Biden administration may change US policy towards Iran

Gauri Srivastava


After the announcement of US election results, there is a strong hope that the new Biden Administration is going to change a new policy framework for Iran and West Asian region. This might yet again witness a new round of geopolitical competition since China and Russia have already entered into West Asian theatre and are ready to challenge US policy. Indeed, Russia is particularly interested to consolidate its gains which Moscow has made in recent years. But China is also pushing its own interests in the region with a renewed vigor to challenge US monopoly and bring about a pro-Beijing image in the Arab world. All this is going to put pressure on US to look for softening of its position towards Iran.


The recent developments in the West Asian region, with particular focus of Iran, have witnessed a massive geo-political confrontation where Israel and some Gulf countries have established their bilateral diplomatic relations well after 70 years. This is historical but it will change the balance of power and invite great power politics.

The days of status quo politics will change forever. In this case, new players such as Russia, China and Israel will play active role in this region. This might challenge the existing solo supremacy of US and Iran is also inviting new players like Russia and China to set the new balance of power.

Now, the US which is leaving Afghanistan could show some extra sensitivity by encouraging better connectivity for the war ravaged nation. India is building a sea port access for Afghanistan in Chabahar which is a great interest for Iran as well. But Trump administration had shown discomfort despite agreeing to the proposal for a special exemption for Chabahar project.

This has discouraged many foreign companies to participate in the ongoing Chabahar project. Hopefully, Biden Administration will revive Chabahar project and review of policy options for America in regard to Iran and West Asian region.            

The relationship between the United States of America and Iran, two countries now on the verge of a full-blown war, has been tumultuous since the mid-20th century. The US has imposed an embargo on trade with Iran and has gone on to term Iran an 'Axis of evil' along with North Korea and Iraq, who, according to the US, pose a grave danger to the US and its allies.

Iran and the US have no direct diplomatic contact since the 80s. While Switzerland acts as the protecting power of the US in Iran, Pakistan acts as that of Iran in the US. Historically, the situation had not always been so. In the 19th century, there had been cordial interactions between the two nations, particularly with the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who maintained a pro-American foreign policy. Also, America too considered Iran a close associate.

In 1941, Reza Shah Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, owing to his pro-Nazi leanings, was forced to abdicate the throne by the combined forces of the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. His son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was instated as the Shah with the backing of the US. Following the coup d’état of 1953, the pro-democratic Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, was overthrown by the combined and masked efforts of the CIA and MI6 of the US and UK, respectively, as he attempted to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.

After the US embassy siege of 1979, the US started imposing heavy sanctions against Iran as a medium of exerting pressure. Some very tough sanctions were imposed to halt the Iran uranium enrichment program and as a response to its support for the US recognized terrorist organizations.

In 2015, the Iran Nuclear Deal was reached between Iran and the P5+1 (the UK, the US, China, Russia, and Germany) to restrict Iran’s nuclear program for sanctions relief. The US withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, which hurt Iran’s already damaged economy and prompted it to resume its nuclear activities.

 Various Iranian and US administrations have tried to mend the relationship between the two countries, without any success. The US has imposed an almost total economic embargo on Iran. A small exception to this is the development of the Chabahar port which has been undertaken jointly by Iran, India, and Afghanistan.

Chabahar, Iran’s only oceanic port, is situated in the Sistan-Baluchistan province and forms the gateway to landlocked Afghanistan. The project seeks to develop the port as a trade core and establish a railway line from the port city to the Iranian border which will act as a trade link between Iran and Afghanistan.

Clearly, the port is strategically important for all the three countries involved. Afghanistan’s dependence on the Karachi Port of Pakistan would decrease, allowing it to reach international markets through an alternative route. For Iran, it would mean an increase in regional development while for India it would mean a link to Central Asian markets, a chance to challenge the hegemony of the Gwadar port, and better relations with Iran.