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Will next Iran president make nicer with the West?

Iran’s presidential election on June 28 may provide Tehran an opportunity to press reset on foreign policy issues after years of increasing hawkishness. Indeed, a key campaign issue has been the extent to which the candidates may – or may not – pivot to more engagement with the West.

While the supreme leader – the country’s highest religious and political authority – is the ultimate arbiter of dealings with international powers, Iran’s president has influence in a political system in which there are multiple centers of power.

The presidential vote, which was forced by the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a May 2024 helicopter crash, comes as Iran wrestles with major interrelated domestic, regional and global concerns. The country’s economy continues to suffer from international sanctions, the latest round of which were levied by the UA and UK in April 2024 after Iran conducted a direct strike on Israel.

Sanctions aren’t the West’s only way to apply pressure on Tehran. Cyber warfare, soft power and military might are also at countries’ disposal. Yet Iran’s activities – such as funding proxy militant groups, circumventing sanctions through China and Russia and advancing its domestic nuclear and missiles programs – have continued unabated in recent years.

As experts on US foreign policy and Iran, we believe this raises an important question: Are the US and its allies’ efforts at deterring Iran having any impact? And could a change in the presidential office provide an opportunity for the West to revamp its approach to Iran?

The limits of diplomacy

Since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, the US and Iran have had no formal diplomatic ties. But that doesn’t mean that there are no diplomatic efforts. In fact, there are