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"Iran is not likely to abide by Israeli red lines that impair its broader goals in Syria. And to uphold the credibility of its deterrence doctrine, Tehran will feel compelled to retaliate against an Israeli attack." (05/10/2018)

—  Payam Mohseni, Director of the Belfer Center's Iran Project & Hassan Ahmadian Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Iran Project in Foreign Policy: "What Iran Really Wants in Syria"

"In this endeavor [to alleviate sectarianism in the Muslim world] the role of Ayatollah Sistani in Najaf will be crucial as he has a track record of promoting better relations between Shi’as and Sunnis and is an authoritative moderating figure who can reign in hardline elements in Iraq who might be opposed to a détente." (03/27/2018)

—  Payam Mohseni, Director of the Belfer Center's Iran Project & Seyed Ammar Nakhjavani, Associate at the Belfer Center's Iran Project

Recent News

Diplomacy and nuclear issue

  • Officials from China, Russia, France, United Kingdom, Germany, and European Union met in Vienna at Iran’s request. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Abbas Araghchi said Iran’s pullout from JCPOA was probable in coming weeks.
    • “I told the conference today that the JCPOA is in the intensive care unit because it has lost its balance as a result of US withdrawal from the deal.”
    • Araghchi also said Tehran was negotiating with other JCPOA signatories “to see if they can provide us with a package which can give Iran the benefits of sanctions lifting.” (Mehr News Agency, 6/22)
  • Atomic Energy Organization of Iran head Ali Akbar Salehi said Europe’s proposals to salvage JCPOA were not satisfying for Iran.
    • He also said all sides would lose if Iran was sidelined by the West. (Reuters, 6/19)
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe was concerned with Iran’s ballistic missile program and called for solutions to its “aggressive tendencies” in Middle East. (Reuters, 6/21)

Sanctions and Iran’s economy

  • OPEC decided to boost oil production. OPEC agreed on “nominal” production increase of 1 million barrels a day, but accord will only add about 700,000 barrels a day in second half of the year because several members are unable to increase their output.
  • France’s Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn said Renault would maintain its presence in Iran.
    • “We will not abandon it, even if we have to downsize.” (France 24, 6/15)
  • Bloomberg reported that U.S. asked Japan to completely halt oil imports from Iran.
  • Zanganeh said Iran did not believe its oil buyers would get sanctions waivers from U.S.
    • “We’re going to find other ways” to overcome sanctions. (Bloomberg, 6/22)
  • French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said most French companies hoping to continue doing business in Iran would find it impossible to do so.
    • These companies “won’t be able to stay because they need to be paid for the products they deliver to, or build in Iran, and they cannot be paid because there is no sovereign and autonomous European financial institution” capable of shielding them. (AFP, 6/19)
  • National Iranian Oil Company Deputy Head Gholamreza Manouchehri said possible withdrawal of France’s Total from South Pars gas field had not slowed down the project. (Reuters, 6/19)
  • Iraqi Oil Minister Jabar al-Luaibi said U.S. sanctions would not affect Iraq-Iran deal on swapping crude oil. (Reuters, 6/22)
  • India is trying to make Chabahar Port in Iran operational by 2019. (Reuters, 6/22)

Iranian domestic politics

  • Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei said he opposed Iran joining Financial Action Task Force.
    • “It is not necessary to join conventions whose depths we are unaware of.” (AP, 6/20)
  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani plans to visit Austria and Switzerland next month. (Radio Farda, 6/18) (AFP, 6/18)
  • Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp. Commander Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari said Iran had no plans to increase the range of its missiles. (Agencies, 6/19)
  • Jafari criticized Iranians who signed open letter last week asking Iran’s leaders to take part in direct talks with U.S., saying they “sided with the U.S., the enemy of the people.”
  • Iranian women were allowed to watch Iran’s World Cup game in same stadium as menfor first time since 1980. (Washington Post, 6/20)
    • Iran played Morocco and Spain.
      • Iran beat Morocco 1-0, and lost to Spain 1-0. (FIFA, 6/22)

US-Iran relations

  • Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif released list of 15 demands for improving relations with U.S., including U.S. return to JCPOA. Zarif’s list was response to list of 12 demands made by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in May.
    • Iran also demanded that U.S. stop providing arms to Saudi Arabia and drop its opposition to the nuclear disarmament of Israel. (AP, 6/21) (Iran Daily, 6/20)
    • Pompeo tweeted: “#Iran’s corrupt regime has enriched #IRGC, #Hizballah and #Hamas, and plundered the country’s wealth on proxy wars abroad while Iranian families struggle.” (Twitter, 6/21)
  • U.S. Senate passed its version of annual defense authorization bill that would reimpose certain penalties against China’s ZTE Corp.
    • Both House and Senate versions restricted U.S. government agencies from purchasing ZTE products, but Senate bill also ordered reimposition of punitive measures. (Washington Post, 6/18)
  • President Donald Trump will host Jordanian King Abdullah II at White House next week.
    • They will discuss “terrorism, the threat from Iran and the crisis in Syria, and working towards a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.” (AP, 6/21)
  • Federal indictment accused Iranian businessman Saeed Valadbaigi of trying to smuggle materials used in missile industry and restricted under nuclear-nonproliferation rules from Illinois to Iran.
    • He allegedly plotted in 2011 to illegally export aluminum tubing used in both missile and aerospace industries. (AP, 6/21)

Geopolitics and Iran

  • Coalition of Yemeni government forces and Saudi-led forces claimed to captured port city Hodeidah’s airport. 
    • Coalition showed reporters weapons captured on the battlefield that they said showed Iran was arming Houthis; reported weapons included drones, a sniper rifle, roadside bombs disguised as rocks, and a “drone boat.” (WSJ, 6/20)(Reuters, 6/19) (AP, 6/19)
    • Official Ansrallah (Houthi) media refuted claims of Hodeidah's airport being captured. (Al-Masirah, 06/21)
  • Saudi media outlet reported that Jordan recalled its ambassador from Iran in protest over its interference in affairs of countries in the region. (Times of Israel, 6/16)
  • Iranian military spokesman Gen. Abulfazil Shekarchi denied Iran was considering mounting joint operations with Turkey against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Iraq. (Al-Monitor, 6/19)


  • Israel reportedly carried out airstrike on Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite militia, Kata’ib Hezbollah, which had been operating at Al-Hari base near Iraqi border in Syria. Israel declined to comment. Iraqi Foreign Ministry condemned the airstrike.
  • Former Israeli Energy MinisterGonen Segev, once imprisoned for trying to smuggle drugs, was back behind bars after being charged with spying for Iran.
    • Segev allegedly acted as agent for Iranian intelligence and relayed information “connected to the energy market and security sites in Israel including buildings and officials in political and security organizations.”
    • Segev was extradited from Guinea and arrested upon arrival in Israel. (AP, 6/18) (NYT, 6/18)
  • U.S. formed joint team with Israel to enforce sanctions against Iran. (Haaretz, 6/18)

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 and its role in the Middle East and international affairs with a particularly on  international security including the Iranian nuclear program, US-Iran relations, geopolitical power rivalry in the Middle East, and Iran’s centrality in transnational Shi’a politics.

From its nuclear program and sponsorship of state and non-state anti-status quo powers 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 and the Islamic world.

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 Iranian foreign and domestic politics, Shi'a thought and identity, Islam and sectarian conflict in the Middle East, and the politics of authoritarianism and hybrid regimes. 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
  • Transnational Shi’a politics and Shi’a political ideology
  • The Iranian economy, Iran’s business environment, its economic policymaking process, sanctions, and the country’s energy sector

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.

Islam and Sectarian De-escalation

From the rise of ISIS and militant extremism in the context of an eroding Arab state system to the intensification of the Iran-Saudi cold war in the wake of the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, the dire consequences of Shi’a-Sunni sectarianism and conflict—which can tear apart the societies of the Islamic world—have never been greater in modern history.

Now more than ever, dialogue both within the Islamic tradition and between different religious groups is critical for the future peace, stability, and prosperity of the Middle East, the broader Islamic world, and transnational Muslim communities across the globe, including in Europe and North America. In conjunction with serious attempts to place different Muslim faith traditions in conversation, it is equally pressing that the U.S. policy making world and scholarly community is objectively informed and knowledgeable of the relevant issues and perspectives at hand in order to make a positive impact on policy and enable the grounds for peaceful conflict resolution.

Featured Event

The Iran Project is proud to host the The First Annual Symposium on Islam, Dialogue, and Sectarian De-Escalation at the Harvard Kennedy School. The Symposium has gathered a diversity of voices from leading scholars, religious authorities, civic community leaders, and policymakers alike to push forward analytical understanding and dialogue on the pressing topic of sectarianism in the Muslim world.

For more information on the Symposium (April 14-15), please visit: https://www.belfercenter.org/IslamSymposium.

Iran Project Symposium Sectarian De-Escalation



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