Myth of Iran’s “Hard-Liners” and Kerry’s Serial Concessions in Vienna

Omid Memarian, the Iranian journalist, has penned a piece for Politico expressing a belief that Iran’s Supreme Leader is sincerely pursuing an honest deal with the West. There’s no reason to doubt Mr. Memarian’s sincerity of belief. He has been detained by the Iranian regime for his journalism, especially as it relates to women’s issues. There is no reason to believe he harbors any love for those he calls “hard-liners” within the Iranian regime.

Nevertheless, we should look with care at how much of the apparent debate within Iran’s government about this deal is for show. There are two audiences for such a show, and Mr. Memarian is among the first: the Iranian population. The hope that a deal will be carved out that will end sanctions and isolation for Iran is indeed a fervent one in Teheran, as demonstrated by the crowds dancing in the streets at the announcement of the framework in April. As Mr. Memarian says, even the Iranian regime must give some attention to the dangers of revolt. Going through the motions of negotiations, so long as the final failure could be blamed upon Western intransigence, allows the regime to appear to be heeding the will of the people. The displays of irritation by hard-liners only serve to underline the impression that the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, is working for the people against the hard-liner faction.

The other audience for this performance, if it is a performance, would be Western powers. Insofar as the regime can convey an impression of having severe internal resistance from a powerful hard-line faction, it can command more concessions at the negotiating table. Just because of the public shouting and accusations of treason on television, Iranian negotiators can say that they simply don’t have room to budge. They are presented as being only barely able to keep the talks open at all.

And therefore the framework’s agreements changed instantly, and the new demands for concessions become the position off of which the negotiators cannot budge. There is no reason to think this will be the final round of this play. Any “final” agreement can be revised in just the same way.

More, the mere fact that the negotiations have drawn on for 18 months does not imply that the Supreme Leader is serious about them. Iran has much to gain from delays. For one thing, its centrifuges are still turning. It is estimated that they already have enough low enriched uranium to produce eight warheads once they decide to move to full production.   The longer the talks delayed, the more enriched uranium is available. That means more potential nuclear weapons, which at the minimum means that Iran has a stronger negotiating position at the end of 18 months than it had at the beginning of those months. This is a process that only continues.

Furthermore, research and acquisition efforts are also ongoing into potential delivery systems for nuclear bombs. Already Kiev is within range of proven systems, even should Iran launch only from its own territory and not from neighboring Iraq, over which it has obtained some dominion. Between the Westward expansion of its regional hegemony and the increased capacity of its deployable weapons, the past 18 months have been a fruitful time for Iran in bringing Europe under its nuclear umbrella.

We should be wary of any deal with Iran that does not address these realities in the strongest terms. The United States should also be taking steps in Iraq and the Levant to make certain that there is no possibility of these places serving as artillery parks for Iranian ballistic missiles. While it is easy to understand the honest hopes of the Iranian people, the fact is that we do not have reason to trust that Iran’s government is operating from sincere or good intent. A very wary eye should be cast on any potential deal, as well as any further delays.