It caught no one by surprise when the new speaker of the Iranian parliament Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf in his inaugural address on May 31 described talks with the United States as “fruitless” and “harmful” and went on to say that Iran’s strategy in dealing with the United States is to complete the chain of revenge for the blood of General Qassem Soleimani.
Ghalibaf, who was one of the military commanders during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) and also served as a commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as the national police chief, now leads probably the most hardline parliament in Iran’s history.
The lawmakers, who entered the parliament with lowest voter turnout since the revolution (42 percent), crossed swords with the United States from the very beginning.
Since May 31, when the new Iranian parliament opened, the bulk of rhetoric from lawmakers so far has addressed foreign policy issues. Presumably, international events such as the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal, followed by the re-imposition of the unprecedented sanctions as well as the U.S. assassination of Soleimani have overshadowed other news about Iran.
Signing the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and the lifting of sanctions were the biggest achievements of Hassan Rouhani’s government since he had taken office seven years ago as the president.
However, the 2018 U.S. pullout from, the JCPOA sidelined reformists and moderates in Iran’s politics in favor of hardliner conservatives. Moreover, Europe’s inability to provide enough economic relief to Iran has eroded confidence in the agreement, which has led to a rise in radicalism in Iran once again.
All those who have accused Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif of being naïve and making unnecessary concessions to the United States over the past years have benefited greatly since Trump took office. In a poll conducted in October 2019 by Center for International and Strategic Studies at the Univesrity of Maryland found that 59 percent of Iranians believed that Iran should leave the JCPOA, and only 24 percent viewed European efforts to create channels for trade with Iran positively
The most radical parliament in Iran’s history
On June 7, Ahmad Naderi, MP from Tehran’s constituency, pointed to Trump’s recent call for a new nuclear deal after prisoner swaps: “some easily deceived people are talking of talks with the U.S. and its disgraceful president these days…as if they have not seen the bitter experience with the JCPOA and have forgotten the tragic incident at the Baghdad Airport,” he said, referring to Soleimani’s assassination. The hardliner lawmaker added, “negotiating with the murderer of Qassem Soleimani will bring nothing but eternal shame, and members of parliament will never let this happen.”
On the same day, Seyyed Ali Mousavi, another MP from Malekan constituency, suggested that the new parliament be renamed after Soleimani and that it follow the path of the former Quds Force commander — which of course was to confront and fight the United States and expel it from the Middle East.
The new anti-American lawmakers also know that Rouhani’s moderate government is nearing its end and that a new presidential race is going to be held in Iran in less than a year.
Meanwhile, public dissatisfaction with government performance has reached its peak as the country is struggling with various economic problems such as substantial depreciation of the local currency, the rial, economic corruption, as well as shortages of basic necessities, which have severely affected Iran’s economy.
At the same time, it’s the government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, not parliament, that make decisions on foreign policy-related issues. However, given the radical anti-Western approach of the new MPs there is no clear prospect for de-escalation between Iran and the United States.
The popularity of foreign policy-related issues with the new lawmakers is matched in their applications for membership in the parliament’s special committees. While as many as 72 MPs had applied for membership in the Parliament’s Foreign Policy Committee, only 12 had expressed their interest in joining the Cultural Committee and only 3 for membership in the Judicial and Legal Committee.
Soleimani’s foreign policy in the new Iranian parliament
The new Parliament speaker Ghalibaf stressed in his inaugural address that “the new parliament sees fighting global arrogance [major Western powers] as both a religious cause as well as a strategic benefit for Iran and considers negotiations and compromise with the United States to be harmful.”
Regarding the parliament’s new strategy, he said that “confronting the United States will continue, as it began with an unprecedented attack on the Ain al-Assad base [in Iraq following Soleimani’s assassination], and will be completed with the total expulsion of the U.S. Army from the region.”
Ghalibaf — who was appointed commander of the IRGC Air Force in 1996 at the behest of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and who also served as the national police chief between 2000 and 2005 — had a close relationship with Gen. Soleimani. This week he introduced Major General Hamid Aslani, a former deputy commander of IRGC forces, as the Parliament’s executive chairman, an appointment that clearly shows a greater influence of IRGC approach in the decision making of the new parliament.
All of this is happening at a time when relations between Tehran and Washington are at their worst level, and the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign has left Iran with few options as hardline, extremist rhetoric is gaining more and more popularity.