A few nights ago, I was watching the round-table program after the news. It is among the few live programs in which the host (Morteza Heydari) has, for some reason, been given permission to ask direct (and at times rather robust) questions. It is nothing like BBC'c Hard Talk, of course, but I guess you can call it the Islamic Republic's Larry King Live. The guests are always regime's officials. The other night's guests: Aghamohammadi, member of the national security council, and Aghazadeh, the head of the Iranian nuclear energy organization. A few days before that, there was another program with Sirus Nasseri (the head of the negotiation team) and a member of the parliament's national security committee as guests.
As you might know, Iran has been involved in intense negotiations with three European countries (Germany, France, and Britain) for the past four months, during which the Uranium enrichment was suspended; and now that the talks have reached a critical point, evidently with no concrete results one way or the other, Iran is threatening to resume the enrichment process. Some serious and not so serious words have been exchanged through the press by both sides, and the question remains: what next? In this post I am going to discuss the answer to this question with respect to what I heard, and didn't hear, from such officials in this show.
Some Facts and Quotes
Sirus Nasseri (Head of the Iranian negotiation team):
Contrary to Mr. Nasseri's claim, the terms have indeed been disclosed. Look here [PDF file].
Gholamreza Aghazadeh (Head of the Iranian Nuclear Energy Organization):
Ali Aghamohammadi (Spokesman for Iran's Supreme National Security Council):
Reading Between The Lines
Whether these officials are telling the whole truth remains in doubt, although they are undoubtedly also saying things that are not part of the truth. In my opinion, one thing is clear; that they think they have got the popular support, and they are planning to cash in from this support as much as possible, while it lasts. I won't be suprised if they start massive demonstrations in the streets (preferably one that is not tied with the Friday prayers to add to its authenticity).
They seem to be hoping, that such display of public support would ruin any plans by the US and Europe to mount pressure on Iran. Afterall, it has been demonstrated time and again that the Islamic regime has never had any concerns about the well-being of the country per se. Economic hardship brought on by any sanctions, or possible military conflict, woud only harm people and the country's development. None of this is a primary concern as far as the Islamic Republic is concerned. Internal instability arising from public dissatisfaction seems to be their greatest concern, and Western nations' greatest hope for change in Iran.
Given all this, one could infer that the Islamic regime is indeed bracing for a serious show down. They claim, very openly, that they have made preparations for all sorts of eventuality; and as Sirus Nasseri said, unlike two years ago, they now have contigency plans for all outcomes. They seem to be trying to convey this message to the Europeans (and indirectly to the U.S.), that during the time the talks have been going on, they have had time to make preparations of all sorts. Gaining popular support was the last weapon they needed in their arsenal before they could resume their nuclear activities. They are constantly saying that "people are willing to make sacrifices" to hold on to what is now their source of national pride. If things go the way they seem to be going now, the best bad-case scenario is Iran being put under heavy sactions by the UN security council, and the worst-case scenario would of course be a military confrontation.
However, there is another possible side to this story. Aghamohammadi almost let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, when he said: "The Europeans know they made a mistake by leading us to make this decision. Whatever hard stance they take, with the popular support, it will only result in more and more people showing up at the election polls during next month's presidential elections." With Rafsanjani now officially in the race, the only missing ingredient will be a high voter turn-out. A fabricated show-down, with frightening prospects, is just what is needed to give him the edge he needs as a so-called pragmatist who has the power to resolve such sensitive issues.
Whether the whole thing is a masquerade or for real, the Europeans might in fact have made a wrong move, giving IR the internal boost it needs. Yet again, if they are willing to turn a blind eye on one of their own MP's being harassed by the police in Iran just because they don't want to jeopardize their lucrative contracts, they would certainly not mind giving them an easy ride during the elections, charging them (or the people of Iran rather) for their political generocity with yet more lucrative contracts.