By M.A. Saki

 “Cautious distance” between Iran and U.S. will continue under Raisi, expert says

June 27, 2021 - 14:26

TEHRAN - A political science professor at the Open University in Britain predicts that Iran will maintain its policy of “cautious distance” from the United States during the future administration of Ebrahim Raisi.

“I suspect that we will see a continuation of the cautious distance that has been maintained by the Islamic Republic of Iran when it comes to the U.S.,” Edward Wastnidge tells the Tehran Times.

“The president-elect's comments on this issue have been clear so far, so I do not expect any significant change from the stance of previous administrations,” Wastnidge remarks.
In his first press conference on June 21, Iranian President-elect Raisi ruled out a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden and urged the United States to return to its obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal, officially called the JCPOA.

Raisi said he would not meet with Biden even if both sides agreed on terms to revive the JCPOA, under which Iran agreed to put limits on its nuclear program in return for the termination of economic and financial sanctions.

 “Of course, some elements within Iranian politics have been more vocal about the chances of closer U.S.-Iran ties in the past, but even they have only ever based this on the U.S. meeting Iran's demands for respect and recognition of its national interests,” Wastnidge notes.

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: What are the implications of Iran's election for the world and the region?

A: I think that there won't necessarily be a dramatic change in Iran's relations with the wider world and region. We might see a shift in tone and emphasis, but ultimately Iran's position internationally will likely be based on the same enduring principles of independence in foreign policy, non-interference in its internal affairs, prioritizing relations with its neighbors, and a desire to see a reduction in the U.S. presence in the region. We might see a greater emphasis on those core principles but there will be lots of continuities.  

For example, we know that ongoing diplomatic initiatives, such as the current negotiations over the JCPOA and talks with Saudi Arabia on re-establishing diplomatic ties, are supported by the incoming administration, so we would expect these to continue and potentially come to fruition.

One thing that may also be different for external actors negotiating with Iran is the closer alignment of all the main centers of political power in Iran following the election result.  This will enable a more consistent message to be articulated by the Islamic Republic when it comes to international negotiations and sensitive diplomacy.
 
Q: How do you see Iran-U.S. relations during Raisi's presidency? Do you expect any changes in ties?

A: I suspect that we will see a continuation of the cautious distance that has been maintained by the Islamic Republic of Iran when it comes to the U.S. The president-elect's comments on this issue have been clear so far, so I do not expect any significant change from the stance of previous administrations. Of course, some elements within Iranian politics have been more vocal about the chances of closer U.S.-Iran ties in the past, but even they have only ever based this on the U.S. meeting Iran's demands for respect and recognition of its national interests.

Of course, the one thing that will shift things a little will be a U.S. return JCPOA following its previous violation of the deal. 

By necessity, this will mean a resumption of more direct interactions between Iran and the U.S., which are a key part of maintaining this diplomatic mechanism. This might mean some interaction, as before, at the level of Foreign Ministers, and some lower-level diplomatic engagement on technical aspects of the deal.

One thing that will certainly impact Iran-U.S. ties would be any attempt to add further, non-nuclear program-related conditions to the deal, as has been regularly suggested by the U.S. and some European states.   This would not be helpful for diplomacy at this stage and would only further entrench both sides' positions. The focus should be on securing U.S. compliance and return to the JCPOA in its current form.

Q: Why do Western media prefer to portray Iranian leaders and political figures as hardliners?

A: There is an inherent bias in many Western media reporting on Iran. This is especially true when it comes to the majority of mainstream media outlets in the West.  Few commentators understand the complexities and the range of views that characterize political debate within Iran and this often leads to crass stereotypes and sensationalist reporting.  In terms of U.S. and British media, much of this rather blinkered view comes from the media just mirroring the same old cliched narratives that come from their own governments. So, we end up in a situation where a lot of the media are complicit in reinforcing that political agenda, which of course is an issue in many countries across the world. This is obviously rather ironic given the energy spent hectoring other countries about media freedoms when they are often dealing with a very pliant and uncritical media sphere themselves.

Using terms such as 'hardliner' is just lazy analysis in my opinion. It seeks to impose a polarizing logic onto an inherently more complex and varied political scene within Iran that does not necessarily map on to simple dichotomies.

Q: Do you expect Iran and the EU can restore their economic exchanges in near future?

A: I do think that this is a distinct possibility if an agreement is reached in the current JCPOA negotiations.  We saw the rush of European countries and businesses seeking to ink various deals with Iran following the initial agreement of the JCPOA. However, as we now know, much of this enthusiasm was stymied by continued U.S. sanctions and then made virtually impossible once the so-called 'maximum pressure' strategy enacted by the Trump administration.

However, I think that there may potentially be less emphasis on courting closer business and economic ties with the EU as an explicitly desired aim under Raisi's administration.  We will likely see a greater emphasis on cultivating economic ties with regional states and partners in Asia, as Iran seeks to take advantage of major economic and infrastructural developments such as China's Belt and Road Initiative.   


Q: What is your assessment of U.S. policies in West Asia, especially when it comes to Iran?

The Middle East (West Asia) has preoccupied U.S. foreign policy for almost a century now. This preoccupation is arguably borne of a sense of American exceptionalism that has historically manifested itself in a self-regarding, unvirtuous circle of intervention in the region, sometimes predicated on so-called democracy promotion, but ultimately grounded in securing U.S. interests, and more recently, those of its allies. Thus, we have a situation where U.S. interests have been based on supporting authoritarian monarchies and a belligerent colonial state in the Occupied Territories. This was heightened further as the Trump admin took a more confrontational line on Iran with its violation of the JCPOA and vindictive use of sanctions.

With Iran, the U.S. has in recent years resorted to either carrying out or offering its support to a number of extra-judicial killings in the region – most notably its assassination of the head of Sepahbod Qassem Soleimani. We also witnessed the slaying of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh who was the victim of an Israeli-sponsored killing. These are the acts of a hubristic imperialist power and a rogue nation acting with impunity in international politics.

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