Velayati: No guarantee that US will lift pressure if we step back from nuclear threshold

Is the Islamic Republic of Iran willing to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the international political crisis surrounding its controversial nuclear program? A recent interview between Mashregh News and ex-foreign minister Ali-Akbar Velayati reinforced a narrative coming from the regime which states that it is willing to negotiate in good faith but views the United States as unwilling to do so. From this point of view, the nuclear program is just one excuse that the US uses in order to justify harsh policies (potentially even regime-change) against Iran. Even if Iran made concessions on the nuclear program the US would find other grounds to continue its current policies, or so this narrative goes.

Ali-Akbar Velayati is a key foreign policy player in Iran. He was critical to the negotiation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 598 which ended the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). Velayati was foreign minister from 1981 to 1997 and now acts as the senior foreign policy adviser to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Just as Khamenei is in many ways the real executive power in the Islamic Republic, it can be said that Velayati is in some ways the real foreign minister of the regime at this point. As recently as 25 October 2012, Kalame (a website linked with the opposition Green Movement) reported that Velayati and the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) intelligence unit, Hossein Taeb, had arrived in the United States for negotiations.

The interview between Velayati and Mashregh News, which took place on 27 October, can be seen as indicative of some of the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy thinking in regard to the nuclear issue, especially as Velayati is a diplomatic figure not overly prone to the use of heated and empty rhetoric. The Mashregh News interviewer touched on a broad range of issues, including the 2012 US presidential election, economic sanctions, and the nuclear negotiations.

Speaking on the upcoming US presidential election, Velayati indicated that he believed that incumbent president Barack H. Obama was doing better than challenger Mitt Romney. According to Velayati, Romney had committed so many immature actions that he has now proven that he lacks even the capacity to compete with Obama on an equal footing. When asked whether it would make a difference for Iran whether a Democrat or Republican was in office, Velayati had this to say:

“America is America and in the 34 years since the revolution we have examined a variety of presidents, Democrat and Republican. We do not need their kindness…Our logic against America is clear: They say we should not do peaceful nuclear work but this is Iran’s right and under no condition will we accept it. Even if we imagine that we temporarily ignore our right, they will bring up another excuse.”

When asked if a retreat from Iran’s current level of nuclear capacity or a suspension of the nuclear program was possible, Velayati said that he did not think this would happen, but that bitter experience had proven that even if Iran took either of these steps the US would not stop the pressure. Making a thinly veiled reference to president Mohammad Khatami and the Reformist faction’s failed negotiations with the George W. Bush administration, Velayati said that those with good intentions who wanted improved relations with the US had discovered that America’s logic toward Iran had not changed at all since 1979.

The interviewer asked him what he thought of those who claimed that if Iran agreed to negotiate and took steps to suspend or decrease its nuclear capacity, economic sanctions would be lifted. Velayati said that Iran in fact had no guarantee that the US would reciprocate, and that people who made such claims did not understand the international system, where if Iran took one step back the US would take one step forward.

Finally, when asked if he believed the current sanctions were unprecedented in the Islamic Republic’s history, Velayati asserted that they were in fact not and that Iran had endured something very similar during the harsh years of the Iran-Iraq War where it had problems exporting crude oil and importing certain essential goods.

Editor’s note: Velayati’s interview reveals the two faces of Iran’s position toward negotiation with the United States on its nuclear program. One face is defiant and strongly advocates for Iran’s nuclear rights. A second and perhaps truer face however reveals the core of the Islamic Republic’s dilemma: It may genuinely believe that even if it makes concessions on the nuclear program, this may not be sufficient to end the conflict between it and the US, and by giving up key elements of its nuclear program may leave itself naked to American regime-change efforts.