Shifting Tides: The Transforming Landscape of Iran’s Foreign Policy

Iran’s foreign policy has changed significantly in recent years, reflecting both domestic issues and changing geopolitical factors. The Islamic Republic of Iran, which has a long history of revolution and anti-Western sentiment, has been steadily reevaluating the goals of its foreign policy in an effort to keep up with changing local and global conditions. The rise of the United States as an adversary has forced Iran to rethink its foreign policy. The country is now seeking to diversify its relationships and reduce its reliance on the United States. Iran has been reaching out to China, Russia, and other countries in an effort to build new partnerships.

Ebrahim Raisi came to power in June 2021. Raisi presidency will have significant repercussions on Iran’s international relations. Additionally, it will affect the Middle East’s political and strategic landscape in addition to other regions. His foreign policy is mostly focused on strengthening connections with his neighbours and developing relations with the Asian powers (China and Russia).

Raisi’s pick of Hossein Amir-Abdollahian as foreign minister represented his objectives. The career diplomat speaks Arabic in addition to English and has substantial experience in nations with a majority of Arab people. In 1997, Amir-Abdollahian was originally sent to the Iranian embassy in Baghdad. Later, he served as the director of an Iraq-specific division at the foreign ministry. From 2007 to 2010, Amir-Abdollahian served as Bahrain’s ambassador. From 2011 to 2016, he was the deputy foreign minister for Arab and African relations.

Iran’s Pivot to Asia

Raisi’s shift towards Asia was a key element of its foreign policy plan. This shift in emphasis towards Asian nations, especially China, India, and Russia, sought to broaden Iran’s foreign relationships, bolster economic links, and boost diplomatic support in the face of geopolitical obstacles and international sanctions.


The 25-year comprehensive strategic agreement between Iran and China that was inked in March 2021 was one of the most prominent elements of Iran’s pivot to Asia. The agreement encompassed a range of cooperative initiatives, including those pertaining to economic, political, and security issues. Increased Chinese investments in Iran’s manufacturing, energy, and infrastructure sectors, as well as defense and intelligence collaboration, were significant elements of the agreement. This alliance is considered by Iran as a strategy to lessen the effects of international sanctions, particularly those imposed by the United States following its exit from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018. Iran sought to lessen its economic reliance on Western nations by forging closer connections with China in order to obtain access to a sizable market for its oil and other commodities.


The bilateral relationship between Iran and Russia is intricate and multifaceted. On numerous regional and international issues, both nations have a history of cooperation and partnership. Their bond has become stronger in recent years, notably in relation to collaboration in the political, military, and energy sectors. Russia has been a significant economic partner for Iran, especially in the energy sector where it has contributed capital, know-how, and support to the growth of Iran’s oil and gas reserves. Russia has moreover been Iran’s most important diplomatically, supporting it in forums around the world and representing its interests. Additionally, the two nations have worked closely together on regional matters, such as the Syrian Civil War, where they backed the Syrian government. While mutual interests serve as the foundation of their relationship, geopolitical factors and local dynamics also play a role. Overall, the bilateral relations between Iran and Russia continue to be characterized by a combination of collaboration, shared interests, and sporadic disagreements.


Historically, culturally, and economically connected, Iran and India have a long-standing and complex bilateral connection. Despite the difficulties caused by international sanctions on Iran, both nations have maintained strong coordination in a number of areas. With India being one of the biggest importers of Iranian oil, energy has been a significant component of their relationship. The strategic construction of Iran’s Chabahar port has also been an important undertaking for India because it provides a crucial sea route that avoids Pakistan to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Iran and India have cooperated on issues relating to regional security in addition to their shared economic interests. They have previously worked together to foster peace and development in the country that has been ripped apart by war. They both have concerns about the stability of Afghanistan. Further strengthening their connections, both nations have worked to encourage intercultural and interpersonal exchanges. Iran and India’s bilateral relationship continues to be a crucial part of both foreign strategies, fostering regional connectivity and cooperation in South and Central Asia.

The necessity to diversify its economic alliances was one of the factors that prompted Iran to turn to Asia. Iran wanted to lessen its reliance on Western markets and strengthen its ability to withstand international sanctions, thus it tried to deepen its ties with Asian nations. The economies of Asia provided Iran with chances for trade, investment, and technological cooperation. Iran attempted to secure diplomatic assistance from nations other than its customary Western-centric alliances by shifting its focus to Asia. In forums and regional disputes when Iran ran afoul of Western powers, this backing may be crucial.

Iran Joins Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Iran formally joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on July 4, 2023. The SCO is a regional intergovernmental organization that encourages cooperation among its members in the areas of politics, economy, and security. The admission of Iran to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is a significant move since it will enable Iran to participate more actively in regional affairs and to take advantage of the organization’s opportunities for economic and security cooperation.

China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan created the SCO in 2001. Since then, the group has grown to encompass Pakistan and India, making it the biggest regional security alliance in the world. The main objectives of the SCO are to foster economic cooperation, fight terrorism, and promote security and stability within its member states. The participants in the SCO have praised Iran’s admission. Iran’s membership has received strong backing from China and Russia in particular, who see it as a chance to further their ties with Iran and counteract American dominance in the region.

Normalizing Relations with the Regional Countries

Saudi-Iran Rapprochement

One of the major diplomatic wins for Iran was its normalizing of relations with Saudi Arabia, a rapprochement brokered by China on March 10, 2023. In 2016, diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia were broken after the latter country executed Shia preacher Nimr Al-Nimr, which infuriated Iranians and led to demonstrations. This most recent development is viewed as a move in the right direction towards lowering long-standing tensions and advancing towards peaceful conflict settlement in the Middle East. The Saudi-Iranian reconciliation has a lot of reasons. First, both nations are dealing with issues like the resurgence of ISIS and the unrest in Yemen. Second, they are both concerned about the United States, Iran’s main adversary, and its expanding influence. Third, in order to concentrate on economic development, they both recognize the necessity to lower tensions in the region. The two countries are also taking initial measures for oil cooperation, according to Iranian deputy oil minister.  However, both the countries are biding to the deal, Iran has opened her embassy in Riyadh and soon Saudi Arabia will also open her embassy in Tehran.

To diversify its economic prospects and to reduce regional tensions Iran has been making visits to its neighbors, the efforts have increased after Saudi-Iran reconciliation. Iranian President visited Syria and have signed agreements to cooperate in socio-political areas, Iran is also having political and economic consultations with Iraq. Iran also expanded its relations with Pakistan, the leaders of both sides inaugurated the Mand-Pishin joint border market and have started the barter trade. Iranian leaders also visited Indonesia, Uzbekistan, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Latin American States. Different areas of cooperation have been explored by Iran with these states.

Iran’s foreign policy has changed significantly over the years, with a focus on Asia emerging as a key element. Iran aims to take a strategic position in the ever-evolving international scene by expanding its diplomatic and economic engagements, fortifying regional ties, and addressing the difficulties brought on by international sanctions. Iran’s foreign policy is anticipated to continue adapting and changing in order to further its domestic objectives and regional goals as geopolitical forces change.

Aimen Jamil
Aimen Jamil
Aimen Jamil's intellectual curiosity lies at the intersection of Middle East and Pakistan Foreign Policy. She can be reached at Pursuing International Relations as her majors.