April 29, 2019

Dina Esfandiary, International Security Program Research Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center
Ali Vaez ‘11, Johns Hopkins SAIS Alumnus and Director of Iran Program, International Crisis Group
Moderated by Narges Bajoghli, Assistant Professor of Middle East Studies

As part of the school’s year-long “Rethinking Iran” series, a discussion was hosted on the current geopolitical situation concerning Iran in light of the Trump administration’s “Maximum Pressure” campaign. After the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and then subsequently after the September attack in 2001, US foreign policy has reduced both Iran and the Muslim world to “conflict-ridden” and “problematic” instead of the multilayered and complex culture and system they existed as. The series serves to challenge this narrative and aims to provide a more realistic and nuanced understanding of the world in relation to US national security interests.

The discussion featured the reflection on the JCPOA negotiation process, the prospects of current international initiatives and the risks of further escalation between the United States and Iran. Ali Vaez commented on the confrontation between the two countries, and Dina Esfandiary gave remarks on three significant issues in the bilateral relations: JCPOA achievements, Trump’s “maximum pressure” and the prospects of future US-Iran dialogues. Both speakers agreed that the current administration’s policy towards Iran would not be sustainable due to the lack of constructive dialogues and communications channels between the two parties.

“The US has an organizing principle, which is demonizing Iran,” noted Vaez, “…but we don’t have a strategy that fits in the bigger picture [of US foreign policy in the Middle East].”

Questions from the audience addressed issues including the Trump administration’s travel ban, US-Iran-Russia trilateral relations, and the trajectory of foreign policy thinking in the United States.

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