Why A Hard Line Is The Only Way To Bargain With Iran

How much is Rouhani ready to compromise?
How much is Rouhani ready to compromise?
Clemens Wergin

BERLIN — During his election campaign, Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani had criticized his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s aggressive behavior towards the West. He claimed that Iran needed to moderate its tone in order to win the West’s trust about its nuclear program. Since his election victory, Rouhani has launched an unprecedented charm offensive on the former Western “enemy.”

Now politicians across the Western world are left wondering whether he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims, or whether Tehran really is prepared to relinquish its nuclear program.

The Western world — and particularly the United States — seems eager to believe Rouhani’s promises as it wants to avoid taking military action. The Israelis and Saudis are right to fear that the West may end up with a raw deal from Iran and allow it to continue its attempts to develop nuclear weapons. It is still unclear how much Rouhani is prepared to compromise.

The strict sanctions imposed on Iran are clearly having an effect on the economy and forcing the government into talks. However, the political elite in Tehran still believe that developing nuclear weapons is in the country’s best interests, as it would allow Iran to consolidate its position of power in the region.

Nuclear weapons would also stabilize the regime internally. After investing millions of dollars in the program, Iran is not likely to give up its nuclear ambitions without a fight.

Dangerous signs of progress

In 2003, Rouhani was Iran’s chief negotiator in the nuclear talks. Even before then he was closely involved in shaping the country’s nuclear strategy. His tactic was to relent on some points in order to avoid harsher sanctions. At the same time Iran was expanding the parts of its nuclear program that can be classed as civilian activities, such as uranium enrichment.

When he was leader of Iran's National Security Council, Rouhani summarized his aims as follows: “If one day we are able to complete the fuel cycle and the world sees that it has no choice, that we actually possess the technology, then the situation will be different. The world did not want Pakistan to have an atomic bomb or Brazil to have the fuel cycle. But Pakistan built its bomb and Brazil has its fuel cycle, and the world started to work with them.”

Now Iran does possess the entire fuel cycle that is necessary to create weapons-grade uranium. In recent years, Tehran has also intensified its work on the Arak heavy water reactor, which would allow the country to build a plutonium bomb. These significant steps towards an irreversible nuclear weapons program mean that the promise of greater transparency and inspections will not be enough to satisfy the West, as the Iranians hope.

The only solution instead is a complete reversal of the Iranian nuclear program, including its supposedly civilian activities.

The international negotiators must concentrate on those elements of the Iranian program that are most central to its strategy of becoming irreversible. That means uranium enrichment, as Iran can preserve and perfect the technique if it enriches only to 3.5% rather than 20% or more. The underground enrichment plant near Fordo would be difficult or impossible to attack if Iran decided to put a rush on developing a nuclear bomb there, while environmental considerations mean that the reactor under construction in Arak could not be destroyed if it began produced weapons-grade plutonium.

Inside Iran

The Iranian government is not completely united over the question of atomic weapons. On one side there is President Rouhani, whose most important aims are to have sanctions lifted and drive revolutionaries out from key positions in politics and the economy. Rouhani may be open to a compromise, but there are also the radical hardliners who would like to invent facts — and nuclear warheads.

These radicals are kept in line by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. He fears that continuing sanctions could damage the regime, but he has also recently set “red lines” that will not be acceptable to the international community. Khamenei believes that any substantial compromise from Iran will lead to new demands from the West. That is why he has put the father of the Iranian nuclear program and current leader of the National Security Council Ali Shamkhani in place to keep an eye on Rouhani.

The President, on the other hand, is trying to take advantage of public opinion and the support of important figures such as former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in order to gain more room for maneuver with Khamenei.

In this context, the West has to play its hand right. For the first time in 10 years, it has found a trump card in the sanctions against Iran. This is an advantage it must not throw away. Western partners are prepared to lift some of the sanctions in exchange for the first significant concessions from the Iranians — but this would be a catastrophic mistake. Barack Obama’s veteran Middle East adviser Dennis Ross recently called for a tightening of the sanctions as long as Iran continues with its uranium enrichment program.

For the past decade, Iran has played the international community, inventing facts, neglecting its responsibilities from the non-proliferation treaty, ignoring the UN Security Council’s demands to abandon its uranium enrichment program and lying to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Now it has reached the point of no return.

The West must hold its nerve and not allow itself to be swayed from its attempts to find a diplomatic solution. As past negotiations have shown, only sustained pressure can force Iran to make concessions.

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The Olympic torch is lit at the Archaeological site of Olympia in Greece.

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Asham!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where Pyongyang test fires a suspected submarine-launched missile, Colin Powell is remembered, Poland-EU tensions rise, and yay (or yeesh): it's officially Ye. Meanwhile, our latest edition of Work → In Progress takes the pulse of the new professional demands in a recovering economy.

[*Oromo - Ethiopia and Kenya]


• North Korea fires missile off Japan coast: South Korea military reports that North Korea has fired a ballistic missile into the waters off the coast of Japan. The rocket, thought to have been launched from a submarine, is the latest test in a series of provocations in recent weeks.

• Poland/EU tensions: Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has accused the EU of "blackmail" and said the European Union is overstepping its powers, in a heated debate with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over the rule of law. The escalation comes in the wake of a controversial ruling by Poland's Constitutional Tribunal that puts national laws over EU principles.

• Colin Powell remembered: Tributes are pouring for former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, after his death yesterday at age 84. Although fully vaccinated, Powell died from complications from COVID-19 as he was battling blood cancer. A trailblazing soldier, he then helped shape U.S. foreign policy, as national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and served as the nation's top diplomat for George W. Bush. Powell's legacy is, by his own admission, "blotted" by his faulty claims of weapons of mass destruction to justify the U.S. war in Iraq.

• Russia to suspend NATO diplomatic mission amid tension: Russia is suspending its diplomatic mission to NATO and closing the alliance's offices in Moscow as relations with the Western military block have plunged to a new low. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the move after NATO expelled eight diplomats from Russia's mission for alleged spying. Relations between NATO and Russia have been strained since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

• Ecuador state of emergency to battle drug crime: President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency amid Ecuador's surge in drug-related violence. He announced the mobilization of police and the military to patrol the streets, provide security, and confront drug trafficking and other crimes.

• Taliban agrees to house-to-house polio vaccine drive: The WHO and Unicef campaign will resume nationwide polio vaccinations after more than three years, as the new Taliban government agreed to support the campaign and to allow women to participate as frontline health workers. Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the last countries in the world with endemic polio, an incurable and infectious disease

• Kanye West officially changes name: Some say yay, some say yeesh, but it's official: The-artist-formerly-known-as-Kanye-West has legally changed his name to Ye, citing "personal reasons."


The Washington Post pays tribute to Colin Powell, the first Black U.S. Secretary of State, who died at 84 years old from complications from COVID-19.


Jashn-e Riwaaz

Indian retailer Fabindia's naming its new collection Jashn-e Riwaaz, an Urdu term meaning "celebration of tradition," has been met with severe backlash and calls for boycott from right-wing Hindu groups. They are accusing the brand of false appropriation by promoting a collection of clothes designed for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, but giving it a name in Urdu, a language spoken by many Muslims.


Work → In Progress: Where have all the workers gone?

After the economic slowdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, companies all over the world are taking advantage of loosened lockdowns and progress on the vaccine front to ramp up operations and make up for lost productivity. But the frenetic spurts of the recovery are getting serious pushback. This edition of Work → In Progress looks not only at the coming changes in our post-COVID economy, but also the ways our world is re-evaluating professional obligations.

🗓️ Hail the 4-day week Across the planet, the shorter work week trend is spreading like wildfire. Four is the new five. Spain began experimenting with the concept earlier this year. New Zealand launched a similar trial run in 2020. And in Iceland, efforts to curb working hours date all the way back to 2015, with significant results: 86% of the country's workforce gained the right to reduce work hours with no change in pay.

🚚 Empty seats In the United States, meanwhile, a severe lack of truck drivers has the country's transportation industry looking to hire from abroad. The only problem is … the shortage is happening worldwide, in part because of the e-commerce boom in the wake of worldwide quarantines. The Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano reports that companies will be scrambling to fill the jobs of 17,000 truck drivers in the next two years. The article blames low wages and the dangerous nature of the job, stating that Italian companies are making moves to employ foreign workers.

💼 Key help wanted It's all well and good to question current working conditions. But what about 20 years from now? Will we be working at all? A recent article in the French daily Les Echos posed just that question, and posits that by 2041 — and with the exception of a few select jobs — automation and digitalization will decimate employment. The piece refers to the lucky few as "essential workers," a concept that originated with COVID lockdowns when almost all labor halted and only a minority of workers capable of performing society's most crucial in-person tasks were allowed to carry on.

➡️


I'm worried for my Afghan sisters.

— Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai Nobel Prize tells the BBC that despite the Taliban's announcement that they would soon lift the ban on girls' education in Afghanistan, she worries it "might last for years."

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Are you more yay or yeesh about the artist currently known as Ye? Let us know how the news look in your corner of the world — drop us a note at!

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