Khamenei’s Balancing Act and U.S.-Iran Relations

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CNN reports: “United Nations inspectors are heading to Iran Sunday to visit a uranium mine in Yazd and a uranium-thickening plant in Ardakan, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported. It’s the seventh such trip in recent months.

“The inspection comes as a May 15 deadline looms for Iran to meet international requirements regarding its nuclear program. Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency agreed in February on seven measures Tehran must take, as the United States, France, Russia, Germany, China, and the United Kingdom hope to broker a final agreement with Iran on May 13 in Vienna, Austria.”

WILLIAM BEEMAN, wbeeman at umn.edu,

Author of The ‘Great Satan’ vs. the ‘Mad Mullahs’: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other, Beeman is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology, University of Minnesota and recently wrote the piece “How to Talk and Listen to Iran” in Anthropology Today. He writes, “Since people-to-people communications cannot actually be controlled by either government, the United States would be wise to graciously endorse the suggestions of Iranian leaders to widen them. President Khatami clearly made a strong opening to Washington in 1998. President Rouhani has repeated these suggestions and has shown the way for further productive communication at informal levels. Ironically the whole world travels to Iran regularly — except U.S. citizens (who can travel there, but largely believe they cannot).”

MUHAMMAD SAHIMI, moe at usc.edu

A professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, Sahimi has been analyzing Iran’s political developments for two decades. From 2008-2012 he was the lead political analyst for the website PBS/Frontline: Tehran Bureau. He is currently editor and publisher of Iran News & Middle East Reports. He recently wrote the piece, “Khamenei’s Nuclear Dilemma” in which he writes, “U.S. officials have expressed optimism that the final and comprehensive agreement will end the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. The Iranians, and in particular Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani, have been saying the same for quite some time. But, of course, drafting the text of the agreement is one thing, the demand by P5+1 that Iran must drastically cut back on the scope of its nuclear program and whether Iran agrees, are completely different, and potentially deal-breaking issues. It is here that the role of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is paramount.

“The fact is Mr. Khamenei is trapped between a rock—the Iranian nation—and a hard place—his hardline supporters. The Iranian people elected President Rouhani in a landslide last June, and have been demanding uprooting of the vast corruption under Mr. Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a functioning and robust economy, better relations with the West, and a more open and tolerant political system that puts Iran on a firm and definitive path toward a true and inclusive democracy. Resolving the nuclear dispute with the West and lifting of the sanctions represent major steps in this direction. Mr. Khamenei has supported the nuclear negotiations. …

“Mr. Khamenei’s support for the nuclear negotiations is not, however, indefinite. if Washington is interested in a diplomatic resolution of the dispute with Iran, which in turn will have a tremendously positive effect on peace and stability in the Middle East, especially in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan, it should recognize the Rouhani administration’s domestic constraints, and offer compromises that President Rouhani can take home and demonstrate to his nation, including the hardliners, that diplomacy with the U.S. can work. That would also ensure continuation of Mr. Khamenei’s support for Rouhani, and marginalizing the hardliners.”

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