Extending the nuclear talks could take us two steps back

The extension will make the talks much more difficult

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Published: Updated:

The seven months extension of the nuclear negotiations between the six world powers (the P5+1: China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran will likely lead to a more complicated process as well as negative consequences when it comes to domestic politics and reaching a final nuclear deal.

Two major players of these nuclear talks are the U.S. and the Islamic Republic. The key question is how the extension is going to impact domestic politics in Washington and Tehran. And, how will the dynamics of domestic politics and polemics in the U.S. and Iran impact the future of the nuclear negotiations in Vienna, New York or Oman?

After the extension of the nuclear talks, President Rowhani said on state television: “I promise the Iranian nation that those centrifuges will never stop working.” Similar to President Obama, President Rowhani attempted to create a domestic narrative that his government had scored a victory so far. Nevertheless, the domestic politics and economic landscapes are definitely more complicated and nuanced. Iran’s hardline faction, media and newspapers (such as Vatan-e-Emrooz) as well as American Republicans have already taken a more empowering role.

Domestic economy of Iran

From the economic prism, the $700 million in sanction relief will moderately boost Iran’s economy as it is equivalent to approximately an increase of 350,000 a day on the current market price.

The extension will make the talks much more difficult as time passes by, empowering the hardline-core and conservative factions in both the U.S. and Iran

Majid Rafizadeh

The Islamic Republic exports roughly one million barrels of crude oil in a day. The sanctions relief would be equivalent to a 30 percent increase in oil sales. In the next few months, Tehran will attempt to push for additional sanctions relief as well as ratchet up its economic deals, such as the export of gas and other goods, to some European and Eastern countries including France, Germany, Russia, Japan, and China.

Some European countries' exports to Iran have already ratcheted up due to the prospects of the nuclear negotiations. Tehran Times, the Islamic Republic’s state newspaper, stated that Germany was Iran’s leading trade partner: “The European country (Germany) exported €207 million of goods to Iran in June 2014, an 88 percent rise compared to June 2013.” Nevertheless, Tehran needs the complete lifting of economic sanctions in order to gain the optimal potential of its economy to fully recover.

Domestic politics in Tehran and Washington

The major key player, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will likely pursue his balancing, two approach policy. The economic sanctions, and political isolation of Tehran still impose a threat to the hold on power of the ruling politicians. As a result, Khamenei does not seem to possess any option rather than following his two faceted policies.

The supreme leader will continue to give his blessing to President Hassan Rowhani, Prime Minister Javad Zarif and the administration’s technocrat team. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s blessing will allow Rowhani to follow on the nuclear negotiations in the extended period in order to strike a final nuclear deal.

Nevertheless, the major objective of Khamenei and senior cadre of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) will not change. The supreme leader desires a final nuclear deal where the lifting of economic sanctions would precede other processes such as ensuring that Tehran is meeting IAEA or the international community standards.

In addition, Khamenei and influential officials of the IRGC, who control Iran’s nuclear program, will predominantly maintain their position with regards to the number of centrifuges they can retain as well as the future of the heavy water and plutonium reactor in Arak.

On the other hand, Ayatollah Khamenei will also pursue the second facet of his policy through appeasing the hardline and conservative core of his social base. This follows that the supreme leader will periodically give speeches accusing the West, calling these nuclear negotiations fruitless.

For example, this week, while Khamenei officially granted his blessing to Rowhani to continue with the nuclear negotiations, he also pointed out that despite the attempts of the “arrogant“ (implying the Western countries), the Islamic Republic of Iran will not go down “to its knees.”

By employing this two faceted political approach, Ayatollah Khamenei will attempt to appease both sides, consolidating his power, hoping for a nuclear deal which would immediately lift sanctions and avert any responsibility from himself in case the nuclear talks fail after the seven month extension.

The hardliners will attempt to show the inefficiency and empty promises of Rowhani. They might even put efforts to even impeach or replace some political figures of Rowhani’s team such as Foreign Minister Zarif.

Furthermore, the incoming Republican-led Senate in the U.S. is likely planning to push for a sanction bill against the Islamic Republic when they take over the senate in January. However, President Obama bears the power to veto such a bill because he believes that such action might scuttle the whole nuclear negotiations’ process. More fundamentally, what will further highlight and complicate the nuclear negotiations in the next few months is that both Rowhani and the Obama administration will observe the limits that domestic politics are going to impose on the nuclear talks. In other words, the extension will make the talks much more difficult as time passes by, empowering the hardline-core and conservative factions in both the U.S. and Iran.


Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar at Harvard University, is president of the International American Council and he serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh served as a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC. He is also a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University and Harvard scholar. He is originally from the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at [email protected]

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