Farideh Farhi writes: I have recently returned from a three-month trip to Iran. I arrived in Tehran in early September before the famous Rouhani/Obama phone call and departed last week as the mood was turning more skeptical regarding the potential for some sort of final nuclear deal, which, in the words of Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, would “normalize” the status of Iran’s nuclear program if it were to happen.
Frankly, sitting in Tehran, it was hard to listen to various Obama administration officials’ frenzied explanations to the US Congress and Israeli government regarding how, even with the first-step agreement, Iran will remain in dire straits. It was hard to listen without becoming skeptical about the US political environment allowing an agreement that would also be acceptable to Iran. From the receiving end of all the nuclear chatter, the whole American demeanor on Iran appears imperious, even outright uncivilized; like people speaking calmly about the taking of others’ lives and imposing further economic misery on them as options that are still very much on the table.
As I write this, news has broken that the Iranian experts engaged in talks in Vienna over the first phase of the “Joint Plan” were abruptly recalled to Tehran in reaction to the blacklisting of 19 Iranian companies by the US Treasury Department — a move that both Iran and Russia said violated the “spirit” of the Geneva accord. The spokesperson of Iran’s Foreign Ministry, Marzieh Afkham, in describing the “unconstructive moves” by the Obama Administration, regretted “serious confusion in the approach, decisions, and statements of US officials.”
When I was in Tehran, Iranian officials of various political persuasions were rather soft in their reaction to all the hard talk coming out of Washington. Several officials, including key members of the Parliament, expressed their understanding of the Obama administration’s predicament in trying to sell the Geneva agreement to the US Congress. Talk about continuing pressure on Iran did provide ammunition to folks like Hossein Shariatmadari, the hawkish chief editor of the well-known Iranian daily, Kayhan, but Washington’s verbal assaults were mostly tolerated, even if Foreign Minister Zarif acknowledged that they were making his efforts to maintain support for the agreement difficult. But it appears that the latest Treasury Department move, which followed a rather harsh op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by David Cohen, the Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, made looking the other way difficult. Lest we forget: Iran also has domestic politics. Unlike its reception in Washington, the Iranian nuclear agreement was mostly greeted positively in Tehran given the general consensus that it’s time to resolve the nuclear imbroglio. But there are limits to what Tehran can ignore.
I am inclined to view this event as an “enough is enough” public statement directed at Congress and aimed at limiting further moves by the Treasury Department. Both the Obama and Rouhani administrations have raised the stakes in the talks high enough to prevent unraveling at this early stage. Nevertheless, the chances of this are quite high, particularly if the Iranian context for the decision to engage in talks in the current manner is misunderstood or willfully misconstrued. [Continue reading…]