Don’t Expect Much from These Talks with Iran

by Ali Alfoneh

As the “5 plus 1” Group — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany — resumes nuclear negotiations with Iran today in Geneva, expectations remain low. Reading the Iranian press, and looking at which political factions the Iranian negotiators represent, those expectations should be subzero.

On Sunday, Kayhan, unofficial mouthpiece of Supreme Leader Khamenei, editorialized: “Iran’s real counterpart is not the 5+1 Group, but the United States.… If the United States stops its malice and fabrication of excuses, there will be no other contender in the field.” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in an attempt to trump Kayhan, said: “Today, Iran is nuclear and it is to their benefit to recognize this issue.” Not desiring to lag behind Ahmadinejad, Said Jalili, the Islamic Republic’s chief nuclear negotiator, used his press conference prior to the negotiations to stress that “the rights of the Iranian people” are “not negotiable.” In the meantime, the state television showed trucks transporting yellowcake from Bandar Abbas to Isfahan to produce nuclear fuel.

Such a setting is hardly promising for successful negotiations. But should the bravado and propaganda turn out to be mere theatrics meant to disguise the Iranian political leadership’s readiness to accept the terms of the 5-plus-1 Group in Geneva, there is still little reason for enchantment. The Iranian negotiators in Geneva represent the Ahmadinejad government and possibly Khamenei, therefore they cannot deliver what they may promise.

According to U.N. Security Council resolutions, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) — and not the civilian leadership of the Islamic Republic — is involved in all aspects of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program: procurement from abroad, endogenous development, even physical protection of the nuclear facilities inside Iran. As the IRGC has developed into a state within the state, practically no longer subject to civilian control, one can hardly expect it to surrender its most valuable asset as a result of civilian politicians’ negotiations.

On the contrary, the IRGC has a vested interest in a low-intensity diplomatic crisis between the Islamic Republic and the United States, as it would pave the way for expansion of the IRGC’s power within the Islamic Republic. The IRGC also benefits financially from Iran’s diplomatic isolation, which has hitherto resulted in the transfer of billions of dollars from Iran’s $100 billion foreign exchange reserve to the Khatam al-Anbia Construction Base of the Revolutionary Guards. As foreign companies leave Iran’s lucrative oil and gas industry, they have been replaced by Khatam al-Anbia. Before the last cent from Iran’s foreign exchange reserve has been transferred to the IRGC, the 5-plus-1 Group will be wasting its time negotiating with the Islamic Republic.

Ali Alfoneh is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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