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"Through the Luxembourg court ruling, the Iranians will be gauging how viable continued engagement with the West will be in the future, particularly with the Europeans. If Iranian assets are threatened in Europe, the value of staying in the nuclear agreement is significantly diminished for Iran." (03/28/2019)

—  Payam Mohseni, Director of the Belfer Center's Iran Project in the New York Times

"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


Iran deal:

  • Zarif signaled that Tehran might relax its adherence to JCPOA if economic benefits it expects to receive aren’t forthcoming: “We have the possibility of a partial reduction of our commitment. We will have to make that decision when the time comes.” (WSJ, 11/4).

EU payments channel flounders:

  • In effort to persuade Iran to adhere to JCPOA, EU is still trying to establish Special Payment Vehicle (SPV) to maintain economic ties with Iran. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has said that channel won’t be effective in face of US pressure. (WSJ, 11/4).
  • EU wanted to have SPV set up by this month, but no country has offered to host it. (Reuters, 11/15).  

  • US Special Envoy for Iran, Brian Hook has said it is “no surprise” that EU efforts to establish SPV were floundering over fear in EU capitals that hosting it would incur US punishment: “European banks and European companies know that we will vigorously enforce sanctions against this brutal and violent regime.” (Reuters, 11/15).  


IRGC’s second-in-command issues threats after sanctions:  

  • After new round of sanctions were imposed earlier this month, Deputy IRGC Commander Brigadier General Hossein Salami issued new threats:
    • “Our enemies intend to isolate us like an island but today the page has turned and Americans themselves are being isolated, as even their traditional allies are distancing themselves from the US.” (RadioFarda, 11/4).
    • “Battle with the Islamic Republic will take the war beyond the region. If we want, in a short time we can establish dominance over the US in the Middle East.” (RadioFarda, 11/4).


IMF expects Iran’s economy to contract this year and next:

  • Instead of growth spurt IMF anticipated only months ago, it now projects recession starting in 2018, deepening fiscal shortfall and inflation more than tripling from last year. (Bloomberg, 11/13).


  • Trump: “Our objective is to force the regime into a clear choice: either abandon its destructive behavior or continue down the path toward economic disaster.” (WSJ, 11/4).
  • Sanctions imposed on Nov. 5 target Iran’s oil, port operators, shipping, shipbuilding companies, financial sector (insurers, banks, and central bank). (WSJ, 11/7).
  • Anyone who trades oil with Iran or engages with its banking system could face penalties. Non-American companies that violate sanctions can be fined and excluded from US financial system. (WSJ, 11/7).
  • Belgium-based bank-messaging system Swift cut ties with Iran’s lenders, making international transfers all but impossible. (WSJ, 11/7).


  • Trump administration officials recently traveled to 32 countries seeking to coax compliance to sanctions, but companies and banks in Russia, China, Oman, Iraq, and elsewhere are likely to help Iran defy them. (WSJ, 11/6).
  • Erdogan has asserted that Turkey won’t comply with sanctions at all: “We do not want to live in an imperialist world. We will absolutely not abide by such sanctions.” Without vital natural-gas imports from Iran, he argued, Turkey wouldn’t be able to get through the winter: “We cannot let our people freeze in the cold.” (WSJ, 11/6).

Russia throws Iran lifeline:

  • Moscow offers to pay Iran in form of barter, and then process crude for domestic use. That would free up Russia’s own oil for more lucrative crude export markets. (WSJ, 11/7).

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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