While Tehran shouted foul over the threat of added sanctions, it was trying to thread every single loophole it could find from day one: continued construction at the heavy-water plant at Arak (November 27th – Zarif), “legitimate” threats of increasing Uranium enrichment to 20% levels (December 18th – Zarif), plans to install new centrifuges for Uranium enrichment (December 27th – Salehi), an upcoming bill in the Majlis that will “forced” enrichment to 60% levels (December 28th – Majlis), a threat to build a bomb just to “put down Israel” (January 6th – Nabavian) etc… In the meantime, Supreme Leader Khamenei called the US “Satan”, adding that the nuclear negotiations were a sign of the “enmity of America”, pitting the US squarely against “Iran, Iranians, Islam and Muslims”. Statements like these are classic reminders of Khamenei’s pre-Rouhani days in which the US was deemed the epitome of the “arrogant powers”, the leader of a “global dictatorship” and a “tyranny of a corrupt and evil network”. Needless to say, these plans and threats did not help to increase levels of confidence between the P5+1 and Tehran. But Tehran is smart enough to understand that confidence is not a goal in itself. It is a double-edged sword tactic: Building confidence creates the right atmosphere to help close a deal but a lack of confidence can intimidate the West in giving up more in order to salvage the deal.
Where There is a Will…
In his famous “this century is the century of Islam” speech from January 2012, Khamenei shed some insight into his strategy on diplomacy: “The battle is a battle of wills. Any side whose will is stronger has the upper hand“. This concept was echoed by none other than President Rouhani himself in a statement reminiscent of Ahmadinejad summing up the Geneva deal as a sign that the world powers had “surrendered to the Iranian nation’s will“. There’s that word again, “will”. The following uproar by the West forced Rouhani to delete his tweet and replace it with a more neutral and diplomatic tweet about “mutual political will” by the US and Tehran to “rapidly solve the nuclear issue”. Mediators were quick to portray the “surrender” tweet as necessary rhetoric aimed to appease hardliners in Tehran and its removal as proof or Rouhani’s real determination to appease the West. Perhaps the opposite is truer: the “surrender” tweet was a glimpse at the real determination of Rouhani to channel the all-powerful Iranian “will” while its deletion was simply rhetoric necessary to appease the West. Did Iran’s will succeed? In the meantime, the answer is a resounding “yes” judging from the facts that the nuclear deal is definitely sweeter on Iran than on the P5+1, that President Obama has vowed to veto any added sanctions and that EU Chief Ashton is planning a trip to Tehran in the coming weeks. This is classic Iranian diplomacy at its most effective: smile and threaten alternatively while strengthening its will to enhance Iran’s sphere of influence in the future.