It must be hard for the regime to explain direct talks with the nemesis, the United States, to its own people.
In a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who was recently on a visit to Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump responded to a journalist’s question that he is ready at any time to meet with the Iranian leadership “without preconditions.”*
One day later, however, his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, announced three conditions that would need to be fulfilled before President Trump would meet with the Iranian leadership. First, “the Iranians [must] demonstrate a commitment to make fundamental changes in how they treat their own people”; second, that they “reduce their malign behavior”; and third, that they “can agree that it's worthwhile to enter into a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation.”
In Iran, the response was varied. The major general of the Revolutionary Guard, Mohammad Ali Jafari, said that "Iran is not North Korea" and that "the Iranian people did not give a mandate to those responsible to negotiate with the U.S."** The deputy speaker of parliament, Ali Motahari, advises against negotiations with the U.S. as a "humiliation." An adviser to President Hassan Rouhani said that the U.S. must return to the nuclear deal negotiated under President Obama with the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, and that there should be no new sanctions against Iran.
The question now is under what conditions the negotiations would take place. It would be difficult for the Islamic regime to find arguments intended for its own people in order to justify direct talks with its nemesis, the "Great Satan," the United States. For almost 40 years, the slogans "Death to America" and "Destruction of Israel" were perceived in the outside world as a trademark of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The timing of negotiations with the U.S. is currently terrible. Iran is weakened both domestically as well as abroad, and can therefore not enter into negotiations from a position of strength.
Unemployment protests that have been ongoing since December 2017, rising income inequality, nationwide workers’ strikes, the rising devaluation of the Iranian currency, the rial, against the U.S. dollar, and rising food prices are clear signs that the current regime in Iran is hardly able to provide the necessary remedies. The drought in Khuzestan and Isfahan has led to massive protests by the locals. On top of this, the regime has lost religious and socio-political legitimacy in the eyes of many of its supporters due to widespread corruption and abuse of power, and thus it no longer enjoys the respect of the population.
From the foreign policy perspective, Iran has suffered severe setbacks through its military activities in the Middle East. In May 2018, the Israeli air force destroyed 44 military bases of the Revolutionary Guard in Syria, killing several members of the force. The rapprochement between Israel and Russia has put Iran under massive pressure to withdraw from Syria in order to prevent not only the threat to Israel from neighboring border areas, but also Hezbollah's support in Lebanon.
A Country in a Hopeless Position
Recent parliamentary elections in Iraq have shown that militias and political figures formerly supported by Iran, such as Muqtada al-Sadr, have lost their sympathies for the Islamic Republic of Iran, and are now opposed to Iran's presence in Shiite territories. Also, the rapprochement between Muqtada al-Sadr and the Saudi royal family shows a turnaround of his previous policy towards Iran.
U.S. sanctions against Iran, announced by President Trump on May 8, 2018, will take effect August 6 and November 4. These sanctions prohibit Iran from any and every economic activity, particularly in the oil sector – its main source of income – and put the country in a desperate position, which will ultimately affect not the government, but the entire population of Iran.
Due to the country's economic situation and the pending U.S. sanctions against Iran, as well as the associated reactions from European companies, to no longer want to invest in Iran, political conflicts within the national leadership are being openly carried out to pillory the guilty parties publicly. This time, it's President Rouhani's turn.
A group of 80 officials in the Iranian parliament has drafted a petition to demand that President Rouhani should account for his politico-economic measures before parliament. Some parliamentarians have written to Rouhani to request that he shuffle his cabinet. The head of the judiciary, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi***, announced that corruption charges are being brought against the brother of President Rouhani, as well as against the minister of commerce, Mehdi Jahangiri****.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is faced with the ruins of its politics, both internally and externally. The question of under which conditions the Iranian authorities would be willing to negotiate with their nemesis, the United States, and which conditions are to be set by the U.S., cannot yet be answered.
Oman As an Intermediary
One thing is certain, however: the Islamic Republic will negotiate with the United States, because this is about their basic survival, and there are nearly no alternatives. The visit by Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Oman, and Oman's foreign minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah’s recent trip to the United States, indicate that Oman is mediating preliminary talks with Alawi's counterpart, Pompeo, on possible negotiations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States. Alawi is expected to arrive in Tehran shortly to present the results of his talks in Washington.
As was the case with North Korea, President Trump will act as a businessman, ignoring respect for human rights and the implementation of democratic principles in Iran, and thus, the hopes of many Iranians, who under certain circumstances would consider negotiations with the U.S. as an opportunity to advance the democratization process in Iran, will be destroyed.
Editor’s note: * The actual quote by Trump is: “No preconditions.”
Editor’s note: ** The actual quote by Jafari is: “The Iranian people will not allow their officials to meet and hold talks with the great Satan.”
Editor’s note: *** Ejehi is currently the judiciary spokesman, not the head of the judiciary.
Editor’s note: **** Jahangiri is currently the first vice chairman of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture. Iran does not currently have a minister of commerce. Iran’s Ministry of Commerce was merged into Iran’s Ministry of Industry, Mine and Trade in 2011.