Expect a nuclear deal with Iran's Rouhani – but not normal ties with US
Iran's President Rouhani is sincere about a nuclear deal, because the costs of building a nuclear bomb are too high. But demonizing the US is still the linchpin of foreign policy for a certain faction in Tehran. For them, normalization of US relations would mean the regime's end.
Since the hostage crisis 34 years ago, the Iranian regime has made the United States a linchpin of its domestic and international politics. To normalize relations with the US would mean that the regime would have to deprive itself of this linchpin. For a still-powerful faction within the leadership, normalization would spell the end of the regime. They will thus try to oppose it in any way they can.Skip to next paragraph
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But there is a real possibility of a negotiated deal on Iran’s nuclear program.
The key to understanding President Hassan Rouhani’s turnaround at the United Nations – and its contradictions – can be found in Iran’s past behavior. As a whole, Mr. Rouhani’s talks and interviews while visiting New York last month demonstrated once again that, in Iran, foreign policy dictates domestic politics and not vice versa. The regime has always used international crisis to consolidate its domestic control – until the costs outweigh the benefits.
Since the early days of the Iranian revolution, the Iranian regime has always pushed crisis forward to a point beyond which it can no longer continue. The regime then ends up “drinking the poison chalice of defeat” (a term Ayatollah Khomeini used when agreeing to end the war with Iraq).
We saw this in the hostage crisis, in which the ruling clergy refused to make a deal with Jimmy Carter that would have been highly beneficial to the country, and only belatedly made a deal with Ronald Reagan that, apart from providing the international conditions for Iraq’s attack on Iran, cost the country billions of dollars.
The ruling clergy and their Revolutionary Guard allies also refused to end the war with Iraq when the armed forces had the upper hand. Instead, they pushed ahead until they ended up in defeat, destroying a generation in the minefields and costing the country even more billions. According to a European Union estimate, the current nuclear weapons standoff, with its ever tighter sanctions, has cost the country around $700 billion. My estimate – which among other factors includes the “theft” of Iran’s oil and gas from shared fields in the Persian Gulf by despotic regimes in the region – is in the mind-blowing trillions.
Rouhani’s speech at the UN showed strong signs that the regime has found itself in the same situation again. The country will now have to pay a price for its disastrous policies. Rouhani is seeking to stem the damage and change course so the country can move on.
We saw this in the speech, cleared by Iran’s supreme leader, which revealed the deeply embedded fears within the regime.
One of the fears expressed in the speech was the open admission that sanctions have been effective in deeply damaging the economy. Another was the admission that the factor of “time” is working against Iran. This is why Rouhani said that he wants to reach a deal within three to six months.