Iranian Policy Toward Direct Nuclear Talks with the U.S.

No. 593     January-February 2013

Cartoon: Taher Shabani

http://www.farsnews.com/plarg.php?nn=288871&st=600826

  • Different voices may be heard in Iran regarding direct talks with the United States. Khamenei and his spokesmen, including his representatives in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), firmly oppose such talks or engagement, claiming they hold no benefit in terms of the Iranian interest. On the other hand, elements within intelligence, the Majlis (parliament), and the IRGC maintain that under certain conditions direct talks could be held with the U.S.
  • This behavior is part of the Iranian tactic of projecting internal division in order to gain more time for promoting further components of the nuclear program and increasing Iran’s bargaining power vis-à-vis the West. Meanwhile, Iran makes use of and interprets the voices in the West calling for a compromise and continued adherence to using diplomatic channels to sustain its delaying tactics over a fresh round of nuclear talks with the 5+ 1 group.
  • The closer Iran gets to the June presidential elections, the harder it will be for its leadership to deal with the sensitive issue of direct contacts with the United States and to commit themselves to any sort of significant engagement with Washington.
  • One of the main reasons Tehran is against direct talks with the United States, at least at this stage, is the sense that Iran now senses and projects that it has the upper hand in the contest with the U.S. over regional hegemony and the reshaping of the Middle East according to Iran’s Islamic revolutionary model. 
  • In light of these facts, Iran regards military nuclear capability as its greatest prospective asset for countering the West in various domains, despite all the difficulties this entails.
  • Thus, Iran will not hasten to renew the dialogue with the United States, and will want to engage in such talks only from a position of strength.

Iranians Discuss Engagement with the U.S.

The question of engagement with the United States has, to varying degrees, been a domestic issue in Iran since the outbreak of the Islamic Revolution. It has emerged in recent years in connection to important events and junctures, particularly with regard to the Iranian nuclear program. In Iran, just as in the United States, this issue serves as a tool in political struggles between the different camps and is raised when it furthers some political purpose or other.

The question of relations with Iran and policy toward its nuclear program played an important role in the election campaigns of both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and will likely retain its centrality in the window of time that is left before Iran’s presidential elections in June. On the eve of the U.S. elections, reports were published on contacts between U.S. officials and senior Iranian officials including Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister and current adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on international affairs, who has also been mentioned as a presidential candidate. These contacts were in fact denied by Velayati himself and other Iranian officials, claiming the reports were U.S. election propaganda. Nevertheless, the issue remained salient on the Iranian and international agendas.

The U.S. Looks for Signals from Tehran

The issue of contacts with Iran persists on the U.S. agenda as well. Officials look eagerly for any signals from Tehran that it, too, seeks a diplomatic settlement. Pressure groups, including former senior Pentagon figures and intelligence bodies, keep urging the administration, as it enters its second term, to reexamine its Iranian policy and seek a “bold” diplomatic solution involving direct negotiations with Iran – rather than in the futile international context of the 5+1 countries – that would lead to a grand bargain concerning Iran’s nuclear program.

For example, according to a New York Times report late in December: 

By subtly putting its hands on the brakes of its uranium enrichment efforts, Iran may be signaling that it wants to avoid a direct confrontation over its nuclear program, at least in the near term….The action has also led some analysts to conclude that Iran’s leaders are showing signs that they may be more interested in a deal to end the nuclear standoff with the West.1

Additionally, a group of former senior officials sent a letter to Obama in which they called on him, among other things,

to direct your team to vigorously to pursue serious, sustained negotiations with the Iranian government on an arrangement that guards against a nuclear-armed Iran. With greater determination, creativity, and persistence we believe that such a deal is within reach. As a first step, we urge you and your team to pursue a revised proposal calling for a verifiable halt to Iran’s accumulation of 20 percent-enriched uranium including export of the material or conversion to metallic form in Iran in exchange for a reciprocal relaxing of some international and financial sanctions imposed on Iran.2

Iran, for its part, is not ignoring the domestic discourse in the United States, and in the West in general, regarding the format for continued talks on the nuclear issue. So far, no new date has been set for talks between Iran and the 5+1 group.3 Iran assigns responsibility for this to the United States, which, in its view, is negatively influencing other Western countries as it keeps imposing painful sanctions on Iran. At the same time, Iran is sending contradictory messages about its desire for a compromise with the West on the nuclear program and about its interest in a direct dialogue with Washington.

The Iranian Debate

Different voices may be heard in Iran regarding talks with the United States. On the one hand, Khamenei and his spokesmen, including his representatives in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and other bodies, firmly oppose such talks, claiming they hold no benefit in terms of the Iranian interest. On the other hand, elements within intelligence, the Majlis (parliament), and the IRGC maintain that under certain conditions direct talks could be held with the United States. This behavior is part of the Iranian tactic of projecting internal division in order to gain more time for promoting further components of the nuclear program and increasing Iran’s bargaining power vis-à-vis the West.

At the same time, the behavior reflects authentic disagreements among the different Iranian power brokers on a charged issue that has been likened to the Ayatollah Khomeini’s “drinking from the poisoned chalice” when he decided to end the Iran-Iraq War. Khamenei is portrayed in this context as the “sole decider,” similar to Khomeini, on the issue of relations with the United States. Ahmadinejad, who toward the end of his second term in office has been ratcheting up his challenges to the Supreme Leader, called for talks with Washington in his latest speech from the UN podium – and met harsh criticism within Iran.

Iran’s deteriorating economic situation is also reflected in the domestic discourse on a possible dialogue with the United States. Whereas elements in the IRGC and their associates uphold the “resistance (to sanctions) economy” – which Khamenei proclaimed as a motto at the start of the current Iranian year (March 20, 2012) – others assert that the worsening economic conditions require a certain compromise of agreeing to renewed talks or to a freeze on uranium enrichment to 20 percent in return for a partial lifting of the sanctions and other abatements. 

Meanwhile, Iran makes use of voices in the West calling for a compromise and continued adherence to the diplomatic channel in order to sustain its delaying tactics. Obama’s re-election and fealty to his previous policy toward Iran, including the appointment of key officials who favor the diplomatic path (John Kerry, Chuck Hagel), lead Tehran to think – possibly erroneously – that it has additional time for stalling tactics; John Kerry, after all, is described as a “negotiations man.”

For Iran, deteriorating economic conditions, and particularly the loss of oil revenue have sharpened the dilemma between, on the one hand, persisting in its oppositional mode toward the United States and the West while flaunting its unique status as leader of the “resistance front” of states, and, on the other, forging a compromise with the West that entails concessions. For Iran – now acting chair of the nonaligned movement (NAM) and claiming to be the force behind the “Islamic awakening” (or Arab Spring) in the region – making concessions is difficult even if, meanwhile, it is paying a high and painful economic price. That price, as Iran sees it, is inseparable from the struggle it has waged against the United States since the outbreak of the revolution. It has contended with the United States for decades and can keep contending with it, thereby setting an example for other countries aspiring to independence and liberation from the yoke of “imperialist conquest.”

The closer the Iranian elections get, the harder it will be for Iran’s leadership to deal with the sensitive issue of direct contacts with the United States and commit themselves to any sort of agreement with Washington. Although, as the elections approach, the domestic power struggles will likely highlight this issue, it is highly doubtful that negotiations of any substance can be held, let alone reaching a historic compromise that includes a relaxing of the sanctions.

Khamenei and his associates would certainly not want the credit for a possible successful deal, with some of the sanctions removed, to redound to Ahmadinejad and help his candidate in the presidential elections – namely, his son-in-law Aspandiar Rahim Mashaei, whom he sees as his successor. As matters now stand, opponents of Ahmadinejad, along with allies of the Supreme Leader, will portray Ahmadinejad in their election propaganda as bearing the blame for the economic hardships.

Ahmadinejad, for his part, having promoted the IRGC’s status during his two terms, now feels that he has the upper hand and is calling on the IRGC to give up some assets and pay more taxes. He thereby hopes to harness the IRGC economy, along with the enormous assets that have been amassed to promote the transnational “resistance economy” – as defined by Khamenei – in order to extricate Iran from the economic crisis brought on by the sanctions.

Against this background, the window of time until the beginning of the new Iranian year in March will be critical for Iran and the international community in terms of holding authentic negotiations. After that point, the upcoming elections in Iran; the sense in the West of having exhausted the diplomatic channel; and the expiration of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “red line” will likely raise again the option of a military confrontation between Iran and the West.

The issue of talks with the United States reflects, then, the two prevailing approaches to coping with the ever-tightening sanctions. The IRGC, with its growing political status, is standing firm against such talks, while elements in the government and the Majlis who have to grapple daily with the sanctions’ effects are calling – under certain conditions – for contacts with Washington.

Overall, Iran does not appear to be inclined to a nuclear compromise with the West. Iran’s domestic establishment, including the regime’s propaganda apparatus that is intended to mobilize the masses for an ongoing struggle, speaks of the heavy cost entailed by true independence, repeatedly calls for staunch resolve in the face of the sanctions, and lauds Iran’s success so far in warding them off. There is also an emphasis on decreasing the reliance on oil revenue and moving to a more productive economy. Various regime spokesmen stress repeatedly that Iran is actually better off under the sanctions, which have impelled it to make sweeping changes in the structure of the economy and the national budget – this while the Western countries are ensnared in a severe economic crisis with no end in sight.

No Sense of Urgency in Iran

Thus Iran believes that, unlike the West, it faces no need for an urgent decision. Iran withstood similar crises and critical moments in the past, and was prepared to pay the price. Now, too, Iran appears willing to sacrifice its citizens’ daily well-being for nuclear independence and political and national pride. The situation assessment it is now conducting points to a favorable strategic environment both at home – where the reform camp and the opposition are divided, and there is no substantial popular protest either against the economic hardship or on foreign issues – and abroad, where the growing Islamic ascendancy works in Iran’s favor, the West is losing ground among leading “moderate” Arab countries including Egypt, and Syria is still standing despite the West’s and the Gulf states’ efforts to topple Assad.

Iran’s belief that it is in a generational confrontation with the West goes well beyond the nuclear issue. Iran fights the West in the ideological, religious, intellectual, social, and moral spheres as well. Iran maintains that because of the West’s inability to cope with Iranian successes, it is trying to exploit the nuclear issue to prevent further Iranian achievements in other arenas of conflict where it is prevailing, most of all through the Islamic awakening in the Middle East (including Egypt’s adoption of an Islamic constitution) and its growing involvement in Latin America. In light of all this, Iran regards a military nuclear capability as its greatest prospective asset for countering the West in the various domains, despite all the difficulties this entails.

Dialogue Even in the Depths of Hell

The issue of conducting negotiations with the United States has accompanied Iran since the beginning of the revolution, fluctuating in prominence. It is a fraught and sensitive subject that sometimes rises to the surface. The West regards diplomacy between the 5+1 countries and Iran on the nuclear issue as nearing its end. With Obama reelected and Ahmadinejad soon to step down, the issue of U.S.-Iranian relations has again taken center stage both in Washington and Tehran.

In Iran, opinions are divided about the need for separate, direct talks with the Americans. The Iranian domestic discourse is alert to the occasional Western, and particularly U.S., reports on secret discussions with Iran and reacts to these claims. Supporters of dialogue say there is no prohibition on talks with the United States; Iran has contacts with and recognizes all countries except the “Zionist entity,” and if such contacts serve Iran’s interest, then they can be conducted in dignity, equality, and mutual recognition. Mohammad-Javad Larijani, secretary-general of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights and brother of the chairman of the Majlis, affirmed that dialogue with the United States is not taboo. “If the interest of the regime requires it, we will conduct negotiations with the United States even in the depths of hell.”4 Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, argued that the United States has witnessed Iran’s clout in the Middle East, including in Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and hence is interested in (direct) talks, adding that if conditions are suitable in terms of Iran’s national interests, Tehran has the prerogative to consider negotiations with the United States.5

President Obama’s selection of Chuck Hagel for the post of U.S. Secretary of Defense, who is viewed as someone with dovish views toward a solution to the crisis with Iran, was widely followed in Iran in relation to the possibility of a change in American policy toward Iran. The bottom line was that the importance was in “deeds, not words.” From the various reactions we can see the wide suspicion in Iran toward the United States. 

Hassan Salami, the Acting Commander of the IRGC, said that American diplomats always speak softly and attractively, but Iran doesn’t relate to this as important and doesn’t trust them. “Iran will never trust U.S. officials because, in spite of their individual characteristics, U.S. officials are working within a system which is called Imperialism and helps safeguard interests of the hegemonic powers.” Salami added that a change of individuals would not necessarily mean the change of U.S. strategy and policies.6 A Foreign Ministry spokesman said in this regard that “we hope to see some practical changes in U.S. foreign policy….The Iranian people have no positive experience with the U.S. due to the hostility shown by its officials as well as its interference….This will be evaluated in practice. To date, there has been a lot of talk, but the behavior of U.S. officials does not match their words.”7

Unbridgeable Strategic Differences

The Supreme Leader’s bureau and the IRGC representatives, however, emphasize their opposition to talks with Washington. The Leader himself rarely refers directly to the sensitive issue, leaving the dispute to the echelons below him. The Bureau for the Preservation and Publication of the Works and Statements of Khamenei has recently republished his declaration on relations with the United States from one of the Friday prayers in 1997. In it he averred that “talks with the United States are of no benefit to the Iranian people.”8 Since that republication, almost all of Khamenei’s representatives in the different branches of the IRGC have been reiterating his words.

Khamenei’s IRGC representative, Hojjatoleslam Ali Saeedi, presented the now-prevalent Iranian position on contacts with the United States. As he put it:

The status of sanctions and the economic conditions of [Iran] should not urge some people to argue that now that the United States is saying it is ready for negotiation, then we, too, must go for it….The enemy intends to drag us into its own café, but we have lots of strategic differences of opinion with the United States, including Hezbollah, Palestine, the Shi’a governance in Iraq, and the Bahrain issue, none of which can be solved in the framework of negotiations….A nation should never forget the main mottoes for which it upraised [sic] and had a revolution.9

Saeedi compared the U.S. to

Egyptian Pharaoh who ordered to slaughter thousands of firstborn sons to prevent the appearance of Moses….Today, the U.S. is directing its efforts at Iran’s Islamic Revolution since this is a tool to globalize Islam….The U.S. imperialistic regime is the main enemy of the Revolution and the Hidden Imam (the Mahdi, the Messiah according to Shiite beliefs, who will reappear and redeem the world)….Iran plays an important and vital role in the reappearance of the Hidden Imam…recent developments in the Middle East are an additional indication ahead of the reemergence of the Hidden Imam….Iran’s role is to lay the groundwork for the reappearance of the Hidden Imam which will shake the foundations of the White House, since we might not have the ability to destroy nuclear missiles, but we must be prepared for this.10

He warned those favoring direct talks: “There is no doubt that in their negotiations, they will ask Iran to stop its support for Hezbollah of Lebanon, Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation, regional movements and the Shia Muslims.” He also “said that in such negotiations, Iran’s nuclear program will be on the agenda which requires enlightening the minds of the people to thwart enemy’s [sic] psychological warfare.”11

Yadollah Javani, the Supreme Leader’s adviser and representative in the IRGC and former head of the IRGC’s political bureau, has said in this regard that Iran has become a strategic rival of the United States, which has been the loser of its last three wars against Iran (the Iran-Iraq War, the “soft war” during the June 2009 presidential elections, and the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists). Javani added that the United States is currently doing its utmost to damage the Iranian economy by imposing sanctions and pushing for face-saving direct talks. “Compromise is not in line with the Shia way of thinking…the Supreme Leader’s viewpoint toward negotiation with the United States is similar to the viewpoint of the Founder of the Islamic Republic, Imam Khomeini, and there is no difference between them in this respect.”12

“Death to America”

At the start of November 2012, a few days before the U.S. elections, Iran marked the 33rd anniversary of its takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran at the onset of the revolution. Up to the present, that day is known in Iran as the National Day of Campaign against Global Arrogance and the National Students’ Day, and is marked by calls of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” Basij commander Mohammad Reza Naqdi, in his speech to students before the former U.S. embassy building in Tehran to students, emphasized that since the Islamic Revolution the United States has been in decline, whereas Iran has been constantly on the rise in the fields of policy, science and technology, and economy. He stated: “If a historian can be found who is able to prove that there is a regime more criminal than the American one, I will give 10 kilograms of gold as a gift.” Concerning Iranian spokesmen who claim that renewing ties with the United States would improve Iran’s economic condition and enhance its security, he wondered:

Is Afghanistan, which has a connection with the United States, steeped in security?…We err if we think that threats will be lifted and our situation will improve if we renew the contacts with the United States. All of Iran’s triumphs and progress are a result of its firm posture toward the United States. The Americans are now broken and abject, and why do we need to reconcile with this devastated America? I want to reassure everyone inside and outside of Iran who is planning to renew the U.S.-Iranian talks, and affirm that the position of the Iranian people is the same as that of the Imam Khomeini, who said we would stand until the end and would not reconcile with the United States unless it behaves respectably and puts an end to its wicked deeds.13

On another occasion, Naqdi said any contact with the United States, which supports Israel, is like an alliance with “Yazid” (Yazid ibn Muawiya, who killed the Imam Hussein, grandson of Muhammad, at the Battle of Karbala – one of the foundational and formative myths of the Shiite faith), and the Iranian people would never forge an alliance with Yazid.14

A statement published by the army to mark the 33rd anniversary proclaimed, among other things, that

the United States as the Great Satan is still considered Enemy Number 1 of the revolution. All the talk about establishing relations with the wicked American regime that has still not shown a single sign of remorse, is suspicious and should be related to sternly. The United States is imperialist and capitalist in nature and hence is considered the focal point of intrigues and corruption in the world, and will never choose the path of rapprochement with the popular and independent regime of Iran.15

After the U.S. elections, Kayhan, which usually reflects Khamenei’s view, wrote that for the American voter Obama was the lesser evil, as in the Iranian proverb that states: “In hell you flee into the snake’s den out of fear of the scorpion.” The paper also said the “Zionist lobby” in the United States is in decline, while U.S.-Israeli tensions are mounting.

The more the circle of resistance and Islamic awakening, with Iran at its center, widens and strengthens, the higher the ascendancy that U.S. and Israeli foreign policy confronts, and the horses that are harnessed to the cart, even if they are of the same ilk, have to bite each other so as to advance….The new-old regime of Obama is no less criminal than that of Bush. From Afghanistan to Iraq to Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon, Iran has presented a considerable challenge [to the regime] through the Islamic model of resistance….Obama has nothing new to say….The revolutionary discourse generated by Iran continues to advance; otherwise the United States and Israel would not be in a state of ongoing deterioration.16

Javad Jahangirzadeh, a member of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, estimated that Obama, like Bush, would try during his second term “to untie the knot of Iranian-U.S. relations,” since doing so is considered a success. Every U.S. president, however, characterized Iran’s reactions to U.S. proposals on renewing ties as a “stupid political act,” and the whole issue is not worth debating for Iranian leaders since “[Resumption of] the relations with the U.S. will yield no interest for us, because they have a problem with the essence of the Islamic Revolution of Iran.” Jahangirzadeh also claimed that renewing contacts with the United States would likely lead Iran to a fate similar to that of Mubarak, Gaddafi, and Ben Ali, rulers of Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia who maintained ties with Washington. He also asserted that the only one suited to decide the future of U.S.-Iranian relations is the Leader, Khamenei.17

“All of America’s Crimes”

From Iran’s standpoint, as long as the United States continues its hostile activity toward Iran, no direct talks can be held with it outside the 5+1 framework. Ala’eddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said: “We believe that we cannot negotiate with the U.S. authorities who make plans against our national interests, allocate budgets against the Iranian nation and are the pioneers of imposing sanctions on Iran.…We should wait and see what policies they would adopt in practice.”18 To the “list of America’s crimes” Iran adds also the removal of the opposition organization Mujahideen Khalq from the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations, the responsibility for the riots after the June 2009 presidential elections, the incitement of the Gulf states against Iran (including support for the UAE’s claim to three strategic islands in the Strait of Hormuz), cyber attacks on Iran, participation in the assassination of its nuclear scientists, and more recently the designation of Iran’s activity in Latin America as a threat to the United States.

Iran also termed the Golden Globe-winning dramatic film “Argo” – about the rescue of several American hostages held in Iran during the hostage crisis (1979-81) – a “Zionist anti-Iranian film” and an Iranophobic, Hollywoodistic, American movie that attempts to describe all Iranians as overemotional, irrational, insane, and diabolical. Iran promised to create “a true version of the events” in a film to be released next year.19

Likewise, the Iranian foreign minister said that experts in his ministry who closely track the U.S. position had not discerned any change in its antagonism toward Iran and the Iranian people, and that in practice U.S. spokesmen behave in contrast to their declared position. On the one hand, they praise Iran for its role in Afghanistan; on the other, they locate it on the “axis of evil”:

 …their UAVs violate Iran’s airspace…they assist the assassins of our [nuclear] scientific elites.…They have imposed unprecedented sanctions whose effects are inflicted against people of various walks of life in our society, including the patients…and after all such deeds now they put forth the issue of direct talks. Naturally, even a simpleminded person having seen these deeds would not have the impression of the U.S. administration being honest…by proposing talks they are seeking a new way to impose greater illogical pressure against Iran.20

 The IRGC’s Intervention

A website that deals with Iranian issues has reported that the many recent reports by the IRGC on intercepting American UAVs that had penetrated Iran’s airspace were only meant to allay the growing pressure within Iran to hold direct talks with the United States. According to the site, Khamenei has recently been under heavy pressure to open talks with Washington from President Ahmadinejad and Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president of Iran and current head of the Expediency Council. When U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton declared that whenever Iran was ready for talks, the United States would be ready as well, the pressure on Khamenei intensified. The site claims that the weakening of Khamenei’s status, the economic downturn, and the rise in domestic protest are what led IRGC commanders to announce the capture of American UAVs, thereby portraying the United States as mendacious and reconciling Khamenei’s position with Iranian public opinion.21

The Clash of Civilizations

One of the main reasons Tehran is against direct talks with the United States, at least at this stage, is the sense that Iran now has the upper hand in the contest with the U.S. over regional hegemony and the reshaping of the Middle East according to Iran’s Islamic revolutionary model. Iran makes certain to highlight the adoption of the Islamic constitution in Egypt, the ongoing protest in Bahrain, and the upheavals in the other Gulf States. Mostafa Pourmohammadi, head of Iran’s General Inspection Organization, said in this regard that “Iran has challenged the Western civilization and the nuclear issue is just an excuse for the West to exert pressure on Iran.”

He stressed that while China and India have been America’s rivals in the economic domain, since the Soviet Union’s fall they have not offered an overall model of lifestyle, worldview, or any ideological alternative to the democratic liberalism of the United States. Iran, however, has succeeded to present such a model, and that is what has unsettled the United States, which is trying to compete with the Iranian model even as it gains strength in regions where the U.S. worldview formerly held sway.22

Most of the power brokers in Iran, including Ahmadinejad, believe in this “clash of civilizations.” The nuclear issue is only one aspect, indeed important but not the central one. The issue of renewing contacts with the United States has arisen just as Iran is feeling stronger despite the sanctions and is, perhaps because of them, taking a rigid, dogmatic stance harking back to the revolution and its instigator Khomeini’s motto that “America can’t do a damn thing against us.” Iran, thus, has been deflecting the U.S. proposals for direct talks and temporizing about a new date for resumed talks in the failed 5+1 channel. Yahya Rahim Safavi, the Supreme Leader’s top military adviser and a former IRGC commander, claimed in this context that the United States had asked Iran to establish a “hotline” for coordination, but Iran had rejected the request.23

Regional strategic circumstances also play into Iran’s hands. Transformations in the Middle East, particularly the stepped-up Islamization process, bolster Iran’s conviction that its path is the right one and that the price it has to pay for independence from the West is justified. And it is no longer just Iran’s path, but a model for the other countries freeing themselves of the superpower yoke. Egypt is the cardinal example and, despite the discordance remaining in the two states’ relations, serves for Iran as decisive proof of the U.S. defeat in the region and Iran’s victory. Moreover, Iran’s ongoing support for Syria, its longtime ally, is meant to demonstrate that, unlike the United States and the West, it does not abandon allies in distress.

Thus, given these factors along with its desire to augment its role as leader of the new regional agenda, Iran will not hasten to renew the dialogue with the United States, and will want to engage in such talks from a position of strength. Iran harbors an ongoing fear of U.S. meddling in its domestic affairs, and perceives the U.S. proposals for direct talks as “another American plot” aimed at sowing divisions in Iran as the elections approach, and at influencing the elections themselves.

Although the sanctions will continue to leave their mark on the Iranian people, the IRGC will keep taking a rigidly negative line on talks with the United States and keep leading Iran on an uncompromising path that may result in a direct confrontation with the U.S. and the West, with the aim of making Iran a rising regional power equal in status to the U.S.. Perhaps then there will be a place for direct talks. Meanwhile, Khamenei will prefer not to drink, like his predecessor, from the chalice of poison.

* * *

Notes

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/28/world/middleeast/irans-slowing-of-enrichment-efforts-may-show-it-wants-deal.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0

2. http://www.niacouncil.org/site/DocServer/Ltr._to_the_President_on_Iran_Nuclear_Diplomacy.pdf?docID=1821

3. The head of the Majlis’ National Security and Foreign Policy Committee said on January 15, 2013, that talks will probably be held in Istanbul in February, but “Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) will have the final say.” http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=9107136017

4. http://tinyurl.com/cnxh62h

5. http://farsnews.net/newstext.php?nn=13911006000804

6. http://tinyurl.com/bd8yd7u

7. http://www.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=13911019000667

8. http://farsi.khamenei.ir/speech-content?id=21379

9. http://old.irna.ir/News/Politic/S–Leader,s-Envoy-at-IRGC,-Negotiation-with-US-against-people,s-will/80450447

10. http://tinyurl.com/b65tjtg (http://www.asriran.com)

11. http://old.irna.ir/News/Politic/Leader_s-representative-dismisses-US-proposal-for-direct-talks-on-nuclear-dispute/80438799

12. http://old.irna.ir/News/Politic/Middle-East-changed-to-exhibition-of-US-failures,-IRGC-commander/80444844; http://old.irna.ir/News/Politic/Iran,-strategic-rival-for-US/80426118

13. http://tinyurl.com/bnq3qso

14. http://www.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=13910827000432

15. http://www.mehrnews.com/fa/newsdetail.aspx?NewsID=1733383

16. http://www.kayhannews.ir/910818/2.htm#other200

17. http://tinyurl.com/c9q5pp7 (ISNA); http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=9107115966

18. http://tinyurl.com/c3svolm

19. http://www.presstv.com/detail/2013/01/13/283318/iran-to-make-film-response-to-argo/

20. http://www.siasatema.com/vdccmmqs.2bqsm8laa2.html; http://old.irna.ir/News/Politic/FM,-US-talks-claim-while-continuing-antagonist-policies-meaningless/80460942

21. http://www.digarban.com/node/10056

22. http://tinyurl.com/cu3lpdr (IRNA)

23. http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=9107118530

About Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall

IDF Lt.-Col. (ret.) Michael (Mickey) Segall, an expert on strategic issues with a focus on Iran, terrorism, and the Middle East, is a senior analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and at Foresight Prudence.