Ayatollah Khamenei gives Iran nuclear talks unprecedented legitimacy
Iran's supreme leader appears much more involved in current nuclear negotiations, meaning that any deal struck will not face resistance back in Iran. But he's also likely to press for a harder line.
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Inside many government circles, the coming talks are viewed as a moment of truth for the country's Islamic regime. They're being compared to a domestically controversial decision in 1988 by Khamenei's predecessor – the Islamic Republic's founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – to drink the so-called “poison” of accepting a UN Security Council resolution ending Iran's eight-year war with Iraq.Skip to next paragraph
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“When Ayatollah Khomeini decided to end the [Iran-Iraq] war, he drank the 'poison,'” says a senior government official, speaking from Tehran on condition of anonymity. “For the sake of the system, the regime will maybe decide again to drink the 'poison,'" the official says.
At the same time, analysts counter that Iran's ruling elite remains highly wary that the US and Europe will aim to achieve fundamental changes beyond the nuclear dossier. If demands from the “P5+1” powers – the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany – go beyond the nuclear issue to encompass policies considered intrinsic to Tehran's regional security interests, Khamenei will not support them, in the view of the Tehran-based analyst.
"Khamenei believes the issue at hand isn't, fundamentally, the nuclear dossier," says the analyst. "He thinks that even if Iran agreed to the nuclear dossier, the West would then start pressuring Iran on its support for Syria,” says the Tehran-based analyst.
Iran, US both optimistic about May 23 talks
While Iran has insisted it will never give up its nuclear program – which it says is for peaceful purposes – Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, told reporters Sunday the Islamic Republic hopes to move “several steps forward” at the May 23 nuclear talks between Tehran and the P5+1 in Baghdad.
"In Istanbul, we reached the beginning of the end regarding the nuclear subject,” Mr. Jalili said, according to a report by Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency. “If we took one step forward in Istanbul, then surely ... we will move several steps forward in Baghdad.”
In Washington, analysts remain cautiously optimistic about the extent of any nuclear compromises Iranian negotiators will finally agree to make. They say Iran's governing regime will remain ideologically opposed to the United States, and will want compromises the “P5+1” may not want to give.
“There are indications Iran could be preparing its elite and the population for some sort of deal. But the Iranian side will also be looking for some of the sanctions to be rolled back, and that could be more difficult,” says Alireza Nader, a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation in Virginia.
“There are a lot of steps to be taken, and the process could really face hurdles along each of those steps. Looking at the Baghdad negotiations, I don't think you should expect a 'final solution,'” Mr. Nader says.