Iran's Foreign Policy in 2017

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


Behzad Khoshandam
Ph.D. in International Relations & Expert on International Issues
The year 2017 was calm, relatively stable and full of achievements for the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose main goal was to take practical measures to create more opportunities for the country. A wide range of issues, including fighting against terrorism, management of regional crises, countering secessionist moves, as well as implementation of the country’s nuclear deal with the P5+1 group of countries, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was on the agenda of Iran's foreign policy in 2017. Despite continuation of proxy wars in the Middle East, the year 2017 saw relative stability in Iran's peripheral environment. During 2017, the region witnessed gradual decline in the power, effect and role of Daesh and other terrorist groups due to Iran's active part, combined with goodwill, in regional developments and its cooperation with governments of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Russia.

On the other hand, the role that Iran played in the nation-state building process led to further strengthening of governments in the Middle East during 2017. Although US President Donald Trump did his best to interrupt the implementation of the JCPOA, the main focus of Iran's foreign policy during 2017 was on developments that took place in its peripheral environment, including in the Levant and elsewhere across the Middle East. Restoring security and stability in Syria and Iraq marked the pinnacle of Iran's efforts in this regard. Defeating Daesh and restricting its activities and influence in the Levant and Mesopotamia was the best score won by Iran's foreign and security policies during 2017 and the country took optimal advantage of its outcomes.

Of course, Iran's foreign policy took a generally positive approach to interaction with the country’s neighbors in 2017, but one of the most important challenges that faced the Islamic Republic in its peripheral region pertained to Saudi Arabia. During 2017, due to special views of the new elite class ruling Saudi Arabia, the country failed to take a positive approach based on good neighborly relations to Iran. The acme of Saudi Arabia’s negative attitude toward Iran was evident in a number of developments, which included the crisis in Riyadh’s relations with Doha; tensions within the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council; Saudi Arabia’s approach to political developments in Iraq and Syria (including the civil war in Syria and the fate of the country’s President Bashar Assad); Saudi Arabia’s measures in Lebanon (encouraging Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign), and the war in Yemen. Throughout all these developments, which happened in 2017, the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League were used by Saudi Arabia as foreign policy tools to counter Iran's efforts.

During 2017, Iran's foreign policy was not only directed at its neighbors, but it also paid special attention to Europe. Diplomatic exchanges between officials from Iran and major European countries, including big member states of the European Union such as Britain, Germany, and France, reached a new peak in 2017. Holding of several rounds of talks between Iran and the European Union, especially in the fields of economy, trade, politics, strategy, and human rights and even with regard to the implementation of the JCPOA, were part of the Iranian foreign policy’s dynamism in 2017.

However, during 2017, the United States considered the Iranian foreign policy approach to its actions and intentions as being dominantly negative and threatening. The main reason behind such attitude toward Iran on the part of the United States was Washington’s Iranophobic policy, in general, and the tactical approach that Trump adopted in order to further contain Iran's moves in the region, in particular. During 2017, the United States took advantage of all means in its confrontation with Iran, including threat, allurement, putting pressure on Iran's rivals and partners alike, incitement of other regional actors like the member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League against Iran, and finally selling arms to the Persian Gulf states. The final goal of all these measures was to depict Iran as a threat to regional countries. In addition, throughout 2017, the United States did its best to contain Iran's active role and build alliances to counter Iran in the Middle East. Major steps that Washington took in this regard included, offering more practical and psychological support for Israel, formal announcement of al-Quds as Israel’s capital, as well as mounting pressure on the United Nations, the European Union, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in order to cause the JCPOA to collapse or make it ineffective. The US president officially announced its spiteful approach to the JCPOA by refraining from certifying Iran's compliance with its JCPOA commitments on October 13, 2017.

The reaction that Iran's foreign policy showed to the United States’ aggressive behavior in 2017 was mostly characterized with self-restraint combined with a certain degree of smartness. Iran also used silent diplomacy and made an effort to maintain the regional balance in favor of its partners and allies in the Middle East, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Iraqi government and a group of independent Arab states. Iran's “look to the east” policy was also pursued in its foreign policy during 2017. Major steps taken in this regard included practical realization of regional balance as well as localization of Iran's foreign policy goals through regionalism and promotion of cooperation with two major Asian powers, that is, Russia and China. Iran did its best to improve relations with Turkey as well.

On the whole, the main goals of Iran's foreign policy in 2017 included improvement of relations with neighboring countries and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as bolstering security and stability within the limits of its strategic depth. Therefore, Iran took good steps in cooperation with other actors in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf region and even the European Union to protect its achievements with regard to restoring security. As a result, the regional clout of Iran's foreign policy saw a rapid rise in 2017 and the way was paved for increasing popularity and regional strength of the country.

It was due to the dynamism in Iran's foreign policy in 2017 that countries like Saudi Arabia increased their hostile rhetoric and even the US national security document, which was officially signed by Trump in late December 2017, tried to depict Iran as a threat. Whether such actions and rhetoric will have their desired effect or not will become clear during 2018.

It seems that management of threats in order to maintain the status quo followed by thwarting efforts made to depict Iran as a threat are the main goals of Iran's regional strategy. Achievement of these goals hinges on specific requisites and is also related to regional and international conditions. While in the first stage and at the regional level, Iran may appear more conservative, it needs to be more active in the second stage, which is the international level.


*More by Behzad Khoshandam:
*Two Years after the Iran Deal and the Choice of Reconciliatory Strategic Necessity:

*Iran and International Organizations in 2016:
*Iran and the Middle East in 2016:


*Photo Credit: Thepavlovictoday

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.