Few events involving the Middle East have been analysed, examined in their multiple facets as much as the Iranian revolution. This should not, however, discourage scholars from addressing the issue, but rather induce them to consider other perspectives, widening the range of actors and interests involved. The Iranian revolution marked the end of more than thirty years of alliance with Washington, profoundly affecting US policy in the region. It also brought some changes affecting the bipolar competition and the regional systems of alliance in the delicate passage of the late 1970s, notably the new rise in tensions between Moscow and Washington, the revived dynamism of Soviet policy in the Third World, and the evolving nature of NATO. Providing an appraisal of these transformations through the lens of the Iranian revolution is one of the purposes of the panel, which will explore the impact of regime change on Tehran’s relations with the Soviet Union, Turkey, and Western Europe. Drawing on primary sources, oral sources, and interviews, the papers will try to assess how effectively and successfully Turkey, the Soviet Union and the European Community readjusted to the changes in the regional and international order triggered by the Iranian revolution. Particular attention will be paid to the impact of Cold War constraints and of transatlantic ties on their responses to Iranian events, on the interplay between national interests and broader strategic considerations, and on the difficulties they encountered in interpreting the attitudes of the new regime in Tehran vis-à-vis the international arena. The goal will be to assess how the collapse of the Pahlavi regime and the establishment of the Islamic Republic modified the balance of power in the region and redefined the priorities of the countries under investigation. More specifically Therme’s paper will examine the implications of revolution on the Cold War in the Gulf and on the Soviet approach to the region, an aspect that acquired further relevance after Moscow’s invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. Goode and Castiglioni’s papers will focus on the impact of the revolution on some of the staunchest US allies in the region: Turkey and the European Community. In the aftermath of the regime change and, even more, the hostage crisis, both Ankara and the European countries were faced with the difficult task of reconciling their role as Washington’s allies and their interests in the region.
In 1978, on the eve of the revolution, the European Community represented the first commercial partner of Iran, which ranked sixth among the EC’s trading partners. Politically Iran tried to use its wealth to promote goals complementary to those of the Atlantic partners: by the end of the decade the country was regarded as a useful ally in the area not only by Washington, but also by Western European countries. Given the extent of the collaboration between Tehran and its European partners, it is easy to understand the alarm when, in January 1979, after more than fifty years under Pahlavi rule the Shah was toppled by a mob of angry protesters, leaving his Western allies in Europe as much as in Washington, in dismay. In the aftermath of the revolution, though eager to protect their financial investments in Iran, most of the European countries acquiesced in the American position to demonstrate transatlantic solidarity. Nonetheless this formal cohesion among the Western countries showed signs of divergences, above all with regard to the commercial restrictions to be imposed to the new regime. Drawing on the European Community’s official papers, the sources located in British and French archives, oral histories and interviews, the paper will try to explore the main fields in which these divergences emerged and their relevance, both on the U.S.-Europe front as on the intra-European one. In doing so the study will also assess the level of cohesiveness of the European Community as international actor and its ability to produce a coordinated response in reaction to the crisis. In some passages the analysis of EC–Iran relations is combined with a brief examination of the broader geostrategic context, first and foremost the transatlantic alliance. Between the late 1970s and the early 1980s many Western European countries, including the key EC members, showed increasing reluctance to lend unambiguous support to American policy in the Third World. In this framework the Iranian crisis can shed some light on the changes underway in the European approach to the global arena and in new patterns in the transatlantic alliance, especially on Third World issues. The paper will take into examination both the perspectives of some single Western European countries and that of the European Economic Community in light of the relevant role it played, especially after the hostage crisis, in expressing European interests, policies, and priorities vis-à-vis both Washington and Tehran.