A $7-Billion-Six-Months Pause

6 months

A “First Step” Deal

The nuclear deal with Iran centers on 4 basic principles:

  • 6 months: Instead of reaching for a long term deal, the negotiators opted for a more realistic short/mid-term deal of 6 months.  This time period should be enough to appraise Tehran’s level of commitment to convince the world that its program is peaceful.
  • Increased transparency: Unlike his predecessor, President Rouhani understands the need for transparency in an atmosphere of distrust. IAEA inspectors will be allowed access to Tehran’s nuclear facilities and designs in an effort to hunt for clues for a military option to its nuclear program.
  • Paused development: Tehran will pause all aspect of its program which are suspect – Uranium enrichment to 20%, the heavy water plant at Arak, increased centrifuges etc… – as well as depleting its current 20% enriched Uranium stockpile.
  • $7 Billion: Tehran will receive a $7 Billion relief from sanctions. Although most of the sanctions will still be upheld, these $7 Billion mean a lot to Rouhani who promised the Iranian voters that he will have sanctions lifted.

Both sides seem to view the deal as temporary: President Obama called the deal an “important first step” while foreign minister Zarif viewed it as a part of the “process of attempting to restore confidence.”

Optimist, Skeptics and Paranoids

The deal is touted by its makers and the Western media as a positive breakthrough. Most of the reactions are optimistic bordering on skeptical optimism partly due to the fact that the deal can be nullified if Tehran transgresses on any of its concessions.

And yet, skeptics are quick to point out that even with these concessions, there are still many outstanding issues between Tehran and the IAEA and that if Tehran still wants to develop a bomb, Iran is large enough to continue to do so clandestinely. These skeptics would probably with Senator Kirk (R – Ill.) that Tehran’s concessions are only “cosmetic” and that its suspect nuclear program is neither “frozen” nor decreased.

These same skeptics are the first to shout out that Zarif’s deal under the auspices of Rouhani’s promise to change might not receive the required support back home by the Revolutionary Guards and by Supreme Leader Khamenei himself. The fact that only a few days ago, Khamenei deemed the US “the leader of arrogance” and Israel “the unclean rabid dog” is in stark juxtaposition to the positive energy achieved in Geneva.


The Double-Edged Sword of Time

The concessions by both sides seem reasonable enough and exemplify positive steps by both sides but the burning question remains the time span: Are six months enough or too long?

Six months should be enough time for the IAEA inspectors to get a better understanding of the scope of Tehran’s nuclear program and to pick up on any suspicious activities that they can identify. On the other hand, six months is also enough time for Tehran to continue on its hidden path to a nuclear bomb if such activity is kept secret.

Will the six months of this deal benefit the West, Tehran or both? It really depends what the intentions of the Iranians are all along.

We”ll find out in 6 months.


When Khamenei Says” Jump”…

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Khamenei’s Rules

The headlines on the ongoing talks between Iran and the P5+1 and the resulting walk-outs gave way last week to Reuters’ stunning and extensive exposé on Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini. Reuter’s series focus on Khamenei’s economic power but in the end it is not only about money: Khamenei is powerful economically because he is all-powerful period and vice versa.

Because, in Tehran, when Khamenei says “jump”, all simply ask “how high?”. He is a king maker or breaker and his will is Tehran’s future. Unfortunately, he is also very conservative and seems to be the brink of paranoia and megalomania.


Rouhani’s Tightrope Act

Since his election, Rouhani was labeled by himself and the media as a moderate…well, at least a relative moderate. Rouhani’s agenda for change in order to alleviate the sanctions does not sit well with Khamenei but the supreme leader has loosened the leash he held on Rouhani’s predecessor, Ahmadinejad.

Since Tehran’s political system gives the supreme leader the final say in every major political decision , be it a change of policy or negotiations with the west, he remains the one that has to be convinced that peace is a better alternative.

So while Rouhani and Zarif are wheeling and dealing in Geneva, Khamenei is content to stay in Tehran, knowing that without him, there will be no deal. Judging by his aversion of the west, there are serious doubts that a deal can satisfy the P5+1 as well as Khamenei as this  Washington Post article reminds: “Khamenei has been laying the groundwork to walk away from any deal by warning that the West is untrustworthy and will not deliver on its promises — the same reasons he gave for walking away from the earlier nuclear deals”.

Because like all powerful men, Khamenei has to control his basis for power and that means he needs to keep the IRGC on his side. And if anyone was wondering where the IRGC stands on the negotiations, they were the first to praise Zarif for walking away from the negotiation tables.


Deal or No Deal?

The elusive deal with Iran may seem to be in the hands of “moderate” politicians who understand how to communicate with the West but the truth is that without Khamenei, there will not be any deal.

Two key questions remain:

  1. What are Khamenei’s expectations? How much of his pride and power is he willing to relinquish in order to offer the Iranian people a possibility for a normal life? The chances of a deal that will meet Khamenei’s expectations are definitely slim because Khamenei is hawkish enough to lead Iran on a path to martyrdom out of pride.
  2. What are Rouhani’s expectations? Does Rouhani really believe that he can put together a deal that will satisfy Khamenei or does he know that this is a futile exercise and he is just buying time? The second option is the scarier one because if it is true, it would be the biggest scam since Hitler convinced chamberlain to proclaim “peace in our time”.

In any case, the West should be warily optimistic about Iran’s “open arms” and not jump back on ship just yet. In this light, the UK’s diplomatic revival with Iran might be premature.

The Ever-Elusive “Nuclear Deal”


More Delays on Nuclear Deal

Based on the latest news (November 11th), it seems that the road to a “Nuclear Deal” between P5+1 and Iran is a long and winding one.

The latest talks in Geneva ended in a stalemate although it is still not clear what the deal-breaker really was. The French want tighter restrictions on Tehran’s possible Plutonium route to a bomb through its heavy water plant in Arak. The Iranians insist on recognition of its rights to enrichment. And nobody knows what to do with Tehran’s current stockpile of 20% enriched Uranium.

Talks are meant to resume on November 20th.

In the meantime, Iran left the negotiating table with more time to continue what it has done over the past few years: enrich Uranium and add to its 20% stockpile, add more centrifuges and prepare Arak to be operational by 2014.

This situation eerily echoes the time-delaying tactics that Rouhani used himself back in 2003-2005 as nuclear negotiator which allowed Iran to develop its nuclear program to the stage it is in today. Remember that Rouhani himself correctly and proudly said in his elections statement:  “We were the ones to complete it (the nuclear program)! We completed the technology.”


IAEA Stretches Time

In the meantime, the IAEA and Iran issued a joint statement of cooperation to resolve “outstanding issues” and that Iran should provide “timely information about its nuclear facilities”.  The statement is followed up with a list of “initial practical measures to be taken by Iran within three months” which includes providing “mutually agreed relevant information and managed access” to all nuclear-related sited including Arak as well as clarifications regarding enrichment facilities and technologies.

The IAEA wants timely information but has given Tehran three months to do so. Seeing as Iran can get closer to the bomb with every day that its program is left unchecked and unchallenged, it seems that three months might be a jackpot for Tehran if it is really intending to build a bomb.

Maybe the IAEA should take a better look at how Syria managed to come clean to come clean on its chemical weapons capabilities in a much shorter time.

Time Running Out In Tehran

As the talks continued in Geneva, it is getting clearer that the true obstacles are back in Tehran.

President Rouhani and his government are facing a tough situation at home: Iran’s fundamentalist hardliners, spearheaded by the leading IRGC officials,view any agreement as a show of weakness. Flag burning and “Death to America” chants followed Friday prayers at the Tehran university.

And although Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is still supportive of the talks, he is not optimistic that they “will bear fruit” and is under a lot of pressure from the “hardliners in the Revolutionary Guards” who want to sabotage the talks.

Will the IRGC give Rouhani the required time to strike a nuclear deal? Will Khamenei continue to back the negotiations? Or perhaps, the real question is does Iran really want to reach a deal which might cripple its ability to build a bomb?

The answers my friends, are  blowing in the winds above Tehran.

Rouhani Needs to Clean Iran of Syria


Rouhani – Iran’s New Broom

Since his election, President Rouhani has repeatedly expressed his desire to reinvigorate Iran’s relations with the West in order to defuse the nuclear program impasse and the resulting sanctions.

He just may be on the right track: The latest talks in Geneva have created a level of reserved optimism for the first time in about two decades.

Unfortunately for Rouhani, Tehran’s suspect nuclear program is not viewed independently from other issues that tarnish its credibility – and acceptability – in the West, namely Tehran’s continued support of Syria’s Assad.


Iran Deep in Syrian Quagmire

Tehran supports Assad’s regime on three main levels:

  • Financial: Tehran’s financial support of Assad is estimated at $5 Billion.
  • Military: Apart from managing “tens of thousands” of IRGC/Quds and Hezbollah fighters on the ground, Tehran conducts weekly secret airlifts of equipment and ammunition to Damascus.
  • Diplomacy:  Tehran offered to serve as mediator and pressured Russia/China to stop American intervention.

Furthermore, Syria is a crucial base for Hezbollah training and operations.

Iran’s involvement in Syria is raising tensions not only in the West but closer to home as well: two weeks ago, Saudi Arabia gave up its proposed seat on the UN Security Council because of the UN’s inaction over the Syrian civil war and of arch-rival Iran’s involvement there.


Syria’s No Easy Clean-Up

Rouhani is probably praying at this very moment that the civil war in Syria will end quickly – with Assad continuing to rule from his throne, giving Tehran the luxury of a fait-accompli.

Unfortunately, the reported 115,000 death toll doesn’t seem to have peaked and if Assad loses, Iran will have wasted money, lost face, squandered legitimacy – and weakend its connection to Hezbollah.More

In the meantime, Syria is becoming “Iran’s Vietnam“: a horrifying conflict which is not really its own, but one in which Tehran is “damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t”.

If Rouhani can muster the courage to abandon Assad, he will burn a superfluous historical bridge that could reposition Tehran in line with its longer term interests. Courage is the key,  however, for he might also lose support of the IRGC – and possibly of Khamenei himself.