United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Khatami: Diplomacy now unrivaled chance

            Former President Mohammad Khatami has called on the international community to engage in dialogue with his successor to solve longstanding tensions and avoid even greater tension in the volatile Middle East that threatens “global catastrophe.” In an op-ed in The Guardian newspaper, the reformist leader called the current moment an “unrivaled and possibly unrepeatable opportunity.”

      Khatami said new President Hassan Rouhani makes his diplomatic debut at the United Nations with the full backing of the Supreme Leader—which Khatami often struggled to maintain during his own troubled presidency. Khatami also said Rouhani’s message of “hope and prudence” enjoys “widespread support from almost all segments of Iranian society.” The op-ed was published on September 23, the eve of Rouhani’s first speech to the U.N. General Assembly. The following are excerpts.
            At my suggestion, 2001 was named the UN Year of Dialogue Among Civilisations. But despite reaching a global audience, the message of dialogue barely penetrated the most intractable political dilemmas, either at home or abroad…. President Rouhani's platform of prudence and hope is a practical translation of the idea of dialogue among nations into the realm of politics. And this is more necessary than ever at a time when a range of overlapping political crises are threatening global catastrophe.
            With the initiative of Rouhani, who enjoys widespread support from almost all segments of Iranian society, I hope this country will succeed in steering a path towards global dialogue.
            The opportunity to diplomatically resolve differences between Iran and the West, including the impasse over the nuclear issue, presented itself many years ago during my presidency. That opportunity was missed…
            President Rouhani's government was elected by a society seeking positive change, at a time when Iran and the wider region was desperately in need of prudence and hope. This vote was not limited to a specific political camp; as well as many reformers, many political prisoners and a significant body of conservatives had a share in Rouhani's victory. For the first time there is an opportunity to create a national consensus above and beyond partisan factionalism – one that may address the political predicaments of the country, with an emphasis on dialogue and mutual understanding globally.
            Explicit public support from the supreme leader of the Islamic republic provides Rouhani and his colleagues with the necessary authority for a diplomatic resolution of a number of foreign policy issues with the west, not just the nuclear issue. A peace-seeking Iran can contribute as a willing partner not only to solving its own differences with the global powers, but also to overcoming some of the region's chronic political disputes. But it requires a degree of courage and optimism from the west to listen to the voices of the Iranian people who have been painfully targeted by unjust sanctions, which have threatened the very fabric of civil society and democratic infrastructures.
            Failure now to create an atmosphere of trust and meaningful dialogue will only boost extremist forces on all sides. The consequences of such a failure will be not only regional, but global. For a better world – for the Iranian people and the next generation across the globe – I earnestly hope that Rouhani will receive a warm and meaningful response at the United Nations.
            Iran today is different from the Iran of years ago, and the consequences of the Islamic revolution are still playing out. Our positive and negative experiences of the past 16 years have added another dimension to the reforms that Rouhani is conducting at both domestic and international levels; they have enriched the Islamic republic's democratic capacities and added, I very much hope, to the experience of the international community.
            The Iranian people's vote for Rouhani and his agenda for change has provided an unrivalled and possibly unrepeatable opportunity for Iran, the west and all local and regional powers. With a foreign policy based on dialogue and diplomacy at the heart of the Middle East, we can imagine a better world for the east and the west – including the diplomatic resolution of Iran's nuclear issue, which is utterly feasible if there is goodwill and fairness.

Zarif Pens Diary About U.S. Visit

            In an all-time first for Iranian diplomacy, new Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif has been chronicling his visit to New York on his Facebook page for Iranians back home. The following translations by USIP's Maral Noori are Zarif's accounts of meetings at the United Nations. Excerpts will be added to this account throughout his visit.

September 19
Hello Friends,
      Around noon yesterday, after a 15-hour flight and a two-hour stopover, I landed in New York and went directly to the United Nations. For those friends who have not travelled to this part of the world, New York is eight-and-one-half hours behind Iran. A good friend and colleague of mine, Mohammad Khazaee, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, put on an honorable program that was attended by more than 100 U.N. ambassadors and secretariat officials. It was in the same hall where I held my farewell ceremony six years ago--and this time more of the permanent representatives of Middle East, European, Asian, African, and Latin American countries attended.
            Honestly, the ambassadors showed widespread interest in improved relations with Iran, which I hope will be managed with the best diplomacy. Of course, we must not expect too much. Changes in the international situation require tact, patience and consensus. In this world, the hard-liners are not sitting with nothing to do, and every day they are preparing new issues to disrupt the atmosphere created by Iran’s recent election, which -- to the relief of you nice people – is a message about interacting with the world with an emphasis on Iran’s self-esteem and national interest.
            I was given a very kind welcome by Ambassador Jan Eliasson, the deputy secretary general of the United Nations, whom I met during the negotiations to end the Iran-Iraq war. Since then, over the past 25 years, I have worked positively with him on various topics, and we spoke of our friendship and respect about our record of collaboration… After this program, we went to the Iranian ambassador’s residence, which had been the residence of my family for five years. We did some coordination regarding my trip and the trip next week of Dr. Rouhani, which was really done while I was between sleep and awake, actually more asleep because it was almost 2 a.m. Tehran time.  The ambassador allowed me to rest for a few hours and prepare for dinner with some of the ambassadors from neighboring countries -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, the United Emirates, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Afghanistan--to be held in the ambassador’s home. I finally got to sleep around 10:30 p.m. New York time – 7 a.m. Tehran time – but sleep was short because of the time difference and insomnia hit me at 2 a.m. Thanks to God, that insomnia provides me a good time to speak to you.
      On Thursday, in addition to a meeting with the editorial board of a popular American newspaper, I will meet with the secretary general and his deputy. On Monday, the General Assembly will begin and, based on the programs given me, I have to attend 10 to 12 ministerial meetings. Monday will be the heaviest meeting day with 14 meetings:  With [European Union foreign policy chief Catherine] Ashton (left) and the foreign ministers of Greece, the Netherlands, Australia, Italy, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Japan, Turkey, Oman, Slovakia, Croatia, Georgia and Bulgaria. However, after the arrival of the president at sunset Monday, I will spend most of the time accompanying him to most of his meetings.
            Thanks for your prayers and, with the help of God, the saints and the Blessed, hopefully we can achieve things worthy of the good people of Iran in the plenary and meetings that will make us worthy of your generosity and kindness. May Allah be with you and watch over you.
5:30 am (2 p.m. in the afternoon on dear Iran’s time)
In New York on Thursday September 19, 2013
September 21
Hello Friends,
            On Thursday and Friday I met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his deputy Jan Eliasson, the Indonesian foreign minister, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and had separate two-hour briefing sessions with editors and staff of Time magazine and The New York Times. I also had a three-hour meeting with a group of very sweet and proud Iranian activists and research institutions in America, especially dear second- and third-generation Iranian youth, and visited with colleagues in former delegations. The nights have passed slowly due to insomnia from the time difference.
       Both nights we had working dinners at the official U.N. residence. During the first night we met with a group of influential ambassadors to the United Nations from Europe, Asia and Latin America, and the second night with a group of prominent American scholars that, over the past 10 years, have played a prominent role in the enlightenment and confrontation in the war against the Taliban and radicals in America.
            Today and tomorrow is the weekend here, and from morning until night I will meet with prominent intellectuals and former political and civil society activists in America and Europe. In about an hour, I will have a working meeting Mr. Javier Solana, the former European Union foreign policy chief before Catherine Ashton. Then on Sunday evening, my friend of 30 years, Kofi Anan will be present, and then several meetings some foreign ministers and the chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations.  
           The important themes in all these visits: renouncing of nuclear arms and weapons of mass destruction; the need to shape the political will in the West to resolve the nuclear issue; the negative effects of sanctions on the livelihoods of people at the same time strengthen their will to resist imposition or violation rights; ways to end the Syrian crisis through negotiations and going to the polls; the dangerous situation in the region; containing the threat of extremism and sectarianism in the region and the globe; condemnation of chemical weapons; necessary pressure on Israel on nuclear and chemical weapons of mass destruction and a future [nuclear] free-zone in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
            Overall they were good conversations, and I am hopeful I will have tangible results for the nation and people. Goodbye until next the virtual meeting.
New York - Saturday 6:30 a.m.
September 23
Hello friends,
            It is 6 a.m in the morning New York-time on Monday. It is about 1:30 p.m. in the afternoon on dear Iran’s time. Clocks here are set back later than in Iran, and for two or three weeks the time difference between New York and Iran is seven-and-one-half hours instead of the usual eight-and-one-half hours.
            I present to you a report from meetings on Saturday and Sunday that were very good and provided a solid foundation for building on important meetings later this week, Allah willing.
            Today’s meetings will begin in nearly two hours. As I said stated to you before, the schedule of appointments is so tight that I cannot even go to the airport to welcome the honorable president of the republic [Hassan Rouhani]…
            Your kind comments and private messages are humbling me. Please allow me to thank each of you one by one. More importantly, I submit a modest prayer to thank you for the honorable president of the republic and other public servants. 
            But in your comments and some stories in the media, I have seen a common thread saying that I may need to submit points to all of you.
           The eleventh government is the government of measure and hope, and as its servant, I am very happy that people are hopeful for this government’s policies. But the field of foreign policy includes sobriety, patience, tact and measured actions that are deliberate and purposeful. You cannot expect accumulated problems to be resolved with one or a couple meetings.
            To reach a route toward successful and sustainable solutions, both parties must be ready for building interaction on an equitable basis, mutual respect and common interests. I am, however, sure that with help of the almighty Allah and His blessings, and because your servants support the wise supreme leader and your honorable people, international actors will be forced to deal effectively with your representatives. With patience, prudence and foresight, we will safeguard the rights, development, progress, and prosperity of you noble people.
            The various meetings with the honorable president of the republic and me are the first steps on this steep path. I, however, have confidence that this difficult and time-consuming road will lead to success with your prayers, patience and support.
However, we must secure the Sharif with patience and prudence and foresight carefully and diligently to safeguard the rights, development, progress and prosperity of you noble people.
Hello friends,
            The meeting with Lady Catherine Ashton [E.U. foreign policy chief] was positive. I explained a conceptual framework and political will to reach a solution for the rights of the Iranian people and the lifting of sanctions. From her interview after the meeting, it is clear she had a positive impression. A meeting of the P5+1 [the United States, China, Britain, France, Germany and Russia] and Iran is planned for Thursday at the ministerial-level and the next meeting is scheduled to be held in mid-October.
September 26
Hello Friends,
            I am very sorry that two to three days have passed and I have not provided you a report of what is going on. It is 6 a.m. on Thursday. I now want to present a brief report, and maybe this upcoming Saturday or Sunday I will have time to write with more detail.
            The Meetings: This year everyone wants to have a meeting with Iran. The meetings of Doctor Rouhani and me, your servant, have continued to be pressed for time.  We have not been able to coordinate many of the meeting requests due to lack of time. Sometimes, even despite my insistence and the dear president’s willingness to participate in all meetings, we must have meetings at the same time and I am not involved in his plans.  We have visited most of the important and effective countries and the visits will continue today and tomorrow.
            The Speech: The speech of the dear president of the republic [to the United Nations] has been welcomed by the political and media. Only the Israeli delegation walked out this year, no one else quit the meeting. During all formal and informal meetings and discussions, all of the Western countries and developing countries described the president’s speech as a turning point. During this year’s speech, overwhelming support of the Palestinian people was expressed (about 95% of speakers will lecture on topics such as Syria and Palestine) and [the president] even described how to deal with the apartheid in Palestine. We did not allow Israel to exploit some of our words our innocent views to blackmail other countries. Israel was, once again, after 8 years, was isolated during the General Assembly… Most heads of the delegations arrived at the meeting hall just before the speech and left right after. As I said in parliament, Iran’s capabilities in synergistic ideals and national interests are not in conflict or contention. Opinions expressed in terms of moderation, the speech of Dr. Rouhani was deliberate and purposeful. For this reason, the speech maintained the principle positions of the country, it illustrated the confidence of the people and authorities, and provided a different world view that was not provocative.
            Today, the president will address the General Assembly on disarmament. The president, as chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement, will offer a common position, the words of which have been discussed in several Non-Aligned Movement sessions. In other words, more than one hundred other representatives participated in the writing of this speech.
            P5+1 [Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States]: Today the P5+1 and Iran negotiations will be held at the foreign minister level for the first time in eight years. This is a start for showing the political will to move towards resolving the issue at the General Assembly. However, the ministers of P5+1 countries like me, your servant, have busy schedules. This session is not expected to last long nor is a solution likely to be reached at this session. The next meeting is planned for the beginning of Mehr (late October) at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva. However, thanks to Allah and the prayers of you who are blessed, I am hopeful for a good start to reaching a comprehensive solution and a result that hopefully [safeguards] the pride of country and people’s welfare.
            Again, I’m sorry that after a few days delay, I have to discharge from your service. Last night until 11 p.m., we met with key members of American think tanks in the presence of the president. Some of the elite Americans had very positive views. Right now the time is 20 minutes to 7 and at 7:15 p.m. I have to visit with one of the leading Iranians, a president of one of the important universities in America. The meetings with the ministers will begin at 8 p.m. May Allah watch over all of you, and my eyes are waiting for your blessed prayers.
Photo credits: Javad Zarif via Facebook


New Team to Head Nuclear Talks

            President Hassan Rouhani has appointed Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to lead nuclear talks with two other senior diplomats, according to Iranian news agencies. As Iran’s U.N. ambassador between 2002 and 2007, Zarif gained a reputation among his European and U.S. counterparts for being less ideological and more pragmatic than other Iranian diplomats. The other two envoys are Abbas Araghchi, deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs, and Majid Takht Ravanchi, deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs.
            In early September, Zarif said that members of previous negotiating teams would also be asked to join the new team. He said the team’s goals would be “safeguarding the achievements of Iranian nuclear scientists, protecting the people’s rights in the nuclear field, and removing the international community’s concerns,” according to Fars News Agency.
            Four other members will join the team, including a representative from Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization and one from the Supreme National Security Council. In the past, the national security adviser led talks with the world’s six major powers — the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. Zarif’s predecessor was Saeed Jalili, an ally of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was widely seen as dogmatic and undiplomatic by his interlocutors.
            The following are profiles of the three diplomats named to lead the new negotiating team.

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Mohammad Javad Zarif
      Born in 1960, Zarif was Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations from 2002 to 2007. He is widely regarded as one of Iran’s most savvy diplomats. Zarif served as deputy U.N. ambassador from 1989 to 1992 and then as deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs until 2002.
      Zarif has been involved in both formal and informal talks with the United States. In 2001, he was Iran’s emissary to U.N. talks on the future of Afghanistan after the Taliban’s ouster. U.S. envoy James Dobbins credited Zarif with preventing the collapse of the conference due to last-minute demands by the Northern Alliance to control the new government. As an ambassador, Zarif attempted to improve relations with the West, including the United States.
            Zarif speaks English with an American accent after receiving two degrees from San Francisco State University and a doctorate in international relations from the University of Denver.
Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and Int'l Affairs: Abbas Araghchi
      Born in 1962, Araghchi is the deputy minister for legal and international affairs. In 1990, Araghchi entered the foreign ministry and was quickly promoted to charge d’affairs of Tehran’s Organization of the Islamic Conference mission in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. In the mid-1990s, Araqchi did graduate work on politics and government at the U.K. University of Kent at Canterbury.
            Araqchi then returned to Iran and held senior positions at the Institute for Political and International Studies, a foreign ministry think tank. Between 1999 and 2013, Araqchi held several senior and ambassador-level positions in the foreign ministry. He served as ambassador to Estonia, Finland and Japan. In May 2013, Araqchi was appointed foreign ministry spokesman. He reportedly speaks English.
Deputy Foreign Minister for European and American Affairs: 
Majid Takht Ravanchi
      Born in 1958, Ravanchi is deputy minister for European and American affairs. He earned two civil engineering degrees from the University of Kansas in the early 1980s, according to his official curriculum vitae. He then returned to Iran and entered the foreign ministry in 1986. Ravanchi reportedly earned a master’s degree from Fordham University while serving as counselor at Iran’s U.N. mission in New York.
      In 1992, Ravanchi was appointed deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, a position he held until 1998. He served as a special assistant to the foreign minister before his 2002 appointment as ambassador to Switzerland and Lichtenstein. In 2009, he took a break from diplomatic work and served as deputy director of the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Political Islam. He returned to the foreign ministry in 2013. Ravanchi reportedly speaks English, French and German.
Photo credits: Javad Zarif via Facebook, Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs mfa.ir

President Rouhani on War and Peace

      In several key speeches and interviews, new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has outlined his views on war and peace. “Any government that decides on war, we consider that a weakness. And any government that decides on peace, we look on it with respect,” Rouhani said in his first interview for American television. The president also urged world leaders to break down walls of mistrust and suspicion to foster better relations. The tone was noticeably distinct from the inflammatory rhetoric former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In explaining Tehran’s opposition to war, Rouhani frequently cited Iran’s devastating experience during the 1980-1988 war with Iraq. Iraqi forces bombed Iran’s largest cities and used chemical weapons on thousands of Iranian soldiers. The war claimed up to 1 million casualties. The following are excerpted remarks by Rouhani.  


            “We are very worried about war in our region. We have the experience of a number of destructive wars in this region. The day we feel a new war is about to happen in our region, we consider its destructive consequences.  In the past few weeks, my government made many efforts to ensure that the region does not witness a new war. In this context, the cooperation between Russia and Iran has been notable.

            “We consider war a weakness. Any government that decides on war, we consider that a weakness. And any government that decides on peace, we look on it with respect for the sake of peace. I do not want to make a judgment about individuals or the American government. I want to express my happiness about a new war not starting.  This is important to me and for my people and for the nations in the region.”
            “The people and the government of Iran abhor threats as much they hate war. The passion of the Iranians is friendship all around the world. We do not see any reason for anyone to threaten us.”
            Sept. 18, 2013 in an interview with NBC
            “We are against all wars and are ourselves a victim of war and invasion.
            “We call on all the warmongers not to seek a new war in the region [over Syria], because its consequences will bring them regret. War must be stopped by logic, politics and cooperation between regional countries… we must try to bring the Syrian government and opposition to the negotiating table.
            “War and diplomacy have no relation to one another, and no free and logical nation accepts diplomacy and war on the same table.”
            Sept. 22, 2013 in an address marking the Iran-Iraq War to the armed forces
            “Suspicions and miscalculations have created many walls between nations. Leaders must try to remove these walls. The wall which is called mistrust, the wall which is called suspicion, the wall called miscalculation should all be torn down, and an atmosphere of friendship and kindness should be established among all nations.”
            “What we wish for in this region [the Middle East] is rule by the will of the people. We believe in the ballot box. We do not seek war with any country. We seek peace and friendship among the nations of the region.”
            Sept. 18, 2013 in an interview with NBC
            “Rather than focusing on how to prevent things from getting worse, we need to think — and talk — about how to make things better. To do that, we all need to muster the courage to start conveying what we want — clearly, concisely and sincerely — and to back it up with the political will to take necessary action. This is the essence of my approach to constructive interaction.”
           Sept. 19, 2013 in an op-ed for The Washington Post
            “The Iranian nation is a lover of peace and culture, and it is after progress without any causing damage to other countries.”
            Sept. 23, 2013 in remarks to local media

Photo credit: Official website of the president's office, President.ir

Nasser Hadian on Why Iran is Ready

Nasser Hadian

      Iran’s entire socio-political landscape has changed since President Hassan Rouhani’s June election. There are a lot of hopes that things are going to get better, especially given what happened under the previous government. But this is a cautious hope or optimism, not the wild-eyed optimism of former President Mohammad Khatami’s era. Everything seemed possible in the late 1990s. Now hope is more balanced and realistic.
      Rouhani is a more pragmatic politician than Khatami, who was more of an intellectual and moral individual. Rouhani is more like former President Bill Clinton, someone who can deliver.

            Iran's new president is also an insider. Rouhani knows how to navigate the corridors of power in Iran. He has known the supreme leader for some 40 years. And Rouhani has been his representative for 25 years on the Supreme National Security Council. So Rouhani also knows other power centers and how to maneuver them, which Khatami was reluctant to do. No one can question Rouhani’s professionalism, credibility or national security credentials.
           Rouhani can formulate a strategy. The Scotland-educated cleric is a sophisticated politician who has the patience and knowledge required to achieve his objectives. Even conservatives, radicals and principlists cannot question his qualifications. His insider status is an asset rather than a liability.
Foreign Policy
      On foreign policy, Rouhani’s appointment of Mohammad Javad Zarif (left) was an important signal to the world. There were a number of alternatives. So Zarif’s appointment signaled that Rouhani cares about international affairs, wants to improve Iran’s image, and resolve the nuclear dispute. As ambassador to the United Nations from 2002 to 2007, Zarif was a key figure in diplomacy and the nuclear issue. He was also important in terms of Iran’s image abroad, particularly in the West. Zarif speaks English fluently after receiving two degrees from San Francisco State University and a doctorate in international relations from the University of Denver. He has been Iran’s best diplomat since the revolution and virtually everyone acknowledges his credentials.
            I’m optimistic that Iran can solve the dispute over its nuclear energy program. If an agreement is not reached, then the United States is probably creating barriers.  
            But on improving Iran-U.S. relations, I’m not very optimistic. Relations might improve but not to a great extent. In both Tehran and Washington, criticism of the other country is rewarded. A member of Iran’s parliament would pay a price for calling for better relations with the United States. And the same is true for a member of Congress. Look at previous resolutions from the House of Representatives. A total of 130 members said they wanted to give diplomacy with Iran a chance in a July 2013 letter to President Barack Obama. But once a new sanctions bill was put on the table, over 400 representatives voted for it — including more than 100 of those who signed the letter.
            Lawmakers on both sides are afraid because it’s popular and easier to criticize the other country. So this structure should be changed. But how? It’s not an easy thing to do in either capital.
Nuclear Program
            On the nuclear dispute, Iran and the United States want to get similar things out of a deal. Washington doesn’t want Tehran to have a bomb. And Tehran doesn’t want one either. But Iran has to give guarantees to the West that it doesn’t want a bomb. Verification systems will be a particularly important part of an agreement. An additional protocol should take care of this issue, and Iran would likely ratify that part of a deal. Tehran would also likely agree – in the end – to limit its uranium enrichment program and the size of its enriched uranium stockpile. Iran could also limit the number of centrifuges. But there are minimum requirements for Iran – such as retaining the right to enrichment and having centrifuges.
            In return, Iran wants the removal of all sanctions imposed since 2008– unilateral and multilateral. Tehran also wants the E.U. incentive proposals to be put back on the table. They included investment in the oil industry, technology transfers, airplane parts and many other things. But that would most likely be part of the end game. An agreement could be implemented stage by stage, with the whole package initially agreed upon. 
            But Iranians are very suspicious of the end game. If they come to the negotiating table, agree and implement the first and second steps of a settlement, then the United States may tell Iran that it cannot enrich uranium.
            Closing down the Fordo nuclear facility would not be an option for Iran. The government wants to retain the ability to enrich uranium. And Fordo is the one safe place for enrichment. Israel, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other nations cannot attack and destroy it. Only U.S. bunker-buster bombs could destroy the facility, which is built into the mountains.
The Supreme Leader
      Iran has achieved what it wanted – mastering the knowledge and technology of enrichment. Ideally, Tehran would like to have hundreds of thousands of centrifuges. But Iran achieved its minimum goals, so it is ready to make a deal. And Rouhani is fully empowered to cut one.
      The supreme leader (left), however, is not interested in restoring full diplomatic relations with the United States. He probably would not object to better relations and allowing exchanges. But Ayatollah Khamenei would not, for example, approve the opening of a new U.S. embassy.
      An agreement on the nuclear issue, however, could create momentum that would have a trickle-down effect on U.S.-Iran relations. Such momentum would have its own dynamism. But for now, the default position is hostile to full diplomatic relations with the United States. Journalists, athletes, museum directors and academics may have an easier time going to and from Iran. Exchanges, however, would not likely lead to an economic or diplomatic relationship —at least anytime soon.          
Obstacles to Outreach
      Some factions in Iran will almost certainly push back and make it more difficult for Rouhani (left) to improve relations with the outside world. Not many people will oppose better relations with Iran’s neighbors. But there may be some disputes about prioritizing relations with other regional powers. For example, should Iran devote more resources to strengthening ties with Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan? Some will call for looking east rather than west. 
      Saudi Arabia is becoming a more pressing issue in Iran. The monarchy seems to be waging war against Tehran almost everywhere. Iranian relations with Syria, Lebanon, Hezbollah, and Iraq are basically oriented toward deterrence, defense and retaliation in case of attack. Tehran’s goal is not to project power. But Saudi Arabia is projecting power in Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jordan, and Bahrain. The Saudi government is waging war on oil prices too by boosting production. And Saudi Arabia is even building infrastructure in Iran’s Baluchistan, Kurdistan, and Khuzestan provinces. Tehran’s policy, so far, has been a policy of appeasement but that is beginning to change. The 2011 Saudi attack on Bahraini protestors was insulting to Iran, as was the hanging of some Iranian citizens in Saudi Arabia.
            Improving relations with the West, especially the United States, will be more controversial. Some will do their utmost to prevent it. Rouhani has a chance to improve relations with Britain, but he may encounter pushback from hardliners. So Rouhani’s government will likely take gradual steps to ease tensions.
            Engaging other European countries will not be as sensitive of an issue. I’m hopeful that Iran’s image and relationship with European countries will improve within coming months, especially if steps are taken towards resolving the nuclear dispute.
            Rouhani is likely to encounter stiff opposition to improved relations with the United States. Some bazaaris have vested interests in China. Basijis, voluntary militiamen, have built their credentials on being anti-American. Some members of parliament have done the same. Some socially conservative forces fear that reestablishing relations with the United States would lead to decay of traditional values. Some radicals and principlists are opposed to rapprochement on either political grounds or social reasons.
            The Revolutionary Guards Corps, Iran’s most powerful military organization, may not support better relations with the United States. But some commanders or factions may not oppose moves in that direction either. After the supreme leader’s recent speech, the Guards will probably go back to their barracks to build themselves up as a military force, rather than a political force. Khamenei said they need to understand politics, but warned them to not get involved in politics.
Nasser Hadian is a professor of political science at the University of Tehran.

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