Iran Looks Outwards

WASHINGTON D.C.: Since the demise of the Soviet Union, the Islamic Republic of Iran has aggressively fostered a new set of regional alliances with Muslim neighbors, especially along its 1,400 kilometer northern border. In stark contrast to the theocracy’s first decade, today the ruling clergy’s focus is not on exporting Islamic zealotry or political revolution. The primary goals are now economic, reflecting growing pressures and priorities inside Iran as well as the shifting measure of power worldwide.

Ideally, Iran would like to become a hub — and perhaps the center — of Central Asia, providing communications, infrastructure, expertise and a major international airport and other transportation links. "We now see a predominant tendency worldwide towards regionalism. And this is now very much present in Iran," said Mohammed Javad Zarif, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, in an interview. This role also plays to Iran’s historic strengths as a land of bazaaris, one of the three pillars of society, along with the military and clergy.

Iran’s regional focus is typified several ways.

The first is development of a transport system — both railways and roads — that will connect the once disparate parts of the region. A new multi-billion dollar network, when completed, will link Iran’s Persian Gulf ports with Central Asia and in turn hook up with Russian and Chinese transportation systems. Eventually, it will stretch from the oil and import/export center of Bandar Abbas in southwest Iran all the way across the continent to Shanghai. Iran is also expected to eventually create new trade routes spanning the Mediterranean through the Indian Ocean all the way to the Sea of Japan and the Pacific, according to diplomats and economists in Tehran.