The year 2011 has started in a way that predicts a huge shift in Iran's foreign policy. But the Islamic Republic won't find itself confronting the international community or end up drowning in the country's sea of internal chaos, as much of the world expects. Rather, Iran is likely to become more engaged with the rest of the world and will look to embark on a path out of the current nuclear deadlock.
Dismissing Foreign Minister Manouchehr Motakki, who was favored by the supreme leader, is a sign of this policy shift. Replacing Mr. Mottakki, a quiet man who practiced a more conservative diplomacy than that espoused by Iran's "fiery" president, is the first of many steps Iran will most likely take throughout 2011 to reduce international tension over its nuclear program.
Improving Iran's image may be the country's top priority and aim for 2011. The Islamic Republic doesn't want to look like North Korea, a country that has closed its doors to the world and is famous for starving its citizens. Nevertheless, North Korea's nuclear capabilities provide Iran with the perfect example of how a nuclear energy program can shield a nation against any security threats. North Korea has protected itself against any threats in Asia or from Asian allies such as the United States, and Iran seeks to do the same. In my opinion, Iran is interested in regaining the prestige and power it enjoyed before the country's 1979 Revolution. The obvious strategic threats for Iran, which shares borders with Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, has made Iran invest more in its military capabilities rather than in improving its economy. But the Islamic Republic's insistence for mastering nuclear technology serves as a sign that Iran is constantly worried about and suspicion of activities taking place along its borders.
The role and position Iran seeks to occupy in the global arena are larger and wider than what many Arab states expect or the European community may believe. For many years, Iran has not had many visitors or policy makers travel to the country, so that much of what the world knows of Iran is limited to an old image from around 31 years ago. Most nations usually think of Iran as weak, as it was at the time of the 1979 revolution when many army officers were executed by Ayatollah Khomeini, the national army had been dismissed, and there was a serious threat of separation in some parts of the nation. But today Iran is a diverse and dynamic country. More than half of its population is under 30-years-old, and in spite of the bad economy and high unemployment, many Iranians have managed to travel abroad and achieve a good standard of living compared to many of their neighbors in countries such as Pakistan, India and even the middle income strata in Turkey.
Mastering nuclear technology will do nothing more than give Iran the same status as Japan and Brazil. But having a nuclear bomb is quite different from being merely capable of putting one together, and perhaps it is just the ability that Iran is looking to accomplish, albeit slowly and with constant delays. With all the technical problems with Iran's nuclear program, along with delays caused by external threats such as the Stuxnet virus, Iran's nuclear capacity will most probably be delayed for another couple of years, at least. Therefore, by seeking to improve its international standing through a foreign policy shift to speed up and enhance Iranian diplomacy -- as we see taking place inside the country -- Iran is making a wise move.