Iran’ Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (left) and President Ebrahim Raisi

Iranian Experts Challenge Khamenei About Economy, Foreign Policy

Sunday, 03/24/2024

After self-congratulatory Norouz messages by top leaders this week, relatively independent media in Tehran published sharp criticism by pundits who sounded dire warnings about the coming year.

The fact that in Iran's government-controlled media landscape the criticisms have been published immediately after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi's New Year messages, indicates that compared with even a few months ago, the government has effectively lost its authority and control.

In Iran's government-controlled media landscape, the publication of criticisms immediately following Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi's New Year messages signifies a notable shift. This suggests that the regime has lost more credibility and its control over public discourse has somewhat weakened, especially when compared to just a few months ago.

Khamenei in his new year message had challenged the US and Israel and claimed that America’s supremacy in the Middle East was waning. He also took pride in the recent elections in Iran, although they have been branded by Iranian media and political observers as the worst in the history of the Islamic Republic in terms of turnout and representativeness.

Meanwhile, in his mostly ignored Iranian New Year message, Raisi as usual presented fabricated figures about economic progress, especially in the areas of housing and employment, while everyone else speaks about declining living standards.

In a report published by Tehran-based Khabar Online news website on March 21, the second day of the Iranian New Year, experts outlined the missed opportunities in foreign relations, emphasized the government's economic failures, and called for radical changes in its policies.

Former diplomat Fereidoun Majlesi

The website quoted former diplomat Fereidoun Majlesi, who expressed concerns about Iran's diminishing international standing as its economic conditions worsen. Majlesi highlighted Iran's isolation throughout the past year and its failure to establish effective diplomatic relations with other nations.

He emphasized that Iran's foreign policy predominantly revolved around its relations with Arab countries and its stance on the conflict in Gaza, neglecting efforts to mend its strained relations with Western nations.

Echoing sentiments shared by many Iranian foreign policy experts, Majlesi called for a reassessment of the Islamic Republic's foreign policy to better serve the country's national interests. He noted Iran's lack of a coherent foreign policy framework, with limited diplomatic ties beyond its relationships with Syria and a handful of African states. Other nations either tolerate Iran or have severed diplomatic relations altogether.

He emphasized that although Iranian diplomats repeatedly speak about their readiness to revive the nuclear talks, there has been absolutely no progress in that area.

Meanwhile, international relations expert Alireza Bigdeli criticized Iran's one-sided relationships with Russia and China, emphasizing that the East cannot effectively assist Iran in revitalizing its struggling economy.

Bigdeli highlighted that when Joe Biden assumed office as US President, he pledged to engage in negotiations with Iran to resolve the nuclear standoff. However, Iran missed this opportunity due to its involvement in regional crises, resulting in no progress. Additionally, Bigdeli noted that Iran alienated the European Union, with Europe refraining from issuing harsh resolutions just because Washington did not want to up the ante.

He argued that Iran can only improving its foreign relations once it stabilizes its ties with the West. On the other hand, Ghasem Mohebali, another foreign relations expert, called for a comprehensive reassessment of Iran's foreign policy in the new year. He highlighted that Iran lost control over the nuclear negotiations last year, leading to heightened sanctions.

Mohebali expressed concern that with the potential return of Donald Trump to the White House, Iran should be more vigilant than ever about its relations with Washington. He identified a major issue with Iran's foreign policy as the lack of control by its Foreign Ministry, with other influential players, such as Khamenei and the IRGC, steering the country toward alliances with Russia and China, hindering a balanced foreign policy approach.

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