Will Iran's charm offensive to the US be blocked - by Iran?
Iran's Revolutionary Guard warned that President Rouhani and his diplomatic team should not 'retreat from fundamental rights' as they try to reengage with the US.
Hardliners in Iran increasingly fear that the new centrist President Hassan Rouhaniâ€™s promise to engage with the US and the West â€“ especially to bring new â€śtransparencyâ€ť to resolve Iranâ€™s nuclear case â€“ will compromise revolutionary ideology.Â
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeatedly declared it a duty of every power center in Iran to back Mr. Rouhaniâ€™s government, this week invoking a 7th-century peace deal to say Iran was ready to show a â€śheroic flexibility.â€ťÂ
Yet the Revolutionary Guard has carefully pushed back, saying â€śheroic flexibilityâ€ť should not be interpreted as â€śretreat from fundamental rights.â€ťÂ
â€śOur fundamental framework is permanent and it is inflexible and our ideal goals will never be reduced,â€ť the deputyÂ IslamicÂ Revolutionary GuardÂ Corps (IRGC)Â chief Hossein Salami said in recent days on Iranian state TV. He included â€śthe right to have peaceful nuclear energyâ€ť which â€ścannot be modified.â€ť
â€śHeroic flexibility does not include passivity or surrender,â€ť said Brig. Gen. Salami, according to a translation the Al-Monitor website.
HardlineÂ elements have a history of stopping past Iranian attempts by Iran to reach out, but this time may be different, analysts say.Â
Khamenei and Mr. Rouhani have both addressed the powerful Revolutionary Guard in recent days, clearly reminding them that the revered father of Iranâ€™s 1979 Islamic revolution prohibited a political role for any military or security force â€“Â a role that the Guard has increasingly assumed for itself over the last decade.Â Despite signs of grumbling from some commanders, the IRGC issued a statement saying it "will support any measure within the framework of the Supreme Leader's strategies."Â
A history of spoilers
The history of spoilers to past outreach attempts is well known. Former President Mohammad Khatami praised Americans and their history, but his bid for dĂ©tente abroad (and looser social restrictions at home) was stymied by hardliners at every turn.Â
Iran helped the US defeat the Taliban and form a new Afghanistan government in late 2001, for example. But the discovery by Israel in January 2002 of a ship carrying Iranian weapons destined for Palestinians in Gaza prompted President George W. Bush to include Iran in his â€śAxis of Evilâ€ť speech.
CouldÂ a spoiling action happen again? Not too effectively, some say, because Khamenei himself has backed Rouhaniâ€™s outreach strategy in ways that he never stood behind Khatami. That view is also a turnaround for Khamenei, who earlier this year berated the USÂ and ruled out any direct talks.
â€śThe extremists over here have lost their teeth,â€ť says a source in Tehran who has observed Iranian politics for three decades. â€śAny [spoiler] action anyone tries like that would be cut off at the knees right away. Whoever would do that would be pretty much ending their own career.â€ťÂ
The new approach is already bearing initial fruit: In New York today, Iranâ€™s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. That prompted an invitation to meet in coming days with foreign ministers of world powers negotiating with Iran â€“Â including US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Ms. Ashton said today: â€śI was struck by the energy and determination on the part of the minister.â€ť
But for those in Tehran wary of compromise, the feel-good factor beamed to world capitals by Iranâ€™s new government is a dangerous risk.
Brig. Gen. Masoud Jazayeri said Iran "must view America with a pessimistic look and any optimism in confronting America's suggestions and propagandaâ€¦will be rejected." Former IRGC chief Mohsen Rezaei warned that "we must be careful that the enemies do not take advantage of our heroic flexibilities."
Some media echoed those sentiments.Â The hardline Javan Online website said â€“Â in a story titled: â€śThe wall of mistrust will not collapse with a diplomatic smileâ€ť â€“Â it was premature for some to be â€śoverwhelmed with joyâ€ť at the prospect of new talks.Â
Even beyond the chances of a nuclear deal and speculation that President Barack Obama might bump into Rouhani in the halls of the UN â€“Â where both will address the General AssemblyÂ tomorrowÂ â€“ the Javan writer Ali Rezaei said it was wise to remember the US-orchestrated coup in Iran in 1953 and other US historical actions against Iran.Â
The â€śdifferences and conflict with America is not about the nuclear issue or human rights [but] our main issue with America is the accumulation of several decades of American interference and Iranian resistance,â€ť wrote Mr. Rezaei,Â as translated by Al-Monitor.Â
There is no shortage of naysayers on the US side of the equation. Some in Congress are pushing for more sanctions against Iran, on top of the crippling array already in place.Â
The result is that the â€śbehavior of the Americansâ€ť is contradictory to easy friendship, Rezaei writes, listing events that â€śtoday has built a dark image of the American government in the minds of the Iranian people, a dark image that with a diplomatic smile will not be erased.â€ť
Still, could that translate into spoiler action from Iran, or indeed from the US side?Â
â€śAll it would take is a really negative, big storyâ€ť â€“ such as the Karine A â€“ â€śand weâ€™ve had these in the past and they come out of nowhere to stop everything in their tracks,â€ť says Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University and principal White House aide during the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis.Â
â€śThings like that happenâ€¦something coming out of left field, something that is inexplicable, or embarrassing to one side of or the other, so it looks like somebody is not dealing in good faith, and I fully expect a lot of disinformation,â€ť says Mr. Sick.