August 17, 2020

In recent weeks, reports of a potential 25-year, $400-billion deal between Iran and China have dominated the conversation about Tehran’s options for freeing itself from the punishing U.S.-imposed sanctions regime on the country. Only time will tell if this so-called strategic agreement can live up to the hype, but China is not alone in seeing an embattled Iran as a major geopolitical and commercial opportunity. Russia too has ambitions of strengthening ties with Iran and its plans for closer economic cooperation appear to revolve around three main drivers at present: Russian arms sales, joint oil and gas projects, and Iran’s role as a transit hub for Moscow’s broader transportation projects connecting Russia to South Asia. 

July 06, 2020

The first-generation of Iran’s militant clerics, who took control of the country after the Iranian revolution of 1979, are all either dead or dying off. Speculation about the process of succession is rife and is not only limited to who will capture the ultimate prize, the seat of the supreme leader. In a series of articles, the Iran Program at the Middle East Institute will identify and assess key second-tier officials in the Islamic Republic who seem to have good prospects to make it all the way to the top.  

June 24, 2020

Officials in Tehran have a lot to worry about. But they are particularly irked at the speed by which Asian states have dropped Iran as a trading partner. Iran had hoped that the East would save the country’s economy from the barrage of sanctions enacted by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump. In early 2018, at a time when Trump and his team were about to unveil the most punishing sanctions regime ever imposed on a country, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei explicitly urged Tehran to look east for trading partners. Khamenei’s track record in vilifying the West is lengthy, with the ayatollah regularly scorning any official in Tehran who disagreed as a simpleton or “unreasonable.” But his alternative has so far proved to be nothing but a pipe dream. Even so, Khamenei maintains the charade of a promised bailout.

March 31, 2020

Covid-19 is undoubtedly the biggest health crisis in our lifetime. Pundits around the world, but also a long list of policymakers from Washington to Abu Dhabi to Beijing, wonder about the long-term implications of this deadly pandemic. While there is plenty of speculation about how this crisis might re-balance global power dynamics, other foreign policy implications are more immediately tangible.

June 24, 2019

Despite the risks of war between the U.S. and Iran, a narrow diplomatic opportunity exists. But it is not between Washington and Tehran, but rather between Jerusalem and Tehran.

On April 8, the Trump administration designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran’s elite military force, as a foreign terrorist organization. The reaction in Tehran was stern and swift. From Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who called the designation evidence of American “rancor” and helplessness against the IRGC, to members of the Iranian parliament who put on IRGC uniforms to show solidarity with the organization, the authorities in Iran have leaped to show unity in the face of a historic U.S. decision. Even Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, a man with a tense relationship with the IRGC, came to the corps’ defense. Zarif openly suggested that Iran should retaliate by declaring U.S. Central Command to be a terrorist entity, a decision that was announced by Tehran a few hours later.

December 30, 2018

In Washington, President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out U.S. forces from Syria continues to baffle. It is broadly considered to give the upper hand to three main actors involved in that country’s nearly eight-year long war: Russia, Iran and its allies, and Turkey. In the case of Iran, plenty of pundits in Washington seem sure that a U.S. withdrawal from Syria will only whet Tehran’s appetite for more foreign adventurism as it seeks to advance its regional agenda. That might bear out in the long term, but in the short term, the Iranians are evidently fairly anxious about developments and their fate in Syria.

November 28, 2018

On Nov. 4, Iran commemorated the 39th anniversary of the day some 400 militant Islamist students seized the U.S. Embassy in downtown Tehran. The United States marked the date, too: On Nov. 5, it imposed a new round of sanctions on Iran, which President Donald Trump’s administration has termed part of a “maximum pressure” campaign to bring the country back to the negotiating table. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif quickly responded with a video message in which he told Trump to “dream on.” Zarif mused that Trump, like his six presidential predecessors whose main policy toward Iran was “bravado,” will see his efforts Tehran fail. And yet, whispers in Tehran about the need to break the stalemate and talk to Trump are becoming louder.

July 30, 2018

Tehran, it's Little Satan calling: As conflict between Israel and Iran looms over Syria, Netanyahu seeks to pressure Tehran by addressing Iranians directly. But what if Israeli and Iranian citizens themselves built their own anti-escalation, anti-war dialogue?

August 29, 2018

No doubt, Washington’s policies under President Donald Trump are a major factor in a sudden economic plunge that has seen Iran’s currency, the rial, lose half of its value since April. But they aren’t the only problem; Rouhani even admitted as much in his remarks. A healthy economy, he said, requires “foreign investment and domestic political stability.” Those are both in short supply these days; the same rivals Rouhani urged to unite with him against the United States have systematically undermined confidence in the Iranian market and created domestic political mayhem since well before Trump’s inauguration.