Iran Nuclear Talks: Bluster And Wishful Thinking In Tehran

Resumption of nuclear talks between Islamic Iran and the Powers will not be easy, as the West also thinks it's time to discuss Iran's missiles and regional policies.

A man carries a poster of the Ayatollahs Khamenei and Khomeini.
A man carries a poster of the Ayatollahs Khamenei and Khomeini.
Hamed Mohammadi


After the killing of the Revolutionary Guards general Qasem Soleimani last year, senior officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran vowed last year that there would be no negotiations with America. They were still keen to avenge his death when a senior nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was also killed. These same people, however, are now willing to do anything to kickstart talks with America and put an end to crippling international sanctions imposed on the country.

The Speaker of parliament, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, said on January 31 that with "20% uranium enrichment (a divisive process started by Iran at the beginning of January), the diplomatic apparatus has a strong negotiating hand for removing sanctions." Qalibaf advised the Biden administration to lift sanctions "before setting preconditions for talks," referring to administration officials' declarations on the need to also discuss Iran's ballistic activities and regional policies.

The policy of exerting maximum pressure on the Islamic Republic, followed by the administration of President Donald J. Trump, has further sunk an economy already wracked by corruption and profound mismanagement. But the country's officials have calculated, as they did before Trump, that increasing threats against the West will shorten negotiations and favor concessions to Iran.

The head of the country's 11th and 12th governments since the 1979 revolution, President Hassan Rouhani, believes it is "easy" to resolve the current impasse. He has said if "the opposition is ready to return to 2017, we're ready too and this can be carried out in a short time." In 2018, the Trump administration controversially withdrew America from the 2015 nuclear pact between Iran and world powers.

Iran's First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri has optimistically declared that "we're in the last days of sanctions and I can see good days ahead in coming weeks and months. Winter is over."

The least the Biden administration can do now is learn from Obama's mistakes.

The fundamental question remains: is the real issue between the United States and the Islamic Republic restoring the terms of the 2015 nuclear pact? And the simple answer is no. The issue for the West remains Iran's production of ballistic missiles, use of rockets and mortar fire in neighboring countries, and its backing for regional militias and international terrorism. The Iranian government considers these essential policy issues.

The landmark 2015 deal, signed under President Barack Obama, released generous sums of money to Iran, which it duly spent on mischievous meddlings in the Middle East, suppressing opposition at home and expanding its influence. These actions caused the Trump administration to pull out from the pact. Soon after the US departure, on May 8, 2018, Iran reassembled advanced centrifuges to produce 20% enriched uranium, which was at a level with potential for developing nuclear arms.

This clearly demonstrated Iran could quickly resurrect all the nuclear facilities it had claimed had been eliminated under the pact, as confirmed by signatory powers. This also showed that the pact's critics were realistic when they said it was nothing more than a gift for the Iranian regime. European powers have been forced to give the pact another hard examination.

The least the Biden administration can do now is learn from Obama's mistakes and use the pressure levers bequeathed to them by the Trump administration and their sanctions. Beyond these, Iran's internal conditions and those of the region and the world have changed dramatically. Saudi Arabia played almost no role in talks for the 2015 pact. Now, amid a process of détente between the Arabs and Israel, it wants Western powers to include it in all talks about a deal with the Islamic Republic. France's President Emmanuel Macron has said he agrees, adding that any new agreement with Iran must be much stricter than the last one.

One Iranian legislator familiar with security affairs, Ebrahim Azizi, responded by saying this is "the start of another game by the Europeans, and the foreign ministry must block any unreasonable demands made by France and (Saudi) Arabia."

They wanted to give the impression they had the upper hand.

Iranian officials may be pinning their hopes on the U.S. negotiating team, including "friendly" figures like Robert Malley and John Kerry, but the Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has said his country wants a solid, lasting accord with Iran, including items beyond nuclear proliferation.

In Iran, conservative legislators have threatened an intensification of nuclear activities in breach of the 2015 pact if the Europeans did not "honor their commitments." In a state of relative desperation, Iran is issuing increasingly loud threats to the West despite unconfirmed reports of discreet contacts with U.S. diplomats. As U.S. officials have been saying, reviving the 2015 pact will not be easy.

Iran's position now shares some similarities with the months leading up to that accord, when officials insisted there would be no deal unless sanctions were lifted. They wanted to give the impression they had the upper hand. Rouhani would issue statements saying that talks had shown "Iran won't surrender to pressure, sanctions and force." But later comments by a foreign policy adviser to the supreme leader, Ali Akbar Velayati, were closer to the truth. He told a television interview in 2018 that, without the pact, "the other option was war."

The regime's options have not changed much in the interim years. Israel is threatening military action. An international coalition is not an impossibility. And Iran's nuclear program could be thwarted with cyber attacks. It is a fluid situation, and the Europeans will not wait forever to negotiate. They may well have already tired of Iran's cat-and-mouse game.

In this context, will Iran agree to end its ballistic activities or regional interventions? If it did, who would verify its compliance, and what would the world powers do should it break its pledges? Iran needs to sell its oil, and years of sanctions and multiple curbs on its banking and financial activities have lost it a big share of the oil market. Can it hope to recover it?

Iranian society is hard-pressed, tired and angry. Some would say it's on the verge of explosion. Hossein Dehqan, another adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has said "regime continuity" is the primary condition of any agreement with the United States. As in the past, the regime wants security guarantees from the international powers, when it should seek them from within its own system. It claims that accepting the West's conditions will do nothing to secure its existence, while rejecting them will push it toward the "war option."

If the West was to create the conditions for the regime's prolongation, the Islamic Republic would of course use this to keep suppressing dissent and to continue, for a while longer, its tattered, parasitical and harmful existence.

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A Dove From Hiroshima: Is Fumio Kishida Tough Enough To Lead Japan?

Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.

Japan's new PM Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Sept. 29

Daisuke Kondo


TOKYO — When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.

Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."

Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.

After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.

Born into politics

A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.

He is an excellent actor.

Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.

However, after failing three times the entrance exam to , Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.

An invitation for Obama

After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:

"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."

According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.

In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.

Photo of Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida with their backs to the camera, in Hiroshima in 2016

Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida in Hiroshima in 2016

Japanese cynics

In September, 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.

But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years

When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.

Leftist traditions from Hiroshima

Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.

How long will a Fumio Kishida government last?

Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.

So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.

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