Oil and Geopolitics in the Caspian Sea Region

By Michael P. Croissant; Bülent Aras | Go to book overview

7

Iran: Geopolitical Challenges and the Caspian Region

Nader Entessar

The purpose of this chapter is to analyze Iran's evolving interests in the Caspian Sea region within the broader context of the country's regional and international relations. Historically, Iran, Turkey, and Russia have wielded the greatest influence in the Caspian region. Therefore, it is not surprising that these three countries have reemerged as the principal actors in the region in the post-Soviet era. This chapter's focus is on domestic and foreign determinants of Iran's policy towards its northern neighbors in the Caspian basin.

Unlike much of the recent Western analyses, which have tended to emphasize the “Islamic” dimension of Tehran's foreign policy motives, this chapter concentrates on political, economic, and strategic variables affecting Iran's policy decisions towards the region. Islamic factors are treated as secondary variables and only within the broader context of sociocultural factors that have played a role in shaping Tehran's foreign policy in the Caspian region, as these factors have played a more significant role in Iran's policy in Central Asia and the Caspian basin.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has emerged as an important regional political and military actor in the 1990s. The reemergence of Iran as a pivotal regional power is the fulfillment of its natural role in Southwest Asia. During the Khomeini era, an important tenet of Iran's foreign policy was based on the concept of “Neither East nor West.” 1 In the post-Khomeini and post-Gulf War period, this element of Iranian foreign policy has, for all practical purposes, been replaced with a new principal that R.K. Ramazani has referred to as “Both North and South.” 2 Basedon this principle, Iran has sought to develop political and economic ties with the newly independent republics of the former Soviet Union in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Iran's unique geographic location as a bridge between the Persian Gulf and the Caspian basin region has been viewed by both Iranian and foreign decision-makers as an asset that will enable Iran to

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