The Iraqi crisis shook up Iran’s politics last week, with President Rouhani suffering a setback over his approach of “engagement”, including with the US.
The Rouhani Government, first through comments by unnamed senior officials and then in a public statement by the President, indicated it was open to cooperation with the US on how to check the advance by Iraqi insurgents.
This was quickly knocked back — initially by Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, then by the head of the National Security Council and the military establishment. Talk of political and military coordination with Washington was replaced by declarations that the US had supported and even created the Iraqi insurgency, including the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham.
On Sunday, the Supreme Leader signed the death certificate for any US-Iran initiative, at least in public, with his warning to Washington not to intervene in Iraq. Far from holding onto cooperation, Ayatollah Khamenei said “all Muslim states and all those who unfortunately help the terrorists with their money and petro dollars” would suffer from that terrorism “tomorrow”.
The Iraqi crisis and Iran’s concern over the political and security effects overtook even the nuclear talks with the 5+1 Powers, which resumed in Vienna on Monday.
The fifth round of discussions on a comprehensive settlement ended with little apparent advance towards resolution. Both sides continued to emphasize the “good atmosphere”, with a start on the drafting of a text, but both said significance differences remained. In particular, there was no compromise over Iran’s level and number of centrifuges for uranium enrichment, with Tehran seeking an expansion of its stock of 19,000 and the US and European partners demanding a reduction.
The two sides agreed to re-convene in Vienna on July 2.
With the Iraqi crisis, the Rouhani Government’s freedom of movement is being even more constrained, with its economic program eclipsed by regional developments and hard-liners ready to criticize the President’s weakness before powers such as the US and Saudi Arabia.
Rouhani, whose political and cultural initiatives have already been curbed by the pressure, now faces the dissection of his attempted “engagement” in foreign policy. In particular, the Iraq crisis could delay, if not collapse, his pursuit of rapprochement with Saudi Arabia.
Increasingly, the salvation for the President and his allies is a nuclear agreement. This would bolster his position and home and encourage further discussions with other powers, including on the Syrian and Iraqi crises.
However, all signs indicate there will be no resolution by July 20, when an interim Joint Plan of Agreement expires. While the two sides are likely to extend that Agreement, giving space for more discussions on the comprehensive deal, the Rouhani Government will still face its predicament at home.
That predicament means that there will be no release of political prisoners, including opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, despite an approach by former President Hashemi Rafsanjani to the Supreme Leader.
However, in a further illustration of the importance of the nuclear talks, a source close to Rafsanjani said he would renew his effort if a comprehensive settlement was reached.
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