Listening to Iranian leaders on sanctions gives an uncomfortable feeling of schizophrenia:
- On the one hand, they state that sanctions are illegal, inhumane, politicized and paralyzing and that all sanctions should be lifted in the upcoming nuclear deal.
- On the other hand, they continue to maintain that sanctions are useless, have been beneficial to Iran’s economy and that negotiations are not a result of sanctions.
Some would say that there is no contradiction between these two conflicting views.
Others would wisely say that all the rhetoric surrounding the sanctions is simply part of the 101 of negotiations in Tehran.
No Rouhani Without Sanctions
On Rouhani’s presidential campaign, he was acutely aware of the weight of the sanctions resulting from Tehran’s suspicious nuclear program: “Our centrifuges are good to spin when our people’s economy is also spinning in the right direction” – ie: a nuclear program is good only if the economy is good as well. As a result, his campaign was based primarily on a rapprochement with the West in order to relieve Iran from the crippling effect of sanctions. Without it, he would not have won.
Following the interim deal and the relief of some sanctions, Rouhani triumphantly told a crowd that “sanctions are unraveling” and will “shatter in the coming months”. At the time he also stated that “due to the brutal sanctions and unwise administration, our country has faced myriad problems in the past years”.
And yet, he makes a point of saying that “significant accomplishment was achieved under sanctions, which goes to show sanctions aren’t the reason we’re at negotiation table” and that the Iranian economy is “untrammeled by sanctions“. Furthermore, he went on to add that sanctions had “boosted” Iran’s military power. What?
Why Can’t They Admit It?
Even before Rouhani took office, Iranian leaders tried to play down the effects of sanctions: Previous Foreign Minister Salehi spoke about sanctions causing only “minor problems” and then later calling them “irrational and fruitless“. Judiciary Chief Larijani echoed Salehi’s by calling the sanctions “futile” and “totally ineffective” while his brother and Chief of Parliament Larijani maintained that the problem with Iran’s economy was unemployment that was not a result of sanctions ,implying that the blame should be placed on Ahmadinejad‘s government, adding that sanctions were more costly to the US.
His own Foreign Minister Zarif kept on singing the same tune that “sanctions had no effect on Iran’s approach in the talks” and that “sanctions have utterly failed” and yet, this same person states that any added sanctions would “kill a nuclear deal” and his main condition to a nuclear deal remains the complete removal of all sanctions from day one.
There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the sanctions hurt Iranians. They might not have hurt directly the leaders in the regime and Zarif even mentioned that “some in Iran don’t want the sanctions to end“, implying that sanctions were good for business for people in power (specially the IRGC).
Khamenei Knows the Answer
But sanctions hurt the average Iranian and it is the average Iranian who voted Rouhani to office and Tehran to the negotiation table. It is the pain and the anger of the average Iranian that scared Khamenei into allowing his government to kowtow to “The Great Satan” because he knows full well that enough angry and hungry Iranians could mean his downfall.
So when Khamenei launched his “Economy of Resistance” and called for Iranians to “resist sanctions and keep the enemy from achieving its objectives” and that “if Iran does not resist sanctions, the enemy will set conditions for Tehran’s nuclear program”, it becomes obvious why Iranian leaders love to deny that sanctions are effective. But that is not enough for Khamenei: he envisions the day that Iran will one day be the one to impose sanctions on the West.
It is also noteworthy to note that Khamenei personal empire was one of the chief beneficiaries of the first round of sanctions relief from the interim agreement.
Khamenei wants the sanctions gone and that is why he approves of the nuclear negotiations despite his hatred of the West.