It would seem that the media can’t quite agree on Iran these days. Is Iran playing the West, putting on a benign front around the negotiating table while issuing belligerent threats at rallies back home? Or is it trying to find a delicate balance between the conservative establishment, led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the voices calling for reform, represented by a newly-elected president who ran on a relatively moderate platform?
Not everyone has taken sides, and some think analysts should be wary of doing so: The Daily Beast’s Jamie Dettmer, for example, described both perspectives in a Monday op-ed on Iran’s “nuclear two-step” – or “mixed messages,” as he called them – negotiating on the one hand, rattling sabers on the other, confusing analysts who see either this hand or that.
Has Iran really changed, asks Dettmer, or is it just “theater?” He suggests analysts take a look at the facts: Iran is seemingly “on speed” in terms of its diplomatic engagement, but it’s also “perfectly able to threaten regional and global security.”
It is fitting that Dettmer sealed his op-ed with a question rather than an answer: is Iran snubbing the West, or is it just maneuvering? Are its growing business contacts with Europe “anodyne, or a way to undermine Western resolve?” The conclusion: Each action by Iran is open to more than one interpretation as to its intentions, and can simultaneously be construed as “menacing… or conciliatory.”
With Khamenei saying he isn’t optimistic about his country’s upcoming talks with the P5+1 group over a final-status deal (but still calling on Rouhani’s political rivals to give him time), with the Iranian Defense Ministry saying the country’s defense is “not up for negotiations,” and with hardliners in Tehran warning Rouhani’s approach could reignite “sedition,” it’s difficult to know what’s really going on in Iran. The stunning contradictions may point to an internal power struggle, but they may also indicate a grave lack of transparency. We’re with Dettmer on this one: with Iranian-Western relations in the balance, it’s difficult to know where things are headed, but it’s easy enough to spot – and keep in mind – the two-step.