A Glimmer of Hope in Iran’s Nuclear Posture, Even Before Rouhani’s Stunner

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The surprise landslide for moderate Hassan Rouhani to the Iranian presidency over the weekend offers no guarantee that the Islamic Republic will soften its position on its problematic nuclear program. But the man who holds ultimate power in the theocracy — Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, whose title is Supreme Leader — is as at least as much a politician as he is a cleric. And as it happens, in a major speech earlier this year, Khamenei laid out what some understood as a road map for a negotiated ending to the nuclear confrontation.

The glimmers of hope shone through the grit and haze that envelops the eastern Iranian city of Mashhad, Khamenei’s hometown, and the place he chose to deliver an address that appeared to declare victory in the conflict over Iran’s intentions for its nuclear program. The occasion was Nowruz, the spring festival Iranians traditionally mark as Persian New Year. Khamenei was addressing a gathering of pilgrims to a local religious shrine, and talking mostly about how Persian year 1391, which had just ended, “was one of the busiest years for our enemies.” Meaning, he added, “the American government.”

(MORE: Iran Election: Reformers Gain Momentum in Final Days of Campaign)

“Yes,” the Supreme Leader acknowledged, referring to the U.S.-led effort to punish Iran for failing to reassure U.N. inspectors that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful, “the sanctions have not been inconsequential. If they are happy about this, let them be happy. After all, the sanctions have had an effect.” But in the circuitous manner of Iranian political discourse, Khamenei then set out on an elaborate case for having pocketed success on the core issue. “It is necessary,” he said, “to predict the enemies’ plans and move a few steps ahead.” His example was the fuel needs of a small research reactor in Tehran, “which produces the important radiopharmaceuticals that our country needs.” When Iran’s clandestine nuclear program was revealed, in 2002, the country could not yet enrich uranium to 20%. Khamenei framed this as a vulnerability the West would use to enslave a proud nation. The plot, however, was foiled: “Iranian capacities blossomed and revealed themselves and we managed to produce what we needed. While they expected that the Islamic Republic would beg them for 20% enriched fuel, the Islamic Republic announced that it had produced 20% enriched uranium inside the country and that it did not need the enemies.”

What does all that mean, exactly? Skeptics sensibly call the Tehran reactor a cover for Iran pushing past the 5% enrichment level required to produce electricity and beginning to climb the ladder that leads to uranium enriched to bomb-grade, around 90%. What worries experts is that Iran has stockpiled nearly enough of the stuff to produce a bomb down the road, if it chooses to sprint for one. That’s the fret-making reality that has galvanized much of the world.

(MORE: Iran’s Upcoming Presidential Election)

But another way to read the narrative is an elaborate declaration of triumph — “We achieved a victory,” he says, in the next paragraph — before quitting the field. That’s how one respected analyst reads the speech.

“I think it was all there. They’re looking for a way out,” says Abbas Milani, director of Iranian studies at Stanford University. “I think the mandate is to declare victory and solve the nuclear issue — after the election,” he added in an interview several weeks before Friday’s ballot.

Other parts of the speech appear more plainly positive. At one point, Khamenei announces an endgame that Western negotiators would almost surely embrace: “If the Americans wanted to resolve the issue, this would be a very simple solution: they could recognize the Iranian nation’s right to enrichment, and in order to address those concerns, they could enforce the regulations of the International Atomic Energy Agency. We were never opposed to the supervision and regulations of the International Atomic Energy Agency.”

Milani, a Tehran native who remains in touch with residents of his homeland, thinks he knows what motivated the expression of flexibility, months before the tsunami for Rouhani. “The economy is hurting too much,” he says. He cites a flurry of anecdotal evidence suggesting the breaking point is near: Iranian businessmen — “people who work downstream in the petrochemical industry” — being asked to accept 10 and 20 cents on the dollar owed for government work, the five to 10 letters he receives each week from Iranian academics. “I’m looking to get out,” the notes say. “You read their résumés,” Milani says. “Incredibly brilliant.”

The evidence of hardship is more than anecdotal. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace calculated that Iran’s nuclear program has cost the country at least $100 billion dollars, including oil revenues and foreign investment lost to sanctions. But Karim Sadjadpour, the Carnegie expert who co-wrote the report — as well as the single best study of Khamenei — doesn’t think the economic pain is enough. “I actually think that there won’t be a deal,” he told TIME, also speaking before the vote. The evidence was the defiant tone of the campaigns run by Khamenei’s allies among the senior clerical ranks approved the field of candidates, which included only one moderate (Rouhani). None suggested Iran should cut a deal with the West over its nuclear program. Khamenei’s preferred candidate, Saeed Jalili, once ran Khamenei’s office. Jalili took a break from negotiating on the nuclear program to campaign for President on a platform that Iran should give up nothing in the talks. “If you listen to Jalili’s themes of resistance, it gives no indication that they’re interested in a compromise,” Sadjadpour says. “And I think for them to get the type of meaningful concessions they want, in terms of sanctions relief, they’ll be forced to make compromises which are too far-reaching. I take what they say at face value, and based on their words, I see little indication to believe that they’re preparing for concessions.”

Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, was also skeptical, going by the record to date of Khamenei’s negotiators. “Their position is fairly extravagant,” he says. Iranian negotiators in March turned away a proposal that would have allowed them to retain enough 20% fuel to run the Tehran reactor. “The price they’ve been asking for is pretty exuberant,” Takeyh says.

For pessimists, evidence certainly abounds. Iran not only is nearing the stockpiles of enriched uranium that Israeli officials have called a “red line”; in 2014, Iran plans to fire up another possible route to a nuclear weapon — a heavy water reactor, capable of producing plutonium. That project, in the central Iran city of Arak, could further strengthen the resolve of nations that threaten to set back Iran’s nuclear ambitions by air strikes before it becomes capable of producing atomic weapons.

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“Whoever considers attacking an active reactor is willing to invite another Chernobyl, and no one wants to do that,” says Amos Yadlin, who, before serving as Israel’s last chief of military intelligence, was among the eight Israeli pilots who destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, while the facility was still under construction.

Rouhani’s surge may be enough to break the diplomatic logjam. Or it might have no obvious impact at all. The regime operates opaquely in the best of times, and justifies its final decision through the state news media, which is the only news many Iranians see, even today. It’s a situation that allows Khamenei to produce whatever reality he prefers. Which is what makes his March 21 speech a source of at least some measure of solace. “Our assumption is that the Americans do not want the nuclear negotiations to end,” Khamenei said. “The Americans do not want the nuclear conflict to be resolved … In the nuclear issue, Iran only wants the world to recognize its right to enrichment … for peaceful purposes … Is this too much to expect?”

If that’s how victory is being made to look like by the hard-liner in charge, it’s a marker worth reaching back to note. On the first day of spring.

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39 comments
Nas Iranpour
Nas Iranpour

Kieth i am an iranian and i don't hate americans because of all the things your goverment and CIA has done to Iran behind closed doors during the past 100 years, before and after the islamists..i think you should care about other countries in the world and the world doesn't go around USA there is more to it! I haven't met iranians who hate americans, just some who work for the regime and the ones who have to be in demonstrations and have to pretend for getting their salleries paid! please don't think US is innocent cause your goverment has hands in many of these tragic happenings around the world but that doesn't say we hate american people. it is sad to hear judgements that are effected by propoganda!!!

btt1943
btt1943

Refrain from anticipating too much from Rowhani. He is now in full control, and likely to be a different person as perceived to be before. Take note. Give him several months to settle down first.    (mtd1943)

Vinayprasad
Vinayprasad

As long as the United States and Israel have "the bombs" and have encircled Iran with "those bombs", Iran has full rights to have one of their own. In fact possess hundreds of them.

When America used the weapons against Japan, not once but two times, vaporizing tens of thousands of innocent Japanese, it was justified. Because they bombed Pearl Harbour. USA nuked Japan with the knowledge that Japan was seeking ways to surrender unconditionally officially. The second nuke was nefariously intended and 100% convictable in the ICC. 

And even today America again will not hesitate to use them if there is another Pearl Harbor. America can use the weapons and annihilate people and others cannot? My foot. A sovereign country like Iran WILL USE the same reasoning like America WITH NO ONES APPROVAL. 

NUCLEAR BOMBING SHOULD BE REPLIED BY NUCLEAR BOMBING. IT SHOULD BE MUTUAL ANNIHILATION.

Ebere Cyprian
Ebere Cyprian

You are nothing but extreemist. ! To hell wit ur movie !we don't need ppl like osama bin ladin again in this world ! And there evil work!

Mohamed Malal Sidibe
Mohamed Malal Sidibe

tout un défit pour le nouveau président et j’espère que tu l'assumera!!! bonne chance.

Encik Kun Zackir
Encik Kun Zackir

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Keith Alan West
Keith Alan West

I never see US protestors buring the Iranian flag...but I have seen them burn ours

VietNam Tibet
VietNam Tibet

Why You Turn Back A fire for Freedom. Pourquoi vous vous détournez d’un feu allumé pour la liberté Why you turn back when the fire is explored ? Why you turn back when you hear Tibet is crying ? Why you turn back when you see a miserable Việt Nam? Why you turn back when you hear the call from Việt Nam ? Pourquoi vous détournez-vous quand vous découvrez le feu ? Pourquoi vous détournez-vous quand vous entendez pleurer le Tibet ? Pourquoi vous détournez-vous quand vous voyez les malheurs du Vietnam ? Pourquoi vous détournez-vous quand vous entendez l’appel venant du Viet Nam ? Dear human in the world ! Did you see the fire is burning ? The fire from the sacred Tibetans , Tibetans on fire A fire for Freedom A fire for Freedom. A fire for Freedom. Cher être humain qui vivez dans ce monde ! Voyiez-vous le feu qui brûle ? Le feu qui émane des religieux tibétains, Des Tibétains en feu. Un feu pour la Liberté Un feu pour la Liberté. Un feu pour La liberté. Please You must turn back seeTibetans on fire A fire for Freedom A fire for Freedom " Today Tibet-Tomorrow Viet Nam " Who knows how many other countries in this world are living in these conditions. S’il vous plaît, tournez vous vers vous mêmes pour prendre conscience, c’est votre devoir « Aujourd’hui le Tibet- demain le Viet Nam » Qui sait combien d’autres pays en ce monde vivent dans ces mêmes conditions. Why you turn back when the fire is explored ? Why you turn back when you hear Tibet is crying ? Why you turn back when you hear the call from Việt Nam ? Why you turn back when you see A fire for Freedom. A fire for Freedom. A fire for Freedom Pourquoi vous détournez-vous quand vous découvrez le feu ? Pourquoi vous détournez-vous quand vous entendez pleurer le Tibet ? Pourquoi vous détournez-vous quand vous voyez les malheurs du Vietnam ? Pourquoi vous détournez-vous quand vous entendez l’appel venant du Viet Nam ? Un feu pour la Liberté. Un feu pour la Liberté. Dear human in the world ! Did you see the fire is burning ? The fire from the sacred Tibetans , Tibetans on fire A fire for Freedom A fire for Freedom. A fire for Freedom LÊ CHÂN

Ebere Cyprian
Ebere Cyprian

What about Ayatullah thing who nearly sent his life in exile! Yet ciuld change his country! ! Ahmedjadeen ! Is. Fanact !

Keith Alan West
Keith Alan West

Well im doing fine here in my own country...PEACE BE WITH U ALL

Bak Waitforit Tash
Bak Waitforit Tash

No body hates anyone, its just a matter of politics and governments,, especially him as a reformist president clearly says that iranian people finally taking a new step closer to peace and democracy. They still do not have full control over choosing the best for themselves. so, dont say they hate you or anyone trying to push you back. thats pathetic !

Zachary Michaels
Zachary Michaels

Because if someone hates you the best thing policy is not to know anything about them.

REITsWeek.com
REITsWeek.com

May this elections bring an end to the nuclear stand off. Iran should get back into the fold of the international community for the good of its people.

CrossWinds
CrossWinds

Their Nuclear weapons program will continue unabated, while they present a moderate attitude towards the West, while making Israel appear to be the hardliners............

..........Revelation 17:2.......

with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.".......

StephenSwain
StephenSwain

One of the challenges in this situation is that both sides (Iran and the USA) consider the other side to be "infidels", or worse, just a step above unwashed ignoramuses.  Iran rests in its ancient history as a great world power, which echoes wafted toward the front of consciousness under the late Shah, but the reality of which was so brutally suppressed by the Savak, his secret police, only to be sort of resurrected under that charming man, the Ayatollah Khomeni.  The Iranians consider Americans a kind of mongrel aggregation of mental chipmunks who eat sometimes with their left hands, who don't respect their betters, and who tolerate all kinds of sexual nastiness right out in the open.  Americans consider the Iranian theocracy to be a bunch of nasty reactionary misogynistic troglodytes who just want to regain their past glory so they can control the world through their proximity to the Strait of Hormuz, wipe out Israel, and impose their brand of Islam on the whole region, then the world.

So, it would seem that this "conversation" hasn't exactly arrived at a very propitious spot for dialing down the level of noise and violence in that region.  This new guy, more power and goodness to him, may have surprised the current Supreme Leader, by being chosen by the voters, who are clearly sick to the teeth of the hardships that a decade of pissing in the soup have brought on them.  And then when you add in the elements of the Russians and their uneasy semi-allies/semi-rivals, the Chinese, continuing to play spoiler (from the POV of the US establishment), and the delighted role of Hezbollah, the "Party of God", you have a perfect mess, as it were.

Wake up Susan Rice.  This is not empowering the downtrodden.  This is about preventing armageddon.  Wake up and throw away your little academic blinders.  These people have thousands of years of practice in tortuous duplicity.  You have not even begun to see how twisted they want to be, yet!

MustBeReallyBored
MustBeReallyBored

Wake up folks, the best thing that can happen here is that Iran will go back to quietly making it's nukes without their president shooting his mouth off and driving oil prices up. Then they'll just as quietly sneak the nuke onto a contaner ship and blow it up in one of our ports, and then we can go do what needs be done to them.

I liked the USSR, we all had MAD, which won't work with these clowns because to get and use one on infidels is "Allahs will". It's not a matter of IF they will use one on the U.S., it's WHEN. Always thought it was retarded to say it's God's will to kill folks, anyone who can read just needs to have a look at the Old Testament, God knows how to get the job done Himself, without any help from Christians, Jews or Muslims....  go figure.

arvay
arvay

This is all a game -- a strategy to punish Iran for thwarting  Israel and our still living and still stupid illusions about "managing" the region.

Iran clearly can achieve all the deterrence it needs by attaining breakout capability without roiling the region like Israel has by deploying nuclear weapons. It's checkmate for Israel and us. Israel has discovered that the main effect of nuclear "security" is MAD. 

Airstrikes will only guarantee that Ian makes and deploys nukes. To uproot the Iranian nuclear program, we'd need a land invasion and occupation. And those have gone so very WELL recently! 

Netanyahu is already nervous that a moderate [resident will make him look like the war-monger he is. War-mongering with American money, national interest and lives, let's be clear. 

This election demonstrates that we can have the friendship of the Iranian people, an advanced, highly educated nation -- if we can stop acting like morons. 

jwarrencollins
jwarrencollins

Uh huh. While we're sanctioning these hostage taking, war mongering, west hating religion freaks, let's not forget Charlie Brown taking a swing at Lucy's football. These backward civilizations seem to think all the world is foolishly forgetful. Not so. Play silly little games with the world and continue to be left out of the future. Nobody cares. 

mrxexon
mrxexon

@CrossWinds 

 If you had an aging superpower (who's raped you once before) and a zionist mutha-land staring you down, what are you going to do? Seeing that both of the aggressors are nuclear armed, it seems that balance can only be restored by two means. 

 1. That the US and Israel give up their nukes to balance the playing field with Iran.

2. That Iran also gets nuclear weapons, and again, the playing field will balance. Balance does bring peace. Imbalance breeds warmongering and bullying. Which we've seen quite a bit of in recent decades.

 Connect the dots of choice. 


x

 

Ryanhaaa
Ryanhaaa

@MustBeReallyBored 


no one care about what you think..

to guote meir dagan... iran is very rational actor.periode.


Mr Martin dempsey, James cleppers, etc.... agreed


mrrons like you won't see there dream becoming a reallty, iran won't give up its nuclear programme .periode.

Ryanhaaa
Ryanhaaa

@arvay


to conduct a ground invasion of iran, US need 500,000 mens according Sam gardiener, lawrence wilkerson.


"unthinkable" said once Michaele flournoy.. 


Robert Gates : " Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined" 


there should be a return to conscription, and I doubt that Americans want to die to keep the nuclear monopoly of israel in ME.


and I do not even talk about the financial cost, iraq has cost 3 000 billions in total.

with 17000 billions debt,  debt I doubt that the united states have the kidney financially strong enough to repeat a landing in Normandy, for a ME version


a nuclear iran if ever, is a far more  likely outcome than an invasion.

Farzadjvpq
Farzadjvpq

@jwarrencollinsHey retardd the hostage taking was in response of CIA/mi5 overthrowing democratic leader and installing brutal dictator in 1953 operation ajax, better study history before making stupid comments, while America shutdown iranian airplane killing 300 innocent peoplee

arvay
arvay

@Ryanhaaa @arvay 

I agree, and I think the Iranians are too smart to deploy actual nukes, since they effectively nullify Israeli nuke with breakout capability. That's why breakout is Bibi's "red line" while actual deployment is ours. That's a yawning gap, not  quibble. 

We're not sending troops into Syria, much less Iran.