Walter Posch

The Third World, Global Islam and Pragmatism

The Making of Iranian Foreign Policy

SWP Research Paper 2013/RP 03, April 2013, 31 Pages



The Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the last nation states to deliberately position itself strategically and ideologically in opposition to the United States. The reasons for this lie in the history of Iran in the twentieth century and – in the view of the regime in Tehran – in the Islamic character and specifically Persian features of the country. Thirty years after the Islamic revolution the Western world is still unsure what ideology the Islamic Republic of Iran espouses and hence which principles and goals guide its foreign policy. The spectrum of opinions ranges from mistrust of an Islamic regime and fear of religious fundamentalism to surprise at the pragmatism of Iranian foreign policy.

Depending on which of these perceptions prevails, this leads to two opposing assessments of Iran: either that its policies are dominated by religious irrationalism, which combined with the Iranian nuclear programme represents a global threat – adherents of this view believe the international community should rigorously oppose this programme; or the opposite view that ideology is only window dressing for a nation-state acting rationally in defence of its own interests. A closer look at the main priorities of Iranian foreign policy reveals that neither of these positions is tenable in itself.

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