On Wednesday, June 30th, 2021 Beirut Institute hosted e-Policy Circle 38 HE Amr Moussa, Former Secretary-General of the Arab League and former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt, HE Andrei Fedorov, Chairman of the Fund for Political Research and Consulting in Russia (ISSA) and Former Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, Edward Luttwak, Strategist, historian, contractual government advisor, and Sanam Vakil, Chatham House Deputy Director and Senior Research Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme.
This 38th episode of the e-Policy Circles is part of the run-up program to the Beirut Institute Summit in Abu Dhabi Edition IV, under the theme Stability Redefined – Who Authors the Future?
This global conversation resulted in excellent points around the following issues, among many points:
On the Vienna talks
It is not because Mr. Raisi is a conservative that we should lose any hope in the negotiations that will come but there is a possibility that there will be some openings. Raisi would like of course to score some early successes on the international scene. […] I believe that Raisi and the Iranian diplomacy, the new team, will be tough in drafting the lines of the new policy. Yet they will put some openings between the lines.
The issue of nuclear Iran raises another issue of the nuclear situation in the region as a whole. So is it the nuclear Iran [only] disturbs the security in the region or [do] we have to look at it form a wider point of view, [so] that all nuclear weapons or nuclear plans in the region should be addressed now? This is the time for us […] to prepare the ground for […]a new regional security system.
The JCPOA is an opportunity for the Raisi administration to enjoy the deal and benefit from the sanctions relief. But what we shouldn’t expect from the Raisi administration is for them to engage broadly with the US or EU on regional issues.
Whatever sanctions relief the Islamic republic of Iran does obtain in a JCPOA revival will be initially used internally because the system is at a very important [turning] point and this will benefit Raisi […] at a time where there are deep questions about his election, about the future of the Islamic Republic so I think the economics matter more than anything.
On the consequences of the recent Biden-Putin summit
There were too many expectations before the now-famous Geneva summit between Putin and Biden. Things aren’t going to change too much or didn’t change at all about what we were expecting. The problem is that the package of contradictions between Russia and the US is still the same and the progress, if there is to be a progress, will be most probably very slow. At the same time the new important element is the revival of transatlantic cooperation [that] will influence many areas including Russia, the Middle East and our alllies.
On Russian-Iranian relationships
The new Iranian leadership is very much interested in extending cooperation with Russia especially arms delivery and increase this kind of cooperation role in the Middle East.
On the recent Iranian presidential elections
In Iran [they] choose the president first, then they have the election and they choose him in a rather public way. […] I think it’s very logical that they picked Raisi because the Iranian term I believe is called the principlist, in other words super-hardline which makes perfect sense because in Iran there’s been a phenomenon very interesting one, but not unexpected, which is [that] an Islamist regime has caused secularisation.
[The election] is consequential even though we know it was very much a selection and not an election. It was also very much seen to be a selection from inside Iran, where the past number of years for the Iranian people have been extremely difficult. […] Iranian people have really borne the brunt of this period of pain and pressure and they took it out in this election and expressed themselves by overwhelmingly not participating. […] This election is really being driven by Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader who has selected a candidate who is effectively his mirror image.
On Iranian regional influence
The idea of [Iran’s] revival [and] restoration I think will be dominated and will be fully supported by new president Raisi. What is important Iran still wants to be a very important player in the region. It cannot step back on this position of influence on the region on the countries like Lebanon etc.
The conservatives and hardliners in the country re left with their forward defense policy of supporting non-state actors and proliferating lethal aid around the region and interfering in Arab countries and they see that strategy as [being effective]. So that is going to continue regardless of what the Iranian people want because the system sees that plan as having protected the Islamic republic.
On Israeli-Iranian relations
The reason why the Israelis have suddenly become very calm on the subject [of Iranian nuclear weapons] is because in the last few years on account of the change in the political situation inside Iran, on account of massive disaffiliation from the regime, rejection of the regime, the Israelis have been able to operate in Iran more or less as if they were in Tel Aviv. They drive about, they want to eliminate scientists they don’t like, they kill them, they go right into the facility the famous Natanz facility.
There has been an alarming level of infiltration inside Iran. […] The money attached to this kind of activity has also been immensely rewarding and it’s not just the Israelis that provide intelligence it’s also Iran’s opposition groups in the diaspora [with] network sinside Iran. […] Who knows if they’re cooperating with the Israelis or not.
There is a certain Israeli activity inside Iran […] but what is more important is that they are working much more on hacking […] because it’s much more pragmatic than activity on the ground.
On the Arab countries’ role in the Middle East
Don’t think that the Arab position is finished and that Arabs are not serious or disagree. The seeds for an agreement, for moving on and talking together about the future of the region are there.
On the political and economic crisis in Lebanon
In Lebanon there is a belief that nothing can be done because of the lack of inter-factional inter-party consensus. [But] you can’t do a political consensus in the classic way build a functional consensus on the structure of the Lebanese state. Because Lebanon’s economic condition suits absolutely nobody [..] the Lebanese themselves have to adopt the right formula and the right formula is not political consensus but the French [post-World War II] way.