Foreign Policy

Peace Overtures from Iran?

Image by rouhani.ir, via Wikimedia.

Image by rouhani.ir, via Wikimedia.

By Barbara F. Walter

This past Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made a somewhat surprising speech in which he stated that nuclear weapons had no place in Iran and in which he indicated Iran’s willingness to negotiate over eliminating its nuclear program. This comes after decades of estangement from the United States and consistent acrimony between the two powers over Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

So today’s puzzler is this: Why did Ayatollah Khamenei decide to allow Rouhani to make this speech, and why now? What is Khamenei hoping to achieve with this overture? Are Khamenei and his Revolutionary Guard sincere in their offer to engage in serious negotiations? And finally, do you think an agreement will actually be reached?

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  • Perhaps not the Revolutionary Guard, but it seems like Iran’s quite the rational regime. The sanctions must be working (I’ve seen plenty of closed up Iranian banks here in the Persian Gulf) and the regime might finally be coming around to believe they must at least appear to give ground in order to avoid losing power to internal opponents. The Green Movement was suppressed, but didn’t die out.

    I’d love to believe an agreement is in the making – it’d make life safer and easier – but that’ll depend on the next few steps. It’s going to be easier to undo all this than see it to its completion, so the stakes are high.

  • I think that Iran lucked out by having elections scheduled in the year after international sanctions really began to bite. While Ahmadinejad was president Iran couldn’t reach out in an attempt to lessen the sanctions without appearing weak and coerced, and Ahmadinejad himself appeared incapable of doing so because of his own credibility investment, political debt to hardliners, and his combative personality.

    But with the election of Rouhani such an effort can be framed as reflecting his own views — which it likely does, for the most part — and not international coercion.

  • Apparently, the hardliners were in disarray in the last election, so Rouhani slipped through. Why Khameni allowed this speech? Perhaps the calculation is to see where it goes and if nothing happens, Tehran isn’t any worse off than it was before. Except for one thing. It is now light-years more difficult to agree on any more “crippling sanctions”. A win-win. Iran can catch a breather without giving up anything. Consolidate in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as save its position in Syria, whether Assad stays or not.

    Just a thought.

  • […] Last week I asked why the Ayatollah Khamenei, through Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s recent overtures, essentially offered to negotiate with the United States over the elimination of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Each of our three commenters agreed that the answer had a lot to do with the painful economic sanctions that the US, the European Union and the UN had placed on Iran for refusing to suspend its uranium enrichment program. I completely agree. Sanctions, however, have been in place for quite some time so the question is that still needs to be answered is why now? […]

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