Emad Kiyaei

Emad Kiyaei, executive director of the non-partisan and non-profit American Iranian Council, visited Hamilton on Oct. 5 to speak on the recent geopolitical history between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran, and that history’s significance with regard to the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

The icy, and often officially non-existent, diplomatic relationship between the United States and Iran since the onset of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis is one of seemingly endless nuance and complexity, said Kiyaei. However, he claimed, particularly with regard to the efforts since 2003 to address the nascent Iranian nuclear program, many of today’s most prominent American politicians have played key roles in determining the current state of relations between the two nations. Most notably, he said, are former Secretary of State and current Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

While U.S.-led economic sanctions on Iran have existed since the aforementioned 1979 hostage crisis, it was the Clinton State Department that most forcefully pushed for a more comprehensive international sanctions regime through the UN Security Council during the early years of the Obama White House. Said sanctions began to push large segments of the Iranian economy underground as the nation became more and more isolated from the outside world and, notably, unable to sell its vast reserves of oil and gas on the international market.

This informalization of the Iranian economy drives roughly 40% of the nation’s economic activity underground before talks surrounding a nuclear deal began in 2013. “Shadow economies are very difficult to regulate,” said Kiyaei, adding “who would be the most suited entity in any society that is capable of getting things in and out, and would have the network to do so? The Islamic Revolutionary Guard of Iran.” Instead of weakening the guard, an influential segment of the Iranian military, he argued, the international round of sanctions gives them more power over the economy. It was only in 2013, after John Kerry replaced Clinton as secretary of state and President Rouhani of Iran came to power, that talks were made possible regarding a potential end to the UN mandated sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

“So,” said Kiyaei, to laughter from the audience, “What the hell is going on in this election?” He feels Iranians view the two current major-party candidates for president as possessing distinctly different possible impacts upon US-Iranian relations. Hillary Clinton, often perceived as hawkish toward Iran, nevertheless has made a rhetorical commitment toward honoring the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal as they stand.

 “Trump,” Kiyaei offered, “(it’s) anybody’s guess what he’ll do… From the Iranian perspective, maybe, just maybe, (Trump) will be a wakeup call.” However, he concluded, to the Iranian people, the outcome of the 2016 election likely doesn’t much matter, as long as the nuclear deal doesn’t begin to unravel, and expectations of rolled-back sanctions continue to be validated.

Kiyaei’s talk was sponsored by the Government Department and the Levitt Center.

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