The Nuclear Talks Are Underway Again

The Nuclear Talks Are Underway Again May 14, 2014

The purpose of this post is to bring you up to date with the political situation in Iran.

Last night Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran, and Catherine Ashton, the P5+1 representative, had dinner, and the talks are underway today. They are planning to draft the final deal.

As any person versed in Iranian politics knows, both sides of the regime are sending signals regarding the talks. On the side which is against the talks, you see the usual, showing muscles and showing strength, trying to intimidate the internal opposition. On the pro-negotiation side, you also see an aggressive defense of their own movements.

Our own Ed Brayton covered the military showing off its power.

I’ve had a good laugh in the past over Iran sending “warships” into the Atlantic for “exercises” somewhere near the United States. I’m having an even bigger laugh at the fact that they’ve built a replica of an American aircraft carrier so they can sink them in preparation for a future war.

Of course, as an Iranian it makes me do anything but laugh, because I know that the real purpose behind these maneuvers is to show off to people that the Revolutionary Guard is still very active in the higher circles of power, and it is acting provocatively, and doesn’t want the international community to feel safe about Iran. They want to make Rouhani’s job harder without making it impossible, they want to remind everyone who’s the boss.

Of course, the main news is the movements of the Supreme Leader. Where he didn’t go and where he did go.

Khamenei didn’t go to the Book Fair. This Book Fair was freer and with less censored books. Many publishers who couldn’t take part in the last 8 or 4 years took part again. Many banned writers had their books published again. Of course the security forces closed down some of those publishers and forced them away. And many banned writers couldn’t take part. But overall, it was a marked improvement over the last years.

And Khamenei refused to take part. His chief of staff said that he was “busy”, but many speculate that he wasn’t very pleased with the relative opening up.

Where he did go? To that aforementioned replica, making strong claims about sanctions and negotiations. Via the Daily Star:

Iran’s supreme leader said his nation would not bow to the West’s pressure in nuclear talks with world powers that convene this evening in Vienna.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, urged his countrymen to boost economic, scientific and military capabilities through increased efforts at home, saying the country would follow the “correct” path in negotiations.

“Powers should know that the Iranian nation will not bow,” under pressure, state television quoted Khamenei as saying.

But the most interesting part is not covered by the Daily Star. He said that Iran should not look at negotiations as a way to make sanctions go away, but to deal with sanctions in another way, which is a quite absurd statement yet a good window to his mind. Khamenei doesn’t want to derail the talks, but he’s very skeptical and paranoid, and he also wants to make sure that Rouhani is not empowered by them.

Khamenei posing with the replica of an American dome, trying to look tough.
Khamenei posing with the replica of an American dome, trying to look tough.

Rouhani is playing a double game as well. On the one hand, he is trying to reassure the Supreme Leader, and on the other hand, he has become more aggressive than any time in his tone about the radicals against the regime.

Here, via Al-Monitor, you see him trying to be reassuring:

At a May 11 meeting of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Rouhani said, “In the field of nuclear technology, we will not retreat one step,” adding, “Neither weakening, humiliation, sanctions or threats will work.” According to Iranian Students’ News Organization, Rouhani’s speech marked the unveiling of “three new nuclear accomplishments in the field of health.”

“We are after our national interests, and we will not accept nuclear or scientific apartheid,” said Rouhani. He added that if Iran is going to progress economically, it needs to maintain its scientific independence, saying, “In the direction of science, knowledge and progress, the Atomic Energy Organization had no choice but to stand on its own feet for its scientific goals and technological achievements.”

But, a day later he makes sweeping and aggressive attacks against his opponents, via Tehran Times:

Rouhani while delivering the speech.
Rouhani while delivering the speech.

 President Hassan Rouhani has said that certain groups should not be allowed to derail the path that the people chose in “Khordad of last year”, a reference to the presidential election of June 2013, in which he won outright victory. “Chanting slogans does not bring honor to the country”, Rouhani said in a ceremony held to mark Social Workers Day on Tuesday.

“In a country like Iran, it is not an “honor” when a large segment of its people live under the poverty line and the country relies on imports for basic foods, he said. “We should tighten our belts and build the country and this is not possible by (composing) poems and chanting slogans… the dignity and greatness of this country is not achieved in this way.” He said “under the pretext of resisting against superpowers, certain groups took advantage of the country’s wealth for their own benefit. In this country, in the name of standing against the superpowers, they emptied the people’s pockets and pillaged the people’s wealth.” 
I have emphasized the important parts.
Ali Akbar Velayati, the adviser to the supreme Leader on foreign affairs and a moderate conservative
Ali Akbar Velayati, the adviser to the supreme Leader on foreign affairs and a moderate conservative
Ali Akbar Velayati has been the most prominent voice among Iranian conservatives to support Rouhani and nuclear talks. He speaks again. Via Al-Monitor:
As the Iranian negotiation team arrived today, May 13, in Vienna to begin the process of drafting a final nuclear deal with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1), Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s foreign policy adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati, has lent his support to the current Iranian negotiators while rejecting the methods of the previous teams.

Velayati is a longtime adviser for Ayatollah Khamenei. He was the foreign minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran from 1981 to 1997 and currently heads the Center for Strategic Research, President Hassan Rouhani’s previous job.

“The nuclear negotiating team has been formed with individuals who have a long history of diplomatic and international work,” Velayati told the Islamic Republic News Agency, which is managed by the administration. “All of the members of the negotiation team were my colleagues when I was at the Foreign Ministry, and I know them well.”

He added, “They all have a long history and experience in negotiations, especially internationally, and they are all skilled individuals. As long as they move within the framework of the principles drawn out by the supreme leader, they will be supported.”

Velayati said, “The negotiations have a foundation whose principles were determined by the supreme leader and the negotiators should negotiate through this framework.” He added that as long as they continue to move in the direction determined by Khamenei, they “should not be weakened” by critics.

“I did not approve of the methods of the previous negotiations,” said Velayati, referring to the team headed by Saeed Jalili from 2007 to 2013. “Negotiations have special rules. You have to have patience in negotiations and listen to what the opposing side says and [then] speak what is rightfully ours. Continuing negotiations and showing patience does not mean that someone is outside the determined framework.”

What Velayati says is very important, because he is a voice representing a movement within the Iranian conservatives who are tired of the current way, and they are the most important sign that there is hope.

What about the other conservatives?

Ali Larijani is the Chairman of the Parliament, and he is a conservative. He is not as moderate as Velayati and not as radical as the extremists. He had this to say, via Al-Monitor:

Larijani said at an open session of parliament on May 12, “The red line for the quality of our nuclear technology based on the fatwa of the supreme leader is the production of a weapon and nothing else.” Larijani said that US officials have lately made “political gestures” about the numbers of Iran’s centrifuges or the limits to Arak’s heavy-water reactor.

Larijani, who has been a vocal supporter of Rouhani, said that Iran’s goal in the negotiations is to address the “unfounded accusations” against Iran’s nuclear program. He called the negotiations “serious” and said that Iran is after “its full rights.” He added that Iranian negotiators “would not relinquish any of its nuclear rights, including enrichment at the level of enrichment at a plant, research and development, without any limitations.”

Now I disagree that Larijani has been a VOCAL supporter of Rouhani, more than anything he has not been a vocal opponent. Of course everyone knows that he wishes Rouhani to succeed, but he is too concerned with satisfying the extremists. He tries to play well by both sides. He’s a bit of hypocrite, I think. Anyway, he’s signaling the dual attitude as well.

The bottom line?

The negotiations are getting close to the final step. Both sides are upping their game. Now it is the most possible that one of the many obstacles will make them collapse. But we always knew that this step would be the hardest. We always knew that the closer to success, the greater the chance of failure.

But we Iranians are very accustomed to hope, even when the odds are against us. So, here’s to hope.

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