Iran After 2021
The year 2021 had been a challenging year for Iran, like any other country in the world. The significant developments of this year for Iran include the fight against the epidemic, the inauguration of Joe Biden in January in the USA, which is the 42-year archenemy of the country, victory of the conservatives led by Ebrahim Raisi in the June elections, the unexpected capture of Kabul by Taliban in August, the peak of the turbulence in the relations of Tehran and Baku and mutual accusations which started after the Karabakh victory, then normalization process of the relations towards the end of the year, the water protests in Isfahan, the 25-Year Cooperation Agreement between Iran and China, continuity of Israeli attacks towards Iran’s nuclear facilities, and the revival of the Viana talks in November after several months.
The Fate of Raisi
Iran’s domestic politics had witnessed various developments in 2021. The most significant milestone among them was certainly the election of Ebrahim Raisi as the President of Iran, who won an absolute victory in the elections that had a significantly low turnout rate. The judicial background of Raisi paved the way for numerous debates. Even though the ambiguity of his views concerning the economic issues, which is the most crucial agenda of the country, raised some questions at the beginning. It is noteworthy to mention that he has proven through his appointments that he will act like a coordinator. He has indicated that he will perform with the member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in domestic politics and foreign policy, along with proceeding the economic concerns with technocrats from the same circles.
Although it is still early to make a comprehensive analysis of Raisi’s performance, Raisi is a figure who has swiftly ascended the political career ladder in the last couple of years, and he has the predominant support of IRGC and the Assembly of Experts, which is responsible for the election of the Supreme Leader. The opinion, which suggests that Raisi is the most fortunate candidate for the scenarios regarding the post-Khamenei Era, still preserves its relevance. Nevertheless, his goofs, which were caused by his inexperience, paved the way for the re-organization attempts of more experienced figures who are excluded from the political arena, such as Hassan Rouhani and Ali Larijani. Raisi will confront greater challenges than expected. The meeting of the Supreme Leader Khamenei with Rouhani in the last month of the year has been interpreted as the first sign of the return of the “moderate” wing to the political arena. Raisi government’s efforts to return to the JCPOA and the economic difficulties that it faces, just like the previous government, which was heavily criticized for signing the Nuclear Deal (JCPOA, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) along with its incapacity in the economic field, created a favorable atmosphere for the offended opponents. Domestic politics is expected to warm up in line with the progress in the Vienna talks.
The Vienna Talks and USA-Iran Relations
The nuclear activities of the country and the reactions to these activities represent one of the foremost issues of foreign policy. Although it started in November, the future of the Vienna talks remains uncertain. While the USA and the European states claim Iran’s attitudes in the negotiations are not constructive, Russia is giving more positive messages. On the other hand, China keeps its silent position on the issue.
While the talks are proceeding, Iran maintains its nuclear activities, making Israel more uncomfortable and increasing its meetings with the USA. There is a visible rise in the number of news and reports in the international press concerning an expected Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. However, since such a strike requires the approval of the White House and the general approach of the USA increasingly tends to avoid the military intervention, the relevant military attack does not seem to be a real possibility. Still, it is possible to foresee that the Israeli sabotages will increase in quality and quantity if there is no progress in the Vienna talks soon.
Due to the two countries’ domestic balance of power and the possibility that Republicans, known for their hawkish views on Iran, will win the congressional elections, which will be held in the USA in November, make it difficult to reach a comprehensive agreement in the nuclear negotiations in the new year. According to many observers, both two countries need these negotiations and do not want to be the party that leaves the table. Thus, an interim agreement resulting from limited commonalities represent another possible option. It is believed that the USA may release Iran’s frozen assets abroad and allow Iran to engage in oil trade if Tehran takes some steps, including suspending its centrifuge enrichment up to 60%. Despite the fact that many influential figures from the USA defend that Iran should make comprehensive concessions regarding its nuclear activities, ballistic missiles, and UAVs, an increasing number of people realize that Washington does not have the necessary means to direct Iran to make such concessions. While it causes a rise in the criticism towards USA’s chief nuclear negotiator Robert Malley, several officials stress that the USA-Iran conflict is not favorable in terms of the national interests of the USA.
At this point, the next period will be a process for the USA and certainly for Israel to stomach Iran as a nuclear and regional power. Although these two countries have shown their capabilities to damage Iran significantly, these moves did not become successful in keeping Tehran away from its long-term journey. Considering the unwillingness of the USA to use massive military force and its withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq without a success story, Iran seems to continue its “neither war nor concession” policy.
In conclusion, like the rest of the world, Iran will face many factors that cause instability in the new year, including the negative effects of climate change after the global pandemic, economic crisis, issues of food security, and reflections of society's discomfort. Still, the Islamic Republic of Iran will continue to preserve its current situation in the new year through the social security measures recently taken by the state cadres and the social support policies which it has put into practice.
This article was first published in 10.01.2022 at Anadolu Agency.