The week in Iran was marked by the contrast of advance toward talks on a comprehensive nuclear agreement and Tehran’s tough talk denouncing US dishonesty and claiming the Islamic Republic’s triumph over American weakness.
Both Iran and the 5+1 Powers confirmed that opening discussing on a comprehensive deal, following November’s interim agreement, will begin on February 18 in Vienna.
Meanwhile, Tehran and the International Atomic Energy Agency made a notable advance on Sunday over inspections and supervision, agreeing a new 7-point programme that included oversight of the Arak heavy-water nuclear reactor complex, a uranium mine, and a laser factory.
The practical steps were overshadowed, however, by a campaign of denunciation of the US with promises to strike hard if America attacked Iran. The Revolutionary Guards said a response would be “without boundaries” and MPs criticized a “satanic, world-eating” US, as the Supreme Leader expressed his pessimism over the “very rude” statements of American officials.
While the Guards may be looking to limit the nuclear talks, the Supreme Leader’s declaration was more tactical: buttressing Iran’s negotiating position ahead of the Vienna talks. Ayatollah Khamenei continued to give his support to President Rouhani, who challenged his “illiterate” critics” — even as the Supreme Leader told the President of his doubts that a deal can be reached.
Nevertheless, Western media gave a helping hand to the tough-talk propaganda, featuring headlines such as “Iran Warships Sailing Towards US Borders“. After Secretary of State John Kerry handed Iran its PR opportunity with talk last month of “military options still on the table”, American officials were quieter last week. However, US-based commentators tried to maintain pressure on Tehran by insisting — wrongly — that Iran has to dismantle its nuclear facilities under the interim nuclear agreement.
Rouhani continued to pursue the revival of Iran’s economy, including foreign investment. He fended off criticism from MPs of his attempts to limit the damage of President Ahmadinejad’s subsidy cuts program, with interim provision of food baskets to millions of Iranians.
The US tried to cut off an immediate injection of foreign investment in Iran, continuing a global campaign that warned overseas companies of the continued enforcement of sanctions.
The fundamental Iranian position —- entering talks for a comprehensive nuclear settlement, while insisting on its “red lines” of a right to enrich and development of nuclear facilities — continues. However, there will be another week of tough-talk propaganda before talks open in Vienna.
On the home front, the Rouhani Government will have to keep guard against a campaign by “hard-line” MPs to undermine its economic initiatives and to claim that it is soft on enemies such as the Americans.
In that environment, the effective freeze on Rouhani’s campaign for cultural and political openness will be maintained. Indeed, in a sign of pressure on public comment, leading academic Sadegh Zibakalam was detained, interrogated, and released on bail over his questions about the effectiveness of Iran’s nuclear program.
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