View from Delhi: Raisi’s legacy is a beacon for posterity

13:16 29.05.2024 •

Ebrahim Raisi
Photo: standardmedia

Throughout his three-year term cut short, Ebrahim Raisi’s positioning of Iran as a steadfast regional power will bear lasting effects on the years to come, writes M.K. Bhadrakumar, Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer.

Almost all the important processes happening in West Asia are connected to Iran in one way or another insofar as Tehran either influences them or is directly involved in them. Therefore, Raisi’s legacy is also the sum total of memories of his brief time in office as president. One begins to wonder whether establishing a lasting legacy was a key motivation for Raisi.

Having been a cleric who spent his entire public life in the judiciary, he acquired a deep understanding of Ayatollah Khomeini’s vision of velayat-e faqih as crucial to the Islamic government. Hence, his total submission to the Supreme Leader was anchored on the conviction that it is essential for the harmonious functioning of the system. Arguably, in the past three years, the presidency and the government showed a rare unity of purpose, even in the face of the concerted fueling of protests by western powers.

Raisi openly attributed his actions and policies to the Supreme Leader’s instructions. This meant that the government’s paralysis due to incessant factional feuds disappeared. The breakneck speed with which Tehran could advance its nuclear program, resisting pressure from Washington and Brussels, testified to this.

As things stand, Iran is a nuclear threshold state. Equally, last October, the UN arms embargo on missile transfers to Iran ended, as the European members of the Security Council decided not to instigate the snapback mechanism. Iran can now legally supply the missiles, and sanctioning such arms transfers is voluntary. This has been a tremendous diplomatic victory.

From a longer-term perspective, another big shift in the situation around Iran is Washington’s tacit recognition that Tehran can be a factor of regional stability and security in the West Asian quagmire. The New York Times reported on 18 May that talks took place between senior officials of the US and Iran, the first such conversations after the Iran–Israel “tit-for-tat” missile strikes.  

Brett McGurk, the top White House official on West Asia policy, and Abram Paley, the deputy special envoy for Iran, attended the talks in Oman alongside Iran’s newly appointed interim Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani, who has played an active role in Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the US and European powers over the years.

But talks with the US are a minefield. The fact that they have become a “new normal” under Raisi makes the stuff of political legacies, considering the tumultuous history of US-Iran animosity. Ironically, this carries the imprimatur of Raisi, who was vilified as a staunch hardliner who de-prioritized Iran’s relations with the west and instead scripted a growing and unprecedented level of cooperation with Russia.

It is entirely conceivable that the Biden White House estimates that it is unlikely that Iran and Russia will forge anything beyond their present agile partnership that gives them room for maneuver. Put differently, Moscow and Tehran do not see eye to eye on certain major issues and the inordinate delay in jump-starting the Iran–Russia pact, even after tortuous high-level negotiations, only goes to show that strategic autonomy has been at the very core of Raisi’s foreign policy legacy.

Unsurprisingly, the imperatives felt by both sides to increase pressure on the US in West Asia and create a de facto united front against the US from the Black Sea to the Persian Gulf are just not good enough to conclude an official alliance.

The Iranian news agency Nour News coined an apt description of the vital link between Iran’s diplomatic strategies and the battlefield needs of the Axis of Resistance under Raisi’s watch – “rational resistance.” At any rate, the geostrategic reality is that if Israel feels boxed in today, Iran is responsible for it.  

Raisi realized that hard power alone could not solve the looming crisis and understood the importance of soft power embodied in Iran’s culture and values through which it could generate trust and mobilize the regional and international audience around forward agendas that looked beyond the military and political problems.

The trajectory of the US-Iran talks in Oman will bear watch even after the deaths of Raisi and foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, an outstanding diplomat of modern times whose life was tragically cut short in its finest hour.

Even the US realizes that containment of Iran is no longer feasible; using force against it is counterproductive, and ignoring it is a mistake. Raisi’s prescience lies here – in anticipation of the region becoming ripe for change he prioritized Iran’s relations with its neighbors as the very core of its diplomacy, M.K. Bhadrakumar stresses.


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