The talks in Vienna are rapidly approaching the July 20th deadline, and, as John Kerry remarked said on Tuesday, there are still big gaps between the sides . Foreign ministers from the P5+1, master negotiators and nuclear experts from all over the globe are trying to bridge those gaps, but it seems that there is only one man on earth who can effectively do that and he isn’t leaving Tehran in the near future: Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Unlike the leaders of the P5+1 countries who are under scrutiny by their own governments, parties and oppositions, the power to make or break any deal with Iran rests fully on Khamenei himself. President Hassan Rouhani, his ministers, Iran’s members of parliament, the IRGC and all the military forces all have to answer to Khamenei and Khamenei alone. Last December he said that he would not interfere with the negotiations, but that didn’t stop him from continuing to bad-mouth and criticize the West (specially the US) and to vocalize his ‘red lines’ for negotiations which are at the base of the “gaps” between both sides. In fact, his statements have become more precise and more strident over the past month mixing numbers with allegories:
- Khamenei on the West’s intentions in negotiations: “The other side threatens you with death so you would be happy with a fever.”
- Khamenei on centrifuges for enrichment: “They want us to be content with 10,000 SWUs…Our people say that we need 190,000 SWUs.”
- Khamenei on expectations of nuclear deal: “Officials from this government…think that if we negotiate the nuclear issue, differences will be resolved…I said that I am not optimistic about negotiations and it will not go anywhere, and you see that it has not gone anywhere. “
- Khamenei on relations with the US (“The Great Satan”): “What our Foreign Ministry has started will continue. Iran will not violate what it agreed to. But the Americans are enemies of the Islamic Revolution, they are enemies of the Islamic Republic.”
- Khamenei on long term plans: “This battle (Jihad) will only end when the society can get rid of the oppressors’ front with America at the head of it.”
As the zero hour looms ahead, it’s clear that Khamenei and his puppets are ‘digging their heels in the ground’, and hardening their stand instead of striving for a middle ground. This might be a legitimate effort by Khamenei to force the P5+1 to break down negotiations in order to begin a blame game for the benefit of the Iranian people and Iran’s allies. On the other hand, it may simply be his way of adding more pressure on the negotiating teams and to paraphrase the Supreme Leader himself, to “threaten the West with death in order to be happy with a fever”. In any case, it seems that hardliners, with Khamenei at their head, still have the upper hand. Just highlights once again the West’s inability to ever really comprehend the Iranian slippery strategy in negotiations. The only winners of these negotiations are the Iranians who found some relief from sanctions and the businesses who want to cash in on sanction-free Iran.