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US Officials Recognize Iran’s Newly Appointed Foreign Minister

Iran's Chief Nuclear Negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani leaves the Palais Coburg in Vienna, Austria.
Iran's Chief Nuclear Negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani leaves the Palais Coburg in Vienna, Austria, on August 4, 2022.
Iran's Chief Nuclear Negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani leaves the Palais Coburg in Vienna, Austria.

Iran’s Chief Nuclear Negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani leaves the Palais Coburg in Vienna, Austria, on August 4, 2022.


In the wake of a devastating helicopter crash that claimed the lives of Iran’s president and several top officials, the Iranian regime moved swiftly to announce a succession plan and name replacements, aiming to project stability during a period of sudden and profound uncertainty. Among the newly appointed figures, Ali Bagheri Kani stands out as the new acting foreign minister, a familiar name to US officials. Kani is known for his hardline stance and his role as a top negotiator in sensitive talks with the United States, addressing issues ranging from nuclear agreements to the use of proxy forces to attack US and allied interests in the region.

Just last week, Kani was part of a high-level Iranian delegation that met indirectly with US officials in Oman. Due to the lack of formal diplomatic relations between the US and Iran, the two delegations communicated through Omani intermediaries. US officials noted that Kani’s appointment is a clear signal that Iran’s policies are likely to remain consistent despite the recent upheaval.

For several hours after the US received initial reports of the helicopter crash, there was uncertainty about the extent of the damage and the fate of those on board. Once it was confirmed that President Ebrahim Raisi and other senior leaders had perished, the consensus within the US government was that Iran’s foreign and domestic policies would not see significant changes. This expectation is largely due to the fact that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, holds the ultimate decision-making authority. Raisi, while influential, was seen as a functionary within the broader power structure dominated by Khamenei.

Khamenei, now 85 and in frail health, has been closely monitored by US officials. In light of the recent deaths of key figures, it is believed that Khamenei will work to ensure that the new appointees adhere to his hardline views. Jonathan Panikoff, a former senior intelligence analyst specializing in the region, stated that significant changes in Iran’s behavior on the global stage are unlikely. If anything, Raisi’s death may lead to a more risk-averse stance in the short term.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei arrives to vote for the parliamentary runoff elections, in Tehran, Iran, Friday, May 10, 2024.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei arrives to vote for the parliamentary runoff elections, in Tehran, Iran, Friday, May 10, 2024.


The immediate impact of Raisi’s death on Iran’s succession dynamics has sparked considerable debate among Washington’s intelligence and policy circles. Raisi was considered a potential successor to Khamenei, and his death has left a gap in the field of candidates. The Supreme Leader is chosen by the Assembly of Experts, an opaque body whose decision-making process is difficult to predict. Some analysts speculate that Khamenei’s son might now have a better chance of succeeding his father, although his lack of religious credentials could be a significant hurdle. The timeline of Khamenei’s own passing will greatly influence this process; a quick transition might favor his son, while a prolonged period could allow other contenders to emerge.

Domestically, Raisi’s death may open a brief window for protest. According to the Iranian constitution, a new presidential election must be held within 50 days of the president’s death. Given the regime’s struggles with popular support, as evidenced by the low turnout in recent parliamentary elections, there is potential for increased dissent. Raisi, notoriously known as “the butcher of Tehran,” was unpopular, and his death has been met with some public celebration. However, analysts expect the regime to tightly control the election process and suppress any nascent protests.

This internal upheaval occurs as Iran remains deeply involved in regional conflicts, particularly regarding Israel’s actions in Gaza. Tehran’s support for proxies attacking US and Israeli interests, and its own direct missile and drone attacks on Israel, highlight its ongoing regional ambitions. Despite the leadership changes, US military officials report no increase in proxy activity and anticipate that Iran’s strategic approach will remain steady. The Biden administration’s strategy of balancing deterrence with diplomacy, including recent talks in Oman, aims to manage Iran’s destabilizing behavior while avoiding direct conflict.

In the immediate aftermath of the crash, Iran requested US assistance in recovery efforts. However, logistical challenges prevented American aid. The Biden administration remains committed to a nuanced approach, emphasizing the need for dialogue to mitigate the risks of miscalculation. Despite the tragic loss of its president and other top officials, Iran’s regime appears poised to maintain its course, reinforcing the dominance of hardline elements within its leadership.

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