Iran is currently at a political juncture. The Islamic Republic is in a unique position to provide diplomatic relief and stability to a region embroiled in crisis. After the recent nuclear agreement, Iran has proved that it is able to thwart its characterisation as the ‘Great Satan’ to diplomatically engage in peaceful dialogue with other world powers.
On 15 March, the Australian National University hosted Dr Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, to present a public lecture on “Resolving Crisis in the Middle East: An Iranian Perspective”. Zarif discussed an idealised political narrative of post-revolutionary Iran, addressing how to achieve security within the region largely based on securing a nuclear resolution between Iran and the United States.
As a purported alignment on the ‘axis of evil’, Iran has been perturbed socially, economically and politically by a paradigm of exclusion, fostered largely by American foreign policy. Such exclusion engenders insecurity. The quest to achieve security, both within the Middle East and within a global framework, is now at the forefront of Iranian foreign policy. Zarif told the audience that achieving security is not an isolated issue for Iran, but should instead be viewed as a shared global objective. He argued that global security can and must only be achieved in a global context where nations do not bolster their own security to the peril of one another.
The Iranian foreign minister championed the nuclear resolution as a successful example of the implementation of a ‘balance of securities’ foreign policy. He argued that the United States-Iran security equilibrium was achieved primarily by shifting from a zero-sum policy that saw the two nations diametrically opposed in objectives. In this case, reframing the issue to accept both nations’ need to maintain a nuclear program for peaceful purposes meant that a resolution could finally be agreed. As such, Zarif argued that a balance in state securities must be the next phenomenon of globalisation - “in a globalised world we will either win together, or lose together”.
Three divisive security matters are currently guiding Iran’s regional foreign policy and security considerations: ISIS, the Syrian Civil War, and a dissolution of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia.
The threat of terrorism, and predominantly the force of ISIS, continues to rupture state security in the Middle East. As Zarif argued, terrorism is a consequence of insecurity, deprivation and disenfranchisement with both governing Middle Eastern and intervening foreign powers. ISIS is consequently a perverse manifestation of discord within the region and insecurities perpetuated by ruling regimes and insurgent groups. Whilst ISIS and other terrorist networks within the Middle East pose an immediate threat to nations such as Iran, Zarif opined that the threat is just as great to nations such as Australia. If security is a common objective, as he argues, then containing security within one corner of the world will not achieve a global outcome.
The Syrian Civil War
The Islamic Republic’s purportedly peaceful objectives, however, have been disputed owing to the country’s support for al-Assad in Syria. Zarif argued that the question of Syria should, however, not be framed around Assad. As the narrative of the Syrian Civil War is unique to all affected parties, any attention paid to past governments and alliances within the war is not constructive for the future peace process. Instead, a ceasefire and humanitarian assistance must be the primary focus. Zarif stressed the urgency for a national unity government and constitutional reform to stabilise the Syrian political situation. Ultimately, Zarif argued that this geo-political humanitarian crisis should not be given the human face of just one man, and the question of al-Assad should not hinder current peace negotiations.
Iran and Saudi Arabia
The recent dismembering of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran is also a pivotal policy concern for Iran. Zarif characterised Saudi Arabia’s decision to break diplomatic relations with Iran as an overreaction to a series of events, emphasising that these were tensions that Iran had both attempted to stabilise and subdue. Notably, Saudi Arabia’s reactions were deemed to be a response of panic in relation to Iran’s newfound security as a result of the nuclear arrangement. Zarif highlighted the unavoidable truth that both Saudi Arabia and Iran live together in a conflicted region. Therefore, both parties need to exercise restraint and engage in dialogue to restore the equilibrium between the nations so as to avoid further destabilisation in the region.
Tensions were predictably high following the idealistic speech by the foreign minister of one of the most polarising nations in the world. His characterisation of Iran as a victim of belligerent rhetoric and hostile foreign policies is vastly disparate to the global narrative of the nation, or the former ‘Great Satan’. Thus, whether Iran can truly emerge as a peaceful world-player and implement a foreign policy based on a balance of securities within the Middle East remains to be seen beyond the scope of the nuclear agreement.
Sarah Barrie is a student at the Australian National University studying a combined degree of a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and a Bachelor of Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies.
Image credit: European External Action Service (Flickr: Creative Commons)