Many Iranian media outlets, including those supporting and those opposing the conservative government, believe that, in light of Iran’s response (August 15, 2022) to the European Union’s final offer, the possibility of reaching a new nuclear deal with the West is stronger than ever. Meanwhile, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the senior commanders of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) remain generally silent on the issue. Iran continues to claim that the ball is in the U.S. court. Iran also says that, in any case, there is no connection between the nuclear deal and the plan to rehabilitate the Iranian economy or Khamenei’s resistance economy, which he has promoted in recent years in the face of the sanctions. Iran is also calling on Washington to show flexibility on the three main issues in dispute: lifting the sanctions, guaranteeing the sustainability of the new deal and the economic benefits for Iran even if the U.S. administration is replaced, and the issue of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) oversight and inspections.
President Ebrahim Raisi, for his part (August 21), again asserted that Iran “will not forgo the rights of the nation in any meeting or negotiation” and that “a significant part of Iran’s demands of several states have already been accepted.” He also said Iran would not make its people’s welfare “dependent on any external actor and would continue to make every effort to solve the (economic) problems it faces.”1
“Today,” Raisi continued, “the war is a war of willpower, and the Iranian people are determined to defeat their enemies…. I see a promising future despite the threats and the sanctions.”
Unlike the negotiations that led to the signing of the 2015 nuclear deal under President Rouhani, the current negotiating team enjoys the full backing of the Iranian leadership, though it is sometimes criticized by conservative elements. But that too, or at least some of it, is intended to be supportive of the negotiations and to give the impression of a heated domestic debate and purported concessions by the regime.
General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Force, recently told an Iranian reporter, “Everyone must enable the negotiating team to continue its work.” Hajizadeh’s words were seen as reflecting the top IRGC leadership’s support for the negotiating team — unlike the team during Rouhani’s presidency, which was harshly criticized by senior IRGC officials. Conservative, IRGC-affiliated websites praised the current negotiating team and said that whatever the eventual outcome, it has proved that Iran can uphold its revolutionary principles in the talks (as opposed to the Rouhani government) and will not sacrifice its true values when facing the West.
Khamenei’s silence apparently stems from his preparedness to sign a new deal, particularly now that Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, where the conservatives representing his views have the upper hand, has prepared the official Iranian response to the recent EU proposals. According to the Iranian media, Iran’s “positive” response to many of those proposals has surprised the European actors.
On the Alert for “American Trickery”
Taking a different line from most of the Iranian newspapers, Khamenei’s mouthpiece, the conservative Kayhan, published an editorial (August 20) that called on the Iranian leadership to “watch out for American trickery.”2 The paper described the nuclear deal as a “life-or-death” matter for the West meant to ensure its energy supply as winter approaches. Hence Kayhan called on “the honorable Iranian negotiating team” to stand firm and insist on Iran’s objectives, red lines, and national interests, ensuring that Europe and the United States would ultimately give in to Iran.
“Removing the IRGC from the Terror List Was Never an Iranian Condition”
In response to a CNN report3 claiming that Iran had stopped insisting on removing the IRGC from the terror list (August 19), Mohammad Marandi, adviser to Iran’s team in the Vienna talks, tweeted4 (August 19) that “removing the Guards from the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list was never a precondition or key demand. Iran will simply keep CENTCOM on its terror list. But if the United States needs to say this to sell the deal, that’s their business.” Marandi believes the U.S. administration needs to lie about an “Iranian “concession” to shore up its domestic status.
Fereydoon Abbasi, the former head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and a senior scientist who survived a 2010 assassination attempt, told the Iranian news agency ISNA6 (August 20) that the war in Ukraine, the European energy shortage, and the impending winter drove the West to seek a new agreement. He said a “good agreement” would have to allow Iran to export oil to any country it wants and legitimize Iran’s foreign trade. He called on the Iranian people “not to put too much hope” in the future agreement immediately and tangibly affecting their lives. He averred that, even if a deal was signed, the West would not change its attitude toward Iran; “its ideology and its principles lead it to seek Iran’s destruction and curtail its revolutionary activity throughout the world, particularly in Asia and Africa. The West will try in every way to continue the heavy economic pressure on Iran and the Iranian people.” Abbasi is also convinced that even if the agreement allows some Western companies to resume activity in Iran, no serious company will do so because of the uncertain future and the deep-seated fears about the next U.S. administration.
In Abbasi’s view, the Iranian negotiating team made a big mistake when it demanded that the new agreement allow Western companies to leave Iran within two years if the United States again withdraws from the agreement. Instead of making such a demand in the negotiations, Abbasi said, the possibility of a U.S. withdrawal should have been denied altogether.
“The Israeli Influence”
ISNA, in a commentary on the nuclear talks, expressed concern that the “delay” in providing a U.S. response to Iran’s recent position paper stems from continued Israeli influence in Washington regarding the deal’s components and particularly the U.S. red lines. ISNA stressed that Iran has not asked for any compensation, including economic compensation, in the event the next U.S. president withdraws from the new agreement. While such a demand to compensate for economic losses would be logical, ISNA added, at this stage of the negotiations, Iran did not raise any new demands in its response to the EU proposals.
Although Iran’s pro-reformist press is hoping for a new agreement – like the conservative-affiliated media – it is very doubtful that in the end such a deal will be signed:
- The newspaper Arman-e Meli said (August 20) that despite the optimism about a deal being “closer than ever,” the future of the talks remains murky.
- The economic newspaper Asia, in an editorial (August 20) titled “The Nuclear Deal: Tactic or Strategy?” wrote that the Iranian actors that have opposed the 2015 nuclear deal are now “shamefacedly responsible for reviving the agreement” while still trying to shirk any responsibility for the possible outcomes of a new agreement. The paper also criticized the conservatives who have opposed the agreement, saying Iran as a regional power still has not understood that tactical victories are achieved at the price of strategic defeats. Iran, the paper claimed, viewed the agreement in terms of factional interests (of the conservatives) instead of seriously addressing one of the most important challenges of its foreign policy, thereby allowing this major issue to turn into games of elephants and donkeys…. Now the moment of decision has arrived for both sides, and it entails accepting the consequences of a decision both in the domestic and foreign arenas.”
- The economic newspaper Economic World (Duniyai-e EkhtSad) noted (August 20) the recent strengthening of the Iranian rial against foreign currencies and the positive fluctuations in the Tehran stock market in the preceding week, declaring that “Iran’s markets say: Hello to the new agreement.”
Will Khamenei Again Show “Heroic Flexibility”?
The United States gave its reply to Iran’s response to the EU proposals, and now Iran is reviewing it. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said that Iran will release its reply only after “expert-level meetings” and not before the end of this week.
The energy crisis in Europe, alongside the West’s pressing desire to reach an agreement with Iran, could lead to a renewed nuclear deal that the United States will join while citing “Iranian concessions” (i.e., keeping the IRGC on the terror list). In 2013, Khamenei gave a green light to negotiate with the world powers, leading to the 2015 deal. At that time, Khamenei adduced the words of Imam Hasan Mujtaba (the Second Imam), who showed great “heroic flexibility” in defending Islam in its early days. Khamenei told the Iranian diplomats involved in the 2015 negotiations to show the same “heroic flexibility,” determination, and faith to achieve Iran’s objectives in the nuclear deal. He said the negotiations that Imam Hasan Mujtaba conducted with the Second Caliph, Muawiyah, were a historical model for successful negotiations down to the current era with its changing international conditions. At that time, Khamenei was seen as indicating readiness for a certain flexibility.
Will Khamenei, who meanwhile is keeping quiet, again show that same heroic flexibility amid Iran’s current economic hardships, or will he ultimately cling to the resistance economy at any price? Either way, Iran will keep advancing its nuclear and missile programs. Even if a new nuclear deal is signed, next year (2023) the oversight of aspects of Iran’s missile program (experiments, procurement) is supposed to end. In 2024, some of the restrictions on its centrifuge development are set to expire, and in the medium term, other restrictions on its nuclear program will fade into the sunset.
* * *