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From the outset of the nuclear negotiations the Supreme Leader has made it clear that there is no wiggle room on Iran’s right to enrich. At the next round of talks on May 13th in Vienna, Iran’s negotiating team will come to the table with an additional six red lines from Khamenei himself (the most notable of these being that “nuclear scientific movement must not cease nor slow down whatsoever”) that would allow for the continued development of an indigenous nuclear fuel cycle and weapons capability.
The interim deal does not call for the dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. This has resulted in a number of critical conservative hardliners significantly toning down their rhetoric. In fact, IRGC Commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari – who initially ardently opposed negotiations – has urged the negotiations team to exploit the ambiguities of the Joint Plan of Action to ensure an agreement that reinforces the Islamic Republic’s national interests. The West shouldn’t expect much, if any, give on Iran’s position at the upcoming talks following Khamenei’s April 30thremarks in which he stressed the importance of national “strength”:
Whenever we stand up on our own feet and we become strong, they are forced to behave politely and rationally…The irrational behaviors of the world bullying powers against the Islamic Republic of Iran depend on Iran’s weakness or strength.
The West’s inability to rein in the Russian president throughout the Ukrainian crisis has likely had a significant impact on the Supreme Leader’s strategic calculus. Following the US foreign policy botch in Syria and the fumbled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the Supreme Leader may sense that the Obama administration is anxious for a foreign policy “W” in spearheading a long-coveted comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran. The perception in Iran that the US is in a particularly weak negotiating stance is exemplified by a recent statement from senior official and former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezaei: “America cannot revert to the past; a lack of confidence has been created in it. Fortunately, the Ukrainian matter became a divine blessing for us, because America can no longer convince China and Russia.”
It’s the economy, stupid
President Hassan Rouhani ran his presidential campaign on the promise of improving Iran’s ailing economy. At the time of his election, according to the International Monetary Fund, the 12-month inflation rate was 45%. By January of this year the administration oversaw a decrease of the 12-month rate to 29%. However, this rate since the beginning of the year has risen again to 32.5%. As the administration’s reforms and Khamenei’s economic “resistance” policies continue to fail in producing significant improvements in the Iranian economy, the urgency for a comprehensive deal that would spell the end for crippling international sanctions and bring in much-needed foreign investment has become increasingly important for Iran and the Supreme Leader.
If the nuclear negotiations go as well as expected this month, the Supreme Leader will have renewed confidence both in President Rouhani and in the cohesiveness of his regime. He has taken a risk in reaching out to the US and it looks like it will pay off. After years of increasing stress on Iran’s economy and its strategic position in the region (most recently in Syria), he can now see a stronger and more secure Islamic Republic on the horizon, even if a nuclear weapon is postponed for a while.
This is the thirteenth post in the series titled “What is keeping the Ayatollah up at night?” Written in collaboration with Katherine Earle. Special thanks for assistance from CTP analyst Mehrdad Moarefian.
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