Oct 20, 2010

Headlines & Highlights | The Iran Primer

United States Institute of Peace

Since its 1979 revolution, the Islamic Republic has been an ever-increasing challenge for the West to understand and to engage. But Tehran’s controversial nuclear program, disputed 2009 election, growing violations of basic human rights, and angry rhetoric have generated deeper hostilities with the outside world than at any time since the revolution’s early days. The stakes—and consequences—are greater than ever. Fifty experts—half Western, half from the Middle East—came together in “The Iran Primer: Power, Politics and U.S. Policy” to explain what lies ahead.

U.S. – Iran relations

         Prospects for reconciliation with the United States are low while Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei remains in power. At the same time, any engagement policy Iran that aims to ignore or bypass Khamenei is equally unlikely to succeed. In both the domestic and international context, Khamenei is averse to compromise under pressure, fearful of projecting weakness and inviting greater pressure. Karim Sadjadpour

         Some U.S.-Iran trade continues, especially in food. Iran is a large wheat importer; some years, it buys as much as $200 million in U.S. wheat… U.S. airlines pay several million dollars a year in fees to the Iranian government for air traffic control services while overflying Iran. Taking advantage of the peculiar U.S. classification of tobacco as a food for trade purposes, Iran bought large amounts of American cigarettes...While Iran has often complained that the United States does not allow Iran Air to buy spare parts for its aging Boeings, in fact, the Bush administration issued a license for such exports but Boeing has been unable to make a sale. Patrick Clawson

         The Algiers Accords ending the [1979-1981] hostage crisis returned only a fraction of Iran’s frozen assets…Iran received only $4 billion or one-third of its original assets. The cash loss to Iran amounted to about $150 million per hostage, or roughly $300,000 per day for each hostage. The cost, and the incalculable loss of international legitimacy that has dogged Iran ever since, suggest that the hostage episode is not a model that is likely to be attractive to other countries and is unlikely to be repeated. Gary Sick


          Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards have formed a symbiotic relationship that buttresses the supreme leader’s authority, and preserves the status quo…The Guards may be able to maintain the political status quo if they remain a unified force. However, they face internal divisions, which could potentially weaken Khamenei’s hand in a moment of crisis. Alireza Nader

         Khamenei initially supported President Ahmadinejad, but the distance between the two men has been growing…Ahmadinejad has been able to build a base of support among the very constituencies on which Khamenei depends: the Revolutionary Guards, the paramilitary forces, the security agencies and the judiciary. Shaul Bakhash

         Short-term, the opposition faces political purgatory. The regime has been willing to use unprecedented brutality to maintain power. Long-term, Iran’s many challenges are likely to be solved only in a democratic environment. These challenges include a dominant, Internet-savvy youth, an assertive women’s movement, structural economic difficulties (including double-digit unemployment and inflation), badly needed large investments in the oil and gas industries and a dying private sector. Abbas Milani

Headlines & Highlights | The Iran Primer