American foreign policy in the Persian Gulf

One of the most notable areas for American foreign policy is the Persian Gulf, and American engagement in this region has been one of the consistent aspects of American foreign policy over the decades. The Persian Gulf is a strategically important region not just in the Middle Eastern context but the global context. In terms of balance of power, the Persian Gulf involves different elements, that are not just limited to Middle Eastern region as it is an area that is of interest to different countries including the USA. Ehteshami (2013) writes that international relations in this region are made complex by the fact that countries in the Persian Gulf are divided along political, ideological, national and cultural rivalries, making it community of unequal countries with Saudi Arabia and Iran being the two prominent players in the context of balance of power (Ehteshami, 2013, p.7). The American foreign policy in this region is marked by alliance with Saudi Arabia and lack of diplomatic relations with Iran. Indeed, Iran and the USA have not had good relations since the Iranian Revolution in 1979.


There are different scholars who have explored the different aspects of American relationship with Iran and Saudi Arabia. Historically, USA and Iran have had good relationship until the fissure in 1979; Kurzman (2009) critically explains how the Iranian political landscape has changed since then. Nevertheless, Dorraj and Zangeneh (2014) explore the historical relationship between Iran and the USA and also identify missed opportunities for building a strong bilateral relationship. Razoux (2015) has critically explored the ramifications of the Iran-Iraq war for Iran-US relations. Askari et al (2003) have explored the impacts of economic sanctions on the American-Iranian relationship. Ehteshami (2006) has critically analysed the impact of the Bush doctrine on the Middle East as an approach that shows positive results in the context of democracy and security. Interestingly, while the Bush Doctrine was welcomed by Iran to the extent that it led to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Taliban in Afghanistan, it was also responsible for the inclusion of Iran into the Axis of Evil. Patrick (2016) argues that the mistrust between Iran and Saudi Arabia is unfounded to a large degree, providing some scope for better relations. Hussain and Abdullah (2016) explores how the nuclear deal between Iran and P5+1 led to change in relationship dynamics between Saudi Arabia and Russia whereas Russia has traditionally been an ally of Iran. Hussein (2016) suggests the diplomatic tilting of Russia and Saudi Arabia towards each other which signals the changing equations and the impact it may have on the maintenance of balance of power in the Persian Gulf.

With regard to balance of power, Barzegar (2010) makes a compelling case against ‘balance of power’ approach in the Middle East as he argues this generates “tension, distrust, crises and wars” and instead advocates the ‘balance of security’ for the Persian Gulf nations. It is also important to note that Iran and the USA are the only two regional and trans-regional actors able to conduct military operations in the Persian Gulf, and build political-security coalitions (Barzegar, 2010). It is argued that if Iran puts aside the issue of its security, and the US redefines Iran’s regional role, there is a potential for balance of security approach to redefine American relations with the Iranians. The ‘balance of power’ approach is favoured by the US and the Arab nations in the Persian Gulf that view Iran as a threat. Before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the Ba’athist party, balance of power was as between Iran and Iraq, and post Saddam era may require a new balance of power to contain Iran as argued by Barzegar (2010).

The literature suggests that there is potential for realignment of relations and roles in the Persian Gulf, which has implications for the American foreign policy in the region. Historically, Iran and the USA have had good diplomatic relations and the recent maneuvers in the Persian Gulf region with some diplomatic shifting between Saudi Arabia and Russia presents a possibility of further alignment of these relations in the future. Literature has explored how the relations between USA and Iran have shown volatility with some improvement with the entering into nuclear deal and the deterioration of relationship under President Trump. When this is considered in the historical context of good diplomatic relations between USA and Iran since 1883, the Iranian refusal to enter into hostilities in the Second World War, Iranian help to the US with the Lebanon Hostage crisis, Iranian neutrality during the Persian Gulf War in 1991 (Dorraj and Zangeneh, 2014, p.485), it can be argued that there are historical evidences for providing scope to the thesis that Iran and America are capable of having better diplomatic relations.

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The following research questions are sought to be answered in the research:

1. How does the Iran-US relationship affect the regional balance of power in the Persian Gulf region?

2. How do the concerns of the Arabic countries of Persian Gulf regarding Iranian hegemony, affect American relations with Iran?

3. The impact of Nuclear Deal on the relation dynamics around the Persian Gulf region?

4. Is there scope for improvement and realignment of diplomatic relations between USA and Iran?

This research will be conducted with a qualitative research method and secondary methods of data collection. Data for this research will be collected from academic books, peer reviewed journals, and reports.


Barzegar, Kayhan. 2010. "Iran's foreign policy strategy after Saddam." The Washington Quarterly 33 (1): 173-189.

Dorraj, Manouchehr, and Hamid Zangeneh. 2014. Missed opportunities and political blunders: The tale of US–Iran relations. Routledge.

Ehteshami, A. 2013. Dynamics of change in the Persian Gulf: political economy, war and revolution. Routledge.

Hussain, Nazir, and Sannia Abdullah. 2015. "Iran Nuclear Deal: Implications for Regional Security." Journal of Political Studies 22 (2).

Kurzman, Charles. 2009. The Iranian Revolution. Wiley .

Patrick, N. 2013. Saudi Arabia and Jordan:Friends in Adversity, Kuwait Programme on Development, Governance and Globalisation in the Gulf States. , The London School of Economics and Political Science- July 2013, Number 31 .

Razoux, Pierre. 2015. The Iran-Iraq War. Harvard University Press.

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