One of the most widely-reported Iran-related stories this week centered on a warning directed by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at US Secretary of State John Kerry: agree to a nuclear deal, or President Rouhani is out. Zarif’s warning came just as Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu was cementing his plan to address Congress on Iran next month without backing from the White House, and naturally, it drew a great deal of attention – particularly amid reports that Rouhani’s popularity within Iran is in decline as sanctions persist and oil prices plummet.
While Rouhani told his public in an Esfahan speech this week that Iran doesn’t “need an atom bomb” because it has a “great, devoted and united nation,” his foreign minister set his sights on the much-maligned “West,” calling in recent meetings with Kerry on the sidelines of the talks for a final-status agreement to be reached before Rouhani is overpowered by Tehran’s even less pragmatic hardliners.
Zarif’s warning cry, originally reported by Reuters as an exclusive, was hushed up by his ministry and labelled a possible negotiating tactic by Western officials (though Zarif and Kerry met again in Munich this week in a bid to accelerate the negotiations).
The Reuters story was carried more or less verbatim by most major English-language news outlets. But The Wall Street Journal’s Bill Spindle, meanwhile, dug a little deeper, revealing that though Zarif and Kerry are rather chummy these days, there are still Iranian lawmakers – not to mention Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose opinion Spindle described as “the only one that really matters” – who “thunder” at the prospect of “any relationship” with the US not characterized by “resistance.”
Ultimately, wrote Spindle, this isn’t just about a nuclear deal – it’s also about a future in which Iran no longer “wraps its national identity in defying the West, and particularly the US.” Can a deal be reached – and fulfilled – without this happening?