Tehran’s Zigzag Diplomacy Pays Off

zigzag Zigzaging Away

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.

Earlier articles:




Iran’s Diplomatic Duality in the Gulf

zarif_gulf Here we go again: After wow-ing the P5+1’s politicians and signing the Geneva nuclear deal, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is focusing Iran’s charm offensive much closer to home.

Readers will recall that one of the main obstacles standing in the way of that deal was the opposition of the Gulf front. The Saudis voiced loud concerns regarding the deal and the way it was achieved – as their troubled relationship with Iran is well known. They went as far as declining to join the UN Security Council, less than 24 hours after it was supposed to stand for election, because of what it views as the UN’s passive approach to Iran (as well as Syria and the Palestinians).

But The Saudis are not the only ones in the region who are concerned about the deal – it remains a focal point of worry in other Gulf states as well. While the US acts to calm them down, Tehran is working overtime to smooth ruffled feathers.

“The solution to this issue serves the interests of all countries in the region. It is not at the expense of any state in the region” Zarif stated after meeting with his Kuwaiti counterpart earlier this month (other stops in the gulf included, as this piece by the BBC states, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates).

But try as he may, Zarif’s soothing words cannot hide another aspect of Tehran’s interaction with its neighbors, one I’ve referred to in the past: the establishment of and support for subversion and espionage cells by the IRGC and its subsidiaries in these very same countries.

These are not activities expected to go away any time soon, a fact which Saudi Arabia – particularly – is probably well aware (and wary) of. Riyadh knows all too well that behind Zarif’s seductive smile lies a more sinister intention, one in which Iran pushes its agenda through pleasant diplomacy under the guise of acting in “the interests of all countries in the region.”

That’s code for “the Gulf is ours, just play along.” While the P5+1 decided to play along, Zarif has his work cut out for him with the Gulf states. They’re less easily impressed by English speakers than the P5+1.

Iranian Diplomatic Abuse Increases Visa Restrictions



Following President Rouhani’s election and promotion of his agenda to lead meaningful change in Tehran’s foreign policy, a quick thaw in its international relations might have been expected.

Iran’s not there yet.

During the past three months five countries have hardened their visa regulations with Iran, making it more difficult to visit that country. According to this recent article in Farsi, Georgia http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/08/12/georgia-stops-irans-revolving-diplomatic-door/, Oman http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/09/30/with-friends-like-these-iranian-diplomacy-in-the-middle-east-part-1/, Indonesia, Egypt http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/10/08/with-friends-like-these-iranian-diplomacy-in-the-middle-east-part-2/ and now Malaysia seem unconvinced by Rouhani’s moderate rhetoric; instead of opening doors with Iran, they’re slamming them shut.

A few of the mentioned (and other) countries have enforced more stringent visa rules because of diplomatic and other abuses by Iranians on their soil. Some want to pressure Iran to alter its behavior, while others want to stop the flow of refugees from that country.

Of course, the Iranians are trying to put a brave face on the continuing deterioration in relations with countries from their core group, the Non-Aligned Movement (Tehran is group chair, a position it will hold for the next two years). Indeed, Tehran recently announced http://www.tasnimnews.com/English/Home/Single/159110 it is considering lifting visa requirements for certain states. Doesn’t seem like this plan will wash for the time being.

(We wonder whether the Iranians have an ulterior motive behind the move – in addition to boosting tourism – such as bringing in more foreign nationals to promote its darker activities http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/09/02/iranian-embassies-recruit-latin-american-students/.)

These developments might seem inconsequential at a time when Tehran is focusing on nuclear negotiations with the . But think again: since his election, Rouhani has been quite vocal about reintegrating Iran into the international community and improving relations with Iran’s neighbors – especially Saudi Arabia.P5+1

The Iranian president clearly has his work cut out for him. He definitely won’t attain his goal as long as the Revolutionary Guards, Ministry of Intelligence and Ministry of Foreign Affairs continue abusing the tools of diplomacy and fueling world suspicions.