Is Khamenei Done With The Nuclear Talks?

by Dish Staff

The Supreme Leader has always been pessimistic about the negotiations between Tehran and Washington, but in a statement yesterday, he called them “useless”:

Speaking to Foreign Ministry officials, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised Iranian negotiators who have conducted the talks with the United States and five other world powers, and he did not call for abandoning them. But he appeared to give succor to Iranian hard-liners who are adamantly opposed to discussions that could lead to a scaling back of Iran’s nuclear program, which they insist is intended for peaceful purposes only. The remarks came two days after President Hassan Rouhani stirred controversy in Iran by calling opponents of the talks “cowards” and telling them to go to hell. Rouhani, considered a moderate, has been pushing for an agreement that would end the crippling economic sanctions against Iran. Khamenei has consistently been far more skeptical about the talks.

Reza Haghighatnejad highlights the apparent split between Khamenei and Rouhani:

In sharp contrast with Khamenei’s address earlier today, Rouhani has talked about the impact of eased sanctions, the practicalities of working with the U.S. to combat Islamic State insurgents in Iraq, the greater opportunities to tackle world issues.  It’s not only the nuclear program that the world needs to talk about, Rouhani’s camp suggests, and last year’s historic phone call between Rouhani and U.S. president Barack Obama was a symbol Western media–and Rouhani—gladly embraced. Rouhani has even sought out public opinion within Iran, commissioning a poll earlier this year to identify just what the ordinary Iranian public thought about increased contact with the West.

At the same time, the administration has been keen to show itself as tough, practical and resolute: Javad Zarif has said one of the most important outcomes of talks has been an American shift: U.S. officials now have a clearer understanding of what they can expect from Iran. According to Zarif, he and chief negotiator Abbas Araghchi have ensured that no new sanctions have been imposed over the last year—a view dismissed today by Khamenei in front of the world’s most influential diplomats. “They say these sanctions aren’t new, but actually they are,” Khamenei said, which proved that talks over sanctions have led to nothing.

Walter Russell Mead suspects that a “grand bargain” with Iran is a dangerous fantasy, regardless of our apparently aligned interests in Iraq:

[T]he perception that a breakthrough with Iran is just around the corner will encourage the President to slight or sacrifice the interests of traditional U.S. allies in the region. It will strengthen the hand of those in the Administration who tell the President that he should stay the course in the Middle East, pursuing a ‘grand bargain’ with Iran, and supporting ‘moderate Islamists’ and pro-Muslim Brotherhood governments in places like Qatar and Turkey, even if that alienates Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt.

If America takes this course, expect regional tensions to rise, rather than relax, even if things calm down in Baghdad. It’s not clear that the President’s goal of a grand bargain with Iran is within reach, or that it will deliver the kind of stability he hopes for. For one thing, it’s possible that the Iranians are less interested in reaching a pragmatic and mutually beneficial relationship with Washington than in using Obama’s hunger for a transformative and redeeming diplomatic success to lure him onto a risky and ultimately disastrous course.