Published on PINR, by Benedetta Berti, November 27, 2007.
Iranian economic cooperation and energy policy within the developing world serve as pillars of its foreign policy strategy, helping both its quest for regional hegemony in the greater Middle East and its position vis-ŕ-vis the international community in the context of the ongoing nuclear crisis.
To increase its political capital and international standing, Tehran is not only investing in its most vital area of interest (the Middle East) and in its regional geopolitical environment — which encompasses Central Asia and the Caspian Sea region — but is also acting globally, extending its influence well beyond its traditional area of reach through political-economic alliances.
This trend seems to be confirmed by Iran’s current diplomatic, political and economic global partnerships in Asia and Latin America, a powerful tool to consolidate old alliances and gain new partners.
China, Pakistan and India: Iran Looks East: …
… Regionally, the increased political capital and international standing can be leveraged by Iran in the greater Middle East, its most vital area of interest. In this sense, economic and political partnerships serve as power enhancers for the Islamic Republic, which needs to gain both internal stability and external credibility in order to assume a leadership role in the region.
Finally, Iran’s current foreign policy also has a substantial impact globally, especially in the context of the dispute over its nuclear program. Concretely, Tehran is using its energy policy as a diplomatic tool to guarantee its integration within the international community. In fact, by enhancing economic ties and interdependence, Iran is also reducing its political isolation; by ensuring a wealth of economic partners, it is diminishing its vulnerability to sanctions.
Meanwhile, strategic partnerships with countries such as China contribute to rendering the concrete possibility of sanctions less likely, due to the increased joint interests of the two states. On the other hand, economic partnerships with countries such as India or Pakistan also benefit Iran’s hand, as the enhanced ties ultimately influence the countries’ positions on Tehran’s nuclear program.
In sum, Iran is both improving its position at the negotiating table by reducing the cost of failed negotiations — for example, by lowering the cost of sanctions — by creating a viable best alternative to a negotiated agreement and by increasing its degree of international support. Iran will likely capitalize on these achievements obtained through “soft power” in its relations with the United States and the European Union, and perhaps this will allow Tehran to maintain its hard bargaining tactics. (full long text).