The Changing Iran

Following deep political change, what will the new Iran look like? And how should we treat it?

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Iranian politics are changing. On Sunday, a group of Iranian clerics issued an anonymous letter calling for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down, leading American pundits to wonder if the country's troubled election will be more transformative for Tehran, and its relations with America, than initially anticipated.

What is Happening in Iran?

  • Political Turmoil  Time's Michael Scherer called the letter mostly symbolic but "still striking" as "a clear open challenge to the near-sovereign power of state." Scherer wrote that the move suggests deeper political upheaval in Tehran. "Coming on the heels of another letter from former reformist lawmakers openly criticizing Khamenei, not to mention ongoing dispute between conservatives and President Ahmadinejad, [this letter] leaves little doubt that the turmoil in Iran is far from resolution."
  • Beginning of the End  Thomas P.M. Burnett, an author of several books on politics, called this letter the start of something significant. "I see this as the beginning of a long internal struggle: plenty of lines crossed but miles to go."
  • Rise of Students  According to game theorist Bueno de Mesquita, Iran will not build a nuclear bomb. Using complex computer models, Mesquita also thinks that the politics of Iran are about to change dramatically, according to a recent New York Times Magazine article. "In terms of power, one category — students — would surpass Ahmadinejad during the summer, and by September or October their clout would rival that of Khamenei, the supreme leader," the magazine wrote of Mesquita's predictions.

How Should the Washington-Tehran Relationship Change?

  • Warm Relations  Fareed Zakaria said on his CNN show that we can now treat Iran as a more moderate actor. "We now know something about Iran that we weren't quite sure about, which is, there are many moderates in Iran, both on the streets of Tehran and the rest of the country, but also within the government," he said. Zakaria went on to express optimism that Iran could be "deterred" from harming Israel and to suggest support for "the right to a peaceful, to a civilian nuclear program."
  • Smart Sanctions  Michael Jacobson and Mark Dubowitz wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the US should seize this as an opportunity to pressure Iran to abandon a nuclear program. The authors argued that the White House should support "sanctions legislation targeting Iran's economic Achilles' heel—the regime's dependence on foreign gasoline imports for up to 40% of its domestic needs." Cutting off energy, they wrote, would not just pressure Iranian leadership but damage the Revolutionary Guard, which has been accused of fostering terrorism in the region. "The links between Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), blacklisted by the U.S. in 2007, and the Iranian oil and gas sectors are well documented."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.