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Number Seven Thousand Six Hundred and One - 10 July 2024
Iran Daily - Number Seven Thousand Six Hundred and One - 10 July 2024 - Page 4

Daunting curveballs coming Pezeshkian’s way

President-elect’s challenges in foreign policy

Leaders of the world and their prospective replacements are being asked in debates, interviews, and press conferences how they would be dealing with the Reformist president-elect of Iran. First of all, that speaks volumes about Iran’s central role in world politics. Secondly, how they will respond to that question largely depends on whether they perceive this new shift in Iran as a threat or as an opportunity. We can see the world hasn’t really figured out who Masoud Pezeshkian will be as Iran’s president and consequently, how they will approach him, but that won’t last for so long. Pezeshkian will only be thrown so many warm-up balls to reveal his moves before he is deemed ready to play in the big leagues, where the hits have to keep coming. Domestically, it would not be too different, either. While some Iranians may be willing to give the new president-elect of Iran some time to get a grasp of the game just because that is the standard practice, most other Iranians as well as foreign actors are impatient to see what his positions on a myriad of issues are. In what follows, we aim to discuss some of the guaranteed challenges that Pezeshkian and his foreign policy team will have to tackle no less than a few months into his presidency.

By Reza Raadfar

Political analyst

Appointing foreign minister
Pezeshkian’s first challenge in the realm of foreign policy is, oddly enough, domestic and not even in relation to any one specific country. Far from being the only president-elect who has his worries when it comes to getting a vote of confidence for his top minister, he will probably still have more headaches than most in the following weeks.
It’s not like we can’t guess Javad Zarif, the former foreign minister of Iran, is his first choice if he gets to have his wish. But he is not about to get his wish, is he? Zarif, who made a giant comeback to the forefront of Iran’s political scene as Pezeshkian’s consultant on foreign policy during this presidential campaign, is famous across the world as the only Iranian FM in recent history that finalized a nuclear deal with Western powers, namely the US with its occasionally antagonistic stance toward Iran.
However, this achievement did not come with its curses. As the United States under former Republican president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 Iran deal, officially known as the Joint Compressive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Zarif was bombarded with a series of harsh criticisms and accusations from the “perturbed” friends of the country and giddy political enemies alike that naturally demanded a strong, persuasive response about what had gone wrong and what Tehran will do afterwards. Long story short, Zarif did not pass the Herculean task of convincing the people of Iran and their political representatives and regaining their trust. So, for Pezeshkian to tap Zarif for the position of foreign minister is to get ready for an uphill battle where both will have to, first, concentrate on defending a checkered past.
Now, knowing Zarif, he is surely ready to throw down in the parliament with anyone who dares to question the specifics of the JCPOA, but to save everyone from the trouble of digging up grievances with the previous deal, Pezeshkian may opt to still have Zarif in the ministry but as a consultant or deputy — that is, of course, if Zarif is up for the job. However, that still leaves the big chair empty.
The name that is being dropped around as Pezeshkian’s practically-sound choice for the foreign minister is Seyyed Abbas Araqchi. Araqchi was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator in talks with the P5+1, under Hassan Rouhani’s government. So, he won’t be getting out of the Iranian Parliament unscathed, but at least, he will be getting out mostly intact.
Since the Iranian Parliament is devoid of reformists who will be accommodating Pezeshkian out of political partisanship, the president-elect is likely to make good on his unspecific campaign promise of bringing the two sides closer together and forming a unified front. It would still be unlikely that he will gamble with the position of foreign minister to achieve this aim. That kind of promised bipartisanship may be kept for tapping the heads of some of the less influential ministries.
Whatever the case may be, it’s almost guaranteed that the Iranian lawmakers will put up a fight — at first, at least — but they will likely compromise with the president-elect, who has shown to be seemingly holding out an olive branch. After all, the people have spoken, and the people have voted for a candidate that stands for negotiating with the US to lift its unilateral sanctions.

Next US president, nuclear deal
The situation at the White House is as important to Pezeshkian’s success as the situation at home, and the White House is up in the air, to say the least. The US presidential campaign has been going on for longer than Iran’s and it has still a few more months to go, but it has just gotten interesting.
President Biden’s rambling appearance, which was fraught with his dreaded “senior moments,” in the first televised national debate has spiraled the Democrats down into the five stages of grief. Denial was no longer possible after watching the debate — and that says a lot about Biden’s performance — and the subsequent anger was fruitless. So, the Dems are now bargaining with the president to step down and let them have a chance against Trump, who has built a sizable base of unwavering followers.
Let’s face it: Biden’s performance in the debates will not get any better without the help of medications — and Trump is confessedly ready to pounce on that, too. If Biden gets to have his way and stays in denial that he has a chance at beating Trump, he will frantically look around for a big win in foreign policy until November 5 to vouch for his competence at the height of his “senior moments”. That is an opportunity that Pezeshkian should not miss.
If Pezeshkian manages to expedite the process of forming his government and sends his people to hold a series of condensed talks with the Americans, both he and Biden may be able to score a partial win soon. The specifics of that partial win will likely be more favorable for Iran than the US because time is on Pezeshkian’s side. To be sure, the Iranian president doesn’t want to chance his success on Trump, who has already sabotaged a deal, but he still can.

Gaza war
There’s a good argument to be made that a deal with Iran will not save Biden’s presidency, but the same cannot be confidently said about a possible deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. Netanyahu’s onslaught in Gaza is a gigantic enough problem that it can make or break the presidencies of other countries, Iran included.
Tehran has already sided with the Palestinians, and that will most certainly not change with Pezeshkian. However, there’s a degree to which Iran can remain involved in the future and the end of the conflict.
On one end of the spectrum, there’s a significant possibility that Iran and other members of the Axis of Resistance in the Middle East may enter the war. Judging by the events of the past few months, it seems that this possibility entirely depends on how far Israel is willing to go. There may well come another moment when Iran or its allies in the region, especially Lebanon’s Hezbollah, will be under Israel’s attack. Not enough has Pezeshkian said about the conflict or shown about himself to make predictions about his response to such an attack accurately. However, the general atmosphere of the country and its top officials will likely force his hand to make a strong, deterrent response in some shape or form. Pezeshkian’s challenge here would be about how he can get his own way in the face of such external and internal pressures.
On the other end of the spectrum, Iran may be able to play a part in a compromise between Hamas and Israel. The US and other Western actors have repeatedly asked Iran to play such a role, especially at the beginning of the war, but Iran has only so much influence it can exert on groups that are in for a penny, in for a pound. Pezeshkian, a doctor and a soon-to-be former lawmaker, is in no better a position than Iran’s late president Ebrahim Raisi to mediate a cease-fire or permanent deal.
It’s impossible to imagine that Iran is happy with the fact that thousands of Palestinians have been killed. The same can be said about almost any other country in the world. Nevertheless, Iran is ultimately yet another third party to this conflict. When the whole world, including Israel’s closest allies, cannot force a cease-fire to happen, how can Iran? This, then, falls more on the Israelis and Palestinians to reach an understanding of their situation and a deal to end this agony.

A radicalizing Europe
A less urgent objective for Pezeshkian’s Iran would be to find a way to deal with the shifting tides of European politics. In recent history, most leaders of European powers have historically been more moderate than their American counterparts, allowing the former group to mediate between Iran and the US. However, following the victories of Far-Right forces in elections in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, to name a few, the EU and NATO are going through a major change themselves. What Pezeshkian will also be facing in any future round of talks is an unprecedented situation where the representatives of some European members of the P5+1 that were party to the JCPOA may be fanning the flames of discord.
For example, Marine Le Pen, a French Far-Right leader, scored a big victory in the first round of a snap legislative election but just failed to consolidate that victory in the form of a majority government in the second round. However, she and her party will remain a key player in French politics. Le Pen has taken inconsistent positions on Iran. She originally sided with Tehran and defended its right to pursue a civilian nuclear program, according to Haaretz. However, in a recent interview on French television, she expressed concerns over Tehran’s attempts “to circumvent the limits concerning its nuclear program.” In an attempt to distance herself from her father’s antisemitic views, Le Pen has changed her party’s name and pandered more and more to the French Jewish community. While the French president is in charge of negotiating international treaties, it is unclear how the weakened president will proceed in any negotiations with Tehran when Le Pen’s party holds the third most seats in the French parliament.
Many of these radicalized nationalist parties that have garnered considerable support in their respective countries have already taken hostile positions toward Iran, and their challengers are not any better. Keir Starmer, the newly-elected leader of the center-left Labour Party in Britain, has previously called for the proscription of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a “terrorist” organization and condemned Iran’s response to Israel’s attack on its consulate in Damascus.
As is the nature of politics, there may arise unforeseen circumstances that trump all other foreign policy issues currently at hand. Regardless, there are some other challenges Pezeshkian may face sooner than later. For one thing, he has to make up his mind about whether he will continue implementing the “Look to the East” policy of his preceding government. Russia and China, which have each sealed a 25-year agreement with Iran, will not be happy to see the Iranian president occupy himself with the thought of mending ties with the US to the detriment of other ties. For another thing, the war in Ukraine is still ongoing, and as a strategic partner of Russia, Iran remains at risk of getting roped into that mess in one way or another.
From what we have seen from Pezeshkian, he seems rather confident and hopeful that he will handle every curveball thrown at him when the time arises. Time will tell if his can-do attitude is misplaced or not.


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