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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




EU agrees $20.6 million USD in aid for Iran:

  • Trying to salvage JCPOA: EU agreed on giving 18 million euros ($20.6 million USD) in aid for Iran to help offset impact of US sanctions.
  • Wider package: Aid is reportedly part of a wider package of 50 million euros earmarked for Iran in EU budget.

Rouhani delivers speech on state television:

  • Says Iran must develop military to defend against invaders: “We should make ourselves ready to fight against the military powers who want to take over our territory and resources.” (Reuters, 8/21).




US vows to continue increasing economic pressure on Iran:

  • Bolton: We’re not just going to stop at where the sanctions were in 2015, our goal, our objective really is essentially we’d like to say no waivers to the sanctions.” (Wall Street Journal, 8/22).
  • Assertions: Bolton claims US sanctions put in place so far have affected Iran’s ability to operate in Middle East and that US and Israel are consulting on more sanctions and other ways to pressure Iran. (Wall Street Journal, 8/22).

    • But:While sanctions have piled pressure on Iran’s embattled leaders, there is less evidence that they have changed its military posture in Middle East. (Wall Street Journal, 8/22).
  • Finding alternative oil sources: Bolton noted that one focus is finding alternative oil sources for countries that have been purchasing from Iran. (Wall Street Journal, 8/22).

Predictions on Iran’s economic growth:

  • Slowing down: With the coming sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in November, analysts at London-based BMI research expect economic growth to slow to 1.8% this year and contract by 4.8% next year. (Wall Street Journal, 8/22).
  • Comparison: Iran’s growth rate in 2016 and 2017 was 12.5% and 4.3% respectively. (CIA World Factbook, 8/14).

Iran oil exports down sharply in first-half August:

  • Initial estimates suggest Iran oil crude and condensate exports have plummeted to 1.68 million b/d in first 16 days of August, down over 600,000 b/d from loadings in July. (S&P Global, 8/22).
  • Comparison: In July, exports averaged 2.32 million b/d. In first 16 days of July, exports averaged 2.10 million b/d. (S&P Global, 8/22).
  • Sanctions impact: US oil sanctions snap back on November 4, which could block up to 500,000-1 million b/d of Iranian crude. (S&P Global, 8/22).



Bolton: Putin happy to see Iran out of Syria:

  • According to Bolton, Putin said Iran’s presence in Syria does not tally with Russian interests and that he would be content to see all Iran-linked forces go home. (Washington Post, 8/22).

    • Bolton: “Putin said that Iranian interests in Syria were not conterminous with Russian interests in Syria and that he would be content to see the Iranian forces all sent back to Iran… We are talking about a complete return of both the regular and irregular Iranian forces.”(Washington Post, 8/22)
  • But: Bolton’s claims clashed with recent statements by Russian officials, who have said Iran is playing a constructive role in Syria. (Washington Post, 8/22).

    • Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov: “In contrast to the United States and its coalition, we and the other guarantor countries, Turkey and Iran, are promoting stabilization and normalization in [Syria] with deeds, rather than words.” (Washington Post, 8/22).




Google, Facebook, Twitter and Iran:

  • Facebook, Twitter accuse Iran of “coordinated manipulation”: Facebook took down 652 pages and accounts originating in Iran for what it called ‘coordinated inauthentic behavior’ advancing the interests of the Iranian government. Twitter also announced suspending 284 accounts, many of which it said appeared to originate in Iran, also for ‘coordinated manipulation.’ (Wall Street Journal, 8/21) (ABC, 8/22).
    • Zuckerberg: “Today we removed multiple pages, groups, and accounts for coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram. Some of this activity originated in Iran, and some originated in Russia… They used similar tactics by creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing.” (Facebook, 8/21).​​​​​​​
  • Google terminates YouTube accounts linked to Iran: Google terminated dozens of YouTube channels found to be pushing misinformation on behalf of Iran. Google’s investigators uncovered evidence that the accounts were connected with Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting and date back to at least January 2017.” (Wall Street Journal, 8/23) (CNBC, 8/23).


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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