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"In other words, in contrast to Rouhani's promises, barely anything trickled down onto the general population. Given the administration's neoliberal leanings, its economic policies heavily relied on austerity. This neoliberal-authoritarian mix has neither alleviated the socioeconomic misery of Iranians, nor weakened authoritarian structures." (01/06/2018)

—  Ali Fathollah-Nejad, Associate at the Belfer Center's Iran Project, in AlJazeera English

"Trump may very well be handing Khamenei a golden opportunity to demonstrate to both members of the
Iranian political elite and the Iranian people (who have largely been supportive of engagement) that the
United States simply cannot be trusted." (10/15/2017).

—  Payam Mohseni, Director of the Belfer Center's Iran Project & Sahar Nowrouzzadeh Joint Reserach Fellow at Iran Project and MTA in Foreign Affairs: "Trump's Dangerous Shift on Iran"

Recent News

Iranian domestic politics

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians celebrated the 39th anniversary of 1979 Islamic Revolution. In speech marking the anniversary, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for “direct vote by the people” to end moments of political gridlock within Iran. He also asked the Guardian Council to make participation and running in elections easier.

“If we have differences, we must refer to Article 59 of the constitution…which says, in certain cases of passing laws or legislative acts on important social, cultural, economic or political issues, we must send it to a direct vote by the people.” (Al-Monitor, 2/12) (USIP, 2/14) (VOA, 2/11) (AP, 2/11) (Reuters, 2/11) (USIP, 2/12)

Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) Quds Force Commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani said those who publicly criticize the Supreme Leader betray the Islamic Revolution and its founder Ayatollah Khomeini. (Radio Farda, 2/12)

Iranian-Canadian dual national and prominent environmental activist, Kavous Seyed Emami, died in Iranian custody after being detained in alleged espionage ring. Seyed Emami’s family was told that he committed suicide. He was arrested with six associates on January 24.

Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said Seyed Emami was sending information on Iran’s missile bases to U.S. and Israeli intelligence services.

Seyed Emami was professor at Imam Sadeq University in Tehran and managing director of Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation. (AP, 2/11) (CBS, 2/13) (NYT, 2/10)

Intelligence agents affiliated with the IRGC arrested Iranian Department of Environment Deputy Head Kaveh Madani and subsequently released him after interrogating him.

Madani, a U.S.-educated academic on leave from London’s Imperial College, was recruited by Rouhani as sign Iran was ready to welcome back expatriate Iranians. (NYT, 2/12)

Diplomacy and nuclear issue

French President Emmanuel Macron said Iran’s ballistic missile program should be placed under international surveillance.

“I want a new cycle of negotiations with regional parties and the permanent members of the Security Council, like we did for the nuclear deal, but widening it to regional countries so that we can reduce and eradicate this insecurity.”

“And (we need) to put Iran under surveillance over its ballistic missiles. It’s indispensable for the security of the region and so we need a mechanism of sanctions and control adapted to that.” (Reuters, 2/14)

Sanctions and Iran's economy

Iranian authorities detained almost 100 currency traders and froze bank accounts reportedly worth 200 trillion rials ($5.3 billion) to tackle slide in the value of the rial, which is down more than 10 percent this year.

It was the biggest crackdown on foreign exchanges in six years. (FT, 2/14)

Central Bank of Iran Governor Valiollah Seif said the bank would raise deposit rates to bolster rial value. (Reuters, 2/15)

France’s Total CEO Patrick Pouyanné said he urged President Donald Trump in January to keep the U.S. in the JCPOA. He also told Trump that oil and gas investment in Iran would help Iranian reformists in their struggle against hardliners.

“I made the argument, but the question is how much time do we give to the reformists? Do we give them enough time to…help them to go towards more democracy? I think Donald Trump listened; it does not mean that he agrees.” (FT, 2/11)

US-Iran relations

Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats released annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community,” which mentioned Iran as a main threat.

“Iran will seek to expand its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, where it sees conflicts generally trending in Tehran’s favor, and it will exploit the fight against ISIS to solidify partnerships and translate its battlefield gains into political, security, and economic agreements.”

“Iran’s ballistic missile programs give it the potential to hold targets at risk across the region, and Tehran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East. Tehran’s desire to deter the [U.S.] might drive it to field an ICBM.” (DNI.gov, 2/13) (USIP, 2/13)

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for Iranian-backed militias to withdraw from Syria.

“We think Iran needs to withdraw its military, its militia from Syria, and allow the hope for peace process to take hold.” (AFP, 2/14)

U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert called on Iran to release three opposition leaders who have been under house arrest for seven years. (RFERL, 2/16)

Geopolitics and Iran

Foreign ministers of Russia, Iran, and Turkey plan to meet next month to discuss Syria. (Reuters, 2/13)


Israel shot down Iranian drone that infiltrated its airspace from Syria and responded by striking the command-and-control center in Syria from which Iran launched the drone. Syria then shot down one of Israel’s F-16 fighter aircraft using anti-aircraft missiles. The F-16 crashed in northern Israel after its pilots ejected. Israel then retaliated by striking 12 targets in Syria, including four belonging to Iran. Israel’s military estimated that those strikes destroyed nearly half of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air defenses.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “we will continue to defend ourselves with determination against any attack on us and against any Iranian attempt to base itself in Syria or anywhere else.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis: “Israel has an absolute right to defend themselves.”

Israel would not confirm whether the F-16 was shot down by enemy fire, which would mark the first such instance for Israel since 1982.

Hezbollah announced beginning of “new strategic phase” that would put end to Israel’s “abuse” of Syrian land and air.

Iranian drone that was shot down appeared to have been developed by Iran from technology obtained when it captured U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel spy drone in 2011. (WSJ, 2/10) (WSJ, 2/11) (Bloomberg, 2/10) (AP, 2/11) (Washington Post, 2/11) (Jerusalem Post, 2/12) (Haaretz, 2/14)

Netanyahu reportedly conveyed warning to Iran through European leaders in January.

At World Economic Forum, Netanyahu told Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to tell Tehran that Israel preferred diplomatic solution to Iran’s manufacturing of ballistic missiles in Lebanon and Syria, but that if that did not work, Israel would be forced to use military means. (Times of Israel, 2/11)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman: “We are aware [of the problem], and it is one of the big challenges — preventing the production of precise weapons in Lebanon. We are working with diplomatic channels, and we are determined to prevent the mass production of precise weapons on Lebanese soil.” (Times of Israel, 2/14)

Israeli Minister for National Infrastructure, Energy, and Water Yuval Steinitz said Israel viewed al-Assad’s regime as the weak link in the Iranian-Shiite axis, and that al-Assad should keep that in mind when weighing whether or not to let Iran set up military bases in Syria or transfer precision missiles to Hezbollah.

“Assad and Hezbollah are the same, and if there will be an attack against us, we will not be obligated to act only against the source of the attack.” (Jerusalem Post, 2/13)

Soleimani pledged retaliation for Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s former military chief, during a commemoration for his 2008 killing.

Soleimani said appropriate revenge for his death was “not launching one missile or killing one person, but the dismantling and uprooting of the baby-killing Zionist regime.” (AP, 2/15)

In speech marking the revolution’s anniversary, Rouhani warned of Israeli plots to create division.

He also said widespread attendance was “response to the new US conspiracies against our nation and the Zionists’ moves in the region,” apparently referring to recent Israeli strikes on Iranian targets in Syria. (Times of Israel, 2/11)

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