Why Ayatollah Khamenei was not optimistic about the nuclear talks?

American Herald Tribune |Esmaeel Mosallanejad & Mohammad Mosallanejad: Amid the nuclear talks that led to a final agreement aimed at guaranteeing the peaceful nature of Iranian nuclear program, the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insisted that he was not optimistic about the outcome:

“Some of the officials of the previous government as well as the officials of this government think the problem will be resolved if they negotiate the nuclear issue…I have said before … I am not optimistic about the negotiations. It will not lead anywhere, but I do not oppose it either.”[Source]

There had been several incidents increasing the tensions between the United Stated and Iran since the latter transformed into an ‘Islamic Republic’-almost 38 years ago. These incidents include US embassy takeover by Iranian students in response to US government’s decision to give asylum to the deposed Shah of Iran,US shot down of an Iranian Air passenger flight by its navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes leading causing the death of 290 people, and imposition of Sanctions on Iran and blockade of its assets. The most fresh case happened when US mobilized the European countries against Iran on the charge that Iran’s nuclear activities posed a threat to the world, while Iran insisted that the fact was otherwise and that they only sought peaceful uses such as producing electrical energy and radiopharmaceuticals.

Finally after almost 12 years, the long-standing nuclear dispute was concluded by a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, whereupon US agreed to lighten economic pressures on Iran by lifting nuclear sanctions in exchange for Iran making concessions to guarantee peaceful nature of the nuclear activities, such as reducing the level of enrichment and closing some nuclear facilities.

While Hillary Clinton regarded the sanctions as an effective tool to persuade Iran to accept the nuclear deal “without shooting a single bullet,” Iranian people expected JCPOA to enhance the economic conditions of Iran and subsequently their welfare. However, they did not feel the economical outcomes of JCPOA in practice, some international banking issues remain unresolvedand US imposed even new sanctions against Iran on various occasions including sanctions implemented just twenty-four hours after January 16. Moreover, Senate voted to extend ISA, the Iran Sanctions Act 1996, for another ten years which the Council for Monitoring the JCPOA led by Rouhani, regarded as “a blatant violation of the JCPOA.” Also, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that ISA renewal “showed the world that Washington could not be relied upon to act on its commitments,” although US officials believed otherwise. The ISA extension was followed by the Senate bill–the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017 (S.722), an imminent danger to the JCPOA with several “troubling“provisions.

Now, it’s more sensible why Khamenei was not optimistic towards the nuclear talks, even before there was any word of post-JCPOA sanctions. However, as a faqih (religious legal scholar) and a supreme leader of a strategic country, his distrust was not merely stemming from his political experience and/or taste and considering it a pure political viewpoint, makes for a flawed analysis. For better understanding, one should consider Iran’s Velāyat-e Faqīh constitutional theocentric system, where there’s a “religious leadership at the helm of the ship of state.”

Optimism and pessimism both can be correct strategies under different circumstances, however Muslims are generally advised by Islam to be optimistic and suspicion is disapproved. At the same time, it’s logical to be suspicious about one who acts contrary to his promises several times in the past. Moreover, Islamic teachings which are themselves based on logical concepts, draw the political roadmap for its followers. Some of these guidelines can be deduced from Hadiths such as those by Ali ibn Abi Talib, first Shi’a Imam, saying “the most worthy of your good faith is the one who has done well on tests before you, and the least worthy of your good faith is the who has done badly on tests before you [source: Nahj al-Bilaghah],” and “When soundness becomes predominant over a time and its men, whoever harbors bad faith towards another who has not erred, has committed injustice against him. And when corruption becomes predominant over a time and its men, whoever harbors good faith towards another, has just fooled himself. [source: Nahj al-Bilaghah],” both determining qualified strategies one should take depending on the circumstances.

Given the brief background of the US-Iran tensions, Ayatollah Khamenei’s viewpoint seems to be in accordance with the above hadiths, needless to mention his later “harsh” criticism of the dealfor “not having any meaningful effect on the livelihood of Iranians.”

After the JCPOA lesson learned, Ayatollah Khamenei urged the 2017 presidential election candidates “not to set their sights outside the borders,” in their efforts for improving economic conditions of Iran.