Handing Iran to the US on a plate: Reformists not welcoming negotiations between Rouhani and Trump

Iranian Diplomacy – One week after the heated exchange between Hassan Rouhani and Donald Trump, the issue is still debated by the Iranian commentariat. Unexpectedly, despite the rising tension, Reformists have not shown specific keenness in negotiations with the US, after the bitter experience of the JCPOA and Trump’s renege on US promises.

Hamidreza Asefi, a former speaker of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs described Rouhani’s comments against Trump as “decisive” and “rational”. Speaking to Fararu website, Asefi said that Rouhani’s words were not analyzed carefully by the observers. “Mr. Rouhani said peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Asefi noted. “This is a balanced position and implies no threat.” The former diplomat added that Rouhani has not changed track, but only rhetoric. He attributed Rouhani’s bleak tone to Trump’s decisions: withdrawing from the nuclear deal, threatening to block Iran’s oil exports, and pressing international companies to stop business with Iran.

Asefi believes that despite his tough position, “Trump would love to negotiate with Iran.” He added that Washington is not after a military confrontation with Iran. “US [only] wants to create a schism between people and the establishment” he said.

Sadegh Zibakalam, the outspoken Reformist commentator, thought that Rouhani’s anti-Trump remarks catered to a domestic audience. “For Rouhani, powers-that-be and hardliners are more useful than the 24 million citizens who voted for him” Zibakalam said. “His Ahmadinejadi style of speech and his speaking of closing the Strait of Hormuz or [warning Trump] ‘not to play with the lion’s tale’ aim to muster attention from certain domestic political groups” he argued.

However, Zibakalam also expressed his opposition to negotiations with Americans at the current circumstances. “Whenever we have engaged in talks empty-handed, we have paid a heavy price” he warned, referring to Iran-US negotiations over American hostages in 1981 and with Iraq for end of the 8-year war in 1987. “I believe the most logical strategy is not to let go of the European Union” Zibakalam said. “There are many points of difference between the EU and Trump, and if we ride the European wagon, Iran may suffer less.”

Diako Hosseini, geopolitical analyst, is also against the idea of negotiations with Trump. Interviewing Khabar Online, Hosseini said that he saw no faults in Rouhani’s rhetoric against Trump. “The US government launched its war of words against Iran since long ago and has used unconventional, non-diplomatic language against Iran” he said. “Rouhani’s recent remarks were the minimum reaction [he could show] and took all diplomatic conventions into consideration.”

“However, Rouhani … was careful not to create unnecessary tension between Iran and the US and create an excuse for warmongers” Hosseini added. Admitting that Trump is genuinely eager to have a deal with Iranians, Hosseini said that Trump’s favorite deal will be one in form of a “surrender” than a compromise. “From the US point of view, a likely negotiation should form around the twelve demands announced by [Mike] Pompeo. The result will be handing Iran’s sovereignty to the US on a plate.”

Hosseini rejected the comparisons between Tehran and Pyongyang and the idea that a similar summit could take place between the leaders of the two countries. “What US wanted from North Korea only concerned its missile and nuclear programs, but what Trump administration pursues against Iran encompasses domestic and international policies of the country” he said. With that mentality, “reaching a tangible conclusion is almost impossible.”

Writing for Iranian Diplomacy, former diplomat Sadegh Maleki, set forth three explanations for Rouhani’s recent remarks: 1) Rouhani is fearful of facing a fate similar to his predecessors in the presidential office (Ahmadinejad, Khatami, and Rafsanjani), so is purposefully intensifying confrontation with the US to tie his own fate to the fate of establishment (an unlikely possibility); 2) Knowing that real power in Iran lies in the hands of hardliners, Rouhani has made a shift in his tone to make the radicals feel good, but he is increasing the risk of confrontation with the US so much so that ultimately peace and reconciliation with Washington becomes inevitable, a high risk, high reward plan; or 3) Rouhani’s rhetoric is only a prelude to peace. The energy accumulated for war should be defused through tough rhetoric, and then a summit between Rouhani and Trump could take place during the UN General Assembly.

Maleki, while not disproving the idea of negotiations with Washington, does not see it as a panacea for Iran’s problems. “Even if Iran and US negotiate and reach a significant agreement and there is no snapback of sanctions, the circumstances in Iran, particularly at the economic area, will not see much change” he predicted. “The crisis [Iran is facing] in different areas is the result of mismanagement in the past forty year.”