ON-Lion Letter

"Is the Islamic Republic of Iran a country or a cause?" begins a June Iran Strategy Brief by Ilan Berman from the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC) in Washington, D.C.  "For decades, the question is one that has bedeviled Western observers.  Foreign politicians and diplomats long have struggled to reconcile the Iranian regime’s radical rhetoric and destructive international behavior with its pragmatic participation in numerous treaty arrangements, and its prominent role in various multilateral forums."

Berman is vice president of AFPC and author of Iran's Deadly Ambition:  The Islamic Republic's Quest for Global Power, forthcoming from Encounter Books and from which the June paper is drawn in part.  Milwaukee's Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation substantially supports both AFPC and Encounter.

"The dichotomy has become even more acute over the past two years," according to Berman in "Iran's Various Voices."  "Since November of 2013, the Islamic Republic has engaged in extensive diplomacy with the P5+1 powers ... over its nuclear program -- a dialogue which, as of this writing, appears likely to result in a political settlement that will be exceedingly favorable to Tehran.  Yet the same period has seen a surge in destabilizing global activity instigated or abetted by the Islamic Republic. Indeed, even as it engages in diplomacy with the West regarding its nuclear ambitions, Iran is actively seeking to revise the geopolitical status quo in its favor, both in the Middle East and beyond.

"It has done so through four distinct ideological narratives," he continues, "each of which is carefully calibrated to appeal to different constituencies and designed to accomplish different strategic goals.  Cumulatively, these messages play a critical role in advancing Iran's foreign policy objectives along separate -- and often seemingly contradictory -- lines."  These messages are pragmatic mercantilism, pan-Islamism, Shi'ite sectarianism, and Third World populism.

"Today, Iran's leaders have come to believe that their regime can simultaneously behave as a modern global actor, with all of the political and diplomatic benefits that accrue from that role, and as a radical movement dedicated to the spread of its Islamic revolution," Berman concludes.  "And, even as it engages in a dialogue with the West over their nuclear program, the Iranian regime is acting out that conviction, with detrimental effects for both regional and global security.  With the Islamic Republic poised on the brink of détente with the West, its leaders may soon have far greater freedom and resources pursue its ideological objectives."

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