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"Focusing on the president’s economic weaknesses and his lack of attention to inequality and the ‘downtrodden’ classes [...] picks up a key theme that propelled former President Ahmadinejad to the presidency."

—  Payam Mohseni, Director of the Belfer Center's Iran Project, in CNN Fareed's Global Briefing: "Khamenei Turns Up Heat on Rouhani" (05/02/17)

Poverty rates in Iran increased during Rouhani’s first year in office because “growth was apparently not pro-poor” (04/17/17).

—  Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, Prof. of Economics at Virginia Tech & Visiting Scholar at the Belfer Center's Iran Project, in Bloomberg Politics: "Talent War Shows Nuclear Deal Rewards for Skilled Iranians"

Recent News

Sanctions and Iran's economy

Iran Air received four ATR 72-600s passenger planes. This is first installment of deal to purchase 20 planes. (AP, 5/17)

Iranian domestic politics

Iran held presidential elections on May 19. President Hassan Rouhani won reelection. Voting breakdown to follow. 

Iran held third, and final, presidential debate last Friday. Debate was supposed to focus on economic issues. (Tasnim News, 5/12) Rouhani accused Iranian security institutions of diverting public funds to Raisi’s campaign and busing people to his campaign events. (AP, 5/12) Qalibaf accused Rouhani and Jahangiri of receiving highly subsidized properties from the government, while Raisi claimed that Rouhani blocked legal probe into corruption charges against his relatives. (AP, 5/12)

In the third debate and in several rallies, Rouhani criticized conservatives on the economy and social issues. He also warned Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and its corresponding Basij forces, not to meddle in election. (Reuters, 5/17) (Reuters, 5/12)

US-Iran relations

U.S. airstrike hit convoy of Iranian-backed militias that were heading toward al-Tanf base in southern Syria. U.S. special forces are based at al-Tanf base. (Washington Post, 5/19) (Reuters, 5/18) (The Guardian, 5/19)

Trump administration waived nuclear-relations sanctions on Iran in accordance to JCPOA. After signing waiver, U.S. sanctioned two Iranian defense officials, an Iranian company, and members of China-based network for supporting Iran’s ballistic missile program. (Reuters, 5/17) (Treasury.gov, 5/17) (Treasury.gov, 5/17)

U.S. lawmakers passed bipartisan bill that cracks down on financial supporters of Assad’s government, including Russia and Iran. Bill was sent to Senate for approval. (AP, 5/17)

NYT reported that computer security experts discovered that recent Iranian cyberattack used tool set developed by known Russian hacker-for-hire. Experts say this is first time they have seen attack where Iranian hackers worked with Russian hackers-for-hire. (NYT, 5/15)

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer blamed Iran and Russia for actions of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. He also said that U.S. “remains open to working together with both Russia and Iran to find a solution that leads to a stable and united Syria. But in order for us to work together to bring an end to the violence in Syria, Russia and Iran need to acknowledge the atrocities of the Assad regime and use their influence to stop them.” (Al-Monitor, 5/15)

Geopolitics and Iran

The Guardian reported that Iran changed the course of land corridor that it aims to carve to Mediterranean coast after officials feared growing U.S. military presence made its original path unviable. (The Guardian, 5/16)

Saudi Arabia sent letter to UN Secretary General António Guterres and president of UN Security Council claiming Iran violated international law. Letter was response to recent Iranian letter to UN Security Council. (Al Arabiya, 5/17)


Khamenei urged voters to head to polls to send message to U.S. and its allies, including “pathetic prime minister of the Zionist regime.” (AP, 5/17)

Working Group

The Iran Working Group serves as a channel for internal discussions on fundamental issues of Iranian and regional affairs, including Iranian foreign policy, domestic politics, sectarianism and the Iran-Saudi rivalry, as well as the nuclear challenge. The project, which since its inception in summer 2013 has grown dramatically in size and scope, is co-chaired by Professor and Belfer Center Director Graham Allison and Belfer Center Iran Project Director and Fellow for Iran Studies Payam Mohseni. Working Group participants come from the Belfer Center, Harvard University, Brandeis University and MIT, and the group draws upon local expertise that spans Iranian state and society, negotiation strategy, nuclear physics and policy, economics, and Iranian politics.

Members of the Iran Working Group meet regularly to dissect the latest developments from the implementation of the nuclear deal, the economic impacts of international sanctions, and relevant regional trends. The Working Group regularly hosts private, off-the-record discussions on these topics with distinguished scholars and practitioners in the field from across the globe.

November 20, 2014 – Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, Baroness Ashton, amd Secretary Kerry before beginning second round of three-way nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria.

November 20, 2014 – Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, Baroness Ashton, amd Secretary Kerry before beginning second round of three-way nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria.

HKS Belfer Center's Iran Project Banner

The mission of the Iran Project is threefold:

  • To produce advanced, policy-relevant knowledge on salient issues of Iranian affairs
  • To serve as a hub in a network that synergizes scholarly collaborations and intellectual discussions among Iran experts and analysts across the world
  • To become a diplomatic bridge to advance dialogue between students and scholars in Iran and the United States, particularly for the Harvard University community, as well as to support the efforts of Iranian students and those involved in Iranian studies at Harvard University across disciplines


The Iran Project is dedicated to promoting the study of contemporary Iranian politics, particularly on issues that pertain to important challenges of international security, such as the Iranian nuclear program, US-Iran relations, and Iran’s role in the Middle East.

From its nuclear program and sponsorship of hostile state and non-state actors to its soft-power influence in the region, Iran has outsized abilities to shape events beyond its borders in a dramatic fashion. The Iran Project seeks to bring greater knowledge and analytic clarity to policy discussions on Iran as an important power in the Middle East region.

Dr. Payam Mohseni, the Director of the Iran Project, frequently travels to Iran to conduct research and is fluent in Persian. His work focuses on the internal policymaking process of the Iranian state, the dynamics of factional politics in post-revolutionary Iran, the political economy of development, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. Mohseni also teaches Iranian and Middle East politics at Harvard’s Department of Government.

Research Focus Areas

  • The Iranian nuclear program, implementation challenges for the JCPOA, and its implications for regional order
  • Iranian domestic and foreign politics, elite factional dynamics, Iran’s role in the Middle East, sectarian conflict in the region, and Iranian soft power and ideology
  • The Iranian economy, Iran’s business environment, its economic policymaking process, sanctions, and the country’s energy sector