PAAIA Board Member, Hamid Biglari, Speaks on RAND Panel

March 3, 2016, Washington D.C. – RAND Corporation hosted a daylong conference covering challenges facing the Iran Nuclear Deal and implications for policy in Iran, the Middle Eastern region, and the United States.  The conference was entitled “Will the Iran Deal Survive?  Iran, Regional Crises, and U.S. Policy.” 

The event began with remarks from Dalia Dassa Kaye, the RAND Corporation’s Director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy, introducing the event as one that would focus on the non-nuclear implications of the agreement that was signed last July.  Opening remarks were offered by Dr. Colin H. Kahl, National Security Advisor to the Vice President, who discussed the mixed messages Iran has been sending the international community by both meeting its nuclear commitments and releasing multiple political prisoners yet also testing ballistic missiles in supposed defiance of UN resolutions and continued engagement in human rights abuses.  Kahl concluded with a prediction that Iran will move into a more moderate position in the future as a result of engagement with the international community.

The rest of the conference took the form of three panels.  The first panel, “Regional Crises and Responses,” included former Israeli Deputy National Security Advisor Chuck Freilich, Senior Fellow at Harvard, Karen House, and Prince Turki Al Fasial of Saudi Arabia, along with Washington Bureau Chief of Al Arabiya Nadia Bilbassy-Charters as the moderator.  The group discussed the regional implications for the Iran Nuclear Deal and all three participants echoed the sentiment that while the nuclear aspect of the deal is not an issue in the region, that Iran’s regional ambitions and meddling in the affairs of Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq were of significant concern to its immediate neighbors and Israel. 

The second panel, “Challenges from within Iran,” focused on Iran’s economic and political future and the obstacles and opportunities that lie ahead.  NPR host Steve Inskeep moderated this panel, which included Robin Wright, a joint fellow for the United States Institute of Peace and Woodrow Wilson Center, Hamid Biglari, Managing Partner at TGG Group and PAAIA board member, and Alireza Nader, an International Policy Analyst at RAND.  The conference coincided with the recent parliamentary elections in Iran in which moderate elements, and especially economic reformer, defeated hardliners.  The panelists discussed the impact of both these elections and the Nuclear Deal on the future of the Islamic Republic.  While all panelists agreed that Iran is not a monolithic state and two different visions of a pragmatic pro-engagement state versus an ideological isolationist state exist within the country, there was some debate as to which vision is more influential.  Hamid Biglari, a banker with emerging market experience stated, “the more that Iran feels internationally connected and economically engaged with the rest of the world, the more responsible and moderate its behavior will appear on the international stage.”

“Future U.S.-Iran Policy,” the final panel of the day, discussed the direction that U.S. policy is headed in the future.  The panelists included Ellen Laipson, President Emeritus and Distinguished Fellow at the Stimson Center, James Dobbins, an American diplomat, and Stephen Hadley, former National Security Advisor under President George W. Bush, with David Ignatius, an Associate Editor for the Washington Post, as the moderator.  While the dismay of US regional allies at possible US rapprochement with Iran was mentioned, most panelists agreed that the United States should cautiously embrace Iran’s re-entrance into the international community.

The conference ended with a common sentiment that the Nuclear Deal was beneficial for both Iran and the United States.  It has allowed Iran to re-enter the international stage and has increased its economic opportunity.  Other states in the region are more concerned with Iran’s role in the Syrian conflict and consider the nuclear problem to be an issue of the past, at least for now.  Iran may move into a more moderate position and implement social and political reforms, or it may engage in economic growth without lessening its control.  There were different opinions on how the United States should approach Iran and the Middle East in the upcoming years, but it was generally agreed that the Nuclear Deal was a step in the right direction.

Click here to watch the conference.

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