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Mustafa Fahs

Defining Iran’s future

If Tehran does not compromise, the fallout could be serious

Catherine Ashton (L), High Representative of the Union of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the European Union, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attend the first day of the second round of P5+1 talks in Vienna (AFP Photo/Dieter Nagl)

During the press conference held by P5+1 ministers in Geneva after a preliminary agreement was reached with Tehran on its nuclear program in June 2014, US Secretary of State Jon Kerry conveyed a clear message to the Iranian leadership: what happened in Geneva had prevented Iran from collapsing, but this didn’t mean the US was a charitable organization that wanted to save the Iranian regime; it was a state bound by a system of interests which defined its foreign policy.

 

Despite direct discussions in the last quarter of an hour between Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, the talks failed to produce a final agreement or a political framework between Iran and the P5+1. This dashed the hopes of the Iranian leadership, especially the radical wing which had set the ceiling of what was possible and permissible for the Iranian negotiating team. The radicals had depended on contradictory signals from certain top figures in the White House, suggesting that the international community had to accept a nuclear Iran and Iranian regional influence; that without Tehran, peace and stability could not be secured. This failure will prompt the Iranian leadership to reshuffle its domestic and foreign policy cards in light of the poor state of the country’s economy and the recent drop in world petroleum prices — oil being practically the only source of finance for the Iranian treasury.

 

Extension of the preliminary agreement by seven more months and the release of previously frozen assets in limited $700 million-per-month installments is not a sufficient sign that the West wants to preserve Iran’s stability and continue negotiating. So far, Tehran has not fully understood this fact. What these decisions show is that neither of the two parties is committed to negotiating forever, especially Washington. The US can stop these installments — which will become more necessary over the coming period — thereby putting pressure on Iran, where two political confrontations are set to flare up. The conservative movement is split between those who rejected the negotiations completely and those who agreed to participate with conditions. The second confrontation is between the conservative movement in general and moderates supported by the reformist movement.

 

In a preemptive effort to contain confrontation between power centers in Tehran, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei gave his support to an extension of the negotiations. “The same reasons that motivated me not to oppose the negotiations motivated me not to oppose their extension,” he said in a statement. By extension, Khamenei meant returning to the points that require real Iranian compromises, and on which the US can no longer be lenient. A majority of Republicans in the US Congress opposed many points in the nuclear negotiations, and Western parties that were involved in the negotiations in Vienna took a similar stance. Both of these factors prevented Obama’s team being lenient with Iran’s demands.

 

 

Western negotiators possess a large amount of information on Iran’s economic situation; they know about the huge amounts of money it is spending to cover its wars in Syria and Iraq, and preserve its influence in Yemen and Lebanon. These are all expensive cards that the West is refusing to buy from Tehran. Instead, Washington hopes to acquire them for free at the moment Iran admits to the social and economic complications of its domestic situation and overwhelming popular resentment at its foreign policies. If this happens, the regime will be torn between making a compromise that could allow the West to insist that all of its demands are met, and completely refusing any compromise, which would make life unbearable for everyone in Iran. The US and its allies are waiting for this opportunity so as to corner Tehran and impose their conditions.

 

For seven more months Iran’s fate will be caught between two fires: Western demands and the regime’s ability to comply, on the one hand, and what it can offer and obtain in return on the other. During these months Iran will put its future in the hands of Western negotiators and no longer be able to pursue its aspirations.

 

Mustafa Fahs tweets  @mustafafahs

This failure will prompt the Iranian leadership to reshuffle its domestic and foreign policy cards. (AFP Photo/Dieter Nagl)

Limited, $700 million-per-month installments is not a sufficient sign that the West wants to preserve Iran’s stability and continue negotiating. So far, Tehran has not fully understood this fact.”