By Meir Javedanfar
ran and the P5+1 countries (United States, Britain, France, China and Russia and Germany) will meet on 20 January for another round of talks over Iran’s nuclear programme. Many will be wondering whether the talks will produce a breakthrough but the chances of that happening are low. The reason is simple: in the short term, the rewards of compromise by either side are less than the cost.
This is especially true when it comes to Iran. Yes, the Stuxnet worm did cause damage. However, the 1,000 centrifuges that had to be removed because of it were not sufficient to stop Iran’s nuclear programme in its tracks. The same goes for the assassination and attempted assassination of two Iranian nuclear scientists last November. So why should Ali Khamenei stop? Why should he give up one of the biggest leverages he has in Iran’s relations with the west?
Khamenei has other things to focus on, such as his relations with the clergy in Qom. In what was his fourth trip to the city of Qom after his historic 10-day visit to the city in early November 2010, the Iranian supreme leader visited the residence of Grand Ayatollah Malekouti. On his other visits, he also visited the homes of Ayatollahs Makarem Shirazi, Nouri Hamedani, Sobhani, Sheyberi Zanjani and Amoli. All the aforementioned ayatollahs visited Khamenei during his first 10-day trip to Qom. Khamenei’s visit to their homes was his way of showing appreciation while reciprocating their visit.
This seems to be very important to the supreme leader, for a number of reasons. An important one is that improved relations with clergy in Qom allow Khamenei to expand his support base. This is a logical move. Every day Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is creating more fights and splits within the regime, especially with his steadfast support for Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. The latter’s recent controversial call for the school of “Iranian Islam” has infuriated the clergy. But that’s not all.
The duo are now infuriating sworn loyalists, such as the ultra-conservative, messianic journalist and author Fatemeh Rajabi, the wife of Ahmadinejad’s close ally Gholam Hossein Elham. The woman who penned the book Ahmadinejad: Miracle of Third Millennium is now openly describing the injection of Iran and Iranian nationalism into Islam as “seditious”. In an angry op-ed on January 1 in the Tehran-based Mashreq News, she likened the danger posed by such thinking to that of the reformists, whom she accuses of wanting regime change.
Ahmadinejad is unlikely to stop his support for the controversial Mashaei, to whom he is related. This means the splits and the infighting are going to continue, especially since reports regarding Mashaei’s presidential ambitions are increasing. For now, such developments are creating more dissent — far more than Khamenei’s nuclear policies. This is why he is unlikely to change course on 20 January in Istanbul. He has other priorities to attend to.
The same goes for the P5+1. It is unlikely that this group, headed by the US, will change course on 20 January. As far as Barack Obama is concerned, he has managed to impose the toughest sanctions to date against the Islamic republic — far more than Bush did. He also has the Russians on board. Much to the delight of the US and Israel, Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree banning the sale of S-300 missiles defence system to Iran. This leaves Iran’s nuclear installations dangerously exposed to missile and aerial attacks by the west. Some have interpreted this as Russia’s way of telling Iran that “all options remain on the table”.
Any new unilateral compromise shown to Iran could weaken Obama, especially at home. The Republicans would tear him apart in Congress as they would love to have an excuse to accuse Obama of being too soft. Many Democrats are also likely to be against such a move, especially after Obama’s nuclear fuel swap offer, which was turned down by Khamenei’s government.
While the economy remains the major issue, Obama and other leaders of the P5+1 are likely to be more focused on garnering support for their policies on that issue. Iran can wait. When it comes to the waiting game, the west has a bigger staying power, until such time that Iran gets close to making a bomb. According to the latest estimate from Meir Dagan, former head of the Mossad, that will be “by the middle of the decade, maybe earlier — by 2014”. THE GUARDIAN