• The world powers are now experiencing what it means to negotiate with Persian theocrats. All is negotiable; nothing is ever finally decided. Words never commit one to action.

  • Iran demands right to implement a phased plan of centrifuge expansion to 150,000 over a period of 15 years.

  • Iran demands that no sanctions are to be leveled against it because of alleged support for terrorism or human rights violations.

  • Iran demands that it must be free to explore all future advances in nuclear enrichment technology.

The world powers are now experiencing what it means to negotiate with Persian theocrats. All is negotiable; nothing is ever finally decided. Words never commit one to action. Changing circumstances vitiate the substance of any prior commitment, leaving the door open to additional demands. Although the Islamic Republic insists that it be recognized as a normal member of the international community, it will continue to behave as if it is not bound by global norms.

Despite Iran's apparent acceptance of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known as the "Iran Deal," after the document's submission to the relevant state bureaucracies, these institutions have agreed to it only on a conditional basis. The JCPOA was approved by Iran's Consultative Assembly (Majlis), the Council of Guardians, the Supreme National Security Council and by the Office of the Leader. These seeming approvals can tempt those who desire the implementation of the nuclear deal to assume falsely that the bellicose rhetoric of Iran's leaders and the continued opposition to the JCPOA are just face-saving turns of phrase.

This same shallow mode of thinking assumes that last week's launch of an experimental ballistic missile by Iran was a bone thrown in the direction of hardliners who oppose the nuclear deal. Iran's leaders seem to have calculated that the missile test would not invite a reassessment by the P5+1 signatories, despite the fact that the launch was a clear violation of the JCPOA. Iran's leaders were proven correct: both Russia and China refused to condemn the missile test at the United Nations.

The publication of the letter of October 21 by Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to Iran's President, Hassan Rouhani, leaves little doubt that Iran is now demanding fundamental changes to the JCPOA. The conditions spelled out by the Leader will derail the timetable for the document's implementation probably beyond President Obama's term of office. In part, Tehran most likely wants to embarrass the U.S. and President Obama personally by denying him a legacy-related political victory, just as Tehran apparently wants to embarrass them by arresting yet another American hostage two weeks ago, American-Iranian business executive, Siamak Namazi. The hostage count of Americans now imprisoned in Iran is now five: Namazi, Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, Pastor Saeed Abedini, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati and Robert Levinson.

Khamenei's letter indicates that he will not approve implementation of the JCPOA unless the following conditions are met:

  1. The U.S. and European nations must draft a letter promising to end all possibility of "sanctions snapback."
  2. The West must lift -- not "suspend" -- all sanctions immediately and permanently.
  3. The International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) must issue an irreversible declaration ending any future investigation into alleged military dimensions of Iran's nuclear programs.
  4. Iran will do nothing to alter the heavy water (plutonium) reactor at Arak until the signatories of the JCPOA produce an alternative usage plan.
  5. Iran will not begin shipping out of country any of its enriched uranium unless the signatories agree to deliver uranium to Iran (albeit at a lower level of enrichment).
  6. Iran demands right to implement a phased plan of centrifuge expansion to 150,000 over a period of 15 years.
  7. No sanctions are to be leveled against Iran because of alleged support for terrorism or human rights violations.
  8. Iran must be free to explore all future advances in nuclear enrichment technology.

Iran's leadership seems to have decided it will be able to endure a modified version of its "resistance economy," and that widening fissures among the P5+1 signatories of the JCPOA can be exploited to end its isolation. Rouhani, with Khamenei's endorsement, evidently calculates that Iran's economy will improve with or without the nuclear deal. Since taking office, Rouhani's cabinet has attempted to institute economic reforms designed to make Iran less vulnerable to sanctions. Rouhani, for instance, has dispensed with former President Ahmadinejad's populist polices of extensive cash grants and subsidies to provinces in rural Iran. Additionally, Rouhani has re-empowered the Budget Control Office, which had been politically sidelined by Ahmadinejad. Rouhani has also reduced somewhat the galloping inflation of the Ahmadinejad era, which had reached about 30% [1] by appointing professionally qualified fiscal officers to monitor adherence to the government's five-year plan. He also has sought to reduce corruption by discontinuing the practice of appointing unqualified cronies from the Basij militia and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) -- a practice routine in Ahmadinejad's administrations.[2] Under his presidency, however, executions have skyrocketed to a degree that Amnesty International called "staggering," especially in view of trials it calls "blatantly unfair." In just the first months of 2015, accord to Amnesty International, nearly 700 people have been put to death.

The proponents of this so-called "resistance economy" in Iran seem to believe the country will be aided by increased trade with Russia and China and investment from other countries -- including West European ones -- that no longer feel bound by the U.S.-orchestrated sanctions regime. One prominent Iranian-born economist estimates that sanctions account for only about one-fifth of the downturn in Iran's economy during the last few years.[3] A more significant factor in the economy's downturn may be the continued decline in the price of oil, which accounts for the largest share of Iran's exports and hard currency earnings. Perhaps the change felt most keenly by the individual Iranian citizen has been the impact of the plummeting decline in the purchasing power of the Rial, which lost about 80% against the dollar in the last years of the Ahmadinejad presidency.[4]

It is probably safe to assume that the Western negotiators of the JCPOA have been introduced to the Middle East bazaar method of negotiation: After an agreement has been concluded, it becomes a basis for further demands.

If Iran succeeds in garnering the benefits of even partial relief of sanctions, and if it attracts additional foreign investment as well as increased international commerce, it will ignore the JCPOA altogether. The only improbable question is: Will Iran walk away before or after picking up its $150 billion?

Western negotiators of the Iran deal, who sat across the table from Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (right), have been introduced to the Middle East bazaar method of negotiation: After an agreement has been concluded, it becomes a basis for further demands. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (left) evidently calculates that Iran's economy will improve with or without the nuclear deal.

Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, where he was a Military Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Israel.


[1] House of Commons Library: Briefing Paper- Iran 25 October 2015. p.3.

[2] Iran Pulse Al-Monitor: Iran Section re Ahmadinejad fiscal practices. See also Brandeis Professor Habibi's article: "The Economic Legacy of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

[3] Ala Hashami-Haeri, "Iran's Economy Will Continue to Grow With or Without a Nuclear Deal." Dr. Bijan Khajehpour of the Vienna-based Atieh International Consultancy informed his audience at Washington D.C.'s Woodrow Wilson Center that Iran's economy is now set to grow by 4%-5% even if U.S. sanctions are not lifted. He estimates that if Iran does receive the approximate 120 billion dollars of held capital that the economy could grow by 7%-8%. See also Ala Hashami-Haeri's NIAC 12 June 2015 Web Page Article: "Deal or No Deal-Iran's Economy Will Continue to Grow."

[4] House of Commons Library: Briefing Paper-Iran 25 October 2015. p.4.

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Related Topics:  Iran, Iranian Nuclear Program
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