As the West continues its seemingly endless tango with Iran, it becomes increasingly apparent how astute Iran is in playing its cards, while the West’s apparent willingness to appease leaves many observers perplexed.
In the grand scheme, Iran’s strategic maneuvers, reminiscent of their tactics with Western hostages in Lebanon in the 1990s, display their shrewd diplomacy. If Khamenei were to pen a new accord, the West might once more hail his “heroic flexibility.” Yet, as the ink dries, the sobering reality remains: Iran is set on expanding its nuclear and missile horizons, brushing aside human rights and muffling voices of democracy, all while the West seemingly claps in admiration.
On August 15 in Doha, Dr. Majid bin Mohammed Al-Ansari, an Advisor to the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the official spokesperson for the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs highlighted Qatar’s pivotal role in brokering an agreement for the exchange of prisoners between Iran and the United States.
He hailed Qatar’s involvement in crafting “realistic and mutually acceptable terms for both parties concerning the return of Iranian frozen funds.” Dr. Al-Ansari noted that this significant agreement was reached after a series of intensive shuttle diplomacy efforts, with Qatari officials making numerous visits to Washington and Tehran and conducting both direct and indirect negotiations, leading to this optimistic resolution.
He also emphasized that Qatar’s contribution to achieving this accord was in collaboration with other international efforts, particularly aligning with initiatives from Oman and a European mediator. Dr. Al-Ansari expressed optimism that this landmark agreement might set the stage for renewed discussions concerning the nuclear deal, emphasizing its critical significance not only for Qatar but also for the stability and security of the broader region.
In this regard, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, posted to X (Twitter, now known as X) that “the release and repatriation of our nation’s assets from South Korea align with the dignified diplomacy underscored by our Supreme Leader. This stage of the agreement also serves as another assessment of the U.S. commitment. As part of our diplomatic endeavors, we persist in our efforts to lift the sanctions and ensure that all parties honor their international commitments towards Iran”.
Amir-Abdollahian was probably referring to Khamenei’s address in May 2023 to Iranian diplomats on the merits of “flexibility” in foreign policy and said it “does not negate principles,” adding that He added that his “heroic flexibility” comment (2013) was “misinterpreted” by many inside and outside Iran “Expediency means recognizing points of flexibility. There needs to be flexibility sometimes. Flexibility does not negate principles. Maintaining principles and the ability to be flexible go together. Flexibility can be exercised sometime.”
The phrase “heroic flexibility” was used by Iran’s supreme leader when he was a 30-year-old cleric. Iran’s supreme leader used the phrase “heroic flexibility” a referring, subtitle of a book he translated, refers to the peace treaty negotiated in the 7th century by Imam Hassan, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.
Imam Hassan Mujtaba, the elder son of Ali ibn Abi Talib (the fourth caliph of Islam), played a crucial role in negotiating a peace treaty with Muawiya ibn Abi Sufyan, the then governor of Syria during a turbulent time when the new Islamic community was deeply divided, and a civil war, known as the First Fitna, was raging.
His decision to negotiate and accept a peace treaty was a strategic move to prevent further bloodshed and unify the Muslim community. This peace deal is considered by many to be an act of wisdom, bravery, and pragmatic leadership. It allowed for a temporary cessation of hostilities and laid the groundwork for reconciliation. The term “heroic flexibility” used to describe this deal symbolizes the strength and courage it took to prioritize peace and unity over continued conflict.
Khamenei instructed the Iranian diplomats who participated in the 2015 nuclear deal negotiations to demonstrate the same “heroic flexibility,” resolve, and conviction to realize Iran’s goals. He cited the historical example of the negotiations conducted by Imam Hasan as a precedent for successful negotiations that continues to be relevant in today’s ever-changing international landscape.
The question arises: Will Khamenei display the same adaptability in the face of Iran’s current economic challenges, or will he steadfastly adhere to his “resistive economy,” no matter the cost?
Regardless of the path chosen, Iran’s leap progress in its nuclear and missile programs will continue. Even if a new nuclear agreement is reached, supervision over some aspects of Iran’s missile program, such as experimentation and procurement, is expected to conclude soon (October 2023) . Additionally, limitations on Iran’s centrifuge development are due to expire in 2024, and over the medium term, other constraints on its nuclear program will gradually be lifted (2031).
Iran currently holds an advantageous position in negotiations with the United States, eager to forge an agreement with the Islamic Republic, seemingly at any expense. Concurrently, Iran’s economic circumstances are worsening, and although protests have been harshly quashed, underlying discontent remains. Conservative voices within Iran frequently criticize those who negotiated the nuclear deal and President Rouhani’s government for failing to yield the agreement’s anticipated benefits to the nation.
Leveraging its newfound power, Iran is working to strengthen its diplomatic relationships with neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia and global powers like Russia and China. Making strides in its nuclear ambitions, Iran is poised to present demands to the U.S., particularly in light of upcoming American elections. It may work to negotiate a new nuclear deal. It seems resolute, however, in refusing to alter the sunset clauses of the original agreement, effectively maintaining its course towards an unsupervised, independent nuclear program with minor concessions regarding its stockpiles of enriched uranium. Iran’s nuclear program is currently in the most advanced states since its establishment.
The forthcoming release of American prisoners and the accessing of Iranian funds in South Korea, potentially adding between six to seven billion dollars to the country’s reserves, might signify a crucial step toward possibly finalizing a more streamlined nuclear agreement.
Iran’s political maneuvering, including the kidnapping and false accusation of innocents as spies, has once again allowed it to fill its coffers, echoing tactics used with Western hostages in Lebanon in the 1990s. Should Khamenei sign a fresh agreement, the West may laud his “heroic flexibility” again. Yet, in the final analysis, Iran is likely to persist in developing its nuclear and missile capabilities, disregarding human rights, and silencing democratic appeals, all to the applause of the West.
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