Amir Taheri
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987

Two Questions about the Vienna Charade

“Cautiously optimistic!” This is how European Union’s foreign policy spokesman Josep Borrel sees the current talks in Vienna centered on the “nuke deal” concocted by then US President Barack Obama six years ago.

Whether or not Borrel, who has no meaningful role in the talks, is relevant, is beside the point. The point is that all participants in this charade are keen to pull a rabbit out of the Viennese hat. The Biden administration is desperate for a diplomatic “success” by reversing one of Donald Trump’s "faux pas". The Tehran mullahs are also keen to ease their cash-flow problem and claim another “historic victory” for Islamic diplomacy. The Europeans, that is to say, Britain, France, and Germany which are directly involved, hope to maintain a semblance of relevance in international politics.

Posing as godfathers of the Islamic Republic, China and Russia hope to keep their godson on a life-support machine that enables it to do mischief against the West without becoming strong enough to develop Oedipus-like ambitions.

By coincidence last Monday when the Vienna talks resumed marked the anniversary of the “implementation” of the Obama deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Celebrating the “starting day in implementation of (JCPOA) Hassan Rouhani, then President of the Islamic Republic, boasted that he had humbled “the Great Satan” and that all sanctions imposed on Iran would be lifted that very day. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. In fact, the opposite happened. Sanctions imposed on Iran rose from 700 cases to over 1,700 cases under Obama and then Trump and has continued to increase under Biden.

At the same time, after dismantling a good part of its nuclear infrastructure, Tehran has revived its most problematic aspects. China and Russia, too, have not carried out their commitments, Russia by refusing to transfer half of the uranium stocks enriched by Iran to Russian territory, and China by backing out of redesigning the plutonium plant in Arak.

As for the European trio, they have made contradictory noises to calm the nerves in Tehran but have danced to every tune played by Washington.

According to Ali-Akbar Salehi, a former Iranian Foreign Minister and head of the Iran Atomic Agency, the JCPOA took 15 years to negotiate. If we add the time since its supposed implementation, we could say that JCPOA dominated Iran’s foreign policy for almost a quarter of a century. And, yet, neither the mullahs nor their negotiating partners are able to tell us what this charade is all about.

This confusion was illustrated by the inability of Tehran and Washington, the two real protagonists, to tell us what the new Vienna talks are about.

The Biden administration started by saying this was about “undoing the damage that Trump” had done. A couple of weeks later, however, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that the US had “other concerns” that had to be addressed.

That was followed by a new tune from Washington threatening to unveil a “Plan B” and the “all options are on the table” mantra. The Khomeinist side was equally vague about the purpose of the talks.

At first, Tehran said that “the aim is to return to JCPOA, nothing less and nothing more.” It even claimed that a deal to “clarify aspects of JCPOA”, negotiated by Rouhani’s “New York Boys” before Biden took over, could be the template for a new deal. After a few days, Tehran announced that it had presented three “detailed proposals”, supposedly to cover issues besides the nuclear rigmarole. That was followed by the claim that the talks were not at all about the nuclear issue but about “the end of all sanctions” on the Islamic Republic.

Currently, Tehran’s official media are not allowed to mention the nuclear issue in headlines. The headline they offer is: Talks on the end of sanctions against Iran.

By the time this column appears that headline, too, may change as the new Iranian officials and their media outlets in Tehran have started speaking of “ the US paying compensation to the Islamic Republic” and any commitments by Iran being conditional on “verification” of American actions. In other words, Tehran is talking of total surrender by the Biden administration while Washington hopes to score a low-cost diplomatic victory.

In any negotiations, in both private and public domains, two crucial questions must be answered.

First, what are negotiations about and, second, who are those one is negotiating with?

In the case of Vienna talks, it must be clear to anyone who wishes to see that these talks are not about Iran’s nuclear program or breaches of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Had that been the issue, the problem would have been resolved long ago through International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in accordance with NPT rules. At least 18 countries, among them Argentina, South Africa, and Federal Germany, had similar problems with the IAEA but managed to quickly resolve them through normal diplomacy.

The problem the world has with the Islamic Republic isn’t its quest for nuclear capability. It is the Islamic Republic’s role as “upsetter” of regional and, on a smaller scale, global peace and stability, that is a cause for concern even for China and Russia which play godfather to it.

Tehran’s game plan is to obtain some relief that would give it access to the cash it needs to finance its “upsetting” policies.

As to who the 5+1 is negotiating with, it is obvious that the current Iran chief negotiator Baqeri Kani is a small cog in a machine designed to challenge the world order.

Former Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad-Javad Zarif put it succinctly when he said “We’ve decided to live differently”, and part of that difference is to be anti-American without which, he emphasized, Iran would at best be another Islamic Republic like Pakistan that no one would give a damn about.

Muhammad-Reza Naqdi, Cultural Chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) says the same thing in his words: “The mission of the Islamic Revolution concerns all mankind. The world today faces an ideological vacuum that only our Islamic ideology can fill. Leftist ideologies died long ago and neo-liberalism has failed. What remains is the alternative that we offer to humanity.”

Naqdi claims that a 3rd and 4th World Wars have already happened between the Islamic Republic and its “Resistance” proxies on one side and the US and its allies on the other, ending with Iran’s victory. The new world order will be dictated by Tehran with China and Russia as twin Sancho Panza.

Naqdi’s superior Gen; Hussein Salami says that after the assassination of Gen. Qassem Soleimani,“The Islamic Republic had prepared for a war with the US envisaging “the killing of 10 million people” in the region.

Irrationality isn’t the opposite of rationality; it is in a category of its own.