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October 7, 2019 9:49 am

Iran is Talking Tough But Leaving the Door Open for Negotiations

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A combination of file photos showing French President Emmanuel Macron attending a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 23, 2017, and Iran President Hassan Rouhani looking on at the Campidoglio palace in Rome, Italy, January 25, 2016. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/Alessandro Bianchi/File Photos. – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei continues to take a hardline stance regarding anything related to the management of the nuclear crisis with the West. After the failure of attempts by French President Emmanuel Macron, which “nearly” led to a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian supreme leader stated at a meeting of the leaders of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that Iran would continue with its policy of reducing the level of its commitments to the nuclear deal.

“The policy of ‘maximum pressure’ on Iran as a way to force it to compromise has been a resounding failure,” Khamenei told the IRGC leaders. He went on to state that “the policy of reducing the obligations in the nuclear field is within the field of responsibility of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), and it must implement it in all seriousness, in an exact, comprehensive manner in accordance with government regulations until an anticipated result is achieved. Without any doubt, the organization will stand up to this objective.”

Khamenei ridiculed the regional and international policy of the United States in the region, saying that it had “failed and was defeated” after spending a large sum of money, and that it would continue to fail in the future. He added that the United States begged through “its European friends” for help to convince the Iranian president to negotiate with Trump on the periphery of the United Nations General Assembly, but failed. In the same way, the Iranian leader continued, the American policy of “maximum pressure” was also expected to fail.

In this context, Khamenei defined the sanctions on the Iranian oil sector as a “temporary problem” and stated that the correct action would turn this short-term tactical problem into a “strategic advantage in the long term.” In other words, the national budget would no longer depend on oil income.

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Khamenei praised the activities of the IRGC in dealing with Iran’s situation, especially its role in leading the struggle against what he termed “the cruel front that the arrogant and evil powers have openly led against the Revolutionary Guard.” However, he added that the IRGC needed to increase its efforts and develop its capabilities. In recent weeks, senior officials in Iran’s political and military leadership have stressed the importance of the IRGC “resistance front” and its integration within general Iranian strategy in the region.

Following the supreme leader’s statements, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) hurried to publish a notification in which it announced the continued reduction of Iran’s commitment to the nuclear deal as the other signatories of the agreement, it said, were not upholding their obligations. The notification stated, “We are sure that the experts and officers in the international arena will be surprised by the achievements of the commission on the issue of uranium enrichment to 20 percent. They will also be surprised by the new achievements of Iranian experts in the field of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”

AEOI spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi warned on Oct. 6, 2019, that Iran’s decision to scale back its commitments was made after a year of “strategic patience” in the wake of the US administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear accord. Kamalvandi added that Iran would be ready to resume honoring the nuclear deal in its entirety as soon as the other signatories did the same.

To date, Iran has taken three steps with regard to its commitments to the nuclear agreement: raising the level of enrichment from 3.67 percent to 4.5 percent, acquiring reserves of enriched uranium above the limit of 300 kg permitted under the JCPOA and expanding research and development of various projects (mostly centrifuges) where the nuclear deal had imposed limitations.

For its next step, which is expected to occur on Nov. 7, Iran my raise the level of enrichment to above 20 percent. This move will be sharply criticized by the other signatories of the agreement.

Diplomatic room to maneuver

Meanwhile, despite Khamenei’s aggressive tone, it would appear that he is still allowing room to maneuver within Iran’s diplomatic processes. Primarily, President Rouhani and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Jafad Zarif have not completely blocked continued contacts with the West as a means to return the United States to the nuclear agreement. Iran can be very encouraged by the diplomatic reception it received during the UNGA, especially by the “rush” of European leaders to meet with Rouhani on the fringes of the Assembly.

The embrace came despite some of the signatories to the deal (Germany, France and the United Kingdom) asserting that Iran was behind the Sept. 14, 2019, attack on energy installations in Saudi Arabia. Iran feels popular and is continuing its efforts to deepen the gulf between the United States and Europe and to renew negotiations to annul the sanctions or any other objective close to this.

President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif are continuing to leave the door to negotiations open. Zarif called to improve President Macron’s “four-point plan” and to add several changes so that in the end, it will reflect Iran’s policies and standpoints. According to him, Iran’s effort to advance this objective will continue through several channels. In the meantime, Rouhani praised the efforts of the French president and accused the United States of putting up obstacles and sending contradictory messages.

“I think it’s hard to believe a country that claims that it is willing to negotiate, but in the same breath, it talks about increasing sanctions. Therefore, I have made ‘the right decision’ not to meet with Trump,” said Rouhani. The Iranian president emphasized that the diplomatic channel would remain open if the rights of Iran are respected.

A smokescreen?

At the same time, over the past few weeks there have been increasing calls from senior religious figures in Iran and the IRGC leadership for the destruction of the State of Israel. This is similar to statements issued by the supreme leader in 2016 that Israel would cease to exist in another 25 years. It is possible that this round of criticism against Israel serves a smokescreen while negotiations are taking place between Iran and the United States to enable Iran’s return to the nuclear deal.

In any case, by Nov. 7 a further reduction is expected in Iran’s commitment to the nuclear agreement (including the enrichment of uranium to 20 percent and even higher). There is a window of opportunity for diplomacy and European efforts to try what has failed so far—to promise economic compensation to Iran for the American sanctions or alternatively to bring Washington back to the negotiating table.

Iran’s oppositional regional policy (against Israel and Saudi Arabia, in Yemen, Iraq and Syria) will apparently make it harder for Europe and the United States to advance the negotiations with Iran. However, in the past, Europe has shown that it is prepared to ignore repeated violations of human rights in Iran, such as its role in terror activities (including within European territory!), to uphold the nuclear agreement, which eventually leads to investment and economic cooperation with Iran. Iran is well aware of this and uses it and US weakness to achieve maximum profit to renew negotiations regarding the nuclear agreement.

“Today, the nuclear deal is in the intensive care unit.”

In this regard, Abbas Aragchi, Iranian deputy foreign minister and one of the patrons of the nuclear deal, stated at a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the opening of the German embassy in Tehran that “today the nuclear deal is in the intensive care unit.” He added that to save it, cooperation was necessary among the P5+1 states. This could “bring down the walls of American sanctions and one-sided policies, which have become its weapon against independent countries.”

According to him, Iran, along with the European countries, China, and Russia, are attempting to reach a balanced agreement through negotiations, but because of America’s one-sided policies, this balance has been violated and lost.

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