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Expert: “Fundamental Agreement” Between Rouhani and Iranian Hardliners on Nuclear Objectives

In an interview on Friday with the Foreign Policy Association, Foundation for Defense of Democracies executive director Mark Dubowitz explained that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the hardliners of the regime have identical goals, with both seeking “the achievement of nuclear weapons capacity” for Iran.

In response to a question as to whether recent rivalries within the Iranian government were related to the nuclear negotiations, Dubowitz responded:

The answer is Yes and No. To a certain extent, there is disagreement in the regime right now over tactics. I think, between Rouhani, Zarif, and Rafsanjani on one hand, and the Revolutionary Guards and the clerical establishment on the other, there are clear differences over tactics with respect to negotiations. I don’t think there are fundamental differences with respect to objectives. Everyone who matters in the Iranian elite has, as their end-goal, the achievement of nuclear weapons capacity, if not a nuclear weapon. Rouhani and Zarif ultimately see diplomacy as the best way to achieve nuclear weapons capacity, if not a weapon, while the Guards believe that a policy of escalation will get them more quickly and assume that they can withstand any further sanctions given their “Plan B” which involves using Russia, China, and other Asian countries as an escape hatch from Western sanctions.

For Rouhani and Zarif, diplomacy has always been an instrument to achieve that objective, whereas the Revolutionary Guards and the clerical establishment disagree: they believe that diplomacy and negotiations are not only ultimately a waste of time but also weaken the Iranian position. This latter group takes a view that was best expressed by the previous administration under President Ahmadinejad and his nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, who were of the view that the escalation of nuclear physics was the better course over diplomacy, which, in their view, would be detrimental to the Iranian negotiating leverage. So we see fundamental disagreement over tactics, but fundamental agreement over objectives. I think what we’re seeing now is linked to that disagreement over tactics, as you said, at the late-stage nuclear negotiations. But certainly this is a regime that has many differences of opinion over lots of issues but is ultimately unified over a common objective: Iran’s nuclear weapon capacity.

Dubowitz further asserted that Supreme Leader Aytollah Ali Khamenei might prefer a series of interim agreements that would allow “Iran to move forward on those key elements of its nuclear weapons program that it hasn’t perfected yet while wearing away the sanctions regime and building up Iran’s economic resilience.”

Dubowitz does not believe the P5+1 negotiations will lead to a complete removal of Iran’s enrichment capabilities, but only adjustments that “would limit Iran’s short-term ability to use them to achieve a nuclear weapon,” and which would, in the future, be reversible.

[Photo: Engin Küskün / YouTube ]