Journal Essay

Talking With a Region: Lessons from Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan

Mahjoob Zweiri and Simon Staffell

Spring 2009, Volume XVI, Number 1

Dr. Zweiri is an assistant professor in Middle East Politics and Iran, Center for Strategic Studies, University of Jordan, and research fellow at the School of Government and International Relations, Durham University, Darham, England. He is the author (with A. Ehteshami) of Iran and the Rise of Its Neoconservatives: The Politics of Tehran’s Silent Revolution (I.B. Tauris, 2007) and the editor of Iran’s Foreign Policy: From Khatami to Ahmadinejad (Ithaca Press, 2008). Mr. Staffell is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Politics at the University of Sheffield, England, currently conducting research at the Center for Strategic Studies, University of Jordan.

The headline-grabbing foreign policy initiative of Obama’s election campaign was that his administration would talk to Tehran “without preconditions.” The idea that American diplomacy in the Middle East needs renewal is evident, and the Obama presidency has brought with it hopes that a new diplomatic initiative might aid the most intractable foreign-policy issues in the region. Perhaps Obama’s charisma, international appeal and emphasis on engagement will provide America with a new and productive diplomatic influence that it has so clearly lacked of late. However, the Obama strategy has been to pursue “tough direct diplomacy,” emphasizing the potential sticks of economic pressure and political isolation.1 This has been further elaborated in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement that “smart power” will be at the center of U.S. foreign policy. Smart power, Clinton suggests, will emphasize diplomacy but also includes military and economic coercion. It therefore remains an open question whether U.S. foreign policy will turn to a strategy of long-term infl uence through persuasion or remain rooted in coercion, the default position regarding Iran for the past 30 years.

It should be remembered that America will need to find a way to work with the patchwork of diplomatic relationships within the region. While for the past eight years the Bush administration’s foreign policy has used only hard power, inter-regional diplomacy has evolved. The recent Mumbai attacks have brought India-Pakistan tensions to the fore, but this historical tension should not detract from the less visible cooperation among regional neighbors. Iran, Pakistan and Turkey, in particular, form a geographical and diplomatic link that has increasingly proved productive. Thus, contrasting directions have emerged in the politics of Iran and its neighbors. In the glare of world media and intense focus from policy makers, is the international condemnation of Iran’s nuclear program, tension between India and Pakistan, and claim and counter-claim about state sponsorship of destabilizing non-state groups in India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. Less recognized is a gradual but decisive trend towards cooperation among states in the region. In plain contradiction to the pernicious notion of a Shia crescent, this trend has been gaining strength in the past several years and will become still more important with the twin pressures of economic downturn and the politics of fossil fuels. This trend has been demonstrated by a trade agreement, announced in July 2008, among Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.2 Perhaps most symbolically, it was demonstrated in the invitation extended by the Saudi royal family to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to attend the hajj. The question is not, therefore, will Obama talk to Tehran, but will the United States find a place of persuasive influence within the complex regional diplomatic dynamics?

The trend towards regional cooperation among Turkey, Iran and Pakistan is crucial to understanding the issue of Iranian nuclear weapons in two ways. First, negatively, the cooperation among these countries and others in the region has created a context in which the “hard power” asserted by Western governments and institutions, particularly the United States, is inappropriate. Coercive economic power is becoming increasingly undermined by Iran’s economic partnerships. Military action would have untold consequences for Turkey and Pakistan, states that are already fragile and crucial to regional stability and the struggle against global terrorism. Second, both negatively and positively, important lessons are to be learned from the current political context in Turkey and Pakistan and their relations to the Iranian regime. Both states will be crucial if soft-power efforts are to be successful. In both, the public perception of the United States has plummeted in recent years. At the same time, there have been instances of cooperation and diplomacy between these states that could be the key to future stability. The religious context in these countries is also essential to the future of the region.3


Hard Power and the Nuclear Issue

Hard power is defined as the ability to force an entity to do something, typically through economic coercion or military force. This stands in contrast to soft power, the ability to persuade or attract agreement in order to achieve objectives.4 UN Resolutions 1696, 1737 and 1747 (2007) all emphasized the importance of “political and diplomatic efforts to find a negotiated solution guaranteeing that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes.”5 This wording was dropped in Resolution 1803 (March 2008), but there was a continued emphasis on diplomatic efforts in the document. However, underpinning the resolutions has been the hard-power threat of sanctions, which were increased in Resolution 1803 to include a number of individuals and companies thought to be linked in some way to the Iranian nuclear program. It should be emphasised that these efforts remain predicated on a notion of hard power so long as the emphasis, practically and rhetorically, is on coercion. Particularly in the context of threatening language used by the Bush administration, it is difficult for diplomacy to be seen consistently as such, but it is certainly diplomacy predicated on hard power, or what Anthony Newkirk refers to as “strategies of tension.”6 In October 2007, the Bush administration imposed the strongest economic sanctions against Iran since the 1979 revolution. The 2007 designation of the Revolutionary Guards Corp as a terrorist organization allows the government under U.S. law to freeze assets and obstruct funding of any foreign business that supports it.7 With partial success, the U.S. government has attempted to prevent European energy companies and banks from doing business with Iran.8 Even diplomacy, then, is predicated on coercion. In fact, the Bush administration’s logic concerning Iran was that only hard power is appropriate. This was, indeed, self-evident because of its characterization of Iran as an irrational actor.9

The simple fact is that coercion is antithetical to persuasive diplomacy, and rhetorical bellicosity can stifl e practical cooperation and dialogue before it has even begun. This simple fact will remain telling as the Obama administration defines what “tough” diplomacy and smart power entail.10 The remainder of this article will set out the inherent problems with the way that power has been conceived in much of U.S. policy towards Iran. Taking renewed diplomacy as the only viable way forward, it will emphasize that the United States will not be primarily talking to, but learning from, the weave of regional coordination, dialogue and engagement that has evolved over the past several years, in contrast to U.S. attempts at coercive leverage. The article will suggest that Western powers need to gain a more attuned sense of changes in the regional context if they are to gain their desired outcomes concerning both Iran and the wider stability of the region.

Soft Power and the Nuclear Issue

[P]ower resources cannot be judged without knowing the context. Before you judge who is holding the high cards, you need to understand the game you are playing and how the value of the cards may be changing.

-Joseph Nye, Soft Power11

The efforts of the UN, and particularly the EU, have been widely understood as soft power, diplomacy instead of military intervention. The Europeans have attempted to use a complex mixture of carrots and sticks in order to achieve their desired result of ending Iranian nuclear enrichment. As Bruno Tertrais puts it, “What the Europeans are trying to demonstrate is ‘the power of soft power:’ resolving a proliferation crisis by using the union’s political and economic might.”12 Tertrais is right; this is how soft power has been widely been conceived in the successive rounds of diplomacy. However, it is an erroneous conception of soft power as demonstrated by the reference to “political and economic might.” If it is to be effective, soft power must be a much longer-term strategy of gaining influence over shared understanding and values. Short-term might is antithetical to soft power. Similarly, there is the misperception that the previous U.S. administration belatedly shifted to a strategy based on soft power,13 most notably in diplomatic efforts spearheaded by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. These efforts cannot be considered true soft power, due to the engrained rhetorical presuppositions that are taken into any negotiations, including the aforementioned preconditions and the Bush administration’s image of the Iranian administration and vice versa. This is particularly the case if diplomacy is conceived only as a means to isolate Iran or to give the appearance of having tried the diplomatic option.

More often, where it has been considered at all, soft power has generally been understood by the Bush administration as an attempt to alter the political context by covert means, by funding groups opposing the present Iranian regime.14 For example, there have been suggestions of State Department support for the Mojahedin e-Khalq, despite the fact that the State Department has defi ned the group as a terrorist organization.15 Given this context, short-term symbolic diplomatic efforts, such as July 2008 news of a U.S. diplomatic presence in Tehran, may be important steps but do not in themselves constitute a move to soft power.16 Similarly talk “without preconditions” is all very well, but the crucial determinant of success will be how well the new administration learns from the established diplomatic relationships in the region. If soft power is to be useful as a term and as a tool for obtaining desired outcomes, it must be conceived more rigorously than simply as the rhetoric of diplomatic efforts. It should begin with comprehensive attempts to understand the rapidly changing subtleties of the context and the perceptions of the actors. Second, based on these, it should involve convincing and not coercing.

Regional Issues and Trade Relations

At least since the late 1960s, Iran has been bolstered both economically and in terms of international leverage by its relations with China. This relationship has burgeoned recently, and Iran has been able to depend on both China’s ever-growing need for Iranian hydrocarbons and the diplomatic support provided by China’s place on the UN Security Council.17 In 2007, China represented about 14.5 percent of foreign direct investment (FDI) into Iran, while Japan was a close second at 13.3 percent.18 These figures explain the Iranian government’s sense that it need not be intimidated by sanctions. They also explain the U.S. frustration and attempts to assert sanctions by proxy. The strain on Iran’s economy caused by the Falling price of oil is sure to cause some to trumpet a new opportunity to make economic coercion more telling. The dynamics will certainly change, but this will not make understanding regional trade relations any less important.

Less talked about is the country at third place on the table of Iranian FDI: Turkey, at 7.7 percent. This is important, not only as an indication of a strong economic relationship between Iran and its majority-Muslim neighbour, but also for what it signals for the future. The Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), founded by Turkey, Iran and Pakistan in 1985 and expanded to include seven other central Asian countries in 1992, is well positioned to be a significant force in both European and Asian demand for hydrocarbons. In July 2007, Turkey signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran concerning gas and oil transit and joint energy investments. Kursad Tuzmen, the Turkish foreign trade minister, has emphasized Turkey’s focus on rapid expansion of trade among ECO member states. Tuzmen explained that preferential trade deals among Turkey, Iran and Pakistan would come into effect in early 2008 and that he was “expecting a boom in Turkey’s trade with Iran and Pakistan.”19

In addition to existing gas-supply contracts with Turkey, Iran may also have a role to play in the supply to the Nabucco pipeline and thus to European energy security. The U.S. government has been ardent in its opposition to Iranian involvement in any gas-pipeline projects. However, many hold the Nabucco pipeline to be of great importance to Europe’s energy security, which, in order to be realized, requires securing higher levels of supply.20 With the necessary investment, Iran is well positioned to meet this demand. The increased economic cooperation between the two countries may be a signal of increased movement in this direction. Italy is already the fifth-largest importer from Iran, constituting 6.6 percent of Iran’s total FDI in 2007.21 In March 2008, Switzerland signed a 25-year contract to purchase natural gas from Iran.22 If deals with Turkey expand to include supply to Nabucco, the importance of Iran as a supplier of hydrocarbons to Europe will greatly increase. It should also be considered that the geopolitical bridge between Europe and Iran via Turkey may in the future run deeper than energy security.23

Even if greater links to European markets through Turkey do not materialize, there are many other possibilities for Iran. The International North-South Transport Corridor is continuing to provide an alternate export route, and it is supported by Russia. The U.S. Department of Energy’s most recent projection estimates an 85 percent increase in demand in non-OECD (Organization for Cooperation and Development) countries over the next 30 years. The most notable cases, India and China, are both within a pipeline’s reach from Iran’s huge natural-gas reserves. Planning and negotiations continue for an Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline that would link Iranian gas reserves to these rapidly growing markets. IPI would contribute to the economic and energy priorities of all three states. India has a need for gas imports to replace its reliance on dirty coal. Pakistan would benefit from access to Iran’s gas, as over half of its energy needs are met by natural gas, and the demand is set to rise.

The pipeline would also be a significant example of cooperation between Iran and Pakistan, made hugely symbolic if India is involved. It has been dubbed the “Peace Pipeline” for its potential to contribute to a resolution to regional geopolitical disputes. Pressuring India to act or miss out, China has also expressed a desire to be involved in the pipeline; this would be in addition to the already considerable Chinese investments in developing Iranian gas fields.

Despite lack of investment, Iran’s own growing energy needs and broad economic difficulties, it is easy to see why the Iranian government is not bowed by U.S. economic coercion. U.S. sanctions have instilled a degree of hesitancy on the part of potential investors, but attempts to coerce have little effect on the bigger picture of potential future growth. With its vast hydrocarbon reserves — a close second to Saudi Arabia when natural-gas reserves are taken into account — Iran is in an exceptional position regarding the needs of Europe, India and China. The regional picture demonstrates that the simple logic of sanctions is unlikely to work. It also points to the possibilities that could come from a more nuanced understanding of the regional trade dynamics.

A Military Option?

Although myriad concerns shape U.S policy formulation in the Middle East, itself a subset of wider geopolitical policy, violence in Northern Iraq and Southeast Turkey, as well as the unfolding political and military situation in Pakistan and its border regions, present two large elements of uncertainty to the U.S. At a primary level, Turkey and Pakistan act as “gatekeepers” in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively, by providing the logistical linchpins to support the ongoing U.S. and NATO actions in these countries. At a secondary level, the militaries from both of these countries could play a crucial role regarding U.S. interests for similar, although not identical, reasons: It is vital that the Turkish military, the backbone of Turkish secularism, be able to agree with the United States on an approach to dealing with Kurdish nonstate actors in the region, while Pakistan’s border regions are crucial to tackling terrorism in the region and internationally. In view of these priorities, the United States appears to have increasingly dispensed with the ideal of democracy promotion, as stated, for example, in the National Security Strategies of 2002 and 2006. The combination of recent U.S. foreign policy, terrorism prevention and stability has not been compatible with advocating democracy.


An increase in cross-border attacks in October 2007 by the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) against Turkish military and civilian targets, which resulted in 40 casualties and the abduction of eight soldiers, prompted the Turkish parliament in October 2007 to authorize attacks in Northern Iraq against the PKK. This public display of outrage over the attacks escalated the diplomatic stakes for the United States.

By November 2007, approximately 100,000 Turkish soldiers stood at the Turkish-Iraqi border awaiting orders for how and where to proceed. The Financial Times reported on November 1, 2007, that the United States has a three-pronged strategy to show an improved U.S.-Turkish governmental approach to the issue, allow limited Turkish strikes against the PKK, and develop a longer-term strategy to change the policies and tactics of the PKK. In another related move, it appears Washington has signaled the “green-light for Turks to conduct limited cross-border raids into Iraqi territory.” The first of such raids took place on November 30, 2007, apparently resulting in the death of two PKK rebels.

To further complicate matters, the United States now stands accused of supporting a Kurdish group linked to the PKK that is conducting attacks in what could be described as an insurgency against Iran. Although this assertion has been denied by the United States. military, attacks launched from Northern Iraq continue against Iranian targets. These actions are undertaken by the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), which shares ideological and possibly logistical foundations with the PKK.24

This complex and somewhat contradictory picture of Kurdish separatist groups as understood through U.S.-Turkey and U.S.-Iran relations is quite different from the regional picture. Just as in trade relations, enhanced cooperation has also been a theme of security policy between Turkey and Iran. Both face opposition from Kurdish rebel groups, the PKK in Turkey and the PJAK in Iran. Turkey and Iran signed a memorandum of understanding concerning the issue on April 17, 2008, and a statement after the 12th High Security Commission between the two countries stated that “the increase in some terrorist movements in the region damages both countries, and the most infl uential way to battle this problem is the exchange of intelligence and security cooperation.”25 As Iranian Deputy Interior Minister Abbas Mohtaj has made clear, “Iran looks at the PKK and the PJAK as a single terrorist organization under two different names. We want to increase cooperation with Turkey against the terrorist organizations.”26 As Giray Sadik points out, these developments should be seen in the light of Turkey’s cross-border incursions into Iraq and frustration over the perceived U.S. failure to crush terrorist strongholds: “Any deterioration in Turkish-American cooperation on Iraq is likely to push Ankara into a search for regional partners such as Iran and Syria.”

If Iran were to be attacked, the PKK and PJAK would be emboldened, and Iran’s military may not be in a position to continue operations in partnership with Turkey. Thus, while U.S. Congressman Mark Kirk has stated that in the event of military attacks on Iran, “the U.S. would expect Turkey not to interfere with anything, just like Belgium,”27 doing nothing is unlikely to be an option. Turkey, already undergoing a period of domestic political turmoil, would likely be left to tackle the PKK alone, and the potential for violence between the Turkish military and PKK rebels would be drastically increased, both inside and outside of Turkish territory.

Turkey is also a secular Muslim democracy, which represents the virtual embodiment of the U.S. administration’s goal in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Although progress appears to have stalled, it also presents the opportunity for the hugely symbolic inclusion of a Muslim majority state into the European Union. However, pressures on the state, particularly in regard to the Kurdish issue, have historically been detrimental to the development of democratic institutions and governance in Turkey. Since the founding of the state by Kemal Ataturk, the military in Turkey has stood as the bastion of secularism and has been called upon at several important times of crisis in Turkey to restore order. This reliance on the military to maintain the secular character of the state is a hallmark of the Turkish system. Events in the spring and summer of 2007, surrounding the nomination of former Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül for president, brought the military back into the political discourse and narrowly averted overt military intervention.28 With lingering uncertainty about Northern Iraq and increased public support for military action among the Turks, the military will remain a constant in the political calculations in Turkey. Despite the apparent success of recent diplomacy in defusing the tensions along the Iraqi-Turkish border, polls in late 2007 showed that 81 percent of Turks favor a cross-border attack against the PKK.29

Recent bomb blasts in Istanbul, the most deadly in almost five years, are believed to have been the responsibility of Kurdish rebels.30 The July 2008 Turkish Supreme Court ruling, which chastised but did not make illegal the AKP and a Kurdish political party, is a positive sign for continued progress and dialogue in the country.31 However, the uncertainty that the court case has caused underlines the ongoing fragility of the political process in Turkey. In order for the better side of recent positive steps in Turkish political reform to become entrenched, stability is crucial. An attack on Iran would likely drastically exacerbate Kurdish rebel violence, undermine regional cooperation and weaken an already precarious Turkish state.


The U.S. relationship with Pakistan and the regime of former President Pervez Musharraf represented a complicated case of balancing the short-term realist interest with long-term liberal goals. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, Pakistan has been a strong ally of the United States in its Global War on Terror, has assisted with ongoing U.S. missions in Afghanistan and led the mission against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan. In addition to this extensive military cooperation and support, the United States had also attempted to maintain a commitment to democratization in the wider Middle East by pressing President Musharraf to improve democratic governance and institutions. In an International Public Policy Report briefi ng, Katharine Adeney points out the danger “ that while the West behaves as though it can have all its goals met in Pakistan, the strategy of some, particularly in the United States, may result in the achievement of none of them.” 32

As Musharraf sided with the United States, he walked a difficult path to maintain his control over Pakistan. Two assassination attempts in 2003 began a period of instability and uncertainty that has plagued the U.S. perception of Pakistan down to the present. These assassination attempts in particular highlighted the vulnerability of the U.S. alliance with Pakistan, which hinged on President Musharraf’s remaining in charge of the country. From another perspective, President Musharraf capitalized on this fear in U.S. policy circles and exploited it to further weaken the movement for increased democratization in Pakistan as a raison d’état to maintain security and stability by bolstering his power and authority.

The New York Times reported in April 2007 that Pakistan’s government “has given limited authority to kill Arab and other foreign operatives in the tribal areas, using remotely piloted Predator aircraft.”33 A number of these Predator attacks have occurred, and they are a contentious issue.34 Special Representative richard Holbrooke now heads the U.S. diplomatic efforts, and the pressure is on President Asif Zardari to either curtail non-state militancy or accede to the more direct American military assaults, including the presence of ground troops within Pakistan. Seeing this dispute only through this hard-power prism is likely to continue to exacerbate the radicalization of individuals in the border territories. A truly decisive victory in this battle requires the support of the region’s people.35

To varying extents, there have been longstanding links between sectarian militant groups and those advocating a violent jihad against foreign interests in the region. For many years now, the focus of terrorism analysts has been the long border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, in addition to this highly tense political environment, we should remember that Iran shares a 909 km border with Pakistan. This border has also been an area of terrorist militancy, although thus far to a lesser extent than that of Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is a long history of Jihadist militant groups operating in both Pakistan and Iran. Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) is a militant group that targets the Shia community, primarily in Pakistan. The group has also targeted Iranian governmental and military personnel. SSP is still large and active, operating from 500 offices in the Punjab.36 Jundullah (soldiers of Allah) is a group operating in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan, as well as in Iran. The United States has been accused of encouraging and advising this group in order to undermine the Iranian state. Although the CIA has denied funding the group, Pakistani sources are reported to have said that supporting the group in its campaign against Iran was on the agenda of a meeting between Dick Cheney and Pervez Musharaff in February 2007.37 Finally Mujahedin-e Khalq, designated as a terrorist organization by Western governments, also operates in the Iran-Pakistan border area, and, again, the United States has been accused of assisting this group.38

It is little wonder, then, that Iran and Pakistan have sought to cooperate in targeting militant groups across this border. This is a further example of regional cooperation in contrast to contradictory U.S. policy. Pakistan and Iran recently announced that they had agreed on a joint cross-border strategy against the threat posed by terrorist groups. The U.S. government stands accused of funding and supporting insurgent groups in order to undermine the Iranian government. Also, as in the case of Turkey, an attack on Iran would place these insurgent groups in a stronger position within a region of fragile states.

Soft Power?

A pattern emerges in the above analysis. U.S. hard power is contrasted with regional examples of soft power. This phenomenon is mirrored by the unpopularity of the United States in the region. In view of this, the Pew Research Center polls on America’s image in other countries is revealing. In 2007, those in Turkey with “favorable views of America” reached a low point of 9 percent. It is of note that the figure dropped 11 percentage points between 2005 (23 percent) and 2006 (12 percent), the year in which sanctions began and belligerent U.S. rhetoric towards Iran was ratcheted up. In 2008, the figure returned to 12 percent, perhaps a signal that limited diplomatic efforts towards Iran had some popularity in Turkey. A similar pattern but different timing is evident in the case of Pakistan. Positive views of the United States dropped 12 percentage points between 2006 (27 percent) and 2007 (15 percent). The year 2008 saw a four-point rise to 19 percent.39 These statistics do not bode well for U.S. soft power in the region. It will be soft power in name only unless there is a more rigorous understanding that it involves a radical shift in thinking about the region. Such a shift requires a better understanding of the complex game that is being played.

In the politics of the region, religion is a notable form of soft power, and Jeffery Haynes has suggested that this should be further explored.40 In the case of Turkey, Pakistan and Iran, it is significant that enhanced cooperation among these states is undermining the pernicious notion of a “Shia crescent.” In this case, a Shia Islamic state, a secular democratic state with a ruling Islamic party, and a secular state with a Sunni majority and a complex Islamic patchwork are finding mutual benefit from their shared interests and values. In so doing, they are dissolving divisive politics predicated on singular conceptions of identity.

For better or worse, religious soft power will continue to be an important force in the region. In the aftermath of Iraq and the bloody insurgency there, this force has primarily been seen in negative terms, but there have been signs of change. The Saudis’ invitation to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to make the hajj might be an example of religious diplomacy.41 The announcement by Iranian offi cials of a trade agreement among Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (with a Shia majority in Iran and Sunni majorities in the other two) combines economic interest with a diplomacy that can often bridge divisive religious politics.42 The ability of Turkey to bring together Syria and Israel for talks over a resolution to the issue of the Golan Heights is another example of its unifying diplomatic role.43 Perhaps Turkey could be a mediator in renewed diplomatic talks between the Iranian regime and the new U.S. administration.44 For Turkey, Iran and Pakistan, shared economic and security issues have combined to promote change in the diplomatic context. Those who wish to have positive influence in the region will need to keep pace with these developments and their potential to heal the wounds inflicted in recent years.


As the popular view of the United States in Turkey, Pakistan and other countries in the region has plummeted, cooperation among these states has continued or increased. This trend implies important questions, challenges and possibilities for the new U.S. president. A means to deal with the region must be established that does not undermine, but rather benefits from, the current progress in regional cooperation. In order to enhance its value to security and stability, diplomacy will need to be knowledgeable of and persuasive in the regional context. Then it can attempt to be “tough.”

In the apparent aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and in spite of the divisive Iranian nuclear issue, we are seeing increased examples of cooperation in the region. These should not be overstated, and are in many cases in the early stages, but this is soft power in the service of regional stability. Regional actors are influencing each other to realize shared interests. An attack on Iran would rupture these efforts and create unimaginable insecurity. In order to have a positive impact on the stability of the region, policy makers must understand these develop ments and their potential for achieving desirable outcomes. These changes are having a direct impact on both the economy and the security of the region. States are increasingly recognizing that thwarting terrorist groups is a shared priority that necessitates coordinated measures by many states. Cooperation between Iran and Pakistan and Iran and Turkey in this regard is notable.

Those who complain that diplomacy will not work for the Iranian nuclear issue have likely been frustrated by their lack of understanding of the changing dynamics of power in the region. To compound this misreading with a resort to further hard power would seem to make the situation, and the region, more dangerous. In view of the demographics of the states in the region, which enjoy a very high proportion of young people, the power to convince will only become more crucial in the coming years. The cards are being redealt. Policy makers must learn, fast, the hard- and soft-power lessons from Turkey, Pakistan and Iran.

1 [].

2 Retrieved July 21, 2008, from [].

3 Iran is a Shia Islamic republic, and around 90 percent of the population are Shia Muslims. The majority of Turkey’s population are Sunni Muslims, but it is a secular state. The ruling AK party was established on Islamic values, and the present context is one of prevailing secularism but with increased democratic pluralism. Pakistan is also a constitutionally secular state. However, Sunni religious identity continues to play a decisive role in internal politics, even if religious parties do not receive a high share of the electoral vote.

4 J. Nye, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (Public Affairs, 2004).

5 United Nations Security Council (2006), “Resolution 1696,” p. 2; (2007), “Resolution 1737,” p. 2; (2007) “Resolution 1747”, p. 1;

6 Anthony Newkirk, “Diplomacy and Hypocrisy: The Case of Iran,” Middle East Policy, Vol. 15, No. 1, Spring 2008.

7 Mahjoob Zweri, Michael Bell and Matthew Wotton, The War of Words and the National Intelligence Estimate Puzzle: A Wider Perspective on the U.S. Confrontation with Iran (CSS, 2008), available at [http://jcss. org/UploadEvents/144.pdf].

8 Newkirk, “Diplomacy and Hypocrisy,” p. 34.

9 Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, “Manufacturing War: Iran in the Neo-Conservative Imagination,” Third World Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 3, pp. 636, 641.

10 See Suzanne Maloney and Ray Takeyh, “Pathway to Coexistence: A New U.S. Policy toward Iran,” in Richard N. Haass and Martin S. Indyk, eds., Restoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President (Brookings Institution Press, 2008), pp. 59-91.

11 Nye, Soft Power, p. 4.

12 Bruno Tertrais, “The European Union and Nuclear Non-Proliferation: Does Soft Power Work?” The International Spectator, Vol. 40, No.3, pp. 45-57.

13 Roger Hardy, “U.S. Adopts ‘Soft Power’ with Iran,” retrieved July 24, 2008, from [].

14 U.S. Governement, “Iran Freedom and Support Act of 2005,” retrieved July 16, 2008, from [ ]. See the pledge “to provide financial and political assistance (including the award of grants) to foreign and domestic individuals, organizations, and entities that support democracy and the promotion of democracy in Iran.”

15 Newkirk, “Diplomacy and Hypocrisy,” p. 36.

16 Ewen MacAskill, “After 30 Years, U.S. to Send Diplomats to Iran,” The Guardian, July 16, 2008.

17 Manochehr Dorrag and Carrie L. Carter, “Lubricated with Oil: Iran-China Relations in a Changing World,” Middle East Policy, Vol. 15, No. 2, Summer 2008.

18 See []

19 John C. K. Daly, “Turkey Moves to Position Itself as a Strategic Transit Corridor for Caspian Hydrocarbons,” Eurasia Daily Monitor Vol. 4, No. 161, retrieved from [ php?article id=2372384].

20 Ali Tekin and Iva Walterova, “Turkey’s Geopolitical Role: The Energy Angle,” Middle East Policy, Vol. 24, No. 1, Katinka Barysch, “Turkey’s Role in European Energy Security,” Centre for European Reform.

21 See [].

22 “Iran, Switzerland Ink Key Gas Deal,” Tehran Times, March 18, 2008, retrieved from [].

23 Ali Tekin, “Future of Turkey-EU Relations: A Civilisational Discourse,” in Futures, No. 37, 2005, pp. 287- 302.

24 Richard Oppell III, “In Iraq, Conflict Simmers on a 2nd Kurdish Front,” The New York Times, October 23, 2007. accessed from =1&ei=5087&em&en=6110c07b2720feaa&ex=1193371200 on November 1, 2007.

25 Giray Sadik, “Iran and Turkey Move Closer to Counter-Terrorism Cooperation,” in Terrorism Focus, Vol. 5, No. 16, p. 4.

26 Ibid.

27 Cen Ertür, “Coming War Against Iran: Increasing Anglo-American Pressure on Turkey,” retrieved from [].

28 Sarah Rainsford, “Turkey Awaits AKP’s Next Step,” BBC News, July 23, 2007, accessed from http://news. on November 5, 2007.

29 Gareth Jones, “Turkey Urges Kurd Rebels to Disarm Amid Iraq Tension,” Reuters News Service, November 16, 2007, accessed from on November 17, 2007.

30 Robert Tait, “Istanbul Rocked by Bomb Attacks” [].

31 Given the significance of Turkey as a Muslim democracy and key link between the West and other Muslim states, it is of note that the White House declined to comment on the threat to make the AKP illegal or even on rumors of a coup d’état. Bush only offered that he is a “supporter of Turkey.”

32 Katharine Adeney, “Bad News Makes Headlines: Security Challenges Posed by Pakistan,” IPPR, January 2008.

33 Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Military Seeks to Widen Pakistan Raids,” The New York Times, April 20, 2008.


35 Danial J. Simons, “A U.S. Attack on Pakistan?” New Statesman, July 29, 2008.

36 Nicholas Howenstein, “The Jihadi Terrain in Pakistan: An Introduction to the Sunni Jihadi Groups in Pakistan and Kashmir” (Pakistan Security Research Unit, 2008).

37 Brian Ross and Christopher Isham, “ABC News Exclusive: The Secret War Against Iran” [].

38 Newkirk, “Diplomacy and Hypocrisy,” p. 36.

39 Pew Global Attitudes Project, “Global Economic Gloom – China and India Notable Exceptions,” retrieved July 24, 2008, from [].

40 Jeffery Haynes, “Religion, ‘Soft Power’ and Foreign Policy Making in the USA, India and Iran,” Third World Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2007.

41 Sana Abdallah, “Ahmadinejad’s Hajj More than Religious,” retrieved from[ 12/13/ahmadinejads_hajj_more_than_religious/5979/].

42 Retrieved July 21, 2008, from [].

43 Ethan Bronner, “Israel Holds Peace Talks with Syria,” The New York Times, May 2, 2008.

44 Mahjoob Zweiri, “The Tehran-Washington Talks Dilemma and Possible Scenarios,” February 18, 2009, available at [].