Iran and the six world powers will resume talks over a final-status nuclear agreement less than two weeks from today, on January 18. As if there weren’t enough obstacles already, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced on Wednesday that the talks didn’t matter at all, as the US “clearly” could not be trusted to ever lift the sanctions against Iran.
“Officials should not pin hopes on foreigners and should know that one step in retreat prompts the enemy to advance,” he said, in comments widely reported in the English-language press.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, meanwhile, made his own move earlier this week, threatening hardliners with a referendum on “crucial, disputed matters,” an “opaque” statement most news outlets took to refer to engagement with the West – particularly on the nuclear issue.
Rouhani’s speech was received with great fanfare and an outpouring of support in the Western media. In one op-ed, titled “Rouhani’s Big Gamble,” Slate’s Fred Kaplan described the speech as one of “jaw-dropping boldness, calling for a more open, pragmatic diplomacy with the West.” He added, however, that the referendum threat was “a bit of theater,” as a referendum must be approved in Iran by two-thirds of parliament – and in any case, Khamenei can overrule its results.
Bloomberg, meanwhile, featured an op-ed advising US leaders to “take advantage” of Rouhani’s “nuclear gambit” and “significant step” toward overpowering Iran’s hardliners. “HE’S PREPARING HIS COUNTRY FOR COMPROMISE — IS OBAMA?” read the all-caps caption underneath the top photo, which featured a resolute Rouhani speaking – to Washington, according to Bloomberg, just as much as Tehran.
CNBC, for its part, quoted a Middle East expert as saying Iran’s leadership couldn’t possibly allow such a referendum to take place – because soon enough, “Iranians would want a referendum on whether they need a supreme leader, whether the hijab should be mandatory, whether they should continue spending billions of dollars on Hezbollah and [Syrian President] Bashar Assad.”
Is Rouhani’s “theater” a brilliant gambit or a Pandora’s box, and can it take on Khamenei’s calls for a “resistance economy”? This is one chess game we hope the press will continue to provide live commentary for!