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'Same old tricks'

by MEA CYRUS in London

31 Oct 2009 04:144 Comments
energy.jpg[ comment ] Iran's purported response to IAEA Director General Mohammed ElBaradei's plan should not have come as a surprise to anyone. True to form, Iranian administrations have always shown some degree of flexibility under pressure, noticeably in 2003 when the whole establishment came to a decision to scuttle the military side of its nuclear program, at least according to a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. Now after the recent controversial presidential election, the regime has its back tightly against the wall once again.

The tactic though has been the same all along: Appear to be saying Yes, when it's really going to be a No in the end. The Yes is to show that the Iranians are listening receptively, to demonstrate that they are stepping away from their previous defiant approach -- but they are only waiting for a "break out" opportunity. "It's the same old tricks," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country holds the European Union's rotating presidency, said at an EU Summit in Brussels. "A back-and-forth for further talks."

The Iranian government wants to test President Barack Obama's resolve. In a recent trip to Iran, everyone was asking me, "How serious a type is this Obama fellow?" On one occasion, when I replied that Obama's presidency has opened a "fast closing window of opportunity," one high-ranking official told me, "You can be sure we'll find a way around him as we did before." He was referring to outmaneuvering President Bush and his tough stance on Iran. In that case, Iran turned soft and even accepted the extra measures put in place by the IAEA. But when all hell broke loose in Afghanistan, and later in Iraq, the Ahmadinejad administration turned the tables on the former American president and his EU allies. That's what it hopes to do again.

One thing is clear though: Iranian politicians are feeling the pressure of sanctions and facing a divided country that is showing little signs of forgiveness for all of their sins in the wake of the June presidential election. The government faces with dread each calendar event that it used as an opportunity to invite people into the streets to shake their iron fists at the United States and its allies. Now the much-touted 13 of Aban anniversary of the U.S. Embassy seizure is one big problematic mess it is probably wishing away.

People's disaffection for the regime and the ongoing protests are further damaging the image of the clerics. The Iranian government has never been this weak internally and that is affecting its posture externally on the nuclear front. For the first time an Iranian president has refused to attend the Tehran media exhibition, apparently afraid of people turning their backs on him, or worse, shouting the popular slogan of the past few months: Where is your 63 percent, liar?

Many observers viewed the Iranian team's quick tacit acceptance of the IAEA plan in Geneva, which the American president referred to as a "constructive" round of talks, as a sign of the pressure on the Supreme Leader and Ahmadinejad. They both know the current situation is very sensitive and one that can spiral downward very easily. That may be one reason that Ahamadinejad and his nuclear team have not been active in the usual ways, by rallying people around "our inalienable nuclear rights." Instead, Ahmadinejad now talks about cooperation and the readiness to trade nuclear fuel.

He even lashed out at his opponent Mir Hossein Mousavi for going public with criticism of his policy. Mousavi said that Ahmadinejad's adventurism has put Iran in a tight spot: It has to make an impossible choice between accepting the IAEA plan, which in Mousavi's view would undermine decades of investment in Iranian scientists, or refuse it, in which case a fresh batch of sanctions would be leveled at it. In response, Ahmadinejad said some commentators who have suddenly become revolutionary figures won't be allowed to stand in the way.

The Iranian government is dragging its feet in meeting the demands of its own people, and also those put to it by the international community by giving mixed messages and pursing contradictory approaches. It's less a matter of buying time than testing whether Obama, like Bush, can be passive and pushed toward inaction. It would be ideal for Tehran if they could play the same game with Obama. The only problem is that Obama does not really talk tough, and so they can't talk tough either. The clerics' tactic is to stretch Obama's patience thin by killing time until he starts talking tough, giving them an opportunity to act accordingly. In this game, Iran's top card is to keep America and others tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to keep Israel in check by Hezbollah and Hamas. Testing means prolonging the process: either you get the best deal out of it, or Obama becomes Bush! The top brass in Tehran knows it's going to be difficult for the new Nobel Peace Laureate to act too tough though. And that's probably the way they're hedging their bets.

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau

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4 Comments

A very selective narrative is offered by this author, lacking two critical details:

- This week at Mashad, President Ahmadinejad did indeed stress cooperation and readiness to trade nuclear fuel. But contrary to what this author has stated, his speech did in fact include references to Iran's nuclear rights, for which he reiterated in no uncertain terms that Iran would not forsake.

- Mir Hossein Mousavi has in fact taken a rejectionist stance against this proposed nuclear deal. So it appears that there may be something approaching a political consensus in Iran for not accepting the proposal. Thus the author's contention of a divided Iran doesn't necessarily match up to the facts, when it comes to the nuclear issue. Has anyone heard any prominent Iranian leader publicly urging the proposal be accepted as is?

It would be revealing for the author to put forward his position on whether Iran should give up its nuclear rights as specified in the NPT. For it is a relatively easy thing to produce a highly selective, disparaging narrative; quite another to offer an objective analysis or a well supported piece of advocacy.

Pirouz / November 1, 2009 3:12 AM

As a peace laureate, it's time Obama brings out Iran's human rights issues out in the open. Obama should never forget that he is dealing with a regime that has people hanging upside down in it's dungeons , young boys and girls raped, and peaceful demonstrations turned into blood baths. Please remember that it is the Green Movement in Iran that has brought this regime to it's knees. So I urge Mr. Obama to stand by the people of Iran and not turn a blind eye to the plight of Iranians who want nothing more than a democratic and secular government.
Long live Iran and long live the friendship of Iranians with the rest of the world.

Ali Katira / November 1, 2009 7:22 PM

I'm afraid President Obama's administration is looking more and more naive and immature in dealing with the cunning theatrics of the coup gov't in Iran!

The mullahs want a distraction from the most important issue that is HURTING them from within, and that is HUMAN RIGHTS. And by distracting the world with their 'nuclear ambition' games, they have successfully pulled the wool over everyone.

It is rather disheartening to see career diplomats and renowned politicians have been made to look like school children, falling for each and every stalling & diversionary tactic!!

It's almost tragic

peyman / November 3, 2009 3:14 AM

Obama could've personalized the Iranian people's struggle in the context of the Civil Rights movement in America, and as such, his humanistic, and all too appropriate, position would no longer be stained by the age-old taint of American inteference and invlovment in Iranian affairs dating back to 1953.

Indeed, with a poingnant reference to the Civil Rights movement or Apartheid in South Africa (another black cause), Obama could've taken the Iranian freedom movement out of the context of US imperialism and premeditated motives, and planted it near his heart and made it personal and authentic to him as a black man, whose cause has faced the tyranny of evil men, racism and injustice all across the world.

Bill Clinton couldn't do this, neither could Kennedy or Carter or any other white US president. But Obama, as a BLACK MAN, had, and still has, the PERFECT opportunity to personalize our plight and make it his own, in the context of civil rights.

And it's my firm belief had he done that, had Obama made our struggle personal to him as a black man, the IRI would have been irreparably crippled and fast. As it is, the IRI's ultimate removal will be a slow grind, thanks to the MONUMENTALLY INEPT leadership from the White House.

It is for these reasons and more that I firmly believe that Obama is no change, and no cause for hope, but rather, the same old politician who will say anything to seize power.

Welcome to Hope and Change, Chicago style...and don't forget my favorite, "Yes we can!" Actually, I think I've come across such vacuous, self-serving farts in the wind from another suspicious source of "hope" and "change," that being mullah Khomeini, circa 1978, when he promised free gas, free electricity, free water, women's rights, a share of oil profits, free bus fare, etc.

But for a fringe hezbollahi crowd, the black revolution was not so much an "Islamic" revolution as it was a populist revolution. The people just didn't want to "miss the boat" on all the fabulous goodies promised by the "Iranian Ghandi," an oft-quoted description of mullah Khomeini by one innocuos Andrew Young, who was Jimmy Carter's ambassador to the United Nations back in 1978!

adsf / November 7, 2009 7:49 PM