The Institute for Peace & Diplomacy’s Executive VP, Younes Zangiabadi and Mehran Haghirian co-authored a book chapter titled “The U.S Factor in Iran’s Geostrategic and Foreign Policy Calculations” as part of a contribution to a book on the “Geopolitics of Iran”.
The United States has played a key role in the geostrategic and foreign policy calculations of the Islamic Republic since its establishment after the 1979 revolution in Iran. Even though diplomatic relations severed after the hostage crisis later that year, the Cold War-like rivalry between Tehran and Washington became an omnipresent factor in Iran’s policy-making calculus. The primary reason for the high level of importance given to the U.S. can be attributed to the Islamic Republic’s quest for recognition and legitimacy at the regional and global levels. This chapter delves into understanding the U.S. role in Iran’s geostrategic and foreign policy decision-making process through three different angles. First, the U.S.’ structural role in Iran’s foreign policy calculations is assessed under the broader framework of Iran’s geostrategy in the post-revolution period. The chapter then presents an analysis of the areas in which the geostrategic interests of both countries aligned in regional developments. This section examines the Iran–US cooperation in helping form democratic governments in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2005), as well as the fight against terrorism in the Levant region (since 2011). Lastly, this chapter examines the process that led to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which, for the first time, allowed for direct diplomatic engagements between Iran and the United States since the 1979 revolution. Moreover, the Nuclear Deal is used to examine the changing role of the U.S. in Iran’s geostrategic calculations during the 2013–2021 period. The concluding section of the chapter looks at the trends in, and the trajectory of, Iran–U.S. relations in 2021 and onward.
Mehran Haghirian and Younes Zangiabadi argue that the Iranian decision-making process resembles a dynamic pentagon. Figure 1 visualizes the complex nature of the decision- making process in Tehran. While key actors, including those represented in the SNSC and the Expediency Council, form the core of this dynamic pentagon, other institutions, groups, and individuals are also considered
in Iranian geostrategic decision-making processes. Furthermore, there are a myriad of internal and external factors that have also had an effect on the decision-making process, including (the geopolitical consequences of) regional developments, interests of global powers, international energy markets, the Iranian diaspora abroad and foreign funded Farsi satellite channels, and domestic issues such as unemployment, strength of the economy, and social issues. The outcome and geopolitical consequences of regional (and international) developments, in particular, have significantly impacted Iranian geostrategic decision-making process. Specifically, the Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988), invasion of Kuwait by Iraq (1990– 1991), dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991), the fall of Saddam Hussein in and the U.S. invasion of Iraq (2003), blockade against Qatar (2017–2021), the war in Afghanistan (2001–present), the Arab–Israeli Conflict (1948–present), and the Arab Uprisings (2010–present) have directly affected Iranian geostrategy.
Younes Zangiabadi (@YounesZangi) is the co-founder and Executive Vice President of the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy. He is a foreign policy researcher specializing in international security, with a focus on the Middle East and disinformation studies