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With Which Iran Are You Negotiating?
Published in AL HAYAT on 22 - 11 - 2013

Since the beginning of the new round of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program in Geneva, the Iranian delegation has been demanding that it benefit from the opportunity of what it says has become available in terms of an understanding with the west, after Hassan Rohani won the country's presidential elections. The Americans, according to their secretary of state, John Kerry, and along with them a number of European diplomats, are repeating the same phrase: this is the best chance in ten years to make progress toward a settlement on the nuclear issue with Iran.
The Iranian negotiator in Geneva in effect told the west, "We have abandoned Ahmadinejad's policy and the extremism that you accused of us in the past. What you now need to do is pay for this, by ending sanctions that you put on us, and agree to treat us like a normal state, not a rogue nation, and not one that belongs to the 'axis of evil,' as George Bush classified us."
The Iranian negotiator wants to tell the west, "We have changed. We are wearing European suits and smiling for the cameras. We have shaved our beards and speak fluent English. We also appointed a woman as Foreign Ministry spokesperson, exactly like you. Thus, there is no longer any justification to treat us harshly and prevent us from obtaining our assets that are frozen in your banks, or impose sanctions on our oil exports, which are our guarantee for confronting the deteriorating economic situation that we suffer from."
This is what the Iranians are asking for from the west, for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's allowing the "moderate reformist" Rohani to be elected president of the Islamic Republic. The irony is that western countries, or more precisely most of them, have been taken in by this game of "Iranian democracy." Of those who are seeking to negotiate with the "new" Iranian face, no one is surprised that Rohani's election took place smoothly last summer, with no blood in the streets. That is what happened four years previously, when the Republican Guards crushed protestors, and falsified the vote count to prevent another reformer, Hossein Mousavi (who is still under house arrest) from becoming president.
Can we not conclude from this that the damage caused by economic sanctions to Iran's economy and their threat to the survival of the regime prompted the Iranian leadership to put forward a more appropriate and acceptable face and project trust to the west, by appointing Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif and his assistant Abbas Arakji to manage the negotiations to end the nuclear crisis?
However, if it is understandable that this pushed the Iranians to seek negotiations and conclude a deal, what is the Obama administration's motive, and who is going along with it in this game? What prompted the administration to shut its eyes to the (real) other side of Iran and ignore the roles that it plays in the region, from Iraq to Lebanon and the Gulf?
The Iranian regime wants western governments to deal with it like a normal regime that respects the protocol of inter-state relations and rejects the use of force against its neighbors or intervention in their affairs. Zarif talks about Tehran's desire to build a comprehensive order, based on Iran's respect for neighboring countries and non-intervention in their affairs. But this talk does not find an echo in the other Iran, in whose name the minister does not speak: the Iran of the Revolutionary Guards and their arms in the region, such as Hezbollah, the Abul-Fadl al-Abbas Brigade, and other organizations that represent the real tool of Iran's expansion in the Arab world, to spread a state of sectarian conflict that is growing in the countries of the region.
This Iran is not represented in the Geneva negotiations and it is this Iran that Khamenei addressed, on the eve of the negotiations, in a speech before the Basij militia, affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards. He reassured them that the Iranian delegation would respect the "red lines" and would adhere to the lines set down by Khamenei.

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