Iran could squash the nuclear bomb deal

Jonathan Power

Almost there, but the negotiations that have been going on between the Iran, America, the EU, China and Russia, over Iranian nuclear program is not yet a done deal. The Iranians or the Americans could still shoot it down. There are legislators in the American Congress who would love to do this if they could.  It is the Iranians, however, who could most swiftly bring it down, if they or the supreme leader were convinced that it was not a fair deal.

Iran is not exactly a dictatorship. Voters, parliament and the president carry weight. However when it comes to the big decisions, Khamenei, the supreme leader, decides.

Khamenei has said there is no guarantee of a final deal with the world powers over its nuclear program. Iran’s liberally minded president. Hassan Rouhani has also said that unless sanctions were lifted on the day of implementation Iran would not sign up.

Already Khamenei is unhappy with the Americans. After the accord was publicized following the marathon negotiations in Geneva, he complained on Twitter that only hours following the talks, the Americans were putting forward explanations contrary to what was agreed.

To understand where Khamenei is coming from we have to separate the question whether Iran has been trying to build a bomb from the tactics Iran has used in its negotiations with the West and this after decades of American and EU hostility.

Khamenei would take the same stance if the issue and the negotiations were about, for example, the role of the militias it supports in Lebanon or Gaza. Or for that matter its support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria. What the Iranians are negotiating about is not so much the bomb, but about their pride and their position in the world and their right to become a thriving economic and political power inured from sanctions or military threats. Sanctions were imposed before the nuclear issue came to the fore.

For Iran the nuclear program has been first and foremost about creating leverage so that Iran can regain the sort of respect that it once enjoyed. Second, it has been about making sure that Iran is not found short when its oil reserves start to shrink.

For Iran, negotiations have been a game of hide and seek, played in front of reflecting mirrors. It has not been about actually building a bomb.

I don’t believe that Iran’s intention is to build a nuclear bomb. It is to frighten the West. It is to forestall what it believes is the Americans attempt at “regime change”.

In February 2013, Khamenei told a visiting delegation, “We do not want to make nuclear weapons. Not because America is upset over this, but because it’s our own belief. We believe that nuclear weapons are a crime against humanity and must not be produced.”

Khamenei has spoken a number of times about how nuclear weapons go against the principles of Islam.

I believe him, not out of naivety, but because I know Iran is a deeply religious society and that the ayatollahs take Islamic teaching earnestly.

Iran doesn’t go easily to war. Saddam Hussein inflicted war on Iran for no good reason, other than to demonstrate the muscle of a dictator. Iran had never sought to build up a deterrent against Iraq. The US and the UK supported Saddam and provided him with weapons. Akbar Ganji, an Iranian journalist and dissident wrote in Foreign Affairs that Khamenei “is not a crazy, irrational or reckless zealot searching for an opportunity for aggression”.

Khamenei considers science and progress to be “Western civilization’s truth”. He is a great reader of Western novels and considers Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” “to be the best novel that has been written in history”.

He is an intellectual who enjoys the company of other intellectuals including secular ones. Although once as a young man he was attracted to the writings of the Egyptian, Sayyid Qutb, whose severe Islamic ideology inspired Osama bin Laden. Khamenei has since moderated his opinions.

It would be wise to listen to Khamenei. His belief that sanctions should be immediately lifted once an accord is signed is reasonable and correct. He has made it clear that if the final negotiations go well and the deal is made Iran could use the experience and negotiate over other differences. This would be a major step to clearing up the mess in the Middle East.