Iranian presidents and nuclear policies : decision-making from the Tehran declaration to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
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Iran’s nuclear program has been a central concern of the international non-proliferation agenda since 2002 and has provoked many debates in political and academic circles. This thesis explores the impact of the personality of three Iranian presidents, Mohammad Khatami, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Hassan Rouhani, on decisions made by Iran’s leadership on the nuclear issue between 2003 to 2015. A certain degree of continuity, but also change, was observed in the Islamic Republic’s decision-making throughout these 12 years. Iranian officials persistently refused to indefinitely halt fuel-cycle activities. However, they showed variable degrees of flexibility and defiance in accepting restrictions on the country’s nuclear activities. Realism, constructivism, and domestic politics – three prominent approaches to studying nuclear behaviour – cannot provide a comprehensive explanation for Iran’s nuclear decision-making. Situated within the field of political psychology, this thesis demonstrates that the variations in the personalities of the three presidents can explain certain changes in Iran’s nuclear decisions unaccounted for by other theories. Employing a mixed-method approach, this research assesses the presidents’ political beliefs regarding the nature of the political universe and the best strategy to achieve political goals, as well as their leadership styles based on their need for power, conceptual complexity, experience, and interest in foreign policy. In several ways, including by developing a software to measure the conceptual complexity of Persian-speakers, and by geographically and culturally expanding the research on the impact of individual decision-makers on policies, this study makes advances in the field of political psychology. Furthermore, by providing a nuanced analysis of the nuclear decision-making process, as well as the role of the institution of presidency more broadly and the impact of personalities more specifically, this thesis contributes to a better understanding of Iran, of interest to both scholars and policy-makers.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2025-11-12
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 12th November 2025
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