Concept of Neither East Nor West

Concept of Neither East Nor West

During the Revolution, Khomeini and his associates condemned both the United States and the Soviet Union as equally malevolent forces in international politics. They believed the United States, because of its close relationship with the regime of the shah, was the superpower that posed the most immediate danger to their revolution. Thus, they referred to the United States as the "Great Satan," a term that continued to be used in 1987. In contrast, they regarded the Soviet Union, because it had not been as closely involved with the shah, as the "Lesser Satan." The United States represented the West, or capitalism, while the Soviet Union represented the East, or socialism. The revolutionaries embraced Khomeini's view that these materialist ideologies were ploys to help maintain imperialist domination of the Third World, and thus they were inherently inimical to Islam. Consequently, a major foreign policy goal from the time of the Revolution has been to preclude all forms of political, economic, and cultural dependence on either Western capitalism or Eastern socialism and to rely solely upon Islam.

The most dramatic symbol of the revolutionary determination to assert independence of both the East and the West was the hostage crisis between Iran and the United States. Although the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran in November 1979 initially had been undertaken by nongovernmental groups to demonstrate their anger at the admission of the shah into the United States, this incident rapidly developed into a major international crisis when Khomeini and the Revolutionary Council gave their ex post facto sanction to it. The crisis lasted for 444 days, during which time those political leaders who were most hostile to Western influences used it to help achieve their aim of severing diplomatic and other ties between Tehran and Washington.

After 1980 Iran adopted positions opposed to those of the United States on a wide variety of international issues. Although officials in both countries eventually approved of some secret contacts, most notably those involving clandestine arms shipments to Iran from Israel and the United States during 1985 and 1986, the bitterness that the hostage crisis left on both sides made it difficult for either country to consider normalizing relations as late as the end of 1987.

The West European allies of the United States are also viewed with suspicion. France, in particular, has been singled out as a "mini-Satan" that collaborates with the United States in the oppression of Muslims. Although initially Iran's political elite were favorably disposed toward France because Paris had provided refuge to Khomeini when he was expelled from Iraq in 1978, relations between the two countries steadily deteriorated after 1980. Two issues have been the source of the Iranian hostility: France's support of Iraq, especially its provision of weapons, and the fact that since 1981 France has been the headquarters for most of the expatriate opposition groups. France and Iran also had opposing perspectives on several international issues, most notably developments in Lebanon. In the spring of 1986, the French government initiated a policy of trying to reduce tensions with the Islamic Republic. As part of this effort, France pressured the Mojahedin to close its Paris headquarters and agreed to repay the Iranian government part of a US$1 billion loan that had been extended to a French nuclear energy consortium during the reign of the shah. France was unwilling, however, to accede to Iran's demand that it cease arms sales to Iraq. Consequently, relations between Paris and Tehran vacillated between correctness and tension.

This was dramatically illustrated in July 1987, when the two countries became involved in a major diplomatic confrontation. The Iranian embassy in Paris provided haven to an Iranian national who had been summoned to appear in court in connection with a series of terrorist bombings in the French capital. Although France broke diplomatic relations with Iran over this issue and a series of related incidents, both countries seemed determined to salvage their rapprochement policy. In December France agreed to expel more Iranian Mojahedin activists and to repay Iran a second installment on its outstanding loan, in return for Iranian mediation efforts in obtaining the release of French citizens being held as hostages in Lebanon. Diplomatic relations were restored as of the end of 1987.

Iran's postrevolutionary relations with the Soviet Union and its allies have been significantly less dramatic. Tehran has expressed its opposition to numerous Soviet international policies. For example, Iran severely criticized the Soviet Union for dispatching its troops into Afghanistan at the end of 1979 and took the lead several months later in denouncing Moscow at a conference of foreign ministers of Islamic countries. Soviet support for the Marxist-Leninist regime in Kabul continued to be a source of friction between the two countries in 1987. Soviet support of Iraq, especially the provision of weapons, has been another area of contention between Moscow and Tehran. Iran also has accused the Soviet Union of assisting Iranian opposition groups, especially the Tudeh. Nevertheless, Iran and the Soviet Union have maintained diplomatic relations, and the two countries have striven to keep their relations correct, if not always cordial.

Although Iran remained distrustful of the Soviet Union's international policies, it generally avoided injecting its anti-imperialist ideology into economic relations. Thus, trade with the Soviet Union became relatively important after 1979. This included not only direct trade between Iran and the Soviet Union but also transit trade from Iran through the Soviet Union to markets in Europe. Tensions over economic matters continued, however, particularly over the issue of natural gas shipments to the Caucasus republics via the pipeline that had been constructed before the Revolution. When in 1980 Moscow resisted Tehran's attempt to raise the price charged for this natural gas, the pipeline was closed. In the summer of 1986, the two countries worked out a new agreement but as of December 1987 natural gas shipments had not been resumed.

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