President Obama’s letter and personal appeal to Ayatollah Ali Khameni, Iran’ supreme leader, was a tactical mistake. In pushing for a resolution of the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program and suggesting a chance for the U.S. and Iran to cooperate in countering ISIS (the Islamic State), the president showed his desperation to achieve an agreement, weakening his position as the Nov. 24 deadline approaches.
Logically, Iran should be the party eager for a rapprochement and an end to the economic sanctions that have made a major impact on Tehran, severely reducing its oil exports. But Khameni has long held that it is America that retreats in confrontations with his country. “We do not retreat,” he said recently. “Rather, we move forward. This is a sign of our superiority over the Americans.”
What he didn’t say, but has been shown to be true over time, is that Iran also obfuscates and prevaricates in negotiations, saying whatever it has to say along the way to achieve its goal. Hasan Rouhani, now the president of Iran and, in comparison to the supreme leader, a moderate, has bragged about his past deceptions of the West when he was his country’s top nuclear negotiator.
There is no reason to believe now that Iran, which has endured multiple hardships in its pursuit of a nuclear program widely believed to seek nuclear arms, will suddenly opt for telling the truth and agree to curtail its long-sought aims. Indeed, the nature of the talks is about how much time the West will have in monitoring Iran to prevent it from obtaining the bomb. All the discussions about the number of centrifuges permissible indicate that Iran may be willing to remain at the threshold of going nuclear rather than completing the program. But there is no reason to think that once the U.S. has reached this seeming historic agreement with its sworn enemy that it will have the will or ability to reverse the easing of sanctions.
Obama, in his appeal to Khameni for cooperating in countering ISIS, did not address the fact that Iran is to blame for the crisis in Syria, as the main supporter of President Assad, and in Iraq, in fueling the sense of alienation among Sunnis.
Direct appeals from one world leader to another can be effective at times in fostering cooperation. But not when the message received is that the leader of Big Satan, in Iran’s eyes, has shown weakness rather than strength.