Tehran Smiles And Scowls to Power


The Scowl Behind the Smile

Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, tweeted a series of tweets last week revealing his sentiments toward the nuclear deal with the West  including this: “By the grace of God, the objectives of the US and global arrogant powers against the IRI will face failure sooner or later”.

This candid glimpse at the top of the regime’s food chain, makes us ask a very important questions regarding Iran’s true intentions. Or, to state it more clearly, what does Iran wants from the talks?

What does Tehran want? Basically, power.

  1. Money = Power: After decades of sanctions lead and implemented by the “arrogant powers”, Iran needs money and cooperating on a nuclear deal seems to be the only way to do so. Even if the sanctions are still in effect, President Hassan Rouhani’s foreign policy and smile diplomacy have led to a long line up of trade delegations and deals that have boosted the economy and justified Rouhani’s  election promises. There are hundreds of billions of dollars at stake here and Rouhani knows it – Iran, without sanctions, can perhaps achieve his wish to become one of the top ten economies in the world.
  2. Friends = Power: After decades of sanctions, Iran found itself politically isolated with only a handful of allies. The inner circle of allies included Syria and Lebanon while an outer circle included mostly NAM countries which were allied through a common animosity to a mutual enemy – the “arrogant powers” of the “West”. Since introducing the smile diplomacy, Tehran’s list of friends gets longer daily, friends who will be expected to support Tehran if and when the nuclear deal falls apart.
  3. Influence = Power:  After decades of limited influence on its neighbors (apart from Syria and Lebanon) Tehran wants to be taken seriously as an important country and a force to be reckoned with in its region and the world. More specifically, Tehran, and specially Khamenei himself, wants to export the Islamic revolution with Iran at its head and introduce a “century of Islam” that will put an end to the rule of the “arrogant powers”.


What is Tehran giving up? Nothing…

In order to achieve the power of money, friends and influence, Tehran will have to give up on absolutely nothing apart from trading scowls for smiles. Tehran’s understanding of the nuclear deal is that its program will continue “as-is”, keeping them a mere six months away from reaching break-out point when it chooses to do so. In the meantime, by the simple fact that the Iranian negotiation teams approach the talks with smiles, they have increased their power enormously.

Yes, Rouhani’s smile diplomacy has proven to be effective. But it should be worthwhile for all of Iran’s new business partners, friends and neighbors, as well as the “arrogant powers”, to listen in on Khamenei once in a while in order to understand that Rouhani’s smile diplomacy does not fit the Supreme Leader well.


Capitalism is Key to Iran’s Foreign Policy

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It’s ironic that on the eve of the 35th anniversary of the Islamic revolution which shunned capitalistic ambitions, Tehran has become so focused on money. Ideals of frugality which were symbolized in Khomeini’s living in a small rented apartment have given way to flashy cars and billion-dollar deals by people who are close to power.

People on the streets may be chanting “Death to America/Obama/Kerry”, placards might read  “we are eager for all options on the table” and Iranian generals may be warning about the “decisive battle” that will be fought with the US but Rouhani is constantly reminding the world that there is money to be made in Iran…lots of money.

Although legally the sanctions that have kept the status quo for the past decade are still in place, businesses from the private and public sectors from all over the world are flocking to Tehran and are either circumventing sanctions or preparing to do so.

The Call of the Rial

Obama may warn about punishing sanction violators “like a ton of bricks” but the call of the Rial is too strong to ignore. So while Obama met his French counterpart Hollande in Washington last week, hundreds of French executives were conducting meeting in Tehran and there isn’t a lot that anyone can do about it.

Iran’s economy is on the rise to the point that the $7 Billion promised in the deal are becoming less important than the fact that the doors to Tehran’s economy have been flung open and over 100 commercial delegations walked in hungrily. After years of contraction and amid a world recession, Iran’s economy is set to grow this year. This is great news for Rouhani but not for the P5+1 partners because as Tehran’s economy strengthens, its commitment to uphold the nuclear deal weakens.

Iran’s estimated $500 Billion economy is up for grabs and the nuclear dimension of the deal is being systematically minimized by each business venture developing in Tehran today.

Oil and Much More

Iran’s oil exports have risen by 100,000 barrels a day despite reductions in exports to Syria and Korea and Iran is beginning to cash in on the relief of sanctions by getting paid for oil that was exported in the past. India owes $3 Billion which Iran wants to cash in and by “coincidence”, Zarif is supposed to visit India later this month.

Money is a great motivator and diplomacy can be a great enabler. Delegations from Russia, Italy, Sweden, France, Germany, Ireland, the UK, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan are hot on the money trail and delegations from the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and others are right behind them. These people have only one goal in mind and they have no agenda concerning Iran’s nuclear program, its involvement with terrorism, its meddling nature in neighboring counties or its human rights.

Mind the Gaps in the Nuclear Deal

bridge2Any agreement requires efforts of both sides in bridging the gaps. In the case of the nuclear deal, it seems that the gaps just keep on getting wider. What does this say about the Iranian partner to the deal?

Here a couple of quotes that should emphasize just how wide the gaps really are:

The American View

  • US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman: “The agreement…freeze and roll back their program in significant ways and give us time on the clock to negotiate comprehensive agreement.”
  • White House: Iran has agreed to “halt all enrichment above 5% and dismantle the technical connections required to enrich above 5%.”

The Iranian View

Iranian Nuclear Chief Ali Akbar Salehi:

  • “The only thing we have stopped and suspended — and that is voluntarily — is the production of 20% enriched uranium, and that’s it.” & “the entire nuclear activity of Iran is going on.” Salehi adds: “Come and see whether our nuclear sites, nuclear equipment and nuclear facilities are dismantled or not.”
  • Otherwise Iran will pursue its natural course.” & “Tehran can go back to where it was on the nuclear path in a matter of hours“.
  • “Out of the 18,000 centrifuges that we have roughly, 9,000 of them are working, are functioning; and the other 9,000 we have voluntarily accepted not to inject gas into them.”
  • On proceeding in developing the heavy water plant in Arak: “Arak heavy water reactor is not for the production of plutonium. This reactor is a research reactor.”

Doesn’t sound like the nuclear program will be “stopped“, “frozen“, “dismantled“, “rolledback“, “reignedin“, “controlled” etc…as the West has struggled to describe it. Quite simply, according to Iran, it is at the best “paused“. The two main differences being the “restart” point of the nuclear program should the interim agreement disintegrate (“a matter of hours”) and who is benefitting from the deal until then (Iran).

Setting Aside Illusions

Back on January 31st, Foreign Minister Zarif stated that the West should set aside the illusions that the Iranians approached the negotiation table because of the effect of sanctions. While this statement is reversed because it is precisely the sanctions which brought about Rouhani’s election and removing the sanctions remains Rouhani’s priority and promise for change, Zarif is right about setting aside illusions regarding the exact effects of the deal on Tehran’s potential to militarize its nuclear program. Time is on Iran’s side.

So although it is admirable that the west wants to “give peace a chance” before resorting to harsher solutions, it seems delusional to believe that the interim agreement has “bought time” for the west and its interests.

Earlier Posts:

Human Rights Abuse Increase Under Rouhani

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Tehran Justifying Capital Punishment

The official count on “criminals” executed in Iran last year is 529. The number has gone up since Rouhani, not down.

Some of these “criminals” were hanged after being charged with murder, drug trafficking, rape etc… But the list of charges against them include also vague crimes such as Moharebeh (“corruptor on earth” or “enmity with God” or “acting against national security”) or simply “unknown”.

And while some might find the executions of hardened criminals justified – that still depends on the belief that they received fair trials. No-one, but the Iranian mullahs, can justify the execution of Hashem Shaabani, an Iranian activist and poet who was hanged last January, after spending three years in prison.

The Sha’aria laws that fuel these flagrant abuses of basic human rights are easily manipulated to silence any criticism against the mullahs and their leaders and what makes matters worse is that public floggings and hangings have become regular gruesome spectacles for hundreds of thousands of Iranians a year.

Rouhani Smiles On Despite Human Wrongs

So while this may seem like business as usual for Iran, it seems to be getting worse: Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary of State for democracy, human rights and labor, released a report on Thursday, saying there has been “little meaningful improvement in human rights in Iran” under President Rouhani.

So while Rouhani is basking in the success of his smile diplomacy that has resulted in a definite thaw in relations with Western countries and an economic boom, the state of affairs within Iran is nothing to smile about, with approximately 66 executions per month (19% more than the average over two years before he took office).

And while Rouhani repeatedly digs his heels against concessions to the West regarding Tehran’s suspect nuclear program citing the “pride of the Iranian people”, he hasn’t dealt even once with the state of human rights/wrongs in Iran which are definitely tarnishing the pride of the regime in Tehran.

Some believe that Rouhani is not tackling the human wrongs in Iran because he is not strong enough to battle the extremists or the IRGC leaders on this issue. They may be right. But his inability to wage battle over human rights should ring loads of warning bells to Western negotiators and businessmen as to his ability to battle these same people regarding the nuclear program.

Contradicting Perceptions Regarding the Iranian Deal

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Two Sides of the Nuclear Deal

Let’s face it: the nuclear deal clinched between Iran and the P5+1 is obviously lopsided. While most Western leaders view the nuclear deal as a beginning of exciting developments for the future, Iranians officials view it as a means to preserve their nuclear program, simply without sanctions.

Following are some of Foreign Minister Zarif’s statements concerning the nuclear deal which highlight the difference in attitudes. Any deal is worth only as much as the will of both sides to keep it and judging from Zarif’s statements, it’s doubtful that the Iranians are serious about keeping the deal.

“More sanctions would only result in more centrifuges”.

Zarif’s threat here exemplifies Iran’s perception of the Western community – a weak and mellow entity – that due to its anxiety wishes the deal more than them.

Is Iran really ready for more sanctions that can crush its economy again and bring Rouhani and Zarif down? And why would a peaceful nuclear program require more centrifuges?

“Sanctions did not prevent the installation of 19 thousand centrifuges in Iran”.

Anachronism at its best.  Zarif purposely overlooks the fact that the centrifuges predated the sanctions, and neglects to state the fact that the sanctions were implemented as a result of the centrifuges.

Would breaking the deal and increasing sanctions stop the installation of further centrifuges? Probably not. Only a change in regime or a successful military strike could do that.

“If the entire agreement does not lead to a positive outcome, it will not be the end of the world.”

Although Zarif rides the deal to acclaim legitimacy, he belittles its importance.  Dissolving the deal would not be the end of the world, but it certainly might be the end of Rouhani’s version of perestroika and Zarif would be stuck in a desk job in Tehran.

Was Iran better off in pre-Rouhani days? And is the Iranian regime and nation ready to go back there? And finally, can Rouhani and Zarif survive a disintegrated deal? The answer is a probable “no” on all counts.

“Besides enraging the Iranian nation, the impact of the sanctions has more than anything been the fact that our enrichment facilities have carried on.”

The old saying “you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”, seems to have underestimated  Zarif. Although the global community knows that the sanctions dragged Iran to the negotiating table, and were a result of Tehran’s persistence with enrichment, yet, somehow, Zarif thinks it is the other way around.

According to Zarif’s logic, Iran should beg for increased sanctions, which can lead to a militarized program. After all, isn’t that what Rouhani and Zarif were after from day one: A militarized nuclear program legitimized by the West’s actions?

Earlier Posts: