun in earnest in March 1982, when 380 men from more than 25 Arab and Islamic nations met at the former Tehran Hilton Hotel for a "seminar" on the "ideal Islamic government" and, less academically, the launch of a large-scale offensive to cleanse the Islamic world of the satanic Western and Communist influences that were seen to be hindering the Islamic world's progress. The gathering of militants, primarily Shi'a but including some Sunnis, "with various religious and revolutionary credentials," was hosted by the Association of Militant Clerics and the Pasdaran Islamic Revolutionary Guards.[114] The nerve centre of the revolutionary crusade, operational since shortly after the 1979 revolution, was located in downtown Tehran and known to outsiders as the "Taleghani Centre". Here the groundwork for the gathering was prepared: the establishment of Arab cadres, recruited or imported from surrounding countries to spread the revolution, and provision of headquarters for such groups as the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, the Iraqi Shi'a movement, and Philippine Moro, Kuwaiti, Saudi, North African and Lebanese militant clerics.

These groups came under the umbrella of the "Council for the Islamic Revolution", which was supervised by Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, the designated heir of Ayatollah Khomeini. Most of the council's members were clerics, but they also reportedly included advisors from the Syrian and Libyan intelligence agencies. The council apparently received more than $1 billion annually in contributions from the faithful in other countries and in funds allocated by the Iranian government.[115]

Its strategy was two-pronged: armed struggle against what were perceived as Western imperialism and its agents; and an internal purifying process to free Islamic territory and Muslim minds of non-Islamic cultural, intellectual and spiritual influences, by providing justice, services, resources to the mustazafin (weak) masses of the Muslim world. These attempts to spread its Islamic revolution strained the country's relations with many of its Arab neighbours, and the extrajudicial execution of Iranian dissidents in Europe unnerved European nations, particularly France and Germany. For example, the Islamic Republic expressed its opinion of Egypt's secular government by naming a street in Tehran after Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's killer, Khalid al-Istanbuli.[116] At this time Iran found itself very isolated, but this was a secondary consideration to the spread of revolutionary ideals across the Persian Gulf and confrontation with the US (or "Great Satan") in the 1979-1981 hostage crisis.

Training volunteers

Arab and other Muslim volunteers who came to Iran were trained in camps run by the Revolutionary Guards. There were three primary bases in Tehran, and others in Ahvaz, Isfahan, Qom, Shiraz, and Mashad, and a further facility, converted in 1984, near the southern naval base at Bushire.[117]

In 1981 Iran supported an attempt to overthrow the Bahraini government, in 1983 expressed political support for Shi'ites who bombed Western embassies in Kuwait, and in 1987 Iranian pilgrims rioted at poor living conditions and treatment during the Hajj (pilgrimage) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and were consequently massacred. Nations with strong fundamentalist movements, such as Egypt and Algeria, also began to mistrust Iran. With the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Iran was thought to be supporting the creation of the Hizballah organization. Furthermore, Iran went on to oppose the Arab–Israeli peace process, because it saw Israel as an illegal country.

Iran–Iraq War

Relations with Iraq had never been good historically; however, they took a turn for the worse in 1980, when Iraq invaded Iran. The stated reason for Iraq's invasion was the contested sovereignty over the Shatt al-Arab waterway (Arvand Rud in Persian). Other reasons, unstated, were probably more significant: Iran and Iraq had a history of interference in each other's affairs by supporting separatist movements, and although this interference had ceased since the Algiers Agreement (1975), after the Revolution Iran resumed support for Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq.

Iran demanded the withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Iranian territory and the return to the status quo ante for the Shatt al-Arab, as established under the Algiers Agreement. This period saw Iran become even more isolated, with virtually no allies. Exhausted by the war, Iran signed UN Security Council Resolution 598 in July 1988, after the United States and Germany began supplying Iraq with chemical weapons. The ceasefire resulting from the UN resolution was implemented on 20 August 1988. Neither nation had made any real gains in the war, which left one million dead and had a dramatic effect on the country's foreign policy. From this point on, the Islamic Republic recognized that it had no choice but to moderate its radical approach and rationalize its objectives. This was the beginning of what Anoushiravan Ehteshami calls the "reorientation phase" of Iranian foreign policy.


Like other revolutionary states, practical considerations have sometimes led the Islamic Republic to inconsistency and subordination of such ideological concerns as pan-Islamic solidarity. One observer, Graham Fuller, has called the Islamic Republic "stunningly silent"

about [Muslim] Chechens in [non-Muslim] Russia, or Uyghurs in China,[118] simply because the Iranian state has important strategic ties with both China and Russia that need to be preserved in the state interest. Iran has astonishingly even supported Christian Armenia against Shi'ite Azerbaijan and has been careful not to lend too much support to Islamic Tajiks in Tajikistan, where the language is basically a dialect of Persian.
In this regard the Islamic Republic resembles another revolutionary state, the old Soviet Union. The USSR was ideologically committed not to Islam but to world proletarian revolution, led by Communist parties under its leadership, but "frequently abandoned support to foreign communist parties when it served Soviet national interests to cooperate with the governments that were oppressing them."[119]

Post-War period (1988–present)

President Khatami (in office: 1997–2005) played a key role in repairing Iran's foreign relations with Europe.

Since the end of the Iran–Iraq War, Iran's new foreign policy has had a dramatic effect on its global standing. Relations with the European Union have dramatically improved, to the point where Iran is a major oil exporter and a trading partner with such countries as Italy, France, and Germany. China and India have also emerged as friends of Iran; these three countries face similar challenges in the global economy as they industrialize, and consequently find themselves aligned on a number of issues.

Iran maintains regular diplomatic and commercial relations with Russia and the former Soviet Republics. Both Iran and Russia believe they have important national interests at stake in developments in Central Asia and the Transcaucasus, particularly concerning energy resources from the Caspian Sea.

Significant historical treaties

Current policies

The Islamic Republic of Iran accords priority to its relations with the other states in the region and with the rest of the Islamic world. This includes a strong commitment to the Non-Aligned Movement. Relations with the states of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), especially with Saudi Arabia, have improved in recent years. However, an unresolved territorial dispute with the United Arab Emirates concerning three islands in the Persian Gulf continues to mar its relations with these states. Iran has close relations with Kuwait.

Iran is seeking new allies around the world due to its increasing political and economic isolation in the international community.[120][121] This isolation is evident in the various economic sanctions and the EU oil embargo that have been implemented in response to questions that have been raised over the Iranian nuclear program (Iran's Nuclear Program).[122]

Tehran supports the Interim Governing Council in Iraq, but it strongly advocates a prompt and full transfer of state authority to the Iraqi people. Iran hopes for stabilization in Afghanistan and supports the reconstruction effort so that the Afghan refugees in Iran (which number approximately 2.5 million.[123]) can return to their homeland and the flow of drugs from Afghanistan can be stemmed. Iran is also pursuing a policy of stabilization and cooperation with the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia, whereby it is seeking to capitalise on its central location to establish itself as the political and economic hub of the region.

On the international scene, it has been argued by some that Iran has become, or will become in the near future, a superpower due to its ability to influence international events. Others, such as Robert Baer, have argued that Iran is already an energy superpower and is on its way to becoming an empire. Flynt Leverett calls Iran a rising power that might well become a nuclear power in coming years—if the US does not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear technology, as part of a grand bargain under which Iran would cease its nuclear activities in exchange for a guarantee of its borders by the US.[124][125][126][127][128][129][130][131][132][133][134][135][136][137]

Current territorial disputes

Southern Caspian Energy Prospects (portion of Iran). Country Profile 2004.
  • Iran and Iraq restored diplomatic relations in 1990, but they are still trying to work out written agreements settling outstanding disputes from their eight-year war concerning border demarcation, prisoners of war, and freedom of navigation in and sovereignty over the Shatt al-Arab waterway.
  • Iran governs and possesses two islands in the Persian Gulf claimed by the UAE: Lesser Tunb (which the UAE calls Tunb as Sughra in Arabic, and Iran calls Jazireh-ye Tonb-e Kuchek in Persian) and Greater Tunb (Arabic Tunb al Kubra, Persian Jazireh-ye Tonb-e Bozorg).
  • Iran jointly administers with the UAE an island in the Persian Gulf claimed by the UAE (Arabic Abu Musa, Persian, Jazireh-ye Abu Musa), over which Iran has taken steps to exert unilateral control since 1992, including access restrictions.
  • The Caspian Sea borders between Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkmenistan are not yet determined, although this problem is set to be resolved peacefully in the coming years through slow negotiations. After the breakup of the USSR, the newly independent republics bordering the Caspian Sea claimed shares of territorial waters and the seabed, thus unilaterally abrogating the existing half-and-half USSR-Iran agreements which, like all other Soviet treaties, the republics had agreed to respect upon their independence. It has been suggested by these countries that the Caspian Sea should be divided in proportion to each bordering country's shoreline, in which case Iran's share would be reduced to about 13%. The Iranian side has expressed eagerness to know if this means that all Irano–Russian and –Soviet agreements are void, entitling Iran to claim territorial sovereignty over lands lost to Russia by treaties that the parties still consider vivant. Issues between Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan were settled in 2003, but Iran does not recognize these agreements, on the premise that the international law governing open water can not be applied to the Caspian Sea, which is in fact a lake (a landlocked body of water). Iran has not pressed its Caspian territorial claims in recent years because it relies heavily on Russia's support in its nuclear-development battle with the West.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran is selected by the President of Iran.

Relations by region and country

Middle East and North Africa

Map of Arab League states in dark green, Iran in red.

Ever since the Islamic (Arab) conquest of Persia, Iranian–Arab relations have been mixed. Arabs and Iranians share bitter cultural, historical, political, and economic rivalries that have fuelled mutual contempt. Within the Middle East historical conflicts have always coloured neighbouring Arab countries' dealings with Iran, sometimes peacefully coexisting, at other times in bitter conflict. North African Arabs generally enjoy closer relations with Iran, having a history with fewer occasions for conflict.


Iran–Iraq relations have been turbulent since the war they fought in the 1980s. However, bilateral relations have improved since the fall of Iraq's former president Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the first Iranian president to visit Iraq since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. Iran has an embassy in Baghdad and three consulate generals, in Sulaimaniya, Arbil, and Karbala. Iraq has an embassy in Tehran.


Iran–Israel relations shifted with the rise of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini: from close friendship, in the era of the Pahlavi dynasty, to hostility. Both countries have severed their diplomatic and commercial ties with each other. Iran does not recognise Israel and refers to it as the "Zionist entity" or the "Zionist regime".


Around June 1982, Iran dispatched more than 1000 Revolutionary Guards to the predominately Shi'ite Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. There they established themselves, taking over the Lebanese Army's regional headquarters in the Sheikh Abdullah barracks, as well as a modern clinic, renamed "Hospital Khomeini", and the Hotel Khayyam. The Pasdaran were active in many places, including schools, where they propagated Islamic doctrine.[138] Iranian clerics, most notably Fazlollah Mahallati, supervised.[139]

From this foothold, the Islamic Republic helped organize one of its biggest successes, the

Due to various political and cultural clashes throughout history, relations between the two nations have been greatly strained. Saudi Arabia and Iran established diplomatic relations in 1928. In 1966 King Faisal of Saudi Arabia visited Iran with the aim of further strengthening the relationships between the countries. The Shah (King) of Iran reciprocated by paying an official visit to Saudi Arabia, which eventually led to a peaceful resolution of a dispute concerning the islands of Farsi and Arabi: it was agreed that Farsi would belong to Iran and Arabi would be under the control of Saudi Arabia. A unique feature of this agreement is that it assigned only territorial waters to the islands, not the continental shelf.[50] In 1968, when Great Britain announced its withdrawal from the Persian Gulf, Iran and Saudi Arabia took the primary responsibility for peace and security in the region.

Saudi Arabia

Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki said the two countries were seeing increasing ties in regional and international fields to mutual benefit, as he called for a "continuation of consultations". He also said the two countries should continue in efforts to cement unity both in Sudan and amongst the ummah.[49]

Owing to various cultural and historical compatibilities, Iran and Sudan have generally sought a very cordial and friendly relationship. The two nations share membership in the OIC and the Group of 77. Although they differ in ethnic identity (Iran is predominantly Persian, while Sudan is Afro-Arab) and denomination (the two nations are Muslim, but the former is mainly Shi'a, while the latter is Sunni), Iran and Sudan have a common strategic bond with both the People's Republic of China and Russia, and a common animosity towards the United States. Relations between Tehran and Khartoum have continued to grow, especially since April 2006, when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad voiced his opposition to the deployment in the Darfur region of Western peacekeepers from the United Nations. Sudan ardently supports Iran's nuclear program. Both countries are also firmly against Israel.


Syria was one of the few Arab countries to support Iran during the Iran–Iraq War, putting them at odds with other nations in the Arab League. Iran was reported as helping Syria to suppress the anti-government protests that broke out in 2011 with training, munitions and high-tech surveillance technology.[147] The Guardian reported in May 2011 that the Iranian Republican Guard increased its "level of technical support and personnel support" to strengthen Syria's "ability to deal with protesters," according to one diplomat in Damascus.[148] Iran reportedly assisted the Syrian government sending it riot control equipment, intelligence monitoring techniques and oil.[44] It also agreed to fund a large military base at Latakia airport.[44] The Daily Telegraph has claimed in August that a former member of Syria's secret police reported "Iranian snipers" had been deployed in Syria to assist in the crackdown on protests.[149] According to the US government, Mohsen Chizari, the Quds Force’s third-in-command, has visited Syria to train security services to fight against the protestors.[150] On 24 June 2011 The EU's official journal said the three Iranian Revolutionary Guard members now subject to sanctions had been "providing equipment and support to help the Syrian regime suppress protests in Syria".[151] The Iranians added to the EU sanctions list were two Revolutionary Guard commanders, Soleimani and Brig Cmdr Mohammad Ali Jafari, and the Guard's deputy commander for intelligence, Hossein Taeb.[152]



The Iranian government regularly sends aid to various Palestinian causes, everything from transporting injured children to hospitals to supplying the Palestinian Islamist militant groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas with arms. Streets and squares named after Palestine crisscross the nation.[146]

The Islamic Republic of Iran supports Palestinian national politics and officially endorses creation of Palestinian state. However, in a 2006 interview, the former reformer President Mohammad Khatami said that Iran has also stated its willingness to accept a two-state solution if the Palestinians find this acceptable.[144][145]


On 6 March 2009, Morocco severed diplomatic ties with Iran, offering several reasons. Morocco's Foreign Ministry said it was a result of Iran's spreading the Shi’ite variety of Islam in Sunni Morocco constituted interference in domestic affairs.[37][143]

There have been several instances in which Iran and Morocco have mostly or completely severed diplomatic relations. Iran cut off diplomatic ties with Morocco in 1981 after King Hassan II gave asylum to the exiled Shah. It took almost a decade for relations to thaw; Prime Minister Abderrahmane Youssoufi of Morocco led the first Moroccan delegation to the Islamic Republic of Iran.[142] Economic ties increased greatly in 2009.[37]


Libya broke ranks with most of the Arab states when it came out in support of Iran during the Iran–Iraq War. There is a Libyan Embassy in Tehran and an Iranian Embassy in Tripoli.

The relations between two countries began in 1967 when both countries were governed by monarchs.[35] However, the relations became strained when Muammar Gaddafi seized the power on 1 September 1969 due to his alliance with other Arab leaders such as Gamal Nasser against Shah Mohammad Reza.[35]


United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559 (2 September 2004) called for the "disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias". The Government of Lebanon is responsible for the implementation, and for preventing the flow of armaments and other military equipment to the militias, including Hezbollah, from Syria, Iran, and other external sources.

We are her [Iran's] children. We are seeking to formulate an Islamic society which in the final analysis will produce an Islamic state. … The Islamic revolution will march to liberate Palestine and Jerusalem, and the Islamic state will then spread its authority over the region of which Lebanon is only a part.[141]

In the words of Hussein Musawi, a former commander of Amal militia who joined Hezbollah:


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