What is Iran so afraid of with the West?

In one of his strongest statements against the United States, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said “talks with America are forbidden”

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard
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In one of his strongest statements against the United States, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said earlier this month that “talks with America are forbidden.” This seemingly put diplomatic reconciliation talks following the Iran nuclear deal off the table.

Khamenei’s hardline supporters in parliament labeled the top nuclear negotiators “traitors.” Why? Perhaps a misinterpretation led Khamenei’s loyalists to believe that the supreme leader was confronting the nuclear deal, which at that time had already been submitted to parliament for final approval.

Not long ago, Khamenei had permitted negotiators to hold talks with the Americans as required, since international sanctions had placed much pressure on Iran’s economy.

Western powers had worked hard for two years to secure the nuclear deal and to prevent another regional conflict. Having any hope of diplomatic reconciliation with the West after the deal was mainly dependent on regional crises.

No interest in talking about Syria with the Americans, was Iran’s first official statement that was presented to the press during the United Nations General Assembly in New York late September.

Without the support of the revolutionary guards, the supreme leader would lose his main power base

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

The domestic consequences of the nuclear deal and the public’s high expectation of seeing economic improvement is one thing, but the supreme leader’s hesitance reflects his fears of Western influence - which is another thing.

Khamenei’s resistance to further improve relations with the West, despite the international community’s expectations to see a more cooperative Iran, post-nuclear deal, should come from the hardliners pressure on him.

The classic example of the hardliners, is the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), who have a conflict of interest with the Rowhani government that strives to improve relations with the West.

There’s the nuclear deal which is agreed on the one hand, but not when it comes to regional allies such as Bashar Assad or Hizbollah in Lebanon.

The supreme leader is saying nothing has changed, and nothing will ever change. But his audience are mainly IRGC, who felt their authority was challenged by the nuclear accord.

The current government led by Hassan Rowhani set its goal to improve Iran’s relations with the world, and they have prioritized this foreign policy, which would result in their efforts in the nuclear deal. But since the nuclear agreement, no step has been taken - even one as little as having talks with neighboring countries about regional matters, let alone the crisis in Syria.

Is it really the West’s cultural influence?

The U.S. president says he is ready to talk with Iran and Russia about Syria, but Iran has refused. Iran is simply not interested in having talks beyond the nuclear agreement for several reasons. Fear of U.S. cultural influence, which was mentioned by the supreme leader and repeated in Friday prayers last week, is believed supposedly to be the only reason for their rejection.

IRGC’s concern over Syria, and also Russia’s involvement, apparently makes Bashar Al-Assad stronger and that gives Iran the upper hand in this conflict, seeing itself free of the need for anyone, especially the United States and its regional allies.

Also without the support of the revolutionary guards, the supreme leader would lose his main power base. Regional matters are the Revolutionary Guards’ speciality, and there was a need for Ayatollah Khamenei to put Rowhani’s government and their ‘super diplomats’, back in their place, to understand that they could not stretch their diplomatic efforts.

The death threats to Mohammad Javad Zarif and Dr Ali-Akbar Salehi, were a warning to anyone who wanted to discuss the regional conflicts with western nations as a direct consequence of the Iran nuclear deal.

The increasing challenge Iran faces managing three conflict zones (Syria, Iraq and somehow Yemen), is not an easy task, and sooner or later will leave the operators too tired to carry on alone. Especially increasing Iranian involvement in Syria and the recent deaths of a number of high ranking IRGC officers there, including IRGC Commander General Hossein Hamadani which alerted public opinion about the Iranian presence in the conflict zone.

On Tuesday, Iranian press reported that two more high ranking IRGC officers - General Farshad Hasunizadeh and Hamid Mokhtarband - had been killed by ISIS in Syria.

As well as the international community, what does the Arab world think about Iran’s deepening involvement in Syria and the death of some of its key military officers there? Iran’s welcoming of Russian military assistance in Syria, has become sadly on a par with the increasing number of high ranking Iranian military officers killed there.

What Iranian leaders are mainly afraid of is not the cultural influence or subtle changes which might be imported with Western goods and talks with the U.S., but losing their own regional influence.
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Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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