Ebrahim Raisi’s Death And The Future Of US-Iran Relations – OpEd


The sudden demise of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash has ignited speculation and raised critical questions about the future trajectory of US-Iran relations. This event occurs against a backdrop of heightened tensions between Iran, the US, and its regional ally, Israel, further complicating an already delicate diplomatic landscape. Raisi’s presidency was marked by a steadfast commitment to Iran’s hardline policies, particularly in the face of economic adversity exacerbated by stringent US sanctions. His close ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei positioned him as a key figure in Iran’s power structure, wielding considerable influence over the country’s domestic and foreign affairs.

The circumstances surrounding Raisi’s death fuel speculation and invite scrutiny, particularly in light of recent escalations between Iran and Israel. The retaliatory attack launched by Iran on Israeli soil, allegedly in response to the killing of General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, underscores the volatile nature of regional dynamics and the potential for further escalation. The involvement of the US in mediating talks between Iran and its regional adversaries adds another layer of complexity to the situation. Recent discussions held in Oman aimed to address regional security concerns and mitigate the risk of wider conflict. However, the failure to achieve substantial progress underscores the deep-seated distrust and divergent interests that characterize US-Iran relations.

The Biden administration’s commitment to diplomatic engagement with Iran has been met with skepticism and resistance from hardline factions within Tehran. The United States has had no diplomatic relations with Iran since 1979, and discussions are often conducted through intermediaries and back channels.  Disagreements over the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal and Iran’s support for proxy militias across the Middle East have further strained relations and impeded efforts to de-escalate tensions.

Iran carried out the retaliatory attack last month using more than 300 missiles and drones after Israel killed Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a commander of Iran’s Quds Force, in a strike on an Iranian diplomatic compound in Damascus. Iran equated that to a strike on Iranian soil, and responded with its first direct attack on Israeli territory. The militaries of the United States and Israel worked with those of several European and Arab allies and partners to foil the assault.

Against this backdrop of uncertainty and mistrust, the future of US-Iran relations remains uncertain. The incoming leadership in Iran will inherit a series of complex challenges, including economic hardship, regional instability, and domestic discontent. How they choose to navigate these challenges will have profound implications for the broader geopolitical landscape and the prospects for peace and stability in the region.


Relations between the United States and Iran have remained tense for over forty years since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Despite US efforts to deter Iran’s nuclear program and support for proxy forces in the Middle East, Iran continues to advance both. The outbreak of conflict between Israel and Hamas, supported by Iran, in October 2023 heightened fears of direct US-Iran confrontation. Iran’s unprecedented direct attack on Israeli territory on April 13, 2024, followed an Israeli airstrike in Syria that killed senior Iranian military officers, escalating tensions further. Proxy conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq add to the risk, endangering US interests and troops in the region. The US emphasizes the need to avoid a full-scale regional war.

Iran initiated its nuclear program in 1957, intensifying efforts during the 1980s amid the Iran-Iraq War. Diplomatic efforts in the early 2000s failed to halt Iran’s covert nuclear activities, leading to UN resolutions and sanctions. The JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) in 2015 aimed to curb Iran’s nuclear capabilities, providing sanctions relief in return. However, the Trump administration withdrew from the deal in 2018, reimposing sanctions and escalating tensions. Iran’s regional activities, including support for militias and missile development, further strained relations. Incidents such as the downing of drones and attacks on oil tankers heightened tensions, culminating in the killing of Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s top military commander, in 2020. Iran subsequently breached JCPOA limits on uranium enrichment, exacerbating the situation.

Recent Developments

Relations between the United States and Iran have seen recent developments marked by efforts to revive the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). After President Biden took office in January 2021, his administration signaled a desire to restart negotiations by accepting an EU invitation to a P5+1 meeting and lifting certain sanctions. Talks began in Vienna in April 2021 but faced obstacles, including Iran’s accusation against Israel for an explosion at its Natanz nuclear facility. Ebrahim Raisi’s election as Iranian president in June 2021, with a more hardline stance, further complicated negotiations. Meanwhile, regional dynamics shifted as China brokered a deal to restore ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia in May 2023, while Iran continued military provocations, prompting US responses in the Persian Gulf. The risk of direct confrontation escalated following the Israel-Hamas conflict, with Iran-backed proxies targeting US interests in Iraq and Syria. US airstrikes targeted Iran-affiliated facilities, while conflicts in Yemen and Lebanon fueled fears of wider regional instability. Tensions peaked in April 2024 with a suspected Israeli airstrike in Damascus, followed by Iran’s first direct attack on Israel, marking a significant escalation in the conflict.

In Washington, policymakers are faced with a delicate balancing act, weighing the imperative of deterring Iranian aggression against the potential benefits of diplomatic engagement. The Biden administration’s commitment to protecting regional allies, particularly Israel, adds another layer of complexity to an already intricate equation.

The Future of US –Iran Relations: 

The future of US-Iran relations is at a critical juncture, with policymakers in Washington facing a delicate balancing act between deterring Iranian aggression and pursuing diplomatic engagement. The Biden administration’s commitment to protecting regional allies, notably Israel, complicates this equation further. As Iran experiences a transition of power, the trajectory of US-Iran relations hangs in the balance. While diplomatic channels remain preferable, the looming specter of conflict is fueled by mutual distrust, regional rivalries, and competing strategic interests. Against this backdrop, the recent death of President Raisi has added a new layer of volatility to an already precarious situation. It underscores the urgent necessity for dialogue, de-escalation, and diplomacy to navigate the complexities and mitigate the risks of further escalation in the region.

Huma Kashif

Huma Kashif is currently working as Research and Advocacy Officer at Parliamentarians Commission for Human Rights, Islamabad and Visiting Faculty Member at Department of Politics and International Relations, International Islamic University, Islamabad, Pakistan. She has a M.Phil in International Relations from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan.

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