As could be expected, speculation about the future of Iranian foreign policy has been rife since Hassan Rouhani, a respected cleric, moderate pragmatist, and fixture of the Islamic Republic’s political and security establishment, was elected as Iran’s new president on June 14, 2013.
Similarly expected, most of the analysis is awful.
Thankfully, a few strong pieces have recently been published that avoid the usual bromides of discourse on Iran and provide genuine insight into the nation’s guiding principles, strategic interests, and main priorities on the international stage as it emerges from the Ahmadinejad era.
Published in Foreign Affairs as Iranians were about to head to the polls on June 14, the straightforwardly titled “Iranian Foreign Policy After the Election,” provides an excellent overview of the various schools of thought and ideology that vie for power in the Iranian political system. Written by Muftah advisory board member Farideh Farhi, an affiliate graduate faculty member at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, and Saideh Lotifan, a political science professor at the University of Tehran, the article notes:
In short, there is near consensus on the broad objectives of Iranian foreign policy: enhance Iran’s role in the Middle East and maintain the country’s Islamic identity despite the adversity of global powers. Where there is room for debate is over the scope of Iran’s foreign policy and the means through which it might achieve these objectives. It would be a mistake to reduce these discussions to a contest between hard-liners and ideologues on the one hand, and those who want accommodation with the West on the other.
Presciently, Farhi and Lotifan also point out that “even if a more conciliatory team takes charge in Tehran, it still needs to convince others that its efforts to negotiate with the United States would improve the Islamic Republic’s security across all its dimensions. And that will only happen if the United States seems willing to ease the sanctions regime. If not, the more aggressive strains within the Iranian foreign policy establishment may retain the upper hand for years to come.”
Reza Sanati, a research fellow at the Middle East Studies Center and PhD candidate at the School of International and Public Affairs at Florida International University, addresses the specifics of Iran’s foreign policy strategy in a June 24 piece in The National Interest, entitled, tellingly, “Rowhani and Iran’s Unchanging Goals.” Sanati writes that Rouhani’s “electoral mandate” is “qualitatively more robust than his predecessors,” and may very well bestow his new administration with enough “political backing of the population to implement significant decisions.”
The challenges Rouhani faces are substantial. “The economic problems that Ahmadinejad has left for Rowhani are rivaled only by the severe diplomatic dilemma that Iran faces, both in the region and beyond,” Sanati explains, identifying the violent civil war in Syria as a major concern. Also:
These new circumstances will have major ramifications for the implementation of many Iranian foreign-policy goals, particularly the upcoming resumption of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program between Iran and the P5+1 coalition. In the event that both sides reach an agreement—one predicated on Iran curbing levels of enriched uranium and more transparency, along with the United States and EU providing significant sanctions relief (such as from central-bank and financial sanctions)—the Rowhani administration’s ability to deliver on the deal will no longer be in doubt. On the other hand, if a deal cannot be made, the new administration will have the domestic support and maneuverability to protect Iran’s national interests.
Mohsen Milani, Professor of Politics and the Executive Director of the Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at the University of South Florida in Tampa, joins Farideh and Lotifan in the pages of Foreign Affairs to discuss “Rouhani’s Foreign Policy.” He writes that Rouhani “will likely upend the old order is by reaching out to Saudi Arabia to explore the possibility of ending their lingering cold war and finding a way to manage their competition,” in addition to being “more flexible about the future of Assad regime than its predecessor.”
However, Milani predicts, “Rouhani’s top foreign policy priority” after normalizing relations with the non-Taliban elements in Afghanistan, “would likely be rapprochement with Europe” and “is likely to use his connections with the trio to try to lift the sanctions.” From there, “Rouhani seems prepared to take the international goodwill that will follow his cooperation and use it to strike a compromise with the West about Iran’s nuclear program.”
Whether Rouhani will be able to deliver on his campaign promises remains to be seen. In the meantime, informed and nuanced analysis like this is the best we can hope for.
Ok, who are we kidding? The most important news of the day is that Iranian power forward Arsalan Kazemi was the 54th overall pick at the 2013 NBA Draft on Thursday June 27, making him the first Iranian player to be drafted into the NBA.
Kazemi, who played his senior year on the Oregon Ducks, landed on the Philadelphia 76ers, along with first round pick Michael Carter-Williams of the Syracuse Orange. He becomes the second Iranian-born NBA player, joining Hamed Haddadi of the Memphis Grizzlies on the hardwood.
Needless to say, but necessary to tweet, Kazemi is thrilled:
— Arsalan Kazemi (@kazemiworld) June 28, 2013
With Kazemi’s drafting, along with fundraising and publicity in full swing for a documentary on legendary WWF superstar Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, known to the world as The Iron Sheik, and Team Melli, Iran’s national soccer team, already having clinched their spot in the 2014 FIFA World Cup by defeating Qatar, Lebanon, and South Korea in three straight matches, it seems that Iranian athletes and their adoring fans may just be having the best month ever.