International Peace Studies Centre - IPSC

Shift in Iran’s foreign policy towards Asia


Dr Salman Safavi

International Peace Studies Centre (IPSC)




Recently, the Iran-China agreement on a 25-year strategic relationship has been made public, which, along with the Iran-Russia talks on a new strategic relationship, indicates Iran’s foreign policy shift to the East and Asia.

 In this paper, the process of why Iran’s foreign policy has shifted to Asia is analysed.

To better understand the shift of Iran’s foreign policy towards Asia, it is necessary to have a brief overview of Iran’s foreign policy from the Safavid period to the present.


The Safavid dynasty was one of the most significant ruling dynasties of Iran from 1501 to 1736.

During the Safavid period, Iran-Europe relations were established by Shah Ismail Safavid and peaked during the reign of Shah Abbas Safavid.

  The two sides needed each other to control the power of the Ottoman government and the balance of power in international relations. During this period, constructive and positive relations were established between Iran and Britain. In a way, it can be considered the golden age of Iran-Britain relations. During this period, Iran and Britain successfully cooperated to oust Portugal from the port of Gambron, and the Shirley brothers built artillery for the Iranian army. Their cooperation led to the control of Portuguese colonisation and the development of Ottoman power in Europe.


The Qajar government ruled Iran between 1789 and 1925. This period is the worst period in the contemporary history of Iran. The three governments of Russia, Britain and France had colonial relations with Iran, and Britain and Russia separated some parts of Iran.

In World War I, despite Iran’s neutrality, Russian and British armies occupied parts of Iranian territory. The Great Famine of 1917-1919 and the pervasive diseases resulting from their aggressive policy led to the death of about two million Iranians (Abrahamian, A History of Modern Iran, 2008, p. 196)

The period of oppressive relations between Europe and Iran began from the Qajar period.

The interventionist relations of the three colonial powers of Russia, Britain and France in the Qajar period, planted a negative image of Europe in the minds of Iranians.


During the Pahlavi regime during the years 1925-1979, Britain and the United States had unfair relations with Iran, respectively, and the United States in particular became the main colonizer in Iran.

 In cases where the Iranian government wanted to confront them, the United States and Britain confronted them.

The British government ousted Reza Shah from power. During World War II, Iran was occupied by Soviet, British, and American armies. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians were killed during this period due to famine and starvation.

The British and American governments staged a coup against Mossadegh’s government(1953) and removed him as prime minister. Bahrain was separated(1970) during this period with the support of Britain, which is a very bitter event for Iranians.

 Islamic Revolution:

The Islamic Revolution(1979-) completely changed Iran’s diplomacy, foreign relations and foreign policy. During this period, Iran declared that it would follow neither Eastern nor Western policy. It does not want to invade a country, nor does it accept the influence and domination of foreign states on the destiny of the Iranian nation.

The United States was the biggest loser in the Iranian revolution. Because it was expelled from Iran, it lost both the Iranian market and Iran opposed the US hegemony over the Middle East from the beginning.

  The forty-year period of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran can be divided into the following periods in terms of foreign policy:

War period:

In the period 1980-1988, Iraq, led by Saddam’s dictatorial regime, launched a military offensive against the Iranian nation and territory. Almost all major world powers except China and Japan supported Saddam’s army.

 In this war, more than two hundred thousand Iranians were killed with advanced Soviet and Western weapons of war. And billions of dollars of Iran’s economic infrastructure were destroyed.

This period had an important impact on the mentality of Iranians. They concluded that they should be militarily self-sufficient, and that the West and the reactionary Arab regimes wanted to weaken Iran. During this period, only North Korea and China sold weapons to Iran for its defence needs. Japan also sold Toyota cars and speedboats.

Rafsanjani to Rouhani:

During 1988- 2018 The Iranian government’s efforts to defuse tensions with Europe and the United States.

The fall of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991 affected the balance of power in international relations.

With the death of Imam Khomeini in June 1989 and Rafsanjani becoming president, the Iranian government sought to improve its relations with the United States and Europe and pursued a policy of de-escalation.

Iran worked with the Americans to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan. Heavy sanctions against Iran under the pretext of nuclear policy emerged during the Obama administration, but were concluded following long negotiations on a nuclear deal (JCPOA) with the United States and Europe during Hassan Rouhani’s presidency in 14 July 2015. Iran has fulfilled all its nuclear obligations. But the Western governments did not fulfil their responsibilities and obligations.

Trump Period:

On 8 May 2018 Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal, ended optimism about a long-term relationship between the United States in Iran.

Trump imposed heavy sanctions on Iran in contradiction of the nuclear deal and the signature of the former US president.

The US hostile policy towards Iran and the inability of Europe to fulfil its responsibilities towards Iran,  led to a shift of Iran to Asia. The architect of this shift is the Iranian leadership, Ayatollah Khamenei.


Iran’s foreign policy shift to Asia is the result of disproportionate political, economic, and military ties between Western powers and Iran over the past two hundred years.  It is natural that any new agreements with China, Russia and India should be concluded according to the lessons learned from the JCPOA agreement and the performance records of the above states.  In particular, it should be specified how they will be fined if they do not fulfill their obligations, and how non-fulfillment of one of the obligations will affect the other provisions of the contract.


Keywords: Iran, Asia, West, foreign policy.

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