A whole year has brought us back to square one: both sides are willing to negotiate a deal – not more, not less.
Rouhani ‘s promise for change was based on de-isolating Iran and negotiations were the first step. Interests clash. While the US led P5+1 want to reduce Iran’s nuclear program Iran wants to increase it. Were Iran selling and the P5+1 buying, this would be tantamount to the seller increasing his original price as the negotiations continue.
Four Reasons Why
An article in Foreign Policy identified 4 reasons for the breakdown in talks and if they are correct, don’t expect a nuclear deal ever:
- First of all, Khamenei calls the shots and not Rouhani & Zarif.
The all-powerful Khamenei remains the wild card in this deal. Although Khamenei officially supports Rouhani in achieving a nuclear deal, or better worded in eroding the sanctions, his rhetoric is far from conciliatory: for him, the US remains the “Great Satan” which will never succeed to “bring Iran to its knees” due to the resilience and the military might of Iran, “irrespective” of diplomacy.
He is wary of the West and believes in an Islamic Awakening that will bring on his longed-for “Century of Islam”.
- Second, although sanctions are not lifted, they are weakening.
Before Rouhani, sanctions were circumvented sporadically by hungry rogue businessmen. Since Rouhani’s efforts at de-isolation, sanctions are circumvented by governments, with Russia and China trampling US-led sanctions. Numerous deals are being brokered through numerous foreign delegations to Tehran who are wooed by the immense financial profits to be made and foolishly believing Iran’ Economic Minister Tayyebnia when he says that “Iran is among the safest countries for (foreign) investment.”
- Third, dignity, specifically Iranian dignity, is not for bargain.
The West views this dignity as a form of a bargaining chip while the Iranians present it as a deal-breaker on a very personal level. Khamenei himself went from idealizing “heroic flexibility” in negotiations to leading a “resistance economy” meant to reach Iran’s “long term objectives”.
The Iranians do not understand, appreciate or accept the need of the world to control its nuclear program. The insistence of the West is tantamount to calling them liars.
- Fourth, Iran refrains from any significant compromise and refuses to accept restrictions.
If Iran is serious about not developing a nuclear bomb, it could rationally have accepted the nuclear deal and lifted the sanctions. But Iran doesn’t want to settle for less than it has already even though large parts of its nuclear program have exceeded IAEA and NPT limitations. It would rather keep on negotiating in the hope that the West will choose a deal over a possible war. And in the meantime, it still maintains enrichment, still runs the heavy water facility in Arak and keeps the military base in Parchin closed from inspections…all unresolved issues according to the IAEA.
- Hardliners fighting on the inside:
While Rouhani is trying to appease the West, the hardliners are busy demonizing it and increasing their powers locally.
The Larijani clan in Tehran is a perfect example of the path of hardliners: While Iran’s Judiciary Chief Sadeq Larijani praised Rouhani for “not giving in”, he blamed the West for instigating “Shiitophobia“, his brother, Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani threatened the West to be “more careful with Iran” and is pressing for a larger involvement of the Basij (a paramilitary volunteer militia) in Iranian society besides the already huge influence of the IRGC.
Since Khamenei is himself a hardliner, Rouhani will have to fight uphill for his survival.
- Moscow wooing on the outside:
Rouhani began de-isolating Iran from the West but the delay in the deal is bringing Iran closer to Russia and China, both of which promote their own agendas regarding the West. Putin is no fool and he recognizes the fact that an isolated Iran will be more dependent on Russia which can be translated into a lot of Roubles and a lot of power in a time when oil prices and the Rouble are plummeting. Thus Putin placed the call to Rouhani right after the delay in the nuclear negotiations were announced.
Tehran, spurned by another delay, is busy mending fences with its Arab neighbors while fostering friendships with any country that has an anti-American sentiment. And since oil prices are plummeting due to decisions made by OPEC and the Russian Rouble is skydiving much as the Iranian Real did, both understand that together, they can control their destinies better.