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The Soviet-Iranian Gas Agreements: Nexus of Energy Policies, East-West Relations, and Middle East Politics

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The overthrow of the Shah in 1979 brought to a close a period in Soviet-Iranian relations which had seen the rapid development of economic ties between the two countries. These had added an important economic dimension to the Soviet Union's historic, strategic interest in the large, Middle Eastern country located on its southern flank. At the core of the bilateral economic relationship, nurtured over the previous decade and a half, were two long-term agreements forSovietimport of Iranian natural gas in return for material, technical, and financial assistance in the development of Iranian industry, including the energy sector. The purpose of this article is to examine the linkage between the Soviet-Iranian natural gas relationship and broader aspects of Soviet policy. We shall argue that the two agreements engulfed by the Iranian revolution had deep roots in Soviet domestic and foreign policy. They formed an integral part of the Soviet Union's long-term energy strategy, serving important internal and external policy objectives within it. At the same time they functioned as basic elements of Soviet policy in the Middle East (similar agreements had been concluded with neighboring Afghanistan) and were closely linked to energy exports to Western Europe, an increasingly important facet of Soviet relations with the West. Analysis of the Soviet Union's stake in the agreements with Iran sheds light on the significance of their collapse and aids understanding of Soviet policies adopted in response.

Affiliations: 1: (Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada


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