As Iran and the P5+1 resume negotiations at the UN in New York over the country’s nuclear program, Trita Parsi flags a new poll of Iranians that “may shed light on the thinking behind Iran’s negotiating position, but also explain why the Rouhani government may think it can live with a no-deal scenario”:
The poll shows that the Iranian public is resistant on two key matters: rolling back the number of operating centrifuges and limiting Iran’s ability to conduct nuclear research. Demands for strict limitations on these issues by the P5+1, the group of six world powers negotiating with Iran, would essentially be deal breakers for the Iranian public: 70 percent oppose dismantling half of Iran’s existing centrifuges and 75 percent oppose limits on Iran’s research activity.
The public’s position on these matters is likely rooted in both a long-standing narrative of the West seeking to keep Iran weak, dependent, and downtrodden by depriving it of access to advanced science, as well as the government’s own rhetoric about nuclear “red lines” on centrifuges and nuclear research. Regardless, the public’s position on these critical variables poses a major challenge for the Rouhani team. It’s not a coincidence that these are the very issues that have caused a deadlock in the talks.
Mitchell Plitnick considers Rouhani’s motivations, noting the political pressures the Iranian president faces from all sides. He also cautions against assuming that Rouhani will agree to a deal for the sake of his political survival:
Rouhani has options and he need not accept a deal that can be easily portrayed by conservatives as surrendering Iran’s independent nuclear program. This issue is particularly fraught in Iran. It has been a point of national pride that Iran has refused to bend to Western diktats on its nuclear program that are widely regarded as biased. That estimate is not an unfair one, given the history of this dispute and the long-standing Western standards for Iran that include a prohibition on Iran enriching uranium itself. That created a dependency on other countries, most notably Russia, which is subject to the whims of international politics. Other countries are not held to such a standard, a point that is deeply held across the Iranian political spectrum.
Rouhani has wisely chosen not to challenge the public on this point, but rather commit himself to finding an agreement that would end sanctions while maintaining Iran’s nuclear independence, albeit under an international inspection regime. This is far from an impossible dream. The Arms Control Association published a policy brief last month with a very reasonable outline for just such a plan which would satisfy the needs of both Iran and the P5+1.
(Photo: By Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)