Is Iran finally accepting reality?

Granted, Iran has a strong lobby in Washington but a Republican victory would make it accept the limits of this lobby’s influence.
Sunday 14/10/2018
Acute crisis. Iranians walk inside Tehran’s Grand Bazaar.                            (AFP)
Acute crisis. Iranians walk inside Tehran’s Grand Bazaar. (AFP)

Common sense says Iran has no option but to renegotiate its nuclear deal — and even more important things — with the US administration. The fact that Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called for a step in that direction is an extremely positive signal and an indication of Iran’s reconciliation with reality unless, of course, this turns out to be an Iranian manoeuvre to gain time.

Above all — even above renegotiating the nuclear deal — what must be dealt with is Iran’s behaviour outside its borders — its expansionist project and its ballistic missiles programme. Iran uses the missiles for various purposes, including threatening Saudi Arabia via the Houthis from Yemeni territory.

It looks like Iran has finally understood that the Trump administration is not playing games. That is apparent because the Iranian government has started to focus on the economy and its vital heartbeat, oil.

It can still be claimed, however, that the Trump administration has let Iran have its way in Iraq and therefore score a couple of points there. Iran removed Haider al-Abadi from the position of prime minister and imposed as speaker of the Iraqi parliament its local agent Mohammed al-Halbousi, who happens to be a Sunni Muslim.

However, the Iranian regime knows that shifting the battle to the economy is like bringing it inside Iran. Since the ousting of the shah in 1979, the regime has conducted its battles outside Iranian territory

For example, one of the regime’s great achievements is playing with the Palestinian cause and with Jerusalem. Another, this time in Lebanon, is creating an extension of the regime called Hezbollah. With time, the latter has turned Lebanon into an Iranian arena.

Zarif, in an interview with the BBC, said Iran was willing to renegotiate with the American administration under certain conditions. Could this mean that Iran has come to its senses and decided to accept reality?

It is perhaps premature to tell. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is still talking about charging anyone who wants to negotiate with the Americans with treason. That, however, is probably part of the usual strategy adopted by the Iranian regime during its crises. It always plays two horses.

For the sake of internal propaganda, the regime must appear to be standing up to “world hegemony.” In reality, it doesn’t mind negotiating with the “hegemonists.”

The Iranian regime has spent some time testing the Trump administration before concluding that it had better declare its wish to negotiate again.

The threat of US sanctions has worked and it is no wonder. If partial sanctions and the threat of more penalties shook Iran’s economy, there is no telling what the sanctions promised for this November might do, especially when oil exports are on the line.

The mullahs’ regime in Iran has a lot of experience playing two horses at the same time. At the height of the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88, Iran was, as usual, shouting “death to America” but also welcomed an American delegation headed by Robert McFarlane, national security adviser to former President Ronald Reagan. Iran wanted to negotiate purchasing weapons it needed from Israel.

More recently, before completing the nuclear deal, Zarif was behaving with former US Secretary of State John Kerry as if they were old buddies working together for world peace and stability in the region.

It is doubtful that Iran has accepted its reality. To do that means it must admit that it is an average country that has failed to find a source of revenues other than oil and gas exports.

A careful look at Iran’s behaviour since 1979 shows that the Iranian regime knows only one strategy in dealing with reality: forge ahead on the wrong path.

Today, too, Iran will try to bet on the outcome of the midterm US congressional elections. Perhaps US President Donald Trump will lose his Republican majority in Congress. If that happens, the Democrats might rekindle the personal scandals the president has buried during his time at the White House.

Trump, however, got US Senate confirmation for his nominee to the US Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh. So, it would be a mistake to underestimate someone whom everybody thought would never make it to the White House.

Granted, Iran has a strong lobby in Washington but a Republican victory would make it accept the limits of this lobby’s influence. November is going to be crucial for Iran. Then it will be known whether Tehran has accepted the idea that it must — first and foremost — take care of its people and its internal crises and leave the rest of the world alone.