Rouhani & Nuclear Negotiations: Back to the Future.

rouhani back to the futureToday (2013): President Rouhani Promises “More Transparency”

It is hard to get a clear picture of Rouhani simply because he is not as easily pegged as his predecessor. While Ahmadinejad revelled at giving the world the proverbial finger, Rouhani will definitely take the path less travelled by Iranian leaders over the past 8 years. His strategy will be more in tune with the West’s and he will make Iran’s suspect nuclear program more transparent.

The biggest question remains whether Rouhani’s walk will match the expectations of his talk? Will Tehran back down from nuclear ambitions that include building the bomb?

In order to answer this, it is interesting to note that Rouhani’s criticism of his predecessors is based on two themes:

Later, at his first press conference as president, he opened the first stages of negotiations by promising  “greater transparency” but little else.

Perhaps, in order to understand how Rouhani will approach the negotiating table in 2013, it would be worthwhile to observe how he did so in 2003-2005.

Rewind (2003-2005): Rouhani Promises, Stalls, Promises, Stalls…

At the time, Rouhani was the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and Mousavian was a senior member on the negotiating team. The negotiations with the EU3 (UK, France & Germany) ended in Iran’s “voluntary” suspension of enrichment which was soon reversed.

Back then, Iranian diplomacy was focused on buying time: “Iran agreed – in exchange for further negotiations – to suspend its enrichment program, as well as to sign and implement the Additional Protocol. Tehran thus avoided non-compliance with the IAEA’s resolution…a pattern which was to repeat itself throughout the crisis.” Furthermore, this agreement to buy time was underscored by the fact that “Iran would not accept the Additional Protocol” in any case.

The Iranian negotiating team understood one simple fact: the EU3 were serious about getting Iran to the negotiating table but they were not serious about the consequences of Iran’s stalling tactics. The negotiations began to loop around the EU3 accusations, the Iranian denials, the Iranian promises to sign, the Iranian stalling tactics and back to the EU3 accusations.

Rouhani later bragged that reaching an agreement allowed Tehran to develop other parts of its nuclear program without any real trouble because although enrichment was temporarily halted, Iran began to develop aspects of its nuclear program that went way beyond a peaceful nuclear program.

Or as  Mousavian later claimed, Iran’s negotiating team had managed to “(take) the wind out of the sails of the American push for international convergence against Tehran’s interests“, allowing Iran to preserve its nuclear technology.

Play (2013 and onward): Rouhani will Promise, Stall, Promise, Stall…

Rouhani will probably not change the course of Tehran’s nuclear program but he will want to change the course of the sanctions this program incurred.

In order to do so, he will probably do what he did best in 2003-2005 – stall. Under Ahmadinejad, Tehran stalled repeatedly (12 fruitless meetings in 2012 alone) but the negotiating team lead by Jalili took the hardline road based mostly on Iranian pride and its willingness to defy the world.

Rouhani’s method of stalling includes handing out carrots at every round of negotiations and then finding a loophole to gain more time.

Should the West open its arms and believe that Rouhani will be a game changer for Khamenei’s nuclear ambitions? Not advisable since Rouhani will accept this strategy as a weakness that can be exploited.

Should the West increase its sanctions and pressure Rouhani into fulfilling his promise to the Iranian people? Not advisable either since Rouhani will exploit this strategy as an injustice that exemplifies the “arrogant powers”.

In short, as Dennis Ross succinctly put it – “Talk to Iran’s New President. Warily” and be ready to increase sanctions if necessary


Rouhani’s Promised Change Is Relative


Promises of Change

Rouhani’s ticket was based on one word: change.

Now elected, the question is: will he change the budgetary priorities – the nuclear program, violent proxy groups and Bashar Assad – set by Khamenei?

His voters found in him a man who understood that the Iranian people do not have to carry the burden of a mismanaged foreign policy headed by stubborn hardliners who found pride in thumbing their noses at “the West”.

Rouhani promises “reconciliation and peace” but more importantly he promises “good international interactions to gradually reduce the sanctions and finally remove them.”

His main priority right now is to change the whole tone at the negotiating table in order to alleviate sanctions. With titles such as “liberal”, “moderate cleric” and “top nuclear negotiator”, he seems to be the right man for the job.

Rouhani’s talk appeals to Iranians as well as “the West” but it remains to be seen if he can – or even wants – to walk the talk on a nuclear tightrope held by Supreme Leader Khamenei. In other words, Rouhani has to kill the sanctions AND keep Khamenei’s nuclear ambitions alive.

How Much Will Change?

To be sure, after years of stale dealings with Khamenei, Ahmadinejad and Jalili, who, in Rouhani’s words “brought sanctions to the country…Yet, they are proud of it“,  western negotiators will find in Rouhani a breath of fresh air. He is sure to change at least the tone of Tehran’s foreign policy. This will probably mean that there will be less fiery rhetoric against the West at future P5+1 meetings.

But…although Rouhani can change the tone of foreign policy, nuclear policy is dictated by only one man in Tehran – Khamenei – and as long as Khamenei is in power, the nuclear program will stay on track. Furthermore, Rouhani is not anti-nuclear by any means – as can be judged by his answer to allegations that he had halted the nuclear program on his watch “It’s good if you study history…We suspended it? We mastered the (nuclear) technology!”.

Khamenei, who over the last few years catapulted himself to the front-stage may take a tactical step back and allow Rouhani the necessary space he needs to bring about the promised change in atmosphere. In fact, Khamenei may have found in Rouhani a way out from his predicament of being to hardline for the West as well as Iranians.

Changing the Tune, not the Lyrics

Yes, Rouhani will bring with him a marked change to how Iran is perceived and accepted by the West and hopefully for him and the Iranian people, he will be able to alleviate sanctions.

Khamenei, the IRGC and the whole structure of government in Tehran are bound to free the reigns a bit and give Rouhani some leeway. In fact the ”IRGC says its ready to cooperate w/Rowhani. IMO only until he has helped end sanctions & restored their businesses“. What happens after he successfully achieves that is left unsaid.

Rouhani is quoted to have said “It is good to have centrifuges running, provided people’s lives & livelihoods are also running“. So he clearly wants the centrifuges, but also wants the people to live better. In other words, unlike way back in Pakistan, Rouhani does not believe the people should “eat grass” for the sake of the nuclear program, but that a way needs to be found for Iran to have its proverbial cake and eat it too.

At the end of the day, Rouhani’s drive for change is focused mainly on the way the nuclear issue was handled by his compatriots but not on the aspirations themselves. His job now is to allow Khamanei to continue with budgetary priorities which favor the nuclear program, support for violent proxy groups and Bashar Assad. And these are priorities which Rouhani, as a longstanding member of Iran’s National Security Council, is extremely familiar with.

Update from June 17th Press Conference

In Rouhani’s first official press conference, hopes for change are mixed with “more of the same” rhetoric.

  • Yes, there will be “greater transparency” BUT this is only because “Our nuclear programmes are completely transparent” – some IAEA and the P5+1 negotiators would beg to differ.
  • Just in case there was any misunderstanding, Iran’s “nuclear activities are legal” BUT enrichment will continue. Meanwhile, AEOI Director Fereydoun Abbasi stated today that Tehran has “No plan for enriched uranium beyond 20%” – disregarding the fact that enrichment up to 20% was one of the reasons for the nuclear debacle.
  • And as to the sanctions themselves – “The sanctions are unfair…illegal and only benefit Israel.”


Khamenei’s Nuclear Priority Under Attack

khamenei nuclear priority under attack

Khamenei’s Nuclear Priority Requires (more) Time & (a lot of) Money

In spite of his own “nuclear fatwa” banning the production of WMD’s, Khamenei’s $100 billion nuclear gamble and its effect on the Iranian economy make sense only if Tehran is really building a bomb.

In order to cross all the red lines to the point where he doesn’t have to hide anymore, Khamenei needs time and money – both of which he will have as long as he stays in power.

Khamenei has Time & Money as long as he is in Power

Khamenei needs time – from prying IAEA and foreign officials – and Jalili, Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator and the closest presidential candidate to Khamenei – has provided just what he requires.

Jalili’s strategy for ending the nuclear crisis and the resulting sanctions is a mixture of foot-dragging denials, accusations, non-transparency and non-cooperation. The result? The fifth round of P5+1 talks in less than a year , ended in April “Without Accord or Plans for Another Round“.

But Khamenei not only needs time from pressure from outside of Iran – he needs to continue to dictate his priorities and channel the necessary resources to fulfill his nuclear ambitions.

He needs a president who will be manageable. In order to do that, he not only rigged the elections by overseeing the disqualification of presidential candidates who “dared to differ“, he then proceeded to “urge” the remaining candidates “not to appease the West“.

Jalili, the ideal presidential candidate for Khamenei, is bound to protect him internally and give him four more years…more than enough to obtain a latent (at least) military nuclear capability.

Khamenei’s Priorities Openly Attacked

But it seems that Khamenei miscalculated a bit: the cost of his nuclear gamble is not easy to swallow when there is less to eat.

Iran’s economy has been hard hit by mismanagement of many of Khamenei’s priorities (a suspect nuclear program, support for Syria & terrorism – to name three) and more Iranians are questioning the price tag of his policy. While protesters on the street simplified it by chanting“Khamenei” & “Dictator” in Esfahan, some presidential candidates were more articulate:

The Supreme Leader believes that his priorities are those of Iran and does not like to be questioned, criticized or attacked – ask Hossein Mousavi, the 2009 opposition leader, who is still under house arrest for doing just that.

How will Khamenei  react to such open criticism from his people and from his presidential candidates? Will Rezaee, Velayati and Rohani join Mousavi’s plight? Will Tehran crack down on protesters?

But more importantly, will Khamenei receive the money and time he needs to finally take his nuclear program out of its closet?

Time will tell…but for once, the clock might be ticking just a bit against Khamenei.

Until then, the Iranian people will have to get over their pessimism.

Earlier related posts:

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Khamenei’s Priorities – Power through Terror

khamenei_priorities terror

Khamenei Priority on Global Terrorism Terrorizing Iranian Economy

It is now evident that Khamenei’s will and his priorities dictate Tehran’s regime and unfortunately for the Iranian people, Khamenei’s priorities are very expensive – specifically his aggressive terror/paranoia fueled foreign policy.

He might not be able to dictate his will outside of Iran but his emphasis on global subversion is terrorizing large parts of the planet and undermining Iran’s own economy: estimated 40% inflation, 25% unemployment, 80% devaluation and a $133 billion deficit as well as price hikes in nearly every category.  “Our missiles can travel thousands of kilometers, but we have problems supplying bread and meat” – Mohsen Rezaei interview.

Apart from terror being used internally to retain power, silence criticism and dissidents, Tehran is currently deploying 3 forms of terrorism outside its borders.

Global Terrorism on the Rise:

Over 2012, Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods joined forces to attempt and succeed in a series of terrorist acts targeting civilians and diplomats in the US (Foiled plot to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in 2012 linked to “senior members of the Qods force“), India/Georgia (“sticky” bombs under diplomat cars by Qods operatives), Thailand (Qods sticky bomb factory explodes leading to arrests), Kenya (2 Iranian Qods operatives busted for plotting bomb attacks),  Bulgaria (Hezbollah blows up tourist bus killing 6), Nigeria (IRGC arms smuggler busted).

Behind each attempt or “success” is a “back-office” of planners, financers, foot soldiers etc…who supply the necessary resources to support the soon to be martyrs at the frontline. Following the AMIA bombing of the in Buenos Aires in 1994, Argentinian Prosecutor Alberto Nisman recently released a 500 page report on a network of terrorist cells, backed by Iranian Intelligence, that are surfacing all over Latin America.

IRGC/Qods, Iranian Intelligence and Hezbollah are all bankrolled by Tehran – Hezbollah alone costs the Iranian tax payer an estimated $300 million a year

Khamenei’s response: “Intensify attacks against the West and its allies around the world“..

Nuclear Terrorism:

Even without a nuclear bomb, Tehran’s nuclear ambitions have the world “on edge” due to non-transparency mixed with Armageddon-type threats…one bomb can turn “on edge” to over the edge.

By far the most expensive form of terrorism is the nuclear card which has resulted in an estimated $100 billion dollars lost to date – this figure will continue to rise as long as the nuclear crisis continues and will definitely spike once Tehran has a bomb.

Out of the Closet Terror in Syria:

Hezbollah’s open involvement in the Syria has changed simultaneously the rules and the odds.

Khamenei’s support for Assad through an ever increasing line of credit ($1 billion, then $4 billion and now $7 Billion), regular snuggling of arms shipments by air/trucks and repeated blessings on the open and active support of Assad by Hezbollah add up to a real game changer in an already volatile situation.

Innocent Syrian civilians dying at the hands of Hezbollah fighters who are endoctrined and financed by Iran are a clear reminder that Khamenei’s power is growing and that the need to hide it is becoming less important.

For a more detailed post on Syria –

For more detailed post on the economy –

For more detailed post on signs of dissent to Khamenei’s priorities –

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Dictator Khamenei’s Priorities – Support Syria at all Costs.

dictator khamenei priorities syria

Khamenei’s Priorities lie Outside of Iran

One would think that at a time when a country’s economy is at an all-time low, its political isolation at an all-time high and elections just around the corner that its leader would prioritize the support of his/her people instead of channeling support and money outside of the country. One would think…

But when that country is the Islamic Republic of Iran and its Supreme Leader is Khamenei, conventional thinking as well as the needs of the Iranian people, are ignored.

Quite simply, Khamenei’s regime does not require the Iranian people’s acceptance or support to fulfil his vision. Acting as a theocratic dictatorship, he can do what he wants with Iran’s resources and Iran’s sham elections, which are rigged from the start, will ensure that the next president will be easily controlled and will accept Khamenei’s priorities as his own.

And, as usual, Khamenei’s priorities are not focused on the needs of the Iranian people but on the religious, ideological and geo-political power that he believes Iran should control in the Middle East and the world.

It is only through understanding Khamenei’s priorities that one can understand how the cries of help of the Iranian people are drowned by the frantic request for help by Bashar Assad.

Khamenei Supports Syria at all Costs

As the civil war in Syria approaches its 2 year mark and an official 100,000 death toll (94,000 and counting), the world powers and the countries in the Middle East have chosen sides, albeit somewhat lopsidedly. Although the list of countries who placed themselves against Assad’s regime is much longer, the short list of Assad’s supporters is definitely more active and none is more so than Khamenei.

Khamenei’s support for Assad is far from being just vocal as he promised Assad  “full and unlimited support from Iran, politically, militarily, and economically, to the Syrian leadership and people“. The political support might be negligible in the case of these two isolated countries, but the military and economic support are definite game changers in an already volatile situation.

Syrian Blood on Khamenei’s Hands

Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy terrorist militia, is just such a game changer in its active and open support for Assad’s regime. Assad’s response in expressing “very high confidence, great satisfaction and appreciation toward Hezbollah” offers a glimpse of just how crucial the roles of Hezbollah and Iran are in Syria.

Hezbollah fighters who are recruited, trained and supported by Iran to the tune of approx. $200 million a year are openly fighting for Assad’s life and they are directly responsible for part of the rising death toll.

Iran’s support for Assad and Hezbollah is so strong that it was forced to denounce Hamas, Iran’s long term partner, since it chose to side against Assad in the conflict.

Iran’s military involvement in Syria is not limited to proxy-fighting through Hezbollah fighters: Iranian military equipment, including light arms, military communication equipment, missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles and possibly much more, is reaching Syria mainly through Iraq primarily by air through Iraq.

Over the past few months, Iran has increased the flow of military equipment by using other routes (including Turkey and Lebanon) consistently violating UN sanctions on Iran arms embargo.

The proverbial red line may not have yet been crossed in that massive deployments of Iranian troops have yet to land on Syrian soil but, despite efforts for secrecy, reports of Iranian officials and soldiers on Syrian soil keep surfacing, pointing that the red line is definitely closer than most of us would want.

Khamenei Banking heavily on Syria

Beyond military power, Iran is supplying Assad with a strategically important resource: Money. A lot of money.

Syria’s economic losses from its civil war are steadily growing and its currency has devaluated by 200% over two years.

This has created an urgent need for money and Iran is supplying that need: An initial line of credit for $1 billion escalated to $4 billion and then to $7 billion with no credit cap in sight.

The increasing line of credit,  the funds needed to finance Hezbollah and the cost of military equipment shipped to Syria and Khamenei’s support is costing the Iranian economy an estimated $10 billion to date.

This financial support is all the more conspicuous due to the state of the Iranian economy is in, losing approx. $100 billion over its suspect nuclear ambitions. This means that money that could alleviate the economic pressures on Iranian civilians is channeled to kill Syrian resistance fighters and civilians.

Supporting Syria at the Expense of Iranians

The daily sacrifice of the Iranian people to support Assad is obviously not their decision and there is no way to find out if the Iranian people actually support Assad or not. At the end of the day, it is Khamenei and his puppet regime who call the shots and the Iranian people have no choice but to accept.

Khamenei’s priorities to support Syria may be grounded in religious, ideological or historical ties but at the end of the day, Khamenei desperately needs to show the world and the Iranian people that he has allies outside of Iran who can help achieve his long time aspiration or rebalancing the power in the Middle East with himself at the center.

The fact that such an aspiration is leading the Iranian people to further suffering is easily neglected by Khamenei, much as the Iranians’ rights to a democratically chosen president in the upcoming June 14th elections. At the end of the day, Khamenei and his cronies are banking Iran’s future on the power of Iran vis-à-vis its neighbors and not the acceptance of its regime by the Iranian people. As such, Khamenei is showing his true colors as a dictator, much like Assad, by dictating his aspirations and priorities at the expense of the Iranian people.

Update:  Iran supports Dictator Assad while Iranians Protest against Dictator Khamenei .

For a further understanding of the big picture of the upcoming elections, please read “Khamenei’s priorities stifle Iranians’ election hopes”


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