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Posts tagged ‘Saudi Arabia’

The Shifting Nature of Iran’s Regional Policy

Kayhan Barzegar

By Kayhan Barzegar

This article was first published on December 17, 2012 in Persian by Tabnak

The Arab Spring has resulted in a shift in the nature of Iran’s regional policy from  a traditional “reconciliation and resistance” approach to a “regional cooperation” approach. The new approach aims to strike a balance between strengthening cooperation with states in the region and containing threats through maintaining traditional relations with ideological movements. As a result, a new kind of pragmatism has emerged in Iran’s regional policy.

Prior to the Arab Spring, Iran was only able to enhance its role and project influence in the region through establishing close relations with the Arab Street and Islamist movements such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Of course, the establishment of a Shiite-majority government in Iraq and its closer relations with Iran was a turning point. But with the Arab Spring and the emergence of new nationalist-Islamist governments, such as that of Egypt, which seek an independent and active role in regional issues, an opportunity has emerged for Iran to simultaneously establish close relations with these Arab states. Read more

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The Arab Spring and the Balance of Power in the Middle East

Kayhan Barzegar

By Kayhan Barzegar

The Arab Spring can be seen as a turning point in the regional balance of power of the Middle East. Previously, the “balance of power” was determined at the level of classic players—the states—and therefore was easier. However, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, the roles of states are now combined with the “dynamics of internal politics”—making them much more complicated.

From the outset of the Arab Spring, the domestic socio-political issues of the Arab countries—democratization, political reform, Islamization, elimination of authoritarianism, establishment of a market economy and middle class, and human rights issues have become the priorities in these countries. This development has impacted the objectives of the regional players in the context of balance of power.

In these new circumstances, each of the regional and trans-regional players seeks to restrain threats and enhance its influence. Turkey and the West pursue a greater role in order to extend their political leadership. On the other hand, Iran, Russia, China, and even Saudi Arabia seek greater roles to contain threats and enhance their security. Therefore, factors such as “model,” “ideology,” and “economy” are all employed to enhance the roles of the players. Read more

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Win the Minds or Lose the Region

Francisco Martin-Rayo

By Francisco Martin-Rayo

The recent attacks against U.S. embassies around the world, the murder of U.S. diplomats, and their associated hateful images, have shocked the American public and confounded policymakers.  Although many Americans and academics have asked the question, “What changed?” these attacks are simply the most recent example of a long-term trend in the region that undermines U.S. values and interests.  Unless U.S. policymakers take concrete steps to counter the influence of extremists in these countries, the United States will find itself more isolated, ineffective, and unable to defend its national interests in the most important region in the world. Read more

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Regional Implications of Egyptian President’s Iran Trip

Kayhan Barzegar

By Kayhan Barzegar

Director of the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies, Tehran; Former Belfer Center Research Fellow in the Managing the Atom Project and International Security Program

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s trip to Iran for the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) summit is also an opportunity to enhance Iranian-Egyptian relations and spark resolution of regional issues.

Iran and the new Egypt are interested in enhancing their regional roles. These two countries along with Saudi Arabia and Turkey are the four power blocks, each with a different approach to increasing their political-security roles in the post–Arab Spring Middle East.

Among these players, increased cooperation between Iran and Egypt is on well-prepared ground. Both countries have experienced a political-ideological revolution and a complete change of regime; they seek to enhance their national power and identity and independence in foreign relations. For both, focusing on independent trends in dealing with the regional crises, battling extremism, promoting indigenous democracy, and advancing economically are significant.

Saudi Arabia and Turkey have different situations. Saudi Arabia is a petro and financial power; its political structure necessitates balancing its dependence on the United States  and the West with its national governance based on Wahhabist principles. For instance, post–Arab Spring political-societal and security developments—fostering democracy, human rights, political reforms, the role of youth and middle-class, etc.—has highlighted the divergence between Saudi Arabia and the West. Yet, Saudi Arabia’s  policy of sending military troops to suppress the Bahraini opposition had U.S. support.

Turkey’s regional role, given its strong secular bodies (which oppose the country’s intense regional involvement and Islamic world affairs), cultural-ethnic diversity and sensitivities, and economic vulnerability, is currently based on increased relations with the West. With its “Zero Problems” regional policy, Turkey may play an active role in regional issues for a few years.

Yet, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Turkey—an economic power and soft power model for some Arab countries—is not perceived as a regional player. Turkey has had a complimentary role parallel to Iran and Syria and has gradually lost its strategic place in regional affairs.

Iran and Egypt could become significant regional players in the future. Some pessimistic views hold that closer Iranian-Egyptian relations are unlikely in the near future—even with Islamist President Morsi—due to ideological and political differences.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi embraces Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran, Aug. 30, 2012 (Ap/APImages)

However, increased Iranian-Egyptian relations are based on mutual strategic needs. Iran has attempted to redefine its relations with this new Egypt according to its geopolitical interests and so far has carefully avoided any ideological rivalry with Cairo’s new Muslim Brotherhood Islamist government.

Iran perceives the new Egypt as an independent Islamist state which is an old nation-state and could be an ally, inevitably forming its regional policy according to its domestic politics and public’s political-societal demands.  Compared to Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Iran and Egypt’s stands on a Middle East free of nuclear weapons, comprehensive regional security, enhanced regional cooperation for peace, non-interference of the West in regional affairs, etc., are similar. These issues are on the NAM summit agenda in Tehran.

Egypt perceives Iran as an economic and petro power with a long historical identity and Islamic ideological background that could balance Egypt’s relations with Israel, some Arab regimes such as Saudi Arabia, and the United States and the West. Establishing closer relations with Iran could move Egypt from the passivity of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, thus giving it a greater regional role as well as bargaining power. Building a regional coalition with Iran has advocates in different political-security and societal layers of Egypt. Amr Moussa, the former secular foreign minister of Egypt, has spoken of such a coalition’s necessity.

The return of an active Egypt to the region’s political scene could be a turning point for solving regional issues; a potential that also exists in Iran’s regional policy. Potential cooperation between the two countries could start with proposing a joint solution to the Syrian crisis. Presently, the two countries’ policies are distinct. Iran supports Syrian President Basher al-Asad, focusing on a political solution with a national unity government and opposing any foreign military interventions. Egypt supports the removal of Asad while focusing on a political transition and opposing any Western military intervention.

An Iranian-Egyptian solution, however, could initiate a midway approach— accepting the process of political transition by all parties in a first phase and in a second phase, holding a peace conference with the participation all internal, regional, and trans-regional parties in which all issues including the removal of Asad could be decided.

With the new Egypt on board, Iran should take advantage of the 16th NAM Summit and propose a workable regional solution to the Syrian crisis.

This article was originally published in Persian by Tabnak.

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Iran’s Power Struggle

Richard A. Clarke

Richard A. Clarke

By Richard Clarke

Listening to Iran’s president Ahmadinejad deny the Holocaust or claim 9-11 was a US plot, most people correctly regard him as a dangerous kook and a product of the corrupt political system that runs Iran. In addition to being those things, however, he is also someone who is standing up occasionally to the Supreme Leader of Iran and the shadowy Revolutionary Guard killers who support the Ayatollah and the kleptocracy around him. Read more

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Going Rogue in Iran?

Annie Tracy Samuel

Annie Tracy Samuel

Daniel Tavana

Daniel L. Tavana

By Annie Tracy Samuel and Daniel L. Tavana

This commentary first appeared on Fareed Zakaria’s blog, Global Public Square, on

Shortly after news broke of an alleged, failed “Iranian” plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States at a restaurant in Washington, D.C., policymakers began campaigning for tough action against the Iranian government.  House Speaker John Boehner called on President Obama to “hold Iran’s feet to the fire,” and Rep. Peter King urged the president to “respond forcefully to this grave provocation by Iran.”  Senator Dianne Feinstein urged the administration to “explore whether there are other plots going on . . . in other countries.” Read more

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Good job, law enforcement

Juliette Kayyem

Juliette Kayyem

By Juliette Kayyem

(This post first appeared on Fareed Zakaria’s blog on, Global Public Square.)

The announcement by Attorney General Eric Holder of the thwarted assassination attempt of the Saudi Ambassador to the United States by suspected Iranian agents is mesmerizing. It does seem like a John Le Carre movie: the drug dealers and informants, the Mexico connection, the money crossing borders and bank accounts, the restaurant where the Ambassador liked to hang out.

I have been in government long enough to say almost nothing about an unfolding case. I have a lot of confidence in Holder’s team but unless or until you know the evidence, better to be quiet. Read more

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