Tag Archives: nuclear program

Winners and losers in the Iran nuclear deal

lausanne15Photo credit to AFP / Getty Images.

Today’s announcement of a deal between Iran and the ‘P5+1’ countries, with a final June 30 deadline looming, is being met with cautious optimism today as the European Union’s chief foreign policy official Federica Mogherini, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif and US secretary of state John Kerry all make statements about the deal from Lausanne, Switzerland. USflagIran Flag Icon

The key to the deal? Iran will be permitted to enrich fuel for its civil nuclear energy program, including the use of centrifuges, though not to the level necessary to build a nuclear weapons program. Furthermore, Iran has agreed with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to monitor and diligence all current and past nuclear operations to uncover the extent of any Iranian determination to build a nuclear weapons program.

It will certainly rank, if it’s finalized, as one of the top foreign policy accomplishments of US president Barack Obama.

From The New York Times:

According to European officials, roughly 5,000 centrifuges will remain spinning enriched uranium at the main nuclear site at Natanz, about half the number currently running. The giant underground enrichment site at Fordo – which Israeli and some American officials fear is impervious to bombing – will be partly converted to advanced nuclear research and the production of medical isotopes. Foreign scientist will be present. There will be no fissile material present that could be used to make a bomb.

The deal is sure to bring howls from its opponents, including many skeptics in the United States, including Congressional Republicans and many Democrats as well, and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said that any deal must preclude Iran from any enrichment. But as negotiators from the P5 + 1 — the five members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany — and Iran work through the details of the deal in the next three months, it seems more likely than not that the deal will be finalized, opening the way to lifting international sanctions against Iran imposed by the United Nations (if not exactly all the sanctions currently in place by the United States).

So who ‘wins’ and ‘loses’ in this deal? Here’s a look, starting with the winners:  Continue reading Winners and losers in the Iran nuclear deal

On the matter of the ‘Cotton Letter’ to Iran


J. William Fulbright.USflagIran Flag Icon

One of the great contrasts lurking underneath the latest outrage of the day in American politics is that Arkansas, the state that produced as its senator throughout the late Jim Crow era was a progressive Democratic voice and a crucial dissenting clarion on Vietnam. Fulbright, whose name is synonymous with thoughtful foreign policy in the 1960s and the 1970s, a multilateralist who helped midwife the United Nations and who stood up to the tyranny of Joseph McCarthy’s deranged anti-Communist witch hunts. He also thought the segregation of African Americans was perfectly fine, he joined the filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and he opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He served as the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1959 to 1974. He was rumored to be John Kennedy’s top choice to be secretary of state, ultimately disqualified by the his shameful support for segregation.


On Monday, Tom Cotton (pictured above), the heir to the other Arkansas seat in the United States Senate, and who won the seat as the darling of the ‘tea party’ movement on the American right, drew verbal missiles from much of the American left (and quite a few moderate Republicans) for organizing a purposefully inflammatory letter to Iran, just as US president Barack Obama and his administration enter a crucial period in negotiations over international sanctions against Iran, a country of over 77 million people, and its desire to build a nuclear energy program.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: As Rowhani takes power, US must now move forward to improve US-Iran relations

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The chasm between Fulbright and Cotton is amazing. It’s a lesson in the dynamism of American politics or, really, any political system. The same jurisdiction that just 60 years ago produced a Fulbright can today produce a Cotton. The same jurisdiction than seven years ago enthusiastically supported hard-line conservative ‘principalist’ Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with his venal anti-Semitic rhetoric, can today embrace the liberal reforms of Hassan Rowhani.

It’s also a lesson that no single political leader or official is right all of the time. Just as Fubright’s record on civil rights appears to us today as inhumane and unjust, Cotton could one day emerge as a thought leader on any number of issues. (Though probably not on Iran, if his Monday letter is any indication).

Yes, Tom Cotton’s letter is basic

No one will remember this stunt a year from now or a decade from now. It probably won’t even have much of an impact by the time March 24 arrives, the latest artificial deadline established by the ‘P5+1’ group of countries reaching for a workable deal in respect of Iran’s nuclear energy program.

Part of that has to do with the letter’s amateur-hour tone: Continue reading On the matter of the ‘Cotton Letter’ to Iran

Photo of the week: Cameron meets Rowhani

379932_Cameron-RouhaniPhoto credit to PressTV.

In Iran, the United States may be the ‘Great Satan,’ but it’s the United Kingdom has an even longer and more complicated history with Iran.Iran Flag IconUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

It’s not uncommon, among the most conspiratorial Iranian politicians, to hear fulminations against British plots, even today. And to be fair, there’s some basis for Iranian antipathy toward nearly two centuries of antipathy between the Persian and British empires.

The British increasingly sidelined the Persian empire in the 19th century during the so-called ‘Great Game,’ as the Russian and Turkish empires increasingly encroached on historical Persia. In 1908, with the discovery of oil, British interests quickly swooped in to negotiate favorable terms for themselves, to the detriment of the Iranians. During World War II, though Iran was officially neutral, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union jointly invaded Iran in 1941 as part of efforts to secure Iranian oil, installing the young Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as the country’s new shah. The resulting chaos led to famine, economic mismanagement and starvation throughout Iran for the rest of the war. Though the United States Central Intelligence Agency carried out the 1953 ouster of prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, British intelligence greatly facilitated the operation.

More recently, a mob invaded the British embassy in Tehran in 2011, setting fire to the British flag, which caused the United Kingdom to cut relations with Iran.

So it’s no exaggeration to say that the United Kingdom might today be even more hated in the Islamic Republic of Iran than the United States of America.

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RELATED: As Rowhani takes power, US must now move forward to improve US-Iran relations

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All of which makes this week’s bilateral meeting between Iranian president Hassan Rowhani and British prime minister David Cameron so fascinating. Continue reading Photo of the week: Cameron meets Rowhani

Ten reasons why the Iran sanctions Senate bill is policy malpractice

Iran nuclear talks: Kerry and Zarif meet at the UN

Iran is quickly moving to the front of the ever-shifting foreign policy agenda in Washington at the end of this week, with 59 members of the US Senate, including 15 Democratic senators and the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, supporting the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013.Iran Flag IconUSflag

The bill would impose additional sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran in the event that the current round of talks fail between Iran and the ‘P5+1,’ the permanent five members of the United Nations Security Council (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China and Russia), plus Germany.  US president Barack Obama met with the entire Democratic caucus in the US Senate Wednesday night to implore his party’s senators not to support the bill.  Senate majority leader Harry Reid opposes the bill, and he hasn’t scheduled a vote for the new Iran sanctions — and even some of its supporters may be backing off as the temporary six-month deal proceeds.

But with 59 co-sponsors, the bill is just one vote shy of passing the Senate, and it would almost certainly pass in the US House of Representatives, where the Republican Party holds a majority.  In the event that the Congress passes a bill, Obama could veto it, but the Senate is already precariously close to the two-thirds majority it would need to override Obama’s veto.

The Obama administration argues that the bill is nothing short of warmongering, while the bill’s supporters argue that the sanctions will reinforce the Obama administration’s hand in negotiations.  Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister (pictured above with US secretary of state John Kerry), has warned that the bill would destroy any chances of reaching a permanent deal, and it’s hard to blame him.  Under the current deal, reached in November, the P5+1 agreed to lift up to $8 billion in economic sanctions in exchange for Iran’s decision to freeze its nuclear program for six months while the parties work through a longer-term deal.  The deal further provides that Iran will dilute its 20% enriched uranium down to just 5% enriched uranium, and the P5+1 have agreed to release a portion of Iran’s frozen assets abroad and partially unblock Iran’s oil exports.

So what should you make of the decision of 59 US senators to hold up a negotiation process that not only the Obama administration supports, but counts the support of its British, German and French allies?

Not much.

And here are ten reasons why the bill represents nothing short of policy malpractice.   Continue reading Ten reasons why the Iran sanctions Senate bill is policy malpractice

Why Menendez is such an awful Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair


Was Jesse Helms a better chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee than Bob Menendez?  USflag

Menendez, who took over the committee earlier this year when former senator John Kerry was appointed as US secretary of state, is making headlines this week for a bill that would largely derail a still delicate US-Iranian rapprochement.  He introduced a Senate bill yesterday that, if enacted, would mark a serious setback in the nuclear negotiations between the United States (and the other members of the ‘P5 + 1’ team that includes the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany) and Iran.  The bill would institute a new round of punitive economic sanctions on Iran on the heels of a six-month deal between negotiators and the administration of Iran’s new moderate president Hassan Rowhani that all parties hope could lead to a more permanent accord.  On Thursday, ten Democratic committee chairs sent a letter to Senate majority leader Harry Reid in opposition to Menendez’s bill, and the White House has warned Menendez that his legislative efforts aren’t helping negotiations.

Though Menendez’s bill, co-sponsored with Republican senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, is called the ‘Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act,’ there’s no firm evidence that Iran even wants to build a nuclear weapon, though plenty of US policymakers suspect that Iran has secret designs on building one.  Rowhani and his foreign minister Javad Zarif have disclaimed interest in nuclear weapons, and Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei has argued that nuclear weapons are a violation of Islamic law.

The bill would introduce new sanctions if Iran violates the terms of the current agreement or fails to come to a permanent agreement with the ‘P5 + 1’ team.  In essence, it would put an economic sanctions gun to Iran’s head — the bill demonstrates no respect for a process of negotiation between two sovereign states.  It seems more designed to score low-hanging political points for conservative Democrats than to engage seriously on finding a mutually acceptable path for Iran’s energy program that also makes the Middle East more stable.  Menendez, a longtime ally of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is siding with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has attempted to derail the Iran deal at every turn.

As James Traub wrote in Foreign Policy earlier this week:

 The reason why Menendez and others really are marching on a path to war is that they are demanding an outcome which Iran manifestly will not accept: zero enrichment. As Daryl Kimball, director of the Arms Control Association, puts it, “This is a strategy based upon hope that is not supported by the evidence of Iranian actions over the past decade, its past statements, or common sense.”….

I have no idea why Menendez and other Democrats believe that more pressure will make Iran abandon a core tenet of the revolution and thus undermine their claim to rule. (I asked for an interview, but the New Jersey senator was not available.) Maybe they believe it because [Netanyahu] has made zero enrichment his own bottom line.

So who is Menendez, and how did he rise to become the preeminent foreign policy official in the legislative branch of US government?

Menendez is the son of Cuban immigrants who came to the United States in 1953 for economic opportunity (not, as you might believe, to flee Fidel Castro, who was in 1953 still six years away from overthrowing the US-supported dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista).  Menendez spent his childhood in New Jersey and rose to political prominence in the Democratic machine politics of Union City, which was once known as ’10 Percent City,’ and not because its residents were tithing Christians.  Initially a protégé of Union City mayor and New Jersey political powerbroker William Musto, Menendez broke with his mentor only after Musto’s indictment for skimming.  Though Musto was ultimately convicted and served five years in prison, he still managed to defeat Menendez when the future senator challenged him for the mayorship in 1982.  But Menendez eventually won the office in 1986, then became a member of the New Jersey State Assembly, the New Jersey State Senate and in 1993, a member of the US House of Representatives.

For nearly as long as he’s chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez has been under investigation by a Florida grand jury in connection with potential misconduct with respect to one of Menendez’s top donors, Salomen Melgen, a Miami eye surgeon who moved to Florida from the Dominican Republic in 1980.  Though the nastiest rumors about Melgen and Menendez cavorting with underage prostitutes were probably false, Menendez admitted to violating Senate ethics rules when he forgot to reimburse Melgen for two private jet flights to the Dominican Republic in 2010.  Other accusations are less salacious but potentially illegal — Menendez is accused of intervening on Melgen’s behalf in respect of a billing dispute between Melgen and the federal government’s Medicare offices and in favor of a port security contract in the Dominican Republic that would have benefitted Melgen financially.  

The grand jury hasn’t issued any charges against Menendez, and prosecutors may ultimately choose to drop the matter, but it’s not best practices for the Senate’s top foreign policy voice to be implicated in an abuse of power scandal that involves, in part, international contracts.

The Iran bill follows Menendez’s push earlier this autumn to goad US president Barack Obama into a more hawkish position on Syria that would have seen US military attack on Bashar al-Assad.  Menendez actually made the following analogy in his push to win support for an attack earlier this year: Continue reading Why Menendez is such an awful Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair

Obama-Rowhani call a historic first step in securing better US-Iranian relations


Today, for the first time since 1979, the leaders of the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran held a bilateral discussion when US president Barack Obama called Iranian president Hassan Rowhani to discuss a potential solution to the international stalemate over Iran’s nuclear energy program.USflagIran Flag Icon

It wasn’t the handshake that everyone thought might have been possible earlier this week in New York at the United Nations General Assembly, but it’s still a remarkable step — and could result in real movement between Iran and the ‘P5 + 1’ countries over the future of the Iranian nuclear program and crippling UN sanctions.

It’s important to remember that there’s a long history of misfires on US-Iranian relations, with former Iranian presidents like Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammed Khatami making overtures to the United States that went unrewarded — everything from Iranian assistance to Bosnian fighters in the 1990s to Iranian assistance to bring the Northern Alliance to support the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Even Rowhani, as Iran’s first nuclear negotiator in 2003, was burned when he offered a moratorium on further Iranian enrichment.  That concession led to nothing but the empowerment of anti-American hardliners, who came to power with the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president in 2005.

It follows a relationship that, even before the 1979 revolution that brought Shiite ayatollahs to power in Iran, was troubled — Iranians, even today, haven’t forgotten the role that the United States played in toppling former Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 and boosting the repressive regime of the Iranian shah through the 1979 revolution.

As I wrote shortly after Rowhani’s staggering election as president in June 2013:

The Obama administration’s challenge is to forge a strategic path with Iran’s new president that undermines the hardliners in both Iran and in the United States.  Whether Iran likes it or not, it has to demonstrate to the world that it’s not pursuing clandestine nuclear weaponry.  But whether the West likes it or not, it must ultimately acknowledge that Iran — a sovereign nation of 75 million people — has a right to its own nuclear energy program on terms that respect the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic, and Obama will have to back up his weekend olive branch with substantive alms that show the United States is serious.

The discussion follows a potentially even more historic meeting between US secretary of state John Kerry and Iran’s even more moderate, English-speaking foreign minister Javad Zarif (pictured below) over a potential breakthrough in the standoff over Iran’s nuclear energy program.


One telephone call between presidents and one meeting between foreign ministers doesn’t exactly mean that Iran and the United States will have solved all of their issues.  Rowhani’s reluctance to meet with Obama in New York earlier this week demonstrates that, while Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (who remains the most powerful leader in Iran) may have blessed Rowhani’s diplomatic initiatives, strong opposition remains within the Islamic Republic, including within the conservative ‘principlist’ camp and from within the Revolutionary Guards.  The Obama administration will also face opposition — from its Middle Eastern ally Israel (which boycotted Rowhani’s largely conciliatory speech to the UN on Monday) and from neoconservative hawks from within the Republican Party in the United States.

But there’s a deal here: the United States doesn’t want to go to war with Iran, Iran doesn’t necessarily want nuclear weapons (and it especially wants Israel to give up its not-so-secret nuclear weapons) and Iran desperately wants an end to the sanctions that have harmed its economy.

This week’s diplomatic advances also follow the surprisingly moderate response from Iran over the Syrian chemical weapons crisis, even as the United States was considering a unilateral strike Bashar al-Assad’s regime at the time:

Although Iran has become a pariah state in recent years over its nuclear energy program (and the corresponding US and European fear that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapons program as well), many Iranians were the victims of the last major chemical weapons attack in the Middle East when Iraqi president Saddam Hussein deployed mustard gas and sarin against Iran during the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s — with the knowledge and acquiescence of the United States, which wholeheartedly supported Iraq in the 1980s.

Rowhani made clear through his presidential Twitter feed this week that he condemned the use of chemical weapons, in Syria or elsewhere.

Rowhani, a former Rafsanjani aide who united both the moderate camp and Khatami’s more liberal camp (including the ‘Green movement’ supporters from the contested 2009 election), was elected in large part for the perception that he could negotiate an end to international sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.  He handily defeated five other challengers to win a first-round victory in the June election, including two principlists — Iran’s former hardline nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and populist (and popular) Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf:

Continue reading Obama-Rowhani call a historic first step in securing better US-Iranian relations

Did Rowhani’s support in Iran outperform the potential of a Rafsanjani candidacy?


Hassan Rowhani’s runaway first-round victory in Iran’s June 14 presidential election was unexpected after many U.S. commentators had disregarded Rowhani’s chances when Iran’s Guardian Council refused to permit former president Hashemi Rafsanjani to run.Iran Flag Icon

Before the Guardian Council’s decision, Rafsanjani was thought to have been the stronger candidate for Iran’s presidency, though by no means did anyone suggest Rafsanjani would be a shoo-in for victory.

It may well ironically turn out that Rowhani — and not Rafsanjani — proved to be the stronger candidate all along.

Rowhani, moreover, ultimately won election with the backing of the same coalition that Rafsanjani was expected to mobilize — moderates like Rowhani himself, more liberal reformists and followers of former president Mohammed Khatami, the ‘Green movement’ supporters who backed Mir-Hossein Mousavi, unsuccessfully, in the 2009 presidential race, and other who have become disenchanted with the outgoing president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, over Iran’s stumbling economy, stringent international sanctions over Iran’s nuclear energy program, and political freedoms.

Of course, we’ll never know whether Rafsanjani (pictured above, right, with Rowhani) would have been able to attract even more than the 18.6 million votes that Rowhani won in the election.

But it seems likely that Rowhani could have actually overperformed a hypothetical Rafsanjani candidacy (assuming that Rowhani would have dropped out of the race in deference to Rafsanjani).

In many ways, the Rowhani campaign offered all of the benefits of a Rafsanjani candidacy without any of the drawbacks.

Rowhani has been a strong Rafsanjani ally since the 1980s and the earliest days of the Islamic Republic, when Iran was locked in a fierce, decade-long border war with Iraq.  When Rafsanjani became Iran’s president in 1989, he appointed Rowhani as the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, putting Rowhani at the head of Iran’s regional security as the Iraq war wound down.  Khatami, upon assuming the presidency in 1997, retained Rowhani in that role, and he appointed Rowhani as the country’s first negotiator over Iran’s nuclear energy program in 2003, a position that Rowhani relinquished when the more hardline Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005.

As such, Rowhani’s victory is seen as somewhat of a victory for Rafsanjani, who is expected to return to influence as a guiding role in Rowhani’s administration:

“Rafsanjani was really the only choice to re-energize reformists,” said Rasool Nafisi, an Iranian affairs analyst at Strayer University in Virginia. “Rowhani only got their support because he is seen as Rafsanjani’s man and a vote for Rowhani was a vote for Rafsanjani.”

This deep connection between the two men could give a potential Rowhani presidency a dual nature: Rowhani as the public face and Rafsanjani behind the scenes as its powerful godfather and protector.

Although all key policies such the nuclear programme are directed by the ruling clerics, the alliance with Rafsanjani may give Rowhani more latitude to put his stamp on Iran’s negotiation tactics with world powers after four rounds of talks since last year have failed to make any significant headway.

But three weeks ago, it was not entirely clear which of Iran’s eight approved presidential candidates would emerge as the clearest voice of change — the runner-up in the presidential vote, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, came to the race as both a conservative ‘principlist,’ but also as a strident Ahmadinejad critic with a substantial base of support as Tehran’s mayor since 2005, a role in which Qalibaf has been viewed as a relatively effective executive by boosting Tehran’s green spaces, public transport and benefits for its poorest residents. Continue reading Did Rowhani’s support in Iran outperform the potential of a Rafsanjani candidacy?

Moderate cleric Rowhani wins stunning first-round victory in Iran presidential election


Hassan Rowhani, the moderate cleric and former Iranian nuclear negotiator, has won a first-round victory in Iran’s presidential election, a stunning development that, despite evidence of Rowhani’s surge, no one predicted even 24 hours ago.Iran Flag Icon

The victory was so stunning over a divided field of more conservative ‘principlist’ candidates that it calls into question the strategy of leading principlists to have remained in the race so long, thereby dividing conservative support and prohibiting the emergence of a single principlist standard-bearer.

With all of the votes counted, Iran’s ministry of the interior reports a turnout of just over 72% in the race, and Rowhani’s 50.71% support is sufficient to avoid a runoff with Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf on June 21:


It’s no surprise that Qalibaf finished in second place, given the fact that he has a strong base of supporters in Tehran, where he’s served as mayor since 2005 and has been twice elected by the city council, and that he’s long been a critic of the administration of outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


The two candidates most associated with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — current nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and longtime former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati — did even worse, despite reports that proclaimed Jalili a ‘frontrunner’ in the campaign.  Jalili, with just over 11% of the vote, only narrowly outpaced third-time candidate Mohsen Rezai, the former head of the Revolutionary Guards who’s popular with rural Iranian voters.  Velayati finished far behind in fifth place with just 6.18% of the vote.

Meanwhile, Rowhani has consolidated the support of three main groups in Iran: reformists, moderate conservatives, and voters disillusioned with the outgoing Ahmadinejad’s failures on economic growth and international relations.  Continue reading Moderate cleric Rowhani wins stunning first-round victory in Iran presidential election

Rowhani, Qalibaf appear to lead polls to top Friday’s vote, advance to June 21 runoff


Polling is an inexact science in Iran, so most polls should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism. Iran Flag Icon

But the field poll data coming from the U.S.-based Information and Public Opinion Solutions is more reliable than most, even though it’s not based in Tehran, because it conducts daily telephone interviews with a sample of over 1,000 potential voters within Iran.

The bottom line is that a runoff seems increasingly likely and, although that runoff seems likeliest to be a faceoff between conservative Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and moderate Hassan Rowhani, that’s by no means a certainty.  I continue to believe that any of the five leading candidates could ultimately wind up in the runoff, especially if former longtime foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati withdraws from the race in the next 48 hours in favor of Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, which remains a possibility, given that both candidates are viewed has having the closest ties to Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader since 1989.  That’s especially true if you believe that the 2009 presidential vote was subject to massive electoral fraud — in such case, it seems possible that Rowhani could be excluded through chicanery.  But despite the fact that he’s the most reformist of the six remaining candidate, Rowhani is the only cleric in the race, he has a solid relationship with Khamenei.

The latest results show Rowhani moving for the first time into the lead with 26.6% of the vote at the same time that former presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammed Khatami have endorsed him.  Rafsanjani, a political moderate, had registered to run for president in the election, but he was disqualified by the Guardian Council, a 12-member body close to the Supreme Leader that certifies candidates to run for office in Iran.  The reformist Khatami, who had supported Rafsanjani’s presidential bid, indicated his support for Rowhani after his former vice president Mohammad Reza Aref dropped out of the race on Monday in favor of Rowhani.  Rowhani’s support has steadily increased from a poll last week that showed him with just 8.1%.  (Online polls have shown Rowhani and Aref with much wider support, but those seem skewed toward wealthier, more urban voters likelier to support more liberal candidates like Rowhani and Aref).

For the first time in an IPOS poll, the more ‘principlist’ conservative mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, has slipped into second place.  Despite Qalibaf’s position as a conservative, he’s been a relatively popular mayor and is expected to do well among voters in Tehran, which is home to over 12 million of Iran’s 75 million people.  Last week, however, Qalibaf held a much wider lead with 39% of the vote, though his lead seems to be shrinking as more undecided voters (57% of all voters last week) ultimately choose a candidate to support:


The third-place candidate, according to the poll, is Mohsen Rezai, whose support seems to be incredibly stable — 16.3% today and 16.6% last week.  Rezai, the former head of the Revolutionary Guards, is seen as a more independent-minded conservative, and he pulls much of his strength from rural Iran and from within Iran’s military forces.  Continue reading Rowhani, Qalibaf appear to lead polls to top Friday’s vote, advance to June 21 runoff

And then there were six: the dwindling Iranian presidential field


It’s been a fast-paced 36 hours in Iran’s presidential election, with two of the eight approved candidates exiting of the race following Friday’s third and final presidential debate. Iran Flag Icon

Monday brought news that Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel would drop out of the election, reducing the number of conservative ‘principlists’ competing for votes in the first round of the June 14 presidential race.  Haddad-Adel, who served as the speaker of Iran’s Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majles) from 2004 to 2008, and whose daughter is married to the son of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, did not specify an endorsement for any particular candidate, though he previously belonged to the ‘2+1 Principlist’ coalition that included former longtime foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati and Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, and his exit from the race will likely mean fewer votes spread among Velayati, Qalibaf and Iran’s current top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili (pictured above preparing for a recent presidential debate).

Today brings the news that Mohammad Reza Aref will also drop out in favor of moderate candidate Hassan Rowhani, which gives moderates and reformists a chance to unite behind one candidate.  Aref, who served as communications minister and vice president under former reformist president Mohammed Khatami, allegedly ended his presidential bid after Khatami asked him to step down.  Khatami has now endorsed Rowhani, who is seen as more of a moderate than a reformist.  Rowhani is very close to former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was controversially disqualified in May to stand as a candidate in the current election by the Guardian Council.  It’s a development that wasn’t entirely unexpected, and to the extent reformists and moderates don’t boycott the election entirely, it is very good news for Rowhani, who can try to unite to reformist and moderate camps in the hours ahead of Friday’s vote.

So where does that leave the six-candidate field?  Realistically, it’s a five-man race.  Though he remains a candidate, it’s hard to believe that Mohammad Gharazi could win.  Although he served as Iran’s oil minister from 1981 to 1985 and as communications minister from 1985 to 1997, he’s a leftist in the mould of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who served as prime minister in the 1980s before his resurrection as a reformist presidential candidate in 2009.  He’s run a campaign focused largely on economic management and controlling inflation.

The remaining five — three principlists, another independent conservative and a reformist/moderate — are not so much vying to win outright on Friday so much as vying to win one of two spots in a runoff that will be held on the following Friday, June 21 in the event that no candidate wins over 50%.  If that happens, as seems likely, there’s really no way to know who will emerge in the top two spots.  Though polling is not incredibly reliable in Iranian elections, a recent telephone poll by the U.S.-based IPOS indicates 57% of Iranians have not yet decided but, among those who have, Qalibaf has a wide lead of around 40% against the remaining four candidate essentially tied for second between around 10% and 20%.  That generally corresponds to other field polls, though Rowhani has led other similar polls.  Rowhani has led the lion’s share of unscientific online polls since the campaign began in earnest, but those are even less reliable indicators of true support.

So what are the chances for each of those five candidates?  Here’s a look at the pros and cons of each candidate, and how each would shape up in a potential runoff.  Continue reading And then there were six: the dwindling Iranian presidential field

What will Mohammed Khatami do?


Despite the fact that many U.S. commentators have written off Iran’s upcoming presidential election as somewhat of a bore with the rejection of the candidacy of former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, there’s still plenty of intrigue.Iran Flag Icon

If the first step of the Iranian presidential election was the ‘pre-qualification’ phase, and we’re currently in the second phase, the third and final phase is likely to be the whittling down of the current eight remaining candidates to just one or two major conservative frontrunners (perhaps Iran’s nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili) and one moderate candidate.

Rafsanjani’s exit from the campaign doesn’t mean that reformists don’t have options, and one of the key questions is whether reformists (and moderates like Rafsanjani) will unite behind a single candidate and, if so, who they will support and how strongly they will support him.

No one is more central to that question that another former Iranian president, Mohammed Khatami, who succeeded Rafsanjani in 1997 as a surprising dark-horse presidential candidate.

Khatami is by far the most liberal of the four major presidents of Iran’s Islamic Republic — the conservative Ali Khamenei has been the country’s Supreme Leader since 1989, Rafsanjani has always been a middle-of-the-road, moderate conservative in Iranian politics, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been a stridently conservative president, even if he’s clashed with the Supreme Leader and even though he’s been more populist than his predecessors.

Although Ahmadinejad has, in some ways, proven more successful in clawing more power for the presidency, Khatami wasn’t wholly ineffective as president.  He oversaw a period of looser restrictions on freedoms in Iran, deeper engagement among Iranian civil society groups and, while U.S.-Iranian relations were not necessarily good during the Khatami era, he promoted what he called a ‘dialogue among civilizations’ between the Islamic Republic and the West.

Khatami, who openly supported Rafsanjani’s now-aborted presidential campaign, has been coy about his favorite among the eight remaining candidates.  For his part, Rafsanjani has also been quiet.

But there are essentially just two candidates that either Khatami or Rafsanjani are likely to support: Mohammed Reza Aref and Hassan Rowhani. Continue reading What will Mohammed Khatami do?

A look at the eight presidential candidates approved by Iran’s Guardian Council


Provided that the Guardian Council’s decision stands and former president Hashemi Rafsanjani is not permitted to run for president in the June 14 election, who are the eight remaining candidates from which Iranian voters will choose? Iran Flag Icon

Despite the rejection of the candidacies of both Rafsanjani, the current chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council, and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, chief of staff to incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Guardian Council approved eight candidates that include both conservatives and liberals, including two figures who were part of the administration of reformist president Mohammad Khatami.

So if Rafsanjani and his supporters ultimately accept the outcome, the race won’t necessarily lack for drama or intensity.  With eight candidates in the race, at least initially, the election could well go to a runoff on June 21 if no candidate wins over 50% of the vote, though there’s reason to believe some of the candidates will fall aside as conservatives in particular unite around one or two candidates.

Without further ado, here’s a look at each of the eight approved candidates and their chances to become Iran’s next president. Continue reading A look at the eight presidential candidates approved by Iran’s Guardian Council