July 15, 2021 | Policy Brief

What Does the Rise of Baqeri Mean for the Iran Nuclear Deal?

July 15, 2021 | Policy Brief

What Does the Rise of Baqeri Mean for the Iran Nuclear Deal?

Ebrahim Raisi, who will take office on August 8 as president of the Islamic Republic in Iran, met with India’s foreign minister last week, with two top officials in tow: Mohammad Javad Zarif, Tehran’s outgoing foreign minister, and Ali Baqeri-Kani, a top contender to replace Zarif. Baqeri’s presence and likely succession indicate Raisi plans to escalate Iranian demands as part of negotiations with the United States over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, which may frustrate President Joe Biden’s hope for a rapid return of both parties to the 2015 nuclear deal.

The 54-year-old Baqeri was born in Kan, a village close to Tehran, into a prominent clerical family. His father was a member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, which, among other things, is supposed to choose the supreme leader. Baqeri’s uncle, Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi-Kani, held top posts, including head of the Assembly of Experts, prime minister, interior minister, commander of the Revolution Committees, and secretary-general of the Militant Clergy Society. Baqeri studied Islamic sciences and economics at Imam Sadeq University, whose primary mission is to train Islamists for service in the upper echelons of the regime’s bureaucracy.

Baqeri has another important ally: his sister-in-law, a daughter of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Baqeri’s brother Mesbah-al-Hoda Baqeri-Kani married Hoda Hosseini Khamenei, one of Khamenei’s two daughters.

Ali Baqeri initially rose through the ranks as a protégé of Saeed Jalili, a fellow alumnus of Imam Sadeq University. Baqeri spent more than a decade working for Jalili, first at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then at the Supreme National Security Council. When Jalili served as Iran’s top nuclear negotiator under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Baqeri was his deputy. Both men eagerly took uncompromising stances. Finally, Baqeri managed Jalili’s unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2013.

After the election, Baqeri spent several years on the sidelines. In 2019, while Raisi was head of the judiciary, the future president picked Baqeri to be his deputy for international affairs and head of the judiciary’s human rights council. As Raisi heads to the presidential palace, Baqeri has his eyes on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In Iran’s 2021 election, even though Jalili was once again a candidate, Baqeri chose to back Raisi over his former patron. Since Jalili has a strong following among the most hardline regime supporters in the younger generation, Raisi is likely to offer him a top job. The possibilities include foreign minister, first vice president, and secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. Jalili held the latter position previously and probably wants it again; Baqeri can help persuade Raisi to make the appointment.

Together again, Baqeri and Jalili would have the opportunity to bring back the more confrontational approach they pursued under Ahmadinejad.

Both men are fond of criticizing outgoing President Hassan Rouhani and his foreign minister, Zarif, as well as the nuclear deal they negotiated, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Baqeri feels Zarif could have extracted better terms from Washington by using the leverage Baqeri and Jalili created when they led nuclear talks. According to Baqeri, the United States had already softened its position during President Barack Obama’s second term, had made initial concessions to the Jalili-Baqeri team, and was eager to reach a deal with Tehran. Baqeri says he and Jalili could have forced Washington to concede even more without abandoning Khamenei’s red lines. In an interview in 2018, Baqeri said the JCPOA was a bad deal and falsely claimed that agreeing to it “was not the supreme leader’s decision” — an effort to delegitimize the deal.

If Baqeri becomes foreign minister, one can expect him to bring back the playbook he and Jalili employed previously. The Biden administration is already making premature concessions in an effort to revive the JCPOA and may be tempted to accommodate Baqeri’s demands. Instead, Biden should recognize there is no reason to return to a deeply flawed agreement, whose restrictions on Tehran have already begun to expire.

Saeed Ghasseminejad is a senior advisor on Iran and financial economics at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he contributes to FDD’s Iran Program and Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). For more analysis from Saeed, the Iran Program, and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Saeed on Twitter @SGhasseminejad. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_Iran and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, non-partisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Nuclear Military and Political Power