Reshaping Iran’s Relations with the World

Round Table

28 January -2014

London, UK


Round Table Topics


Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, Iran and the West have maintained a strained and often hostile relationship. For more than three decades, Iran’s relationship with the Western powers was dominated by an era of diplomatic estrangement.

Over the past decade, Iran’s nuclear programme has been one of the most polarising issues in international politics. The dispute had picked up steam with U.S. and European officials calling for tougher sanctions on Tehran and some more hawkish elements promoting a pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. 
Although the government in Tehran insists that its nuclear programme is peaceful and legitimate, policy makers in Washington and throughout Europe are fearful that Iran is moving ever closer to developing nuclear weapons.

One of the predominant concerns for the international community is that an Iran with nuclear weapons would ignite a nuclear arms race throughout the Greater Middle East, thereby destabilising the entire region. Furthermore, many believe that nuclear weapons would embolden Tehran, allowing its leaders to increase their support for terrorism and perhaps provide terrorist groups with weapons of their own. The likelihood of these two scenarios can be disputed but either way the international community has made it abundantly clear that it will not accept an Iran with nuclear weapons and that it will do what it must to prevent this outcome.

The election earlier this year of a more moderate Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, was seen as a positive first step in mending ties between Tehran and West, and bridging the gap over the country’s nuclear programme. In September, US President Barack Obama spoke to Rouhani by telephone in the highest-level contact between the two countries in over three decades. The breakthrough agreement on Iran's nuclear programme is the continuation of trust-building measures between the West and Iran.

Following the Interim Agreement, Iran and Britain appointed anon-resident chargés d’affaires as a first step toward reopening their respective embassies.

The re-integration of Iran to the international scene will be definitely faced by complex issues for Iran and its international interlocutors.


Dimensions of the Round Table

Iran – West Relations: The interim international deal on Iran's nuclear programme can be described as a catalyst that that could eventually lead to rapprochement between Iran and the West. In the optimal scenario, the negotiations will continue and the sanctions are slowly removed which will revive Iran's economy, and eventually its liberal movement. The negotiation for a comprehensive settlement would follow aiming to reach a mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran's nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful.

This comprehensive solution would involve a reciprocal, step-by-step process, and would produce the comprehensive lifting of all UN Security Council sanctions, as well as multilateral and national sanctions related to Iran's nuclear programme. The outcome of this normalisation discourse, in the relationship between the West and Iran, is significant in transforming the relationship between the two sides. Despite the varied perspectives regarding the nature of the impact, a great deal of economic and trade opportunities will open up for both sides. Moreover, this deal will definitely lower the risks of oil export disruption passing the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow artery through which 40% of global sea-borne oil exports pass. The rapprochement will also encourage cooperation to try and deal with Syria and stop the violence there.

Iran- Arab Relations: The perceived competition between Iran and its Arab neighbours also suggests that it would be useful for Iran to engage with its Arab neighbours. Iran’s influence in Iraq, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon presents serious concerns to the Gulf States. In addition to that, the Iranian dispute with United Arab Emirates over an island in the Persian Gulf presents another challenge to Iran’s relations with the Gulf States. Due to the sectarian affinity, Iran relations with Gulf States will define, to a large extent, its relations with other Arab countries. It will be important to see Iran’s approach to its relations with the Gulf States and its response to concerns of these countries which are to some extent legitimate.

Iran and Syrian conflict: In the latest round table organised by the Global Diplomatic Forum on the Syrian Conflict, different experts and officials have supported the engagement of Iran in the resolution of the conflict. There was a call for the participation of Iran in the Geneva II due to the leverage it has on the Syrian regime.

Iran - Israel relations: Israel scepticism about the nuclear deal could be explained by the strong hostile statement by the Iranian officials towards Israel. Israel should be considered as the logical target if there is any Iranian nuclear programme. Israel states that its security is the main gate to any resolution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The main security concerns of Israel are from groups with ties to Iran. Would Iran be prepared to engage in talks with Israel as part of boosting the Middle East peace process?  


Andrew Wilson, Sky News Presenter -Chair

John Baron, Member of UK Parliament

Ben Wallace, Member of UK Parliament

Elizabeth Dibble ,Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy

Javad Yarjani,Former National Representative of Iran to OPEC

Lord Lamont, Member of House of Lords

Johnathan Paris, Senior Analyst, Atlantic Council

Richard Ottaway ,Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Conservative Party, UK Parliament

Roula Khalaf, Associate Editor and Middle East Editor, Financial Times