Public Briefing JAN 13 – Author and journalist Robin Wright, who has covered Iran for more than 40 years, visited Capitol Hill to offer insights from her recent two-week trip. She discussed Tehran’s new strategic goals, the shifting balance of political power, the economic challenges and future potential, the post-election public mood, prospects for the current negotiations and the spoilers as well as U.S.-Iran relations.
Following her first trip to Iran since the tenure of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, author Robin Wright reported many western-leaning changes, from the strategic re-calculation of the newly-elected President Hassan Rouhani to women’s clothing emblazoned with Marilyn Monroe, and the closing of the gender gap. In an event sponsored by the Partnership for Secure America (PSA) and U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) on Capitol Hill on Jan 13, Wright noted that many clerics voted for Rouhani in the recent elections and that they were pleased to see Ahmedinejad leave office. The “strategic loneliness” brought on by his rule took a toll on the economy, the society, and the greatly increased pollution in the country, including Tehran and other major cities. Although the election of Rouhani was an upset to the status quo, since making a deal with the outside world he has become more powerful and more popular among Iranians.
Wright reported that many Iranians are relieved about the nuclear deal and favor establishing a relationship with the United States. The country has a strong sense of nationalism and wants to see the sanctions lifted so that it can gain access to materials much needed for manufacturing and development. Iranians are aware that if the nuclear talks fail, the currency will descend further and the economy will fall with it, which will not help a country with up to 25 percent youth unemployment. Nevertheless, Wright noted that the hardliners on both sides of the nuclear deal might destroy it. She also mentioned that the effects of sanctions on the Iranian economy, while very important, should not be overrated.
With the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, Wright, a joint fellow with USIP and the Woodrow Wilson Center, said that Iran feels more vulnerable to the threat of al-Qaeda. She also talked about the Iranians still dying from the use of chemical weapons by the Iraqis in the Iran-Iraq war. Although Wright had covered Iran for more than 40 years, this was the first time she visited the U.S. embassy since the hostage-crisis takeover, and she saw the photocopying machines and other artifacts still in the same places, much like a museum. In an interview with the mastermind of the occupation of the embassy, she said that he now favors a relationship with the U.S. Though Rouhani is neither a hardliner nor a moderate, there are a number of diverse power centers in Iran, and Wright expressed grave concern about the Sunni-Shiite sectarian struggle in the region that might lead to war.
Robin Wright is a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center. She has traveled to Iran dozens of times since 1973. In December 2013, Wright visited Iran and interviewed Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, leading reformists and hardliners, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s descendants, chemical weapons victims, artists, and grand ayatollahs. Wright is the author of several books on Iran, including “The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and Transformation in Iran” and “The Iran Primer: Power, Politics and US Policy.” Visit www.iranprimer.com for a remarkable resource on Iran, including new weekly pieces on breaking news and analysis of key events, every major U.S. action or statement from the U.S. Congress, the White House, State and Defense Departments, Treasury and others, and comments by Iranian officials unavailable elsewhere.
Wright has reported from more than 140 countries on six continents for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Sunday Times, and CBS News. She has also written for The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, TIME, Foreign Affairs, and others. She won the National Magazine Award for The New Yorker. Her “Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World” won the 2012 Overseas Press Club award for best book on international affairs.