America’s Attitude Toward Iran Risks Shifting Tehran’s East-West Balance Toward Russia

Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced this week that diplomats from Russia, the U.S. and regional powers in the Middle East would meet in Switzerland this weekend to discuss the crisis in Syria. The U.S. State Department has said the talks are aimed at finding, “a multilateral approach to resolving the conflict in Syria, including a sustained cessation of violence and the resumption of humanitarian aid deliveries.” While diplomats from regional powers Saudi Arabia and Turkey are expected to attend, it is not yet clear whether Iranian representatives will be present. The key to Iranian cooperation with world powers on such a regional issue, however, remains the proper implementation of the nuclear deal.

There is no question that since the Iran nuclear deal was struck last year, Iran’s relations with Western and Eastern countries have improved dramatically. Numerous trade deals have been signed between Iran and countries in Europe, Asia and even the United States. After decades, Boeing has started selling component parts for passenger aircraft to Iran and is on the verge of finalizing a$27 billion sale of 118 passenger aircraft to an Iranian airline.

The 1979 Islamic Revolution marked the end of nearly two centuries of foreign domination over Iran and the adoption of a national security strategy centered on the principle of “neither East nor West.” This policy represented a rejection of Eastern and Western imperialism and was aimed at safeguarding Iran’s national, religious and civilizational identity and prowess.

Immediately following the revolution, in 1980, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Iran with the aim of conquering oil-rich Iranian territory. Iraq became the world’s largest weapons importer during the war, making roughly $63 billion in purchases, with 85 percent of Iraqi arms from the Soviet Union. For its part, the U.S. provided Saddam with logistical and political support, including the material and know-how to develop chemical weapons, which would kill some 5,000 Iranians.

With the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of its citizens, Iran was able to defend its territorial integrity in the war, and its policy of “neither East nor West” persevered. After the war, U.S.-Russian approaches to Iran diverged. The U.S. continued policies aimed at regime change while Moscow sought to develop friendly relations.