February 11 2013
This commentary appeared on wilsoncenter.org on February 11, 2013.
Negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program are set to re-start in February, but Iran's previous foot dragging in agreeing to a time and venue for the negotiations has been vexing for U.S. and allied diplomats. Iranian behavior is particularly puzzling given the urgency of resolving the nuclear crisis peacefully and alleviating pressure on an increasingly vulnerable Iranian economy. What is Tehran thinking?
Some analysts have suggested that Tehran is divided internally and cannot make a decision. This is unlikely. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has consolidated power since the 2009 presidential election and makes decisions for the entire country. If Khamenei wants negotiations to proceed, then Iran's negotiators will respond accordingly. Rather, Khamenei is hesitant to engage the P5+1 (the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany) due to his ideological distrust of the United States. Specifically, he may view the P5+1 offer for Iran to stop uranium enrichment to 20 percent, ship out its highly enriched uranium, and close down the underground Fordo facility in return for a consideration of 4 sanctions relief as not only a trap but also a prelude to defeat for himself and his regime. Khamenei may be reluctant to make a deal, but mounting pressures from a broad section of the political elite and Iranian society may ultimately force his hand and even loosen his grip on power.