By Shahriar Kia
Daily Caller, April 26, 2018 – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has been in the United States for a visit which coincides with stateside stops by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (Macron and Merkel are meeting with President Donald Trump.)
Zarif is apparently invited by the Council on Foreign Relations and in New York City to take part in a United Nations peace conference involving senior officials.
Zarif’s timing is no coincidence and his main objective, of course, is related to the future of the already controversial Iran nuclear deal.
In various interviews, Zarif has mentioned exchanging U.S. citizens taken captive in Iran if the U.S. “changes its attitude.” He has also raised against Washington in the case of Trump scrapping the deal.
It’s interesting how Zarif claims independence for Iran’s judiciary and the government has no say in the release of the mentioned prisoners, while also indicating actions could be taken if Washington changes its attitude.
It is also worth mentioning that the terminology used by Zarif, as a foreign minister of a government, is tantamount to that used by convicts and kidnappers.
All the while, Zarif goes as far as threatening Washington, saying if the U.S. scraps the Iran deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), all options are on the table, including exiting the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and launching highly advanced centrifuges for uranium enrichment.
As a result, Zarif’s remarks make it crystal clear that his visit comes with a message regarding the JCPOA.
The question is where does Zarif stand on Trump’s deadline?
Zarif remarks in his interview on CBS’s “Face The Nation” signal an unwillingness on Tehran’s part to succumb to demands raised by the international community, to Trump’s conditions on ballistic missiles, to ending their regional meddling and support for terrorist groups abroad and to nixing the “sunset clause” concept.
If Tehran intends to stand in the face of demands raised by the international community, the sensitivity of such a subject demands a decision and announcement by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the man who has the final word on all major issues, especially national security and foreign affairs. It was Khamenei who called for “heroic flexibility” before Iran’s 2015 JCPOA signature.
Khamenei, however, has recently been silent on the JCPOA. If the Iranian regime’s policy hinges on standing firm on their position, the Supreme Leader needs to make the announcement beforehand to prepare his ranks and files psychologically… We are less than three weeks and counting on Trump’s deadline.
Iranian Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri recently said the regime is entangled with intertwined challenges. Domestic issues are impacting foreign-related crises, and vice versa, he added.
Iran’s economy is in ruins and facing bankruptcy. The country currency, the rial, has plunged dramatically against the U.S. dollar. Seventy percent of all production units are closed, according to an Iranian official and nearly 80 percent of the population is living in poverty.
Popular protests are mushrooming across the country, including in Tehran, Isfahan, Varzaneh, Khuzestan, Kurdistan, Kazerun. The society is tantamount to a powder keg ready to explode at any moment. As a result, domestic tensions inside the regime are reaching a new peak, rendering serious concerns amongst all senior Iranian regime officials.
If Tehran intends to place an ultimatum before the West, it first needs to reign in its domestic crises and be able to claim popular support.
The situation is quite the opposite, however, and regime officials acknowledge the fact that Tehran’s mullahs are sensing the main threat from Iran’s restive population and their yearning for regime change.
The nationwide uprising that sparked in late December 2017 is an organized effort, according to Iranian officials, and is directed as we speak by the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).
The support this movement enjoys inside Iran and amongst senior American and European policymakers, including U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton, continues to raise concerns for Tehran.
Protesters in Isfahan and Kazerun are recently heard chanting, “Our enemy is right here; They lie and say its America.”
Considering Iran’s domestic crises, Zarif’s warnings resemble more a bluff and need not be taken seriously.
This, however, does not decrease the sensitivity of the status quo for Tehran. Iranian media are recognizing the fact that the regime is facing a turning point in upcoming developments.
Two scenarios are open for discussion:
1. Refusing to back down and willing to endure the drastic consequences.
2. Giving into demands raised by protesters across the country and the international community, leading to a cascade of endless setbacks.
Shahriar Kia is an Iranian dissident and a political analyst writing about Iran and the Middle East.