Unformatted text preview: The London School of Economics and Political Science UNDERSTANDING THE ROLE OF STATE IDENTITY IN
FOREIGN POLICY DECISION-MAKING
The Rise and Demise of Saudi–Iranian
Rapprochement (1997–2009) ADEL ALTORAIFI A thesis submitted to the Department of International Relations of the
London School of Economics and Political Science for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
London, October 2012 1 To Mom and Dad—for everything. 2 DECLARATION
I certify that the thesis I have presented for examination for the PhD degree
of the London School of Economics and Political Science is solely my own work.
The copyright of this thesis rests with the author. Quotation from it is
permitted, provided that full acknowledgement is made. This thesis may not be
reproduced without the prior written consent of the author.
I warrant that this authorization does not, to the best of my belief, infringe
the rights of any third party.
The final word count of this thesis, including titles, footnotes and in-text
citations, is 105,889 words. 3 ABSTRACT
The objective of the thesis is to study the concept of state identity and its
role in foreign policy decision-making through a constructivist analysis, with particular
focus on the Saudi–Iranian rapprochement of 1997. While there has been a recent
growth in the study of ideational factors and their effects on foreign policy in the Gulf,
state identity remains understudied within mainstream International Relations (IR),
Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA), and even Middle Eastern studies literature, despite its
importance and manifestation in the region’s foreign policy discourses. The aim is to
challenge purely realist and power-based explanations that have dominated the
discourse on Middle Eastern foreign policy—and in particular, the examination of
Saudi Arabia and Iran have played key roles in Gulf security for the past
four decades, yet there have been few studies addressing their bilateral relations.
Traditionally, differences—including sectarianism, nationalism, revolutionary ideology,
competition over regional hegemony, oil prices, policy towards US military presence in
the Gulf, and disagreements over the hajj—are often cited as reasons for their rivalry,
yet these differences do not on their own offer a convincingly clear explanation as to
why the rapprochement took place at that particular time, or why it thrived—and
subsequently declined—despite the continuing presence of these issues.
The primary purpose of the thesis is to analyse and understand the reasons
behind the rise and demise of the Saudi–Iranian rapprochement of 1997. By focusing on
ideational and materialist factors, the thesis seeks to demonstrate how changes in state
identity—particularly in the official foreign policy discourse—indicates changes in
policy, and therefore a shift in the amity–enmity pattern between the two states. Without
discarding the value of realist explanations, the thesis will argue that the rapprochement
process of 1997 has been significantly (though not exclusively) influenced by changes
in state identity in each state. Moreover, this thesis provides a theoretical framework
based on the concept of state identity and role theory (“self versus other”) to study the
evolution of enmity, the rise of the rapprochement process during the Khatami
presidency (1997–2005), and the subsequent revival of Saudi–Iranian rivalry during
President Ahmadinejad’s first term (2005–2009).
4 The main argument of this thesis is that ideational and materialist factors
were instrumental in the demise of the rapprochement process, but the change in Iran’s
state identity during the first term of President Ahmadinejad altered the perception of
each state towards the other. Thus, the relationship transformed from a state of relative
friendliness to a state of enmity and rivalry. This is explained by examining the
muqawama–mumana’a discourse and the “moderates” versus “radicals” debate that
consumed the narrative of Saudi–Iranian relations between 2005 and 2009.
The methods employed in answering these research questions and
hypotheses are largely structured around a chronological account of the development
and formation of state identities and an analysis of each state’s foreign policy discourse
during the period in question. This will be supplemented by qualitative interviews with
individuals who participated in the rapprochement process, and will draw upon new
archival material that has hitherto not been utilised in the literature on this subject. 5 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Along the winding road to completion of this thesis I have been fortunate enough to
meet many wonderful people who have made the long and oft-times difficult journey more than
worthwhile, many of whom I hope will remain lifelong friends. My deepest gratitude is owed to
all of them. Indeed, I am put in mind of the famous words of Sir Winston Churchill and would
like to say that never in the field of International Relations has so much been owed to so many
by one person.
I would first like to thank my supervisor, Dr. Katerina Dalacoura, for her gracious
direction, patience and guidance, for which I am truly indebted. From her, I learned the
principles of academic research, objectivity, and the ethics of scientific inquiry. She has read
every single sentence many times over. She truly embodies the wise words of Nikos
Kazantzakis: ‘True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite
their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging
them to create their own’. Για όλα, σας ευχαριστώ πολύ.
Sincere thanks are also due to HRH Prince Faisal bin Salman al-Saud for his continuous
support, belief and encouragement. I would also like to express my gratitude to the tremendous
cast of individuals who granted me interviews, in particular HRH Prince Turki al-Faisal at
Gerogetown University, Ambassador Adel al-Joubier in Washington, DC, Dr Seyed Hossein
Mousavian at Princeton University, and Dr Ata’ollah Mohajerani in London, for sharing their
personal historical experiences and offering insights to Saudi-Iranian relations that were simply
not available in books alone.
My appreciation and thanks go to Professor Fouad Ajami for receiving me into his
sessions during the spring semester 2010 course “Arab Political Thought and Practice” at SAIS
Johns Hopkins University, which I found intellectually informative and stimulating; the lively
discussion sessions were most enjoyable and beneficial.
The 7th floor crowd at Clement House are all worthy of praise and gratitude for allowing
me to hold forth on my subject, either supporting me or shooting me down in flames as required
on many occasions. Special thanks must go to my closest supporters and protagonists Manuel
Almeida, Gregorio Bettiza, Filippo Dionigi, Rebecca Freedman and Kevork Oskanian.
I have no words to thank Mrs. Jan Singfield, my personal assistant, whom I am proud to
call my friend. Over the past few years, she has assisted me in organizing my interviews and
travels, and always made sure I put the thesis before other commitments. For these things—and
much more—I will always be grateful. Finally, I would like to thank Ms. Jenna Marangoni, who
helped proofread the final version and often provided valuble suggestions while I was revising
this disseration for submission.
To everyone, I am truly grateful. 6 FRONT MATTER
Note on Translation and Transliteration
Where possible, I have used the translation and transliteration style of the British Journal of
Middle Eastern Studies.1 This incorporates the transliteration style of the International Journal
of Middle Eastern Studies.2 Defintions for Arabic and Persian terms have been provided with
reference to the Oxford Dictionary of Islam.3 Any translated material within the text was
translated by the source cited, except as otherwise noted.
Ahl al-hal wal-‘aqd Those qualified to elect or depose a caliph on behalf of the Muslim
community. In medieval political theory, the term refers to legal
scholars whose task it was to offer the caliphate to the most qualified
person. (lit. those who solve and bind) as-salaf as-salih Usually used in the sense of “pious ancestors,” especially the first
three generations of the Muslim community, who are considered to
have lived the normative experience of Islam. Often referred to in
works by Hanbali jurists, particularly Ibn Taymiyyah and Muhammad
ibn Abd al-Wahhab. (lit. ancestors) bay’ah An oath of allegiance to a leader; an unwritten pact between the
subjects by leading members of the tribe with the understanding that,
as long as the leader abides by certain responsibilities toward his
subjects, they are to maintain their allegiance to him. da’wa The teaching of Islam. (lit. propagation) diyana (lit. theological knowledge) fatwā Legal ruling on Islamic law by an Islamic scholar. faqīh (pl. fuqahā’) An expert in Islamic law; a jurist. Iraniyat Iranian Nationalism. Al-Islamiyyun Islamists. A term used to describe an Islamic political or social
activist. Coined in preference to the more common term “Islamic
fundamentalist”. Islamists are committed to implementation of their
ideological vision of Islam in the state and/or society. Islamiyat Shi’a political Islam. ijtihād Independent reasoning through individual study of scripture. majlis Used to describe various types of special gatherings among common
interest groups be it administrative, social or religious in countries
with linguistic or cultural connections to Islam; the Iranian
parliament. (lit. a place of sitting) Majlis al-Shūrā The Consultative Council Marja al-Taqlid The most learned of the Shi’a, literally means “religious reference” or
“source to imitate”. British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies; "Instructions for authors". Available at:
2 International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies October 2010: "IJMES Translation and Transliteration
Guide". Available at: < >.
3 Esposito 2003: Oxford Dictionary of Islam.
1 mostazafin The lower classes; the term also refers to those who are deprived of
the opportunity to develop their full potential. Khomeini spoke of two
diametrically opposed versions of Islam: that of the mutakbirin (the
rich and arrogant) and that of the mostazafin. (lit. the oppressed) mustakbirin The opposite of mostazafin, it refers to those in power who oppresses
people. (lit. proud and mighty) mumana’a Passive resistance. muqawama Active or armed resistance. Salafi Follower of a Sunni Islamic movement that takes the salaf (pious
ancestors) of the patristic period of early Islam as exemplary models. Shari’a The moral code and religious law of Islam. Shura Consultation of the people in the management of religious and
worldly affairs. A duty prescribed in the Qur’an to leaders at all
levels, from family to government. tabligh To disseminate the message of Islam. (lit. calling) ulama’ Muslim religious scholars. From the ninth century onward, the
primary interpreters of Islamic law and the social core of Muslim
urban societies. umma The world community of Muslims. vilāyat-i faqīh Guardianship of the Jurist. Wahhabi Follower of a conservative Sunni Islamic religious movement that
arose in the Arabian peninsula during the eighteenth century.
Wahhabism is Saudi Arabia’s dominant faith. Muhammad Ibn Abd alWahhab, (d. 1791) was a conservative theologian and Hanbali jurist
who proclaimed the necessity of returning directly to the Qu’ran and
hadith, rather than relying on medieval interpretations. Wahhabism
denounces the practices of shrine cults, saint worship, as heretical
innovations. 8 Acronyms and Abbreviations
ABII Alliance of Builders of Islamic Iran AFP Associated Foreign Press AIOC Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later BP) ANLF Arab National Liberation Front AP Associated Press ARAMCO Arabian American Oil Company BBC British Broadcasting Corporation CENTO Central Treaty Organisation CSCCI Council of the Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry EGFI Export Guarantee Fund of Iran EIU Economic Intelligence Unit FBIS-NES Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Near East and South Asia FDI Foreign Direct Investment FNA Fars News Agency (Iran) FPA Foreign Policy Analysis FTZ Free Trade Zone G8 Group of Eight GCC Gulf Cooperation Council GIP General Intelligence Presidency of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia GMEI Greater Middle East Initiative IAEA International Atomic Energy Agency ICC International Criminal Court ICP Islamic Coalition Party (of Iran) IR International Relations IRGC Army of the Guards of the Iranian Revolution IRNA Islamic Republic News Agency (Iran’s official news agency) ISE Islamic Society of Engineers (of Iran) ISNA Iranian Student’s News Agency KUNA Kuwait News Agency MEED Middle East Economic Digest MEES Middle East Economic Summary MEI Middle East International
9 MEM Middle East Mirror MER Middle East Report MENA Middle East and North Africa region MFN Most Favoured Nation MOD Ministry of Defence (in Saudi Arabia) MOI Ministry of the Interior MOU Memorandum of Understanding MP Member of Parliament NPC Iranian National Petroleum Company NRF National Reform Front NLF National Liberation Front OAPEC Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries OIC Organisation of Islamic Cooperation OPEC Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries PCA Permanent Court of Arbitration PLO Palestinian Liberation Organization SABIC Saudi Arabian Basic Industries Corporation SANG Saudi Arabian National Guard SAVAK Organization of Intelligence and National Security (Iran) SDF Saudi Development Fund SNC Saudi National Security Council SNSC Iranian Supreme National Security Council SoCal Standard Oil of California SPA Saudi Press Agency SWB Summary of World Broadcasts UAE United Arab Emirates UAR United Arab Republic UK United Kingdom UN United Nations UNSC United Nations Security Council UPAP Union of the People of the Arabian Peninsula US United States of America USSR Union of Soviet Socialist Republics 10 Timeline of Events
August 1929: Saudi Arabia and Iran sign a Friendship Treaty.
March 1930: Reza Shah appoints Habibollah Khan Hoveida as his minister to Jeddah.
May 1932: King Abdul Aziz sends his son, Prince Faisal, on a visit to Iran.
September 1941: Reza Shah’s pro-Axis allegiance in World War II leads to the Anglo-Russian
occupation of Iran and the deposition of the Shah in favour of his son, Mohammed Reza
August 1948: Saudi Arabia appoints Hamza I. Ghouth, from a Shi’ite background, as its first
ambassador to Iran.
April 1951: Iranian parliament votes to nationalise the oil industry, which is dominated by the
British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Britain imposes an embargo and a blockade, halting
oil exports and damaging the economy. A power struggle between the shah and Mossadegh
August 1953: Mossadegh is overthrown in a coup engineered by the British and US intelligence
services. General Fazlollah Zahedi is proclaimed prime minister and the shah returns.
November 1953: King Abdulaziz dies and is succeeded by the Crown Prince, Saud bin
Abdulaziz al-Saud. The new king’s brother, Faisal, is named crown prince.
August 1955: King Saud visits Iran.
March 1957: The shah visits Saudi Arabia.
September 1960: Saudi Arabia and Iran become founding members of OPEC.
November 1964: King Saud is deposed by his brother, Crown Prince Faisal. Prince Khalid is
named crown prince.
December 1966: King Faisal visits Iran.
October 1968: Saudi Arabia and Iran sign the Continental Shelf Boundary Agreement.
November 1968: The shah visits Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
January 1969: Iran drops its claims to Bahrain.
September 1969: The OIC is formed in Jeddah; Saudi Arabia and Iran are founding members.
November 1971: Iranian forces occupy three islands, including the strategic island of Abu
Musa at the entrance of the Strait of Hormuz, claimed by both Tehran and the United Arab
Emirates. The UAE agrees to share control of Abu Musa but continues to call for the return of
the other two islands, Lesser Tunbs and Greater Tunbs.
March 1975: King Faisal is assassinated; he is succeeded by his brother, Khalid al-Saud, and
Prince Fahd is named crown prince.
11 October 1978: Ayatollah Khomeini leaves Najaf after spending 14 years in exile. Khomeini
leaves for Kuwait, where he is denied entry and diverted to Paris.
January 1979: Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the shah of Iran, is ousted from power.
February 1979: Khomeini returns to Tehran and is installed as leader and founder of the
Islamic Republic of Iran.
May 1979: Saudi Arabia recognizes the Islamic Republic of Iran.
November 1979: Iranian students storm the US embassy and take several US citizens hostage.
The siege lasts 444 days and comes to be known as the Iran Hostage Crisis.
November 1979: Extremists seize the Grand Mosque of Mecca; the government regains control
after 10 days and those captured are executed.
September 1980: Khomeini calls for Iraq’s Shi’a to rise up against Saddam Hussein’s
government. Saddam responds by annulling the 1975 Algiers Agreement. Both countries shell
each other’s borders.
September 1980: Iraqi military forces invade Iran.
December 1981: Saudi Arabia and other GCC states issue a joint communiqué in response to
Iranian threats to target oil facilities.
June 1982: King Khalid dies and is succeeded by Fahd bin Abdulaziz al-Saud; Prince Abdullah
becomes crown prince.
May 1984: An Iranian F-4E fighter bomber attacks the 80,000-ton Kuwaiti tanker Umm
Casbah as it steams off the Saudi coast carrying a load of petroleum bound for the United
June 1984: The Saudi Air Force downs an Iranian F-4 fighter crossing the “Fahd Line” over
Saudi offshore oil facilities in the northern Gulf.
July 1987: More than 400 Iranian pilgrims are killed during the hajj in Mecca when they clash
with Saudi security forces during an anti-Iraq and anti-US demonstration.
April 1988: Saudi Arabia cuts diplomatic relations with Iran.
August 1988: Iran and Iraq sign a United Nations-brokered ceasefire ending the war. Some two
million soldiers and civilians are killed and wounded during the eight-year conflict.
June 1989: Khomeini dies; he is succeeded by the president, Ali Khamenei. The Speaker of the
Parliament, Hashemi Rafsanjani, becomes president.
July 1989: Saudi authorities execute 16 Kuwaiti Shi’as, alleging that they plotted a number of
bombings that killed two pilgrims in Mecca. Riyadh blames Tehran for the attacks.
August 1990: Iraq invades Kuwait. Iranian policy-makers opt for non-involvement.
March 1991: Saudi–Iranian relations are restored.
April 1992: Iranian forces take full control of Abu Musa.
12 March 1997: Crown Prince Abdullah and President Rafsanjani meet during the OIC conference
in Islamabad, hailing the start of the Saudi–Iranian rapprochement process.
December 1997: Crown Prince Abdullah attends the eighth OIC meeting in Tehran and meets
with Ayatollah Khamenei.
August 1997: Mohammad Khatami, head of the National Library of Iran, is elected president of
the Republic of Iran.
May 1998: Saudi Arabia and Iran sign the Comprehensive Cooperation Agreement.
May 1999: Khatami visits Saudi Arabia.
November 1999: The GCC fully supports and backs the UAE’s diplomatic efforts to regain
control of Abu Musa and other contested islands.
April 2001: Iran and Saudi Arabia sign the mutual Security Accord.
March 2003: US-led coalition forces invade Iraq.
June 2005: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, former mayor of Tehran, is elected president.
August 2005: Abdullah becomes king of Saudi Arabia and his brother, Prince Sultan, is named
December 2005: Ahmadinejad visits Saudi Arabia and meets King Abdullah on the sidelines of
the Islamic Summit.
April 2006: Saudi Arabia and Iran commence “strategic talks” in a bid to revive the
rapprochement process. Saudi Arabia is represented by Bandar bin Sultan, secretary general of
the National Security Council. Ali Larijani, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council
of Iran, represents the Republic of Iran.
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