Iran’s Agenda: Why Tehran Plays Hard to Get on Nuclear Diplomacy

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BEHROUZ MEHRI / AFP / Getty Images

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addresses lawmakers on the county's economic situation during a session at the parliament in Tehran on Jan. 16, 2013. Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) arrived in Tehran to try resolve long-running differences with Iran over its controversial nuclear programme.

“A decade of war in now ending,” President Barack Obama told Americans on Monday, vowing to “show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully – not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.” That was widely taken as a reference to Iran, against which Obama has said he would be willing to order military action should that become necessary to stop Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons. But while the President’s inaugural speech underscored his preference for diplomacy, prospects for a breakthrough in negotiations with Iran remain gloomy. Indeed, Western diplomats have been struggling, since last December, to even get Tehran even to commit to a time and place for a new round of nuclear talks they had hoped to hold on Jan. 15.

“We proposed concrete dates and a venue in December,” Reuters was told by Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton who coordinates negotiations between Iran and the major powers. “Since then, we have been very surprised to see Iran come back to us again and again with new pre-conditions on the modalities of the talks, for example by changing the venue and delaying their responses.”

Despite Iranians’ suffering under the burden of ever-tightening Western sanctions, analysts believe Tehran has been evading a new round of nuclear talks with the P5+1 — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — because it believes Western powers don’t plan to offer substantially more than the package rejected by Iran at the previous round of talks in Moscow last June.

(MORE: Five Tips for President Obama on Nuclear Negotiations with Iran)

“There’s been a gulf between the expectations of the two sides until now,” says Reza Marashi, a former State Department official now research director at the National Iranian-American Council. “Iran is demanding an end to sanctions as their starting point without clearly putting concessions of their own over 20% enrichment and the Fordow underground enrichment facility on the table, while the U.S. is demanding that Iran stop 20% enrichment, ship out its stockpile and shutter Fordow without offering substantial sanctions relief in exchange. I’m seeing a willingness expressed in conversations in Tehran to discuss halting 20% enrichment, shipping out stockpiles and sealing Fordow, but only in exchange for sanctions relief and acknowledgement of Iran’s right to enrich up to 3.5% on its own soil.”

Although Iran’s efforts to learn the contents of the next P5+1 offer ahead of another round of talks have been rebuffed, Marashi says signals from Russia and China have persuaded Tehran that it will not include substantial sanctions relief. “The fact that Russia has publicly demanded that the U.S. show greater flexibility is a sign that the package being offered by the P5+1 is unlikely to interest Iran,” he explains, “which may be why they’re holding off on committing to new talks for fear of being blamed for their failure. Iran won’t be able to stay away from the negotiating table beyond February or March, though, because Russia and China wouldn’t accept that and would turn up the pressure. Still, if the basic positions being offered by the two sides doesn’t change, the result may simply be more talking for talking’s sake.”

Iran is playing hard to get because its decision makers reportedly believe Iran faces no imminent threat of military action, and are confident in their ability to absorb the impact of further sanctions. Moreover, some of the voices around Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei claim that the West won’t offer a deal that recognizes Iran’s nuclear rights, meaning that talks inevitably fail and tee up further escalations of pressure.

Tehran’s negotiating outlook was recently outlined in an Iranian journal by Mahdi Mohammadi, a key architect of the Islamic Republic’s strategy for handling the nuclear talks. Mohammadi wrote that Iran won’t, on principle, change its position in response to escalating sanctions or military threats; it will only negotiate on an equal footing and on the basis of a substantial quid-pro-quo.

(MORE: New Sanctions, Old Postures as U.S.-Israel-Iran Stalemate Drags On)

“Iran is getting ready for a long-term game,” Mohammadi wrote, warning against “any delusional thinking about the possibility of putting a rapid end to Iran’s strategic contention with the United States.” That, he said, has prompted Iran “to brace itself for long-term pressures because it is most improbable in strategic terms that the United States will be able to replace its current dual-track strategy [combining sanctions pressure with talks] with a new one in the foreseeable future. Consequently, when Iran knows that the game will continue for long and is aware that the United States will not easily give up its pressure strategy, it would be too illogical and even childish for Tehran to sell all its assets at low price.”

In this schema, 20% enrichment may be an “asset” to be traded, but Mohammadi insisted that recognition of Iran’s right to low-grade enrichment and an end to sanctions are the basis for a deal. “It is impossible for Washington to drag Iran to a negotiation table where there is no balance between what is taken and what is given.”

Former State Department Non-Proliferation official Mark Fitzpatrick parsed Mohammadi’s comments for al-Monitor, noting that “It’s a mis-perception that Iran is on the ropes and … sanctions have driven them to the negotiating table… [Iran] doesn’t want to be seen hurting so bad. And they don’t want want to show over-eagerness to come  to the table.” But, he added the concessions Iran is demanding up front are beyond what the Obama Administration will be willing to grant, and he feared that that Iran’s reluctance to talk will strengthen calls for a military response.

The impasse has prompted considerable debate in Washington over whether the Obama administration should make the Iranians a more tempting offer on sanctions relief in exchange for verifiable curbs on its nuclear work. That might make Iran more likely to make a deal, goes the argument, but the risk would be that if Tehran declined to accept such an offer, pressure could rise to end diplomatic engagement and move towards confrontation.

(MORE: Israel Pushes Washington to Give Iran an Ultimatum)

In parallel, an unprecedented public debate is under way at the highest policy making levels in Tehran over the value of direct talks with the Washington, reports Farideh Farhi, a specialist on Iranian domestic politics at the University of Hawaii. Khamenei has not allowed bilateral talks with U.S. officials on the sidelines of the P5+1 talks since October 2009, she noted, and he’s unlikely to countenance direct talks before he can show that the U.S. has publicly taken positions that allow for a negotiated settlement on terms acceptable to Iran. That means the focus will remain on the elusive search for a breakthrough in the P5+1 talks — albeit a limited one.

“Khamenei can be coaxed into compromise — one that concedes aspects of the program but not its entirety,” wrote former State Department Iran adviser Ray Takeyh, now at the Council on Foreign Relations, last month. “At this juncture, the Islamic Republic’s contentious and divided system can only countenance a limited deal, one that addresses the hard edges of its program. Khamenei is too invested in his enmities and too attached to his nuclear apparatus to accept its dismantlement. [But] an accord that curtails Iran’s production of 20 percent enriched uranium can still reduce tensions and potentially pave the way for further arms-control measures… and [put] some indispensable time back on the clock.”

The question facing the U.S. and its allies, Takeyh explained, is “how to transact a limited deal while maintaining the leverage of the sanctions” — precisely the opposite of Iran’s goal of cutting a limited deal in order to neutralize the impact of sanctions. Still, Takeyh argued, “Khamenei may not want a deal with America, but increasingly he cannot afford not to have one. Ironically, a more circumscribed agreement that allows him to sustain the essential character of his nuclear program and his slogans of resistance may be his path out of the dilemma of his own creation.”

The game of brinkmanship over talks will take on an added urgency with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu having warned at the U.N. last year that Iran would by the coming summer cross his ‘red line’ of stockpiling sufficient enriched uranium that, if reprocessed, could create a single bomb. Meanwhile, Iran will hold a presidential election for the successor to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June, making high-profile nuclear talks with the West more politically risky for Tehran from late spring until the end of summer.

(MORE: For Israel, the Problem with Iran Diplomacy Is the Prospect of Nuclear Compromise)

Still, says Marashi, both Obama and Khamenei have an interest in playing the long game and avoiding a crisis, even if they can’t agree on the terms of a limited deal — or simply get together at the negotiating table. Last year, for example, Tehran raised eyebrows by unilaterally and without fanfare converting a substantial portion of its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium into fuel plates that can’t easily be converted into bomb materiel — thereby easing anxiety over the steady growth of a stockpile of material that could be reprocessed into weapons-grade materiel.

So, even if the two sides are unable to reach even a limited agreement to resolve the nuclear standoff, both may be inclined to seek ways of finding sufficient common ground to prevent a complete breakdown in diplomacy.

30 comments
RezaTavakolian
RezaTavakolian

At the time of the so called Tunisia revolution the world had no idea that all these event in Tunisia and later in Libya and Yemen, and Syria and the rest of Arab and Islamic world is connected and orchestrated from out side of this small north African nation and is a part of much bigger Zionists plan to dominate the Middle East and Africa and eventually the world. ((NEW WORLD ORDER)). Zionists that already controlled the U.S. government and U.S. House and Senate and controlled most of the European government and their legislative powers eyed on the rest of the world starting with Middle east and Africa and specially oil and gas rich north Africa. Zionists used two main oil and gas rich dictator and their bank account to finance their master plan. Zionists Used Qatar and Saudi Arabian dictators money and their Sunni sect of interpretation of Islam. It is known in the west as Salafi/ Jihadi/ Wahhabi sect movement to dominate and control the Tunisian government. Qatari and Saudi then with the help of Turkish government trained over 20'000 Arab speaking solder of fortune (( TERRORISTS)) and invaded Libya. At that time Qatar transported around 18'000 ton of military gears to Benghazi in Libya. They quickly with the support of NATO and helping hand from U.S. military and C.I.A. arranged a U.N security council resolution and overrun the Qaddafi Libyan ruler's army and executed Qaddafi himself. Then they set up a Salafi Islamist government in Libya. Next nation on their list was Syria. They invaded Syria from Turkey and northern Lebanon with 20'000 now battle tested Salafi terrorists. And that was exactly two years ago. But at that time the Syrian government and the Syrian ally such as Iran, and Russian and Chines realized the Zionist plan and from the beginning helped the Syrian government and blocked the U.N security council resolution and consequently prevented the repeating of the Libyan scenario. Even though the Syrian infrastructure been destroyed by the Salafi terrorists but they failed to establish another Salafi government in Syria. On other front the Salafi were able to replace the government of Egypt with a Salafi Islamist government headed by Morse Salafi Brotherhood party. The transition in Egypt was relatively easy like in Tunisia because the previous regime in Tunisia and Egypt were western backed regime and Zionists replaced them rather quickly. At the moment the Salafi/ Jihadi/ Wahhabi are in control of the government of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt and trying hard to replace the Syrian government. If they succeed in Syria then they are going to try to replace the government of U.A.E. and then Jordan and Yemen and at the end even Saudi regime itself because Saudi are not Salafi but they are Wahhabi Sunni sect But do not forget the ultimate goal of all these transition planned by Zionists in the Middle East and north Africa is to divide the oil and gas rich nations to smaller and more manageable state. In 1982 the Hebrew language magazine called KIVUNIM ( DIRECTION) The official organ of the Zionist world organization, published an important article ,, THE STRATEGY FOR ISRAEL IN THE NINETEEN EIGHTIES,, The plan is based on the division of the whole area into small states and the dissolution of all the existing Arab state. The aim is to make an imperial Israel into a world power. NOW YOU KNOW THE REST OF THE STORY.

Ronnie_Matrix
Ronnie_Matrix

@TIME @TIMEWorld The U.S.and the western allies should play the same ball game, it's the only way they can handle Iran's nuclear ambitions

HerbertKaine
HerbertKaine

Iran has no reason to compromise, because its goals are to fuse radical Shia Islam with dreams of empire resembling the ancient Parthian and Sassanian empires, when Persia stretched from India to Egypt and was a superpower. What Iran sees in America is an overextended nation that doesnt respond to the murder of its servicemen, whether it was recently in Benghazi, less recently with hundreds of American soldiers murdered by Iranian made IEDS in Iraq/Afghanistan, US Marines killed in Beirut in 1982 by Iran, or Iranian killing of Americna servicemen in 1996 at Khobar towers. They see an American president who loathes a strong America, a  nominee for Sec of Defense who doesnt think that Iran is an enemy of the US despite the fact that they murder American soldiers, so they think we are a joke. The sanctions are porous, with Germany, Austria, Turkey and India supplying Iran with everything that they need. Finally, our President is surrounded by intelligentsia like Tony Karon, Roger Cohen, who might believe that a nuclear armed Iran would be beneficial to the world by deterring the US, the same way as intelligentsia of an earlier era made sure that the Soviet Union had nukes to balance the US. Thus, if I were an Iranian, I would think the US is a joke

EarthView
EarthView like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@HerbertKaine You have no idea what you are talking about. Iran has not attacked another country for 300 years and is not expansionist at all. You are confusing Iran with Al Qaeda, its mortal enemy. Why would Iran need more land or people? Use your brain if you have any. It is floating on oil and gas already and doesn't want to have anything to do with the crazy Sunnis.

Yes, the U.S. has become a joke. But, it still is the biggest bully in the world. Iran has no interest in nukes, but it won't give up its peaceful nuclear program to satisfy the lunatic Netanyahu or the incompetent U.S. Administration.

HerbertKaine
HerbertKaine

@EarthView@HerbertKaineYou have no idea what you are talking about. Iran has not attacked another country for 300 years and is not expansionist at all... read some history. Iran had plenty of conflicts with the Ottoman Empire. In terms of being expansionist, what is Iran doing in Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Sierra Leone, Lebanon, Bahrain and Iraq?


EarthView
EarthView like.author.displayName 1 Like

@HerbertKaine @EarthView You are just repeating the nonsense that you have heard about Iran "killing our boys" in Iraq. Do you know anything about the facts? There was zero evidence for it. Whenever stupid Americans couldn't find who killed their soldiers they blamed Iran. I am not sure if they print URL's here. But, Google for an LA Times article, entitled, "IRAQ: The elusive Iranian weapons." Read it and stop talking nonsense.

Vinayprasad
Vinayprasad

Its a question of time, US and its allies get kicked out of the ME altogether. They are the single source of all problems in the ME starting from scuttling / dodging the two state solution. In fact the two state solution was never an agenda at all. Only lip service to fool the world people at large. And that is why those guys will be kicked out.

HerbertKaine
HerbertKaine

@EarthView @HerbertKaine Iran has already attacked the US-In Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan. And I trust the US Congress more than I trust someone who doesnt even use his name

EarthView
EarthView like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@HerbertKaine @EarthView To repeat, you are talking nonsense. The last foreign adventure by Iran was around 1740. Iran had some wars with its neighbors but has not started a war. So, you are going to blame the war with Iraq on Iran too?

As for what Iran is doing in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Iraq  (not Argentina or Bahrain), it is normal business activites. It is the U.S. that always sets up bases in other countries and tries to rule them. Iran has an auto assembly plant, a bicycle factory and a milk processing plant in Venezuela. It is also building oil tankers for Venezuela. You have problems with that? Stop listening to Fox News and the stupid Congress. You think Iran whose defense budget is 1/72 of the "official" U.S. defense budget is going to attack the United States? You are totally delusional.

mdnazemi
mdnazemi

@rezamarashi @tonykaron Iran plays hardball because America doesn't offer anything.

mdnazemi
mdnazemi

@TonyKaron @timeworld/Just returned from Iran. Intelligentsia consensus is Obama can't deliver. Israel controls congress on Iran policy

Xvor88
Xvor88 like.author.displayName 1 Like

@TonyKaron excellent article

RezaTavakolian
RezaTavakolian like.author.displayName 1 Like

IRAN CAN  NEGOTIATE  WITH THE U.S. ON ALMOST EVERYTHING, BUT IRANIAN NATIONAL SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF THE IRANIAN NUCLEAR DETERRENCE CAPABILITY IS NOT NEGOTIABLE.   Iranian people paid heavy price and sacrificed a lot to be at this historical juncture. It seems that Iranian government do not learned from the history and repeating the mistake of Iraqi leader Saddam and the Libyan leader Qaddafi. Their wrong dictatorial decision cost them their life and the destruction of their nation. Iranian foreign minister is totally wrong by saying that Iranian people have no right to decide about the fate of the most important matter related to the their national security and pretending that the future of the Iranian nuclear deterrence capability already determined by the Iranian leader. Fortunately he is not speaking for the majority of the Iranian nation. He and the current Iranian government is trying hard to polish the Zionists/ western apple. ( Iranian have different word for it calling it Khyya Mali ). The current Iranian government is on its last leg and all those people such as Iranian foreign minister will be out of their office in few months and he probably paving the way to leave for the U.S. and want to appease the Zionists. ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN IS NOT A DICTATORSHIP and the current Iranian leader which is a second Islamic leader in Iran is not a dictator. He was elected to oversee and guide the Iranian authority at any time which his intervention is necessary for the good of nation. The best example was his intervention to keep the current Iranian intelligence minster in place at a moment of time that foreign government and some governmental authority within Iran tried to cover up their embezzlement and western plot against the nation and because of his wise decision they failed. Even though majority of the Iranian people including myself have ultimate respect and admiration for the Iranian leader, but he is just a man and I have no doubt that he is agree with me that the final decision on the Iranian national security including the Iranian nuclear deterrence capability rest with great Iranian nation and not with one man or even a government. Even the enemies of the Islamic republic acknowledging this undisputed fact that majority of the Iranian demand a nuclear deterrence to defend the Iranian nation from foreign interventionist government that eyed on Iran and her ownership of the major source of world energy. The reality is that no matter what Iranian foreign minister said, or who is or will be in office, Iranian authority have no other choice but go nuclear at any costs. Iranian nation is under nuclear threat from the Zionist regime and some of its western allies and Iranian people have right of self defense which override any other obligation which previous Iranian regime signed under NPT .On the other hand United States under the second term of Obama administration seeking a closer relation with Iran on all issues concerning the future of the  Middle East contrary to the U.S. militaristic policies of Zionists and Neo-Con Republican administration of the past.  This is a golden opportunity for Iran to negotiate and engage with U.S. However Iran should make it clear that its national security and its nuclear deterrence capability is non negotiable.   SAYING OTHERWISE IS A BIG LIES AND COUNTERPRODUCTIVE

EarthView
EarthView like.author.displayName 1 Like

@RezaTavakolian It is not clear what you are talking about. You partially contradict yourself. For one thing, break up you long paragraph to smaller paragraphs. Nobody has the patience to read such a long-winded paragraph. 

Salehi is not leaving and it does not matter if he does. Iran has been completely consistent in its dealings with the West. I agree that Iran is not a dictatorship. But, you fail to understand that there is nothing for Iran to negotiate. Read my separate comment. The U.S. is not ready to offer ANYTHING to Iran. So, this farce will continue for years. Iran has to learn to live with the stupid sanctions for decades just like Cuba. As for going "nuclear," you are just dreaming. Iran is not going to build nuclear bombs since they are totally useless in today's world.

gwgw_12
gwgw_12

@octavianasr @TonyKaron

lrozen
lrozen

Short answer: #Iran RT @RezaAsadi RT @nukes_of_hazard: Great piece by @TonyKaron on what's holding up nuclear talks. http://t.co/3wCOWtZ2

EarthView
EarthView like.author.displayName 1 Like

Obama is just delusional if he thinks that Iran is going to cave in to pressure. Besides, Obama cannot offer very much relief from sanctions that are mostly codified in laws that Congress will never repeal since it is controlled almost 100% by Israel. So, these negotiations are totally useless. No matter how much Iran gives in, it won't get anything from the United States.

Fortunately, Iran has found ways to get around the sanctions. It actually has no problems selling its oil to Asian customers and even now about 70 European refineries still use Iranian oil. The value of the Iranian currency has gone down, but that does not stop the forward progress of Iranian industrial development. Iran is now almost self-sufficient in most areas. It also uses barter and informal currency exchanges to do commerce. Besides, it avoids using the dollar and the Euro in transactions, thereby contributing to the increase irrelevance of the U.S. and EU in Iranian affairs.

merllo37
merllo37

@TIME @timeworld US. Most not give up. Let's have more congregations to try to persuade Iran.

DUSH100
DUSH100

@TIME @TIMEWorld FCI and LIC ado are going to counduct same day on3-2-13. how can students attend the both the exams. please look this topic

A5MA19
A5MA19

@TIME @timeworld @HaxraH why we feel they aren't allowed weapons is beyond me. At least the countries has balls and actually aren't bullied

HaxraH
HaxraH

@acakhtar @time @timeworld Iran are bad ass. That's why they fear lol

boulderfinfan
boulderfinfan

The problem is Israel lobby in the US. Israel doesn't want any type of enrichment in Iran. I say to Israel then get ready for a nuclear Iran. 

olyech
olyech

@TIME @TIMEWorld those chaps needs more beans&posho, than bullets period!

lrozen
lrozen

Great piece RT @TonyKaron Iran’s Agenda: Why Tehran Plays Hard to Get on Nuclear Diplomacy http://t.co/3wCOWtZ2 via @TIMEWorld

TonyKaron
TonyKaron

@lrozen Thanks, but it owes a huge debt to your excellent reporting on this issue!

Vinayprasad
Vinayprasad like.author.displayName 1 Like

Two times in the article, it is mentioned that if diplomacy fails, there will be pressure for a military confrontation. Now here are some consequences that may be people have not thought seriously enough while expressing their views propagating a military confrontation with Iran. Here they are - a) The American, European, Chinese, Indian, man on the street will pay $15 for a gallon of gasoline. No end in sight for lowering in prices.  Strategic reserves wont help. Chaos/hyperinflation all over the world. Job losses and bad news abound. American Spring will happen. President of the United States will be overthrown. Alternatively the President who is also Commander in Chief will seize power and declare himself as a military dictator (this is not a fantasy, its highly possible) b) A million Osama bin Ladens will spawn from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh, Saudi and other countries and the Americans will spend the rest of their careers defending themselves/ fighting against these guys which will be futile. c) The people of Egypt will force to close the Suez canal. (the "western allies" will not be able to force open the Suez. America too will be on tenterhooks because China will have expansion program in the Pacific. California has to be defended). Europe will choke due to the Suez closure. Taking a cue from a closed Suez canal, Russia (near monopoly supplier) will hike the price of natural gas exports to Europe by 10 times. They have done this to Ukraine earlier, though the earlier sale price was very small. Russia will force Azerbaijan to close the Baku Tiblisi Ceyhan pipeline. Europe will be dead. Russia will invade Europe. d) Iran's retaliation will be terrible. Besides inflicting destruction on petroleum assets in the ME, it could shoot down hundreds of enemy passenger civilian airliners in the ME. Even today daily there are over 30 American passenger airliners passing over its airspace. And America has already set the ball rolling in 1988. e) Regarding viability & sustainability of Israel, you judge. f) Knock Knock does anybody recall what is the Fiscal Cliff?

Any talk of war with Iran is A BIG BIG UNASHAMED BLUFF, BOGUS, HUMBUG. It is only promoted by armchair journalists, fraudsters, conmasters, some politicians. Not by the western military. There will be no war with Iran even in the future. Even if Iran develops the bombs. Iran might already have the bombs - from next door Pakistan. Which is why there THERE IS NO ATTACK EVEN TODAY. The world is too much entwined / interdependent in trade and technology. Plus smaller countries like Iran are not afraid of "world powers" anymore. Lastly, even if by the remotest chance if Israel defies the world and launches an attack, It will be the United States, which will bomb Israeli (yes Israeli) military infrastructure moments before the strike, because this will be the safest way to avoid a world war. The world will learn to live with a nuclear Iran.

j.villain1
j.villain1 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Wow, fact free reporting. Iran is well within it's rights under the NPT that both it and the US signed. Iran isn't going to cave because all signs are that they have done nothing wrong and the US is just looking for a transparent  excuse to bomb at the behest of Israel. Read this to get up to speed.

http://armscontrollaw.com/2013/01/22/yousaf-butt-pretty-in-pink-the-parchin-preoccupation-paradox/