• Iran’s Foreign Policy: A Complex Landscape

    February 23, 2023

    Posted in: Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Yemen

    The Nation asked of President Joe Biden “Is America back?” If it is, what is its signature accomplishment, the marker that Pax Americana or something similar worthy of Latin, is back?

    Certainly nothing here at home. Gas flutters at record levels, as much as $5 a gallon in places with all the side effects of higher grocery prices and supply chain missteps. Employment-wise, jobs of some sort are there but lack in quality and salary such that many people find unemployment a better deal than underemployment.

    Abroad Biden stretched NATO to its threads by threatening Ukrainian membership in the alliance, and ignoring objections to the alliance’s expansion across Russia’s political spectrum, contributing to an invasion few thought would happen and no one in the West outside of Washington wanted. The result is increasingly divided “allies” and massive expenses in arms and lives without much of a defined endgame. This foreign policy disaster-in-progress stands next to Biden’s other signature foreign policy action, withdrawal from Afghanistan in a haphazard way such that it displayed America’s confusion and fugue state more than its power. The world outside the Beltway seems well aware the outcome of more than 20 years of war and occupation is to return the country to its pre-September 11 state of medieval feudalism even if we chose not to talk much about it here at home.

    That’s not much to run on for the second term Biden all but announced his candidacy for in his State of the Union address. Hopes to make better progress here at home are dependent mostly on factors outside America’s control, to include the price of oil (thanks to a Saudi Arabia who brushed back Biden) and any return of Covid. Biden needs and might just be able to find a way to make peace with Iran, however, and score a major foreign policy victory, the kind of typical second term action he could pack into the end of his first term. The world might just forgive some sins (the return of U.S.. forces to Somalia and the endless war in Yemen the U.S. supports, for example) if it sees somnolent American diplomacy dragged out of the closet after six years and put back to use. America’d be back.

    The obstacles to some sort of agreement with Iran are formidable. Iran’s own foreign policy goals are nearly as mixed up as America’s, with the country’s leaders pursuing a complex and often contradictory set of objectives. From supporting armed groups in the Middle East to engaging in negotiations with the West, Iran’s approach to foreign affairs has been shaped by a variety of factors, including its history, ideology, and geopolitical interests. To achieve any sort of agreement, Biden would have to navigate all of the above.

    One of the most notable aspects of Iran’s foreign policy is its support for armed groups in the region. Iran has long been accused of backing militant organizations, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories, as part of its efforts to project power and influence beyond its borders. This has led to increased tensions with Iran’s neighbors, particularly Israel, and has fueled concerns about the country’s intentions in the region. Iran controls Iraq (another American foreign policy blunder, about half of which was under Biden’s vice-watch) and complicates Syria and Yemen. But the complexity of the problem just adds to the value to a solution if it can be found.

    Another key aspect of Iran’s foreign policy is its relationship with the West, a fork in the road Biden has the most influence on. The country has been under international sanctions for decades, with the United States and its allies seeking to pressure Iran to limit its nuclear program and curb its support for armed groups (how’s that sanctions regime been working out?) After negotiations with the West during the end state Obama administration, including the 2015 nuclear deal, lifted some of the sanctions in exchange for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, the deal went south, the United States reimposed most sanctions, and Iran has responded by resuming some of its nuclear activities, leading to fears of a wider conflict.

    Iran’s foreign policy is shaped by its self-understanding it is a major player in the Middle East, something the U.S. has been very slow to acknowledge. The country has long sought to be a regional power, and has used its military, economic, and political leverage to advance its interests in the region, most notably securing a client state in Iraq. This has led to increased tensions with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, which view Iran as a major threat to their security. But wouldn’t it be a nice gesture to the Saudi’s, who raised oil prices and refuse to crank up production to match that lost in the Ukraine war, to see the U.S. sit down with one of its adversaries?

    So what would it take for Biden to make some sort of deal with Iran?

    Sanctions relief: Iran would likely seek relief from the economic sanctions that have been imposed on the country, while the U.S. would want to ensure that any sanctions relief is conditional and proportional to Iran’s compliance with the terms of the deal. This is tricky business, but was more or less done in 2015 and is the actual stuff of diplomacy. The economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and other countries have had a significant impact on Iran’s economy, reducing its ability to access the global financial system, sell oil, and purchase from other countries. This has led to a shortage of foreign currency, inflation, and a decline in living standards for many Iranians. Biden would have to make clear Iran can choose to be a threshold nuclear power and suffer indefinitely for it, or rejoin the global system and profit from it.

    Nuclear restrictions: Both sides would need to agree on the extent to which Iran’s nuclear program should be restricted and monitored, including limitations on uranium enrichment and the size of its nuclear stockpile. Again, mostly taken care of in 2015. Biden would need to fend off Israel entreaties to destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities rather than trust Tehran to disarm them. Iran at the negotiation table would likely demand some sort of pullback of Israeli nukes from the Gulf.

    Timelines: A clear timeline for lifting sanctions and implementing restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program is important to avoid stalling the agreement.

    Verification mechanisms: Both sides would need to agree on the mechanisms for verifying compliance with the terms of the deal, including regular inspections and monitoring.

    Regional involvement: As the situation in the Middle East is complex, regional actors, such as the Gulf countries, would need to be involved in the negotiations and have their concerns addressed. This is likely the most difficult part of the deal, bringing the regional actors into line, something a weakened America may not have the diplomatic cojones to make happen. Yemen however is a possible bargaining chip in several directions, and lessening the nuclear threat overall in the Gulf remains a goal worth pursuing.

    The outcome of any potential negotiations will depend on a number of factors, including Iran’s willingness to engage in constructive talks, the level of sanctions relief and other incentives the U.S. is willing to provide, and the international community’s support (particularly a reluctant Saudi Arabia and an even more reluctant Israel) for the negotiations.

    The U.S. and Iran have had a complicated relationship and there have been significant obstacles to reaching a nuclear agreement in the past. However, Biden has expressed a willingness to re-engage with Iran and revive the 2015 nuclear deal. He has also indicated that his administration is open to diplomatic efforts to address concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and other issues a la carte. For a president looking to take big issue success into the next election, it just might be worth a chance.


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  • Recent Comments

    • John Poole said...


      It seems as if every recent POTUS has stated a desire to reengage with Iran but as a nation we can’t seem to move beyond that embarrassing hostage thingamajig. I guess if Iran apologized ….but then we’d have to apologize for our transgressions. Well, that ain’t gonna happen so I guess we should move on to a different subject.

      02/24/23 10:43 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      You exaggerate the complexity of our involvement in this region. Our policy should be to cut the Saudis off at the head. They are helping to finance the Putin War. Sanctions, anyone?

      Tell me why we are still on the Saudi side in the Middle East Cold War. Jared is out of the White House, isn’t he?

      As the Ukraine War has played out, the Saudis play US for fools. The Saudi headhunter made his oil price-fixing deal with Putin, causing gas price hikes here while Putin sells his oil to China for 50 percent off.

      If Iran and Saudi want to kill each other, let them have at it. Cut off all Saudi military sales today. Let them buy their junk from the Russkies or China. And if Yemen or Iran come calling, m b s should give Putin or Xi a call.

      02/24/23 4:43 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      What about Biden during his 4th year in office offering to give nukes to Iran for parity just to counter Israel’s non existent nuclear threat? Or, Biden could get Israel to renounce its nukes as a step towards Middle East peace. How did Israel get its nukes? I can ask that question because I’m not standing near the railing on the 20th floor of a Philly hotel.

      03/2/23 11:52 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...



      Don’t get me STARTed on loose nukes. So what if Iran has one or two. Israel knows its nukes are the only things that kept its enemies like Iran in check. Fair play.

      But in the big scheme of things, the real threat is crazy RazPutin hiding in his bunker planning to unleash his Dead Zone as his world comes crashing down. Who in the Kremlin would stop him?

      03/2/23 1:57 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      A new bill proposed by a Republican state senator in Florida would require bloggers to register with the state if they write about Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and other members of the government.

      NBC’s News Channel 8 wrote that Sen. Jason Brodeur’s (R-Lake Mary) bill would impose fines on anyone who refuses to register to a maximum of $2,500. There would be an additional $25 each day the fee isn’t paid.

      Senate Bill 1316: Information Dissemination would mandate that writers register with the Florida Office of Legislative Services or the Commission on Ethics. It would apply to anyone who writes “an article, a story, or a series of stories,” about “the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, a Cabinet officer, or any member of the Legislature,” and is paid for doing so. They would have to register within a five-day period by the publication of the article or stories.

      OMG, if Biden and other politicos follow this example, Peter may have to resort to reviewing restaurants in HaWAII. CALL IT “.WE EAT WELL.”

      03/2/23 6:13 PM | Comment Link

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