Iran and Its Neighbors in 2015

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Behzad Khoshandam
Ph.D. in International Relations & Expert on International Issues

Iran’s relations with its neighbors in 2015 emanated from trends and strategies adopted by the country’s foreign policy and diplomatic apparatuses over the past years and decades. In 2015, by taking advantage of its soft and cultural power capacities, Iran took steps to bolster interactions with its neighbors in order to strengthen its spheres of influence.

Following the conclusion of the Iran deal on July 14, 2014, Iran’s neighbors came into security focus of its diplomatic efforts and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made fruitful trips to these countries.

Iran’s relations with its northern neighbors in 2015 were focused on cooperation between Iran and Russia in supporting Syria’s nation-state. The year 2015 was an unprecedented and unique time in Iran’s strategic relations with Russia as the main power among Iran’s northern neighbors. In addition to a visit by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Tehran, the country’s President Vladimir Putin also took part in the summit meeting of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) in the Iranian capital. His historic meeting with the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Khamenei was described by the Leader’s senior advisor in international affairs, Dr. Ali Akbar Velayati, as the most unprecedented event in the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy. Of course, before Putin’s Tehran visit, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani had paid a visit to the Russian city of Ufa to take part in the summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and even Velayati himself was sent to Russia in January 2015 as Iran's special envoy.

Relations between Iran and the impartial Turkmenistan in 2015 followed the same cooperation-based logic of the past years. Iran’s ties with Kazakhstan in 2015 were oriented toward continuation of historical and cultural interactions between the two countries. Since Iran’s relations with the Republic of Azerbaijan are overshadowed by ethnic and religious issues and mostly affected by transregional forces, the Azeri side failed to achieve a correct understanding of Iran’s concerns and security issues. Iran’s relations with Armenia in 2015 were mostly affected by cooperation between Tehran and Moscow, so that, Tehran’s relations with Yerevan as an economic, trade, and even political and security partner, are defined in view of Armenia’s dependence on Russia in various fields. Iran’s relations with Georgia also continued under the shadow of issues that existed between Russia and Georgia in 2015.

Iran’s relations with its southern neighbors in the Persian Gulf moved toward relative tension in 2015, influenced by Wahhabi, Salafist, and Western tendencies as well as affected by problems that exist between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Iran deal, the disastrous tragedy at Mina, as well as the ongoing crises in Yemen and Syria caused Arab states to distance from a cooperative approach toward Iran. The Camp David meeting between heads of Arab states and the US President in 2015 as well as frequent visits by Arab officials to Russia followed by visits to region by US officials, which all aimed to help spread Iranophobia in 2015, were considered as unfriendly measures by Iran. The mediatory role played by Oman in facilitating Iran’s nuclear deal was among major highlights of 2015, which will be judged by history. Actions taken by Saudi Arabia in Yemen and the intensification of Yemen’s crisis underlined differences among regional countries with regard to creating security in the region. Severance of diplomatic ties between Iran and Bahrain was one of these serious developments.

Iran's relations with its eastern neighbors in 2015 can be analyzed within framework of continuation of cooperation with all actors in the context of Iran's “look to the East” strategy. In the eastern front, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and India have been also in focus of Iran's attention when relations with neighbors are concerned. Iran's relations with Afghanistan have been growing in the light of cooperation in the nation-state building project in that country. Iran's relations with Pakistan have also continued in this year in security and energy fields. Iran's relations with China have been lauded by both sides in post-JCPOA, especially due to the role that China has played during the sanctions period, particularly in the field of energy. Iran's relationship with India also contained many opportunities for the promotion of bilateral relations in 2015 in view of the two countries’ cultural infrastructure.

On the Western front, Iran's relations with its neighbors in 2015, including with Turkey, the Mesopotamia, the Levant and the Eastern Mediterranean region were affected by actions taken by the Arab - Arab, Western - Russian, Israeli - Arab, Turkey - Daesh, Syria – Arab – Western, and Iran – Western – Russian fronts. A visit to Iran by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in April 2015 was construed as Ankara’s effort to promote bilateral security and political relations in the Middle East. However, measures taken by Turkey, as a NATO member, with regard to Syrian refugees and asylum seekers as well as its involvement in proxy wars and the way it treats the Kurdish population were at odds with Iran's views. As for Iran's relations with Iraq in 2015, the bilateral relations were marked with good cooperation in religious fields and with respect to fighting against terrorism and extremism. Iraq, Iran and Syria, along with Russia, were engaged in suitable cooperation in the field of intelligence exchange in fighting against terrorism. In the resistance front, Iran has maintained its cordial relations with Lebanon and senior Iranian officials have paid frequent visits to Lebanon. As for the issue of Palestine, cooperation between Iran and Palestinian groups has been on the rise. The third intifada has received special support from Iran, both in words and deeds, during 2015 in a bid to restore order to the region.

Iran's neighbors have been major parties that have affected and been affected by Iran's foreign policy and diplomatic approaches in 2015. The year 2015, has been a year for strengthening of common views, values and approaches between Iran and neighboring countries. During 2015, interaction and regulation of foreign relations with the neighboring countries has been Iran's top priority. Although there were discrepancies between the interests and goals of these countries in certain fields, the year 2015 was, on the whole, marked with good and constructive cooperation between Iran and neighboring states.

Key Words: Iran, Relations, Neighbors, 2015, Strategies, Foreign Policy, Cultural Power, Interactions, Influence, Discrepancies, Khoshandam

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*Photo Credit: Common Dreams