Raisi’s victory represents challenge for U.S – “Raisi’s victory represents a challenge since Iran will likely prioritize regaining its respect that was gradually eroded under Rouhani,” Andrew Korybko tells the Tehran Times.
After Raeisi won the June 18 presidential election with a landslide victory, defeating his three other rivals with a wide margin, many observers talk about Iran’s new approaches under the future Raisi government.
American media mostly try to portray Iranian president-elect as a hardliner, while others say that Raisi is capable to improve Iran’s position internationally.
“This could see the Islamic Republic more resolutely defending its regional interests, which could potentially set it up for a clash with the U.S., whether directly or indirectly,” Korybko argues.
Following is the text of the interview:
Q: How do you assess the Iran election and its impact on the Vienna talks? Will Iran distance itself more from the Western camp by the victory of Raisi?
A: The outcome of the elections was predictable because of how unsuccessful the prior government was in handling Iran’s interconnected socio-economic problems. There also seemed to be a widespread perception that Iran was losing respect on the international stage under those authorities. It’s therefore understandable why the Iranian people wanted a change that they hope will alleviate their problems and restore their country’s respect abroad. The new government will seek to prioritize both of these issues, which necessitates careful diplomacy as well as shrewd strategy. The nuclear talks will continue in parallel with Iran expanding its partnerships with non-Western countries like China and Russia.
Q: Putin congratulated Iran’s president-elect Raeisi as the first foreign leader. What does it signal?
A: President Putin prioritizes Russia’s Non-Western partnerships such as the one that it has with nearby Iran since these form integral parts of the Eurasian Great Power’s geopolitical “balancing” act. Russian-Iranian relations are better than at any time in history though they’ve yet to reach their full potential. More trade and investment is a must, and this can be facilitated through Azerbaijan’s proposed six-nation regional integration platform that it unveiled shortly after its victory in last year’s Karabakh War. President Putin is clearly signaling his intent to expand relations with Iran, which will likely be achieved through the newly unlocked trans-Caucasian trade corridors. Russia will likely invest much more in Iran too if a deal is soon reached to reduce or outright remove the U.S. unilateral sanctions regime and thus eliminate the threat of so-called “secondary sanctions”.
Q: What will be the impact of Raisi’s victory on American political circles? What will be their reactions?
A: No credible commentator in American political circles predicted any other outcome of the vote. Some might try to delegitimize this exercise of democracy for ideological reasons but they’d be powerless to influence the country’s domestic processes. From an American geostrategic perspective, Raisi’s victory represents a challenge since Iran will likely prioritize regaining its respect that was gradually eroded under Rouhani. This could see the Islamic Republic more resolutely defending its regional interests, which could potentially set it up for a clash with the U.S., whether directly or indirectly. America will therefore have to be more careful going forward since it should expect Iran to respond in one way or another to whatever provocations it might be planning.
Q: Do you predict that Iran and Persian Gulf Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, will reach an understanding in the near future?
A: There’s a discernible desire among all to reach some sort of understanding that could at the very least result in a so-called “cold peace” for an uncertain length of time. All players are becoming exhausted from the seemingly never-ending regional tensions which have apparently taken on a life of their own in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in them looking increasingly inward in order to improve their dire socio-economic situations. No one has the same level of interest in foreign affairs as they used to. It would therefore be to everyone’s benefit if they reached the earlier described pragmatic understanding and that it holds for at least the next few years.
Q: What will be the new Iranian government’s options to contain any possible sanctions?
A: There’s practically nothing that Iran could do to prevent any new sanctions since they’re unilaterally implemented by the U.S. for strategic reasons. What it can do, however, is improve its defensive economic capabilities in the face of such threats. This can be achieved by prioritizing trade and investment with Iran’s top non-Western partners, particularly China, Pakistan, and Russia.
Regarding the first-mentioned, the two countries recently clinched a 25-year strategic partnership deal which will see the Islamic Republic become a more integral part of the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI). China’s long-term plans seem to be to transform Iran into a regional production powerhouse, but this will of course take a lot of time to achieve. Most Chinese companies aren’t deterred by unilateral American sanctions threats or secondary ones thereof and will therefore likely continue investing in Iran regardless of whatever happens.
As for Pakistan, it hosts BRI’s flagship project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which can be expanded westward into Iran via the W-CPEC+ vision in order to facilitate China’s above-mentioned strategic goal. Although relations remain complicated for a variety of reasons, they’ve noticeably improved in recent years, which makes this vision increasingly viable. Plenty of work remains to be done, however, there’s clearly the political will on both sides to achieve this. Upon any serious success in this strategic direction, Iran will be able to improve its economic connectivity with China.
The Russian angle was already described earlier in this interview, but to recap, the Eurasian Great Power is a very promising economic and investment partner for the Islamic Republic. They can engage with one another across either the Caspian or South Caucasus, the latter of which is becoming much more feasible in light of Azerbaijan’s victory in last year’s Karabakh War and the subsequent unblocking of regional trade corridors. Russia might not invest all that much into Iran until the U.S. unilateral sanctions are reduced or removed, but once that happens, then these two countries can finally realize their true economic potential.