Recent Events

Iran forty years after its Islamic revolution is facing a grave economic crisis and growing popular discontent. It continues to commit acts that deepen its isolation even as it benefits from the mistakes of its adversaries. US sanctions are more punishing than anticipated but will probably not cause Iran to alter policies of greatest concern to Washington, such as regional interventions and ballistic missile development, and are instead strengthening hardline elements as Iran approaches a key political transition. Meanwhile, society has already undergone a cultural counter-revolution that aging ayatollahs cannot reverse.

These were among the insights gleaned from a day-long conference at the Atlantic Council on February 12. Organized in conjunction with the Center for Strategic & Diplomatic Studies at the University of South Florida, it brought together veteran scholars and up and coming experts with recent field experience in Iran. Many of the speakers also wrote blog posts, which were collected on our IranSource site.

On Wednesday, January 9th, the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center hosted a reception commemorating the Ten-Year anniversary of the Center. The occasion was marked by a ceremony honoring Shuja Nawaz, founding director of the South Asia Center and current Distinguished Fellow. 

Bharath Gopalaswamy, Director of the South Asia Center, began the ceremony with welcoming remarks. Damon Wilson, Executive Vice President of the Atlantic Council, then offered his comments commemorating the tenth anniversary of the center and honoring Mr. Nawaz. The pair presented Mr. Nawaz with a token of appreciation for his substantial contributions to the South Asia Center as both a former director and current Distinguished Fellow.  

The ceremony closed with a brief address by Shuja Nawaz, who expressed his continued optimism in the future of South Asia. As Mr. Nawaz reflected on the work of the South Asia Center, he noted the extensive track record of the Center facilitating Track-II Diplomacy between countries of the greater South Asia region, creating ground breaking scholarship, and fostering new initiatives to promote interconnectivity between the U.S. and South Asia. In a region so often defined by uncertainty, Mr. Nawaz praised the South Asia Center’s efforts to change this narrative and expressed his continued confidence in the Center’s ability to carry on the mission of “waging peace.”

Iran’s Sunni minority is becoming increasingly strict in religious practice and could succumb to more Salafist influence, but has so far not been inclined to take up arms against the Iranian government.
Over the last three years, there has been enormous progress reached in the areas of regional connectivity in South Asia. Given Afghanistan’s geographic status as a land bridge between Central Asia and South Asia, and a catalyst for bulk energy transfers between these regions, it is possible that it can also serve a major role in shortening multiple Internet paths in the region. 
In the aftermath of demonstrations in more than 100 Iranian cities and towns in late December-early January, analysts have been divided over whether the Iranian system can profit from the protests to enact meaningful reforms or whether the system is too repressive and brittle to change through relatively peaceful evolution.

Speaking Feb. 12 at a discussion organized by the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative, Alireza Nader, an independent researcher on Iran and the Middle East, argued that the Iranian political and economic system is on the “verge of collapse” and mere reforms will not resolve its fundamental problems. Nader, who outlined his views in a new paper, Iran’s Uncertain Political Future, said that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani “is positioning himself” to become Iran’s Supreme Leader after the death of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but that the powerful Revolutionary Guards would block Rouhani’s ascension.
In the aftermath of widespread protests in more than 100 cities in Iran, a new public opinion poll conducted by the Center for International Security Studies at Maryland, in conjunction with, suggests that the overwhelming majorities of Iranians agree with protestors’ critiques of government economic performance.

On Friday, February 2, the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative hosted a panel discussion on the results of the new survey to examine key issues including climate change, unemployment, economic mismanagement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and the broader set of regional and international issues faced by the nation.
As implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) marks its second anniversary in a climate of uncertainty over continued US compliance, Iran has increasingly looked to Asia for trade and investment, while cementing a strategic partnership with Russia.

On Friday, January 19, the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative, in partnership with The Iran Project, hosted a half-day conference in Washington on these evolving relationships between Iran, Russia, China, India, and Japan.
The Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center hosted its first ‘Nuclear Strategy and Security in the Second Nuclear Age Conference’ on November 16 and 17, 2017 in Washington, DC. The conference brought together experts, officials, and leaders from across the world and multiple international organizations with the aim of understanding the emergence of Asia as the epicenter of the second nuclear age.
The Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center hosted the “Unlocking US-India Trade Potential Conference” in Bengaluru, India from November 6-8, 2017. This conference, launched in partnership with the US Consulate, Chennai, the Federation of Karnataka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FKCCI), US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (IACC), and the Takshashila Institution, explored the economic partnership between the United States and India. This conference convened American and Indian sector experts to enable direct interactions among global economic leaders and cultivate economic policies to bolster bilateral trade.

The conference addressed topics such as trade facilitation, ease of doing business in India, special economic zones, infrastructure, smart cities, intellectual property rights, development of information and communication technology, and global economic trends. Prominent speakers at the conference included Mr. Nandan Nilekani, Dr. Paula Stern, Consul General Robert Burgess, Mr. Philip Shaw, Mr. Michael Koch, Dr. Rupa Chanda, Mr. Bobby Majumder, Dr. Robert F. Ichord, Mr. Siddharth Roy and Ms. Sharmila Barathan among others.

By identifying factors that may impede increased trade and developing potential solutions to overcome these challenges, the conference managed to help the two countries reach new heights in their trade relations.

Watch the highlights of the conference here:

1) Opening Remarks by Dr. Bharath Gopalaswamy

2) Welcome Remarks by Dr. Mukesh Aghi  

3) Remarks by U.S Consul General Robert Burgess

4) The Honorable Paula Stern on US Trade Policy: A First-Person Account  

5) Keynote Speech by Mr. Nandan Nilekani  

6) The Honorable Dr. Paula Stern and Mr. Nandan Nilekani in Conversation with Ms. Maya Mirchandani
As the Trump administration formulates a new policy toward Iran, it is important that that policy be informed by accurate information about the realities of Iran’s rapidly changing society. On October 18, 2017, the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative hosted sociologist and author Kevan Harris on the findings of the first Iran Social Survey, which challenged some prevailing views about the composition of Iranian society and presumed linkages between government benefits and voters’ political preferences.

The first nationally representative survey of social relations conducted in the Islamic Republic of Iran since the 1979 revolution, the sample of 5005 respondents, fielded in December 2016, contains rich data on family history, electoral behavior, ethnic identity and contemporary state-society relations.

An Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, Harris, spoke at length about the uniqueness of the survey through its five modules: Inter-generational mobility, political mobilization, state services, civic association and ethno-linguistic identification. Factors used in the survey included: voter choice and household income, employment, gender, age, marital status, location and educational attainment.