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Payam Mohseni

Mailing address

124 Mt. Auburn Street Suite 100, Room 108A
79 John F. Kennedy Street
Mailbox 126
Cambridge, MA, 02138


Payam Mohseni

Director of Iran Project and Fellow of Iran Studies

Telephone: 617-495-4793



Payam Mohseni is Inaugural Director of the Belfer Center's Iran Project and Fellow for Iran Studies at the Center. He is also a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at Harvard University.

Mohseni’s research focuses on the internal policymaking process of the Iranian state and the dynamics of factional politics in post-revolutionary Iran. Previously, Mohseni was a Research Fellow with the Belfer Center's International Security Program. Before that, he was a Junior Research Fellow at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University and a member of the Iran Study Group at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington, D.C. He holds a Ph.D. in Government from Georgetown University, and he obtained a B.A. in Development Studies from the University of California, Berkeley and an M.A. in Conflict, Security, and Development from the Department of War Studies at King's College London.



By Date




February 24, 2016

"How Rouhani could lose even if reformists win Iran’s election"

Op-Ed, The Washington Post

By Payam Mohseni, Director of Iran Project and Fellow of Iran Studies

Iran is holding a high-stakes parliamentary election Friday. In mid-January, the conservative Guardian Council surprised some observers with the massdisqualification of reformist candidates in Iran’s upcoming parliamentary elections. This institutional gambit was partially rescinded a few weeks later, after a new review of the qualifications of the candidates. While the disqualifications show that the conservatives still hold the reins of power in Iran’s political system and set the terms of the game, as the reversals signal, they cannot dictate the final results or eliminate competition.

With the successful negotiation of the nuclear agreement, the coalition that backed President Hassan Rouhani on the deal will begin to fragment as factional rivalries and infighting increase and once again shape political competition inside Iran. The electoral results, however, will not have a significant impact on the continued implementation of the nuclear agreement. Instead, the conservative establishment in Tehran seeks to maintain leverage over Rouhani on broader international developments as well as domestic matters. In particular, these elections will be more important in determining the future path of development Iran chooses and how economic reform will be undertaken by the Rouhani administration.




January 22, 2016

"Can Iran Stay Anti-American?"

Op-Ed, The National Interest

By Payam Mohseni, Director of Iran Project and Fellow of Iran Studies

The dramatic seizure of American navy sailors in the Persian Gulf by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards could have endangered Implementation Day—when on January 16 Iranian compliance with the nuclear agreement so far was verified and the international sanctions against Iran lifted. Instead of derailing the deal, however, the Guards used the incident, as well as the highly publicized prisoner swap, as symbolic events to send the world a message. By detaining the vessels and broadcasting images of its crew to a global audience, the Guards used the opportunity to reveal the future path of Iranian foreign policy in the wake of the nuclear agreement—a path that can be best described as ‘pragmatic revolutionism.’



(AP Photo)

January 13, 2016

"A New Era of Brinkmanship in the Middle East"

Op-Ed, The National Interest

By Payam Mohseni, Director of Iran Project and Fellow of Iran Studies

Even before the news of ten U.S. sailors being detained by Iranian forces on Tuesday, tensions were flaring in the region. Consider the events of just the last two weeks. Stoked by the Saudi execution of Shia icon Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr on January 2, the war of words between Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and Shia-majority Iran rapidly took a turn for the worse. On Friday, Tehran accused Riyadh of intentionally striking the Iranian embassy in Yemen, a claim that Saudi officials reject.



December 2015

Tipping the Balance?


By Payam Mohseni, Director of Iran Project and Fellow of Iran Studies

Standing before the United States Congress early in March 2015, in the face of a looming deadline in the Iran and P5+1 talks over the Iranian nuclear program, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu portrayed the negotiations in stark terms. Drawing a direct parallel between biblical plots to persecute Jews in pre-Islamic Persia and modern Iran’s nuclear program, Netanyahu framed Iran as nothing less than an existential threat to Israel. Anything short of a practical dismantling of Iranian nuclear infrastructure would be unacceptable. Largely perceived as an attempt to undermine President Barack Obama’s efforts to reach a negotiated settlement with Iran, Netanyahu’s actions thus proved quite contentious inside the United States.



October 2015

Disrupting the Chessboard


By Payam Mohseni, Director of Iran Project and Fellow of Iran Studies

Various narratives explaining Russia’s recent decision haveemerged which portray Russia alternatively as attempting tore-establish its role as a world empire or as a power-balancerprotecting its interests in the Middle East. This publicationaims to present different scholarly perspectives and viewpointson Russian objectives in Syria and the implications it holds forworld politics. It does so by gathering the opinions of severalexperts with different backgrounds and analytic viewpointsfrom across the world.



August 13, 2015

Iran and the Arab World after the Nuclear Deal


By Payam Mohseni, Director of Iran Project and Fellow of Iran Studies

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and the P5+1 presents significant implications for the future order of the Middle East. Just how it will impact that order remains uncertain. Will it shift Iranian foreign policy toward greater cooperation and reconciliation or produce greater Iranian regional empowerment and aggressiveness?

This report helps answer these and related questions. It includes views from leading experts in the Arab world to assess the impact of the nuclear agreement on Iran-Arab security relations.



Fall/Winter 2014-15

Payam Mohseni: Q&A

Newsletter Article, Belfer Center Newsletter

By Payam Mohseni, Director of Iran Project and Fellow of Iran Studies

In this Q&A, Belfer Center Communications Director Josh Burek asks Payam Mohseni about the Center's new Iran Project which he directs and about the potential for increased U.S.-Iranian cooperation.



(AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

October 6, 2014

"Bad Move, ISIS: Why America and Iran Should Work Together"

Op-Ed, The National Interest

By Payam Mohseni, Director of Iran Project and Fellow of Iran Studies

"While a threat to U.S. interests, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) presents us with a unique opportunity to 'reset' the Middle East equation—to actively transform regional relations, to abate the cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia and to forge a new working relationship with Iran," writes Payam Mohseni. "As the United States moves to escalate its war against ISIS and forge a coalition against the terrorist group, it is important that Iran be included in the process. After all, U.S. and Iranian interests have increasingly converged in the Middle East with the emergence of a common enemy, and no power in the region is better suited to taking on ISIS than Iran and its affiliated Shi’a militias in Iraq."



June 23, 2014

Payam Mohseni Named Inaugural Director of Belfer Center's Iran Project


By Payam Mohseni, Director of Iran Project and Fellow of Iran Studies

Payam Mohseni, visiting assistant professor of Iranian and Middle East politics at Harvard University, has been named Iran Project Director and Fellow for Iran Studies at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.



AP Photo

June 16, 2014

"ISIS Challenge in Iraq: Why America Should Work with Iran"

Op-Ed, The National Interest

By Payam Mohseni, Director of Iran Project and Fellow of Iran Studies

"The U.S. should seize the opportunity presented by the Iraq crisis to reach out and engage Iran. The threat posed by ISIS and radical jihadism as well as the potential for further regional instability represent important areas of mutual strategic concern for both countries. By engaging the Iranians, the U.S. will gain the critical ability to shape the course of events without getting bogged down in the conflict. It will also help the U.S. build a working relationship with Iran that could ease the current nuclear negotiations forward and lay the groundwork for future cooperation when a successful deal is reached."

Events Calendar

We host a busy schedule of events throughout the fall, winter and spring. Past guests include: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore, and former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev.