Iran draws lessons from engagement with the West

July 30, 2021 - 21:45

TEHRAN – After more than a decade of painstaking negotiations and a landmark nuclear deal, Iran seems to be going through careful deliberations concerning the notion of engagement with the West. 

The cautious Iranian approach with respect to engaging with the West has long been in the making and the stalled nuclear talks in Vienna are the latest sign in that regard. After many ups and downs, Iran finally made a decision to “test” the Western allegation of the viability of the diplomatically negotiated solutions to the long-standing disputes between Iran and the West. This new policy culminated in the signing of a landmark deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015, an accord that was supposed to usher in a new era of cooperation between Iran and the West but ended up reinforcing a deeply held belief in Iran that the country can never trust the West.

The Leader of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, reflected on this belief during his “farewell meeting” with the Hassan Rouhani administration on Wednesday.

During the meeting, the Leader offered an overall assessment of the Rouhani administration’s performance and functionality. In assessing the eight-year tenure of the Rouhani presidency, Ayatollah Khamenei explained where the Rouhani administration proceeded well and where it came up against obstacles. 

He noted the JCPOA as an example of Rouhani’s poor performance, indicating the lessons Iran drew from engaging in protracted talks with the West.

“The national affairs of the country should never become contingent on the cooperation of Westerners because this will definitely lead to failure. Whenever you made your affairs contingent on Westerners’ cooperation, you failed and whenever you moved forward and showed initiative without trusting Westerners, you succeeded. If you take a look at the performance of the 11th and 12th administrations, this is how it is,” Ayatollah Khamenei told Rouhani and his ministers. “Whenever you made your affairs contingent on reaching an agreement with Westerners and with the U.S., you came up against a brick wall and failed to advance. This is because they do not help. Instead, they show enmity because they are enemies anyway. However, whenever you stopped pinning your hopes on them and began to use different methods of your own – there are thousands of methods and it is not the case that there is only one method and one path as there are various methods: if people think, they will find a multitude of methods for their personal, social and managerial lives - you made progress.”

President Rouhani is known for his diplomatic efforts in clinching the 2015 nuclear deal. In his two election campaigns, he vowed to lift all sanctions and start a new era of economic boom by narrowing the differences between Iran and the West. At some point, he even called for “JCPOA 2” to bring about economic prosperity and growth. 

“It is time for JCPOA-2 to develop [the] national economy,” Rouhani famously said in 2016, referring to the need for another deal with the West to solve the other remaining issues. Rouhani’s push for engagement with the United States and Europe was premised on the belief that the time has come for Iran and the West to move beyond the baggage of hostility and that the West is ready to welcome Iran into the international community. 

It was in these circumstances that Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election in 2016. In the beginning, Trump was thought to be an interloper who interrupted the process of Iran-U.S. détente. Therefore, the Rouhani administration tolerated almost everything the Trump administration did, hoping that the next U.S. administration would change tack. 

But hopes rarely inform international relations. And the Biden administration proved even tougher than its predecessor. The U.S. negotiating team in Vienna offered less than what they had already agreed to in the JCPOA and demanded more concessions in return for resuscitating a deal that, even if revived, would still be subject to vacillations in the White House. 

This was one of the major lessons Iran drew from its engagement with the West. Reflecting on this lesson, the Leader underlined the need for future Iranian generations to heed the history of Iran’s record of engagement with the West. 

“It is about lack of trust in the West.  Future generations should benefit from this experience. It became clear in this administration that trusting Westerners does not work as they are not going to help us and they will strike a blow whenever they can and when they do not strike a blow, it is because they do not have the means to do so. Whenever they could, they dealt us a blow. This is a very important experience,” Ayatollah Khamenei said. 

He pointed to the recent talks in Vienna and warned that the U.S. will by no means honor its commitments.  During the Vienna talks, the Leader said, “the Americans stuck to their hostile position in an obstinate matter and they did not take a step forward.”

He added, “On paper and in words, they say that they will remove the sanctions, but they have not removed and are not going to remove them. The Americans have laid down a condition: they say that if we wish sanctions to be removed, we should include a clause in the agreement which signifies that we are willing to negotiate over certain matters in the future. They say that if we do not accept this clause, we will not have an agreement in the present time.”

Ayatollah Khamenei said the clause in question is related to non-nuclear issues and is likely to be used by the other side to renege on commitments. “What is this clause? This clause is actually a pretext for future interferences. The clause is about the JCPOA itself and about various other matters such as missiles and regional issues. If later on, we say that we are not going to negotiate over these matters because the policies of the country and our parliament do not allow us to do so, they will say that there is no deal because we have allegedly violated it. These are their methods and their policies. They are behaving in a completely unfair and malicious manner and they have no scruples about breaking their promises in any way,” he noted, according to the 

The Leader stated, “They violated the agreement once without paying any price and in the present time too, when they are told to promise and to guarantee that they will not violate it at another time, they respond that they cannot give such a guarantee. They are saying this explicitly to our friends and to our diplomats. They say that they will not give any guarantee about possible violations. They are like this. This is an experience for the future administration and for men active in the political scene. Some people might be political activists, but they might not be executive officials. These individuals should take this into consideration. This is a very important experience which was witnessed in this administration and in all other administrations – of course, this administration experienced it more.”

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