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Nuclear Iran… What Model?

Nuclear Iran… What Model?

Friday, 29 April, 2022 - 10:45

Since March 11, the nuclear deal negotiations in Vienna between the P5+ Germany and Iran have been at an impasse as negotiators struggle to find a solution for what appears to be an unresolvable dispute. Removing the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps from the US sanctions and terrorism lists demands a brave political decision by Washington, one that the weak administration of US President Joe Biden cannot take just months away from the Midterms. Meanwhile, the Iranian regime cannot compromise on its backbone, as it has prioritized political considerations over technical questions despite the economic crisis that the country is undergoing.

So far, it seems that the secret negotiating teams have failed to reach a resolution acceptable to both parties (the Americans and Iranians). The odds of all the progress made during negotiations being eroded have thus increased, and some in Washington and Tehran have been hinting that announcing their failure is imminent. Both outcomes (going back to ground zero or failure) imply major repercussions on how the region and the world deal with Iran, which would no longer be constrained by lacking nuclear weapons. This prospect actually appeals to Iranian decision-makers. Comparing the gains of reaching an agreement with those of possessing nuclear weapons, they find the former is not sustainable, especially after their experiences with the Trump administration. Meanwhile, pulling out of the agreement and focusing on developing a nuclear bomb would allow, they believe, constitute a guarantee for the regime.

That raises the question of my colleague Nadim Koteich posed in his April 26 article for Asharq Al-Awsat; Does Iran genuinely Want to Revive the Nuclear Deal? He says: “The Iranians are growing increasingly convinced of going with North Korean mode over the model of Muammar Gaddafi, that is, that possession of a nuclear bomb, not handing over the capabilities of weapons of mass destruction, is what protects the regime.”

Iran’s acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, here, means acquiring mass protection capabilities. That is the option that North Korean President Kim Jong Il opted for when faced with a transitional phase domestically following the fall of the Soviet Union, which left the regime he had inherited from his father threatened with collapse. He rushed to develop a nuclear bomb that would enable him to consolidate his rule, to re-legitimize his regime and protect it from any external pressures exerted to destabilize it or bring it down. For Iran, the Libyan nuclear model failed to do those things.

Iran’s domestic political situation does not differ much from that which North Korea was facing. Geopolitics differences, however, render Iran’s room for maneuver more limited, which has raised doubts about its ability to keep the domestic situation under control, especially since the Iranian regime is going through two stages simultaneously: re-establishing itself and transitioning to “post-current-supreme-leader Iran.” The deep state of the regime- which has the IRGC as its political, military, and security apparatus and the Office of the Supreme Leader as its ideological cover- thus chose to go with a one-party system as a guarantor of its survival during a period of major regional and international changes that have forced Tehran to recalibrate its alliances and strengthen its geostrategic positions, especially after the Russo-Ukrainian war.

And so, the winds of change blowing in and around Iran leave it facing two options. Either it prepares to acclimatize in response to these global changes, which would require domestic changes that would have implications for its mode of governance, or it doubles down and integrates fully with the countries it considers allies (Russia and China). The latter option would require isolating the state and society like North Korea, which, unlike Iran, is helped by its geography and its population makeup. Meanwhile, Iran borders seven countries, and it cannot isolate its people from their neighbors, neither socially, ideologically or economically. It is also a culturally and ethnically diverse country, further raising the costs of adopting the Iranian model- so much so that doing so becomes untenable, which means it must search for another one… to be continued…

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