September 05, 2019

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s visit to the G-7 summit in France late last month was a surprise to many in the West. Some even viewed it as a good omen. But for the Iranian leadership, Zarif’s quick trip to Biarritz was always a long shot and with little chance to turn the tide in the U.S.-Iranian standoff. Such doubts were confirmed in the days that followed. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration still refuses to lift sanctions on Iranian oil, and Tehran will not engage in direct talks with Washington until some unequivocal relief from sanctions is first provided by the U.S. side. Feel-good symbolism aside, Zarif departed Biarritz empty-handed. His next trip held more promise, anyway. Before he even arrived in Beijing, Zarif had already put pen to paper for China’s prominent Global Times.

June 25, 2019

In late May, Saudi Arabia hosted three separate summit meetings in Mecca, in the hope of securing the region’s unequivocal condemnation of Iranian activities in the Middle East. But whether at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League, or the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Saudis, to their disappointment, found that not everyone shared their frame of mind about Iran.

March 19, 2019

Amid escalating tensions between the Trump administration and Tehran, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif declared at the annual Munich Security Conference that the “risk of war” between Iran and Israel was “great.” Zarif’s warning came only days after the Warsaw Summit, which sought to establish a broad-coalition to support President Donald Trump’s Middle East policies, including on Iran.

June 28, 2018

Since its 1979 revolution, the Islamic Republic of Iran has incited violent, radical, and often sectarian nonstate groups across the Middle East to serve as proxies in its military campaigns to influence regional and international politics. This “proxy model” has become increasingly salient since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and more recently in Iraq and Syria, and is now Iran’s primary tool for advancing its regional intersts. The U.S. and the West in general have largely paid attention only to radical Sunni groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. With a few exceptions, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, nonstate Shi‘i militant groups have generally avoided the same intense Western scrutiny. This study compares and contrasts regional conflicts that have been shaped by Iranian proxies and Iran’s successful—and unsuccessful—attempts to recruit to its militant groups. It also identifies the key forces that have shaped Iran’s ideological and operational sponsorship of nonstate militant groups, both Sunni and Shi‘i, as well as its motivations and preferred modus operandi.

June 21, 2018

As international companies leave Iran under U.S. pressure, the Iranian government is scrambling to salvage as much foreign investment as possible. The top leadership in Tehran believes the solution is to engage with Russia, China, and the “east” to replace the West’s hesitant commitment to the Iranian market. But this eastward approach is a pipe dream, and there is plenty of history to prove it.

February 20, 2018

As the Islamic Republic enters its fortieth year in power, the Trump administration needs to pay heed to the perils of hubris in its policy towards Iran. There is no silver bullet for gaining the upper hand with Iran, and American presidents have a poor track record in trying. While the reasons for failure are unique to each president, there has been a pattern of overestimating the utility of using threats of force to influence Iranian behavior, and underestimating Iran’s will and capacity to resist.


Jimmy Carter tried to end the Iran hostage crisis shortly after the Iranian revolution in 1979 with a daring and misguided rescue attempt, leading to a failed mission and a presidential electoral defeat in 1980. Under Ronald Reagan’s watch the Iran-Contra affair cast a pall over what at the time was perceived to be his administration’s overall effective foreign-policy record. Bill Clinton imposed the most severe sanctions on Iran in the hope to extract concessions, only to be left disappointed.

November 29, 2017

Today, the latest round of UN-brokered Syria peace talks begins in Geneva, with the goal of bringing President Bashar al-Assad and various armed opposition factions to a political settlement that could put an end to half a decade of civil war in the country. The Geneva talks come one week after another set of Syria talks, this time in Sochi. The November 22 gathering, which included some of the conflict’s key remaining players—Iran, Turkey, and Russia—was supposed to be a turning point in the issue of Syria’s future. At least that had been Tehran’s hope. Instead, the talks highlighted emerging fissures between Assad’s two main foreign backers, Iran and Russia, and even divisions within Iran between the civilian government of President Hassan Rouhani and the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

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