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Biden and the Future of Iranian Politics

US President Joe Biden will have a major impact on the future of the Iranian political scene, especially in light of the upcoming presidential elections scheduled to take place in Iran on June 18. The elections this year are particularly monumental because of the tight competition between the Iranian conservative and reformists camps and given the advanced age of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Unlike previous elections, this year’s political race in Iran might bring about a dramatic change in the composition of the country’s political system, sending ripple effects across the entire region. Several names of potential presidential candidates have been floating around inside Iran and it remains highly unlikely that the two camps will succeed to unite behind one candidate. The conservative camp proposed names like former Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan, the head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, or the speaker of the Shura Council, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. In the reformist camp, there are still no clear candidates. The top name brought up by members of this camp is current Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is liked by the Europeans and is considered the architect of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. But for Zarif to be a viable presidential candidate, he must be able to return to the nuclear deal while saving Iran’s face (and his own) from humiliation. If the United States chooses to return to the agreement, then Zarif will be able to spin the event as a major political victory – one marked by the lifting of the US sanctions that have greatly hurt the Iranian economy. All of this brings us back to the role of Biden, whose actions can directly contribute to increasing Zarif’s chances in the presidential race. However, Biden should avoid succumbing to Iran’s blackmail. Zarif is a darling of many Western governments, including European leaders, who may shower him with investments and aid after a return to the nuclear agreement, thereby further strengthening his stance within Iran. In light of all this, it can be said that Biden will have a major impact on the future of the Iranian political arena. Biden is the only remaining political player who can obstruct Iran’s agenda of “strategic patience” under which the Iranian leadership is willing to make short-term concessions in order to maintain its long-term goal of developing nuclear weapons. –Ali Hamada (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)