The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies’ Iranian Studies Unit in Doha hosted Nasser Hadian, professor of Political Sciences at the University of Tehran on 21 December 2020 for a lecture on “Iranian Foreign and Security Policies in the Post-Trump Era,” chaired by Mehran Kamrava, head of the unit and Professor of Government at Georgetown University in Qatar. 

Hadian stated that “President-elect Biden will go all out for multilateralism and pay more attention to diplomacy” compared to Trump. However, he further explained, Biden’s presidency has positive and negative impacts on Iran. One of the positive aspects is that Biden is a rational player and considers the costs and benefits of his actions. The negative aspect of Biden’s presidency is that he can apply pressure on Iran more effectively than his predecessor.

On the use of sanctions against Iran, Hadian said that “sanctions will continue to remain an important tool in American foreign policy toolbox.” He stressed that in relation to Iran Biden cannot postpone addressing the issue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and would have to quickly deal with it. and. Hadian further argued that the Iranian Majles has already passed a law obliging the government to take measures to increase the country’s nuclear enrichment capacity.

According to Hadian, Iran is engaging in what he called “constructive ambiguity” by gradually reducing its commitments to the JCPOA. Therefore, Biden is faced with a difficult dilemma of either threatening war with Iran or letting the country develop the bomb. This leaves little choice for the new US administration but to go back to the JCPOA despite pressures from regional countries and from within Washington. In Iran, he continued, there are also spoilers who do not want the US to go back to the JCPOA and would prefer the status quo, as they look at the issue through an ideological lens. Hadian argued that “the mistrust of America is rooted in the ideological orientation” of the so-called Principlists, who have long opposed any negotiations over the country’s nuclear program.

Reformists and moderates in Iran, according to Hadian, believe that a return to the JCPOA needs to happen now. If this were to take place, the reformists will have a good chance of winning the upcoming 2021 presidential elections in Iran. A resumption of negotiations will have “at least psychological impact inside Iran, if not in real terms, as people would think we are moving forward in the right direction and would question why they should vote for a Principlist,” Hadian said.

Hadian also reflected on Iran-China relations and highlighted that, within the political elites, there is a consensus that Iran needs to get closer to China. Iran has already signaled to China that no matter what happens, the ties between the two will remain intact. However, the extent to which Iran should get closer to China is debated within Iranian policy circles. One group believes that Iran needs to get strategically close to China, while others want Iran to get close but not fully enter China’s orbit. Hadian predicted that “the first group cannot win, and Iran will be close to China but not in the orbit of China.”

Hadian also discussed the impact of the US administration on Iran’s relations with Europe. He stated that “President Trump has clearly demonstrated that the United States can impose its will on the world” and that “Europe is almost irrelevant to Iran’s strategic calculus.” He noted that the post-Trump era would be important to Iran in determining how close it should get to China and Europe, and what it can expect from the US, Russia, and Europe.

Finally, on the security of the Gulf region, Hadian observed that the smaller states would not accept a security arrangement without the presence of external powers. “In order to address that issue, we need external players, and the only country that the majority of these countries trust is the United States.” However, Iran is unlikely to agree to such an arrangement without some form of Russian regional presence. Hadian stressed that at the formal level both the US and Russia need to be present, if there is to be a security arrangement in the Gulf region. Informally, according to Hadian, China will be the most important player in the future for the security of the region.