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Iran Pursuing "Aggressive" Foreign Policy, Expert Says

(Washington, DC--August 17, 2004) Iran's strategic calculations for the Middle East, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Russia are driving a "new and aggressive foreign policy," a foreign policy expert told a RFE/RL audience last week. Terming its' policy one of "deterrent defense," Iran aims to prevent Western -- or more precisely United States -- influence from spreading in the Middle East while "projecting Iranian influence into areas where there is a vacuum of power.

Ilan Berman, Vice President for Policy at the American Foreign Policy Council, explained there exists an "Iranian paradox:" the war on terror is simultaneously enhancing and threatening Iran's strategic position in the Middle East. On one hand, Berman said, the United States' war on terrorism eliminated Iran's traditional enemies: the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, and insurgent groups that threatened Tehran from bases in Iraq. However, according to Berman, the Iranian government also sees the war on terrorism as a threat, identifying the U.S. as a powerful new adversary pursuing an aggressive anti-terror campaign that includes Iran in the so-called "axis of evil." Iranians fear being geographically "hemmed in" by "U.S. strategic forces which have been moved east," Berman said, and thus the government in Tehran has moved forward with nuclear programs designed to deter and defend against perceived threats.

Berman highlighted four policies Iran has pursued to strengthen its role in international politics: military rearmament, Gulf activism, coalition-building, and supporting the insurgency in Iraq. Berman said that Iran may be providing "$70 million a month to the insurgents in Iraq," in order to "derail the elections" and prevent the establishment of a pro-U.S. coalition in the Middle East. Iran's policies concerning the countries of the Caucasus region and Central Asia provide further evidence that the country is expanding its focus beyond regional to international politics, Berman said. In these diverse areas, Iran has tried to use coalition building and energy diplomacy to achieve greater leverage, according to Berman, even conducting military exercises on the borders of neighboring countries in an effort to send a message.

As Iran pursues a greater role in international affairs, Berman said, the dynamic of its relationship with Russia has changed. Initially the Russian-Iranian relationship was pragmatic: the Russians dominated the alliance and Iran received conventional arms and "nuclear know-how" in return for "containing religious radicalism." With its increasing strength Iran has become an "equal partner" with Russia in Central Asia, Berman said. Berman speculated that, in the future, Iran might gain the upper hand in its relationship with the Russian Federation.

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