Following the surprise announcement that President Ahmadinejad had won outright the first round of Iran’s presidential election, Karim Sadjadpour explained the implications for the Obama administration’s diplomatic initiative with Iran and the domestic reaction.

Key points:

  • The United States should wait until the election has played out domestically before commenting on or reaching out to the Iranian government.
  • Ahmadinejad’s victory could pose an insurmountable challenge to the Obama administration’s engagement strategy, but Iran remains integral to critical challenges including Afghanistan, the Arab–Israeli conflict, terrorism, and energy security. Once the dust settles the United States will eventually have no choice but to talk to Tehran, but it will likely be a cold, hard-nosed dialogue rather than friendly greetings.
  • Despite being the true source of power, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is rarely held accountable for Iran’s economic malaise or political isolation, given the high profile of the Iranian president. The United States should announce publicly they wish to talk directly with Khamenei.
  • In the thirty years since the Islamic revolution, Iran’s political elite have never been so divided.
  • While dramatic, the current protests are not yet significant enough to pose an existential threat to the regime.

Sadjadpour said:

“In retrospect, it looks like the entire campaign was a show, in the sense that Ayatollah Khamanei was never going to let Ahmadinejad lose. Assuming these results are allowed to stand, I think we should be clear about what type of regime we are dealing with in Tehran. Just as we talk about Assad’s Syria and Mubarak’s Egypt, I think we are now dealing with Khamanei’s Iran.”