Iran's Regional Power Rooted in Shia Ties
// / Gareth Porter

TEHRAN - As Barack Obama's national security team assesses the challenge of Iran's role in the Middle East, it confronts a paradox: Iran is seen as having ambitions of regional hegemony, but it lacks the military power normally associated with such a role.

That paradox is explained by the fact that Iran's position in the Middle East depends to a significant degree on its cultural, spiritual, and political ties with other Shia populations and movements in the region. That characteristic of Iranian foreign policy, which Iranian officials and think-tank specialists emphasized in interviews with this writer, poses some unique problems for the United States in opposing Iranian influence in the region.

The pivotal development in the new Iranian position in the region has been the emergence of Iraq's Shi'a-dominated regime.

Hamid Reza Dehghani, director of the Center for Persian Gulf and Middle East Studies at the foreign ministry's think-tank, left no doubt in an interview that the transformation of Iraq from mortal enemy of the Islamic Republic of Iran to a friendly state represents an epochal shift in Iran's security position in the region.

"For the past 400 years, we've had problems with our western neighbors," said Dehghani, "mostly from the Ottoman empire and from the Iraqi regime after independence." The climax of that historical security problem was the eight-year war against I... >>>

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