Interestingly, different stories on the topic provided wildly different assessments of the situation, based on whether they focused on comments coming from the US State Department or from the mouth of the Iranian supreme leader. Business Recorder began its article on the topic with a headline that said “Iran rejected US request for cooperation against IS,” according to Ali Khamenei.
In Khamenei’s typical style, these remarks were accompanied by rhetorical statements against the United States, which he described as having dirty hands and accused of angling to assert the authority to “bomb anywhere without authorization.” This comment reflects Iran’s previously-expressed anger over President Obama’s decision to authorize bombing against ISIS targets in Syria without first seeking approval from the embattled dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, whom Iran has helped to keep in power through more than three years of civil war.
This latter context is clear, but as Reuters points out, the context of Khamenei’s claimed rejection of a US request is less clear. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki acknowledged that the US and Iran discussed the ISIS situation as a sideline to nuclear talks, but there is no record of the US requesting help or cooperation from Iran. Indeed, as Reuters also points out, the US has made it clear that it has no intention of coordinating militarily with the Islamic Republic.
However, the Albany Tribune points out that some level of coordination has been and will remain inevitable, in the sense that US and Iranian forces need to communicate in order to remain out of each other’s lines of fire. However, this same article points out that one of the key points of contention between the two countries is how this conflict affects Syria. Whereas the Obama administration believes that the Free Syrian Army can help in the fight against ISIS, Iran insists that the way to defeat the Sunni terrorist group is by supporting the Assad regime.
Evidence against Iranian claims of a US request includes the fact that the US excluded Iran from multilateral security talks about the ISIS situation, which took place in Paris on Monday. This exclusion came in spite of push-back from the new ostensible unity government of Iraq, and from French policymakers.
As Hot Air points out, the latter is indicative of a broader shift in French policy towards Iran – a shift that began no later than when France began contemplating helping Iran to evade US-led sanctions in July. At the same time that this move was motivated by the perception that Iran was on the verge of full sanctions relief and would soon be a viable market, it is now poised to make it difficult for the US to re-impose sanctions if it decides to do so.
This may help to explain why Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for American and European Affairs Majid Takht Ravanchi felt justified in telling Patricia Adam, the head of the French Parliament’s Defense Commission on Monday that Iran expects the full and immediate cancellation of all sanctions as part of any final nuclear deal. Tasnim News Agency quotes from the meeting and declares that France is seeking closer ties with Iran.
This shifting French position is certain to further complicate nuclear negotiations. Also a complicating factor is the lack of progress in the IAEA probe of Iran’s current activities and the past military dimensions of its nuclear program. AFP reports that IAEA head Yukiya Amano spoke out against Iran’s lack of cooperation on Monday, urging Iran to make up for its previous missed deadlines and stonewalling of inspector access.
But Reuters adds that the IAEA has projected that if Iran does show serious cooperation from this point forward, the process of probing its current and past activities could be completed in 15 months. This statement came with a hint of a warning, as well, with an IAEA spokesperson insisting that the process “will not be endless.”
However, that process also faces significant internal challenges, according to the Indo-Asian News Service, which reports that the IAEA is currently 700,000 euros short of its budget for the completion of the Iran probe. Of a total one million euros needed by the US agency, only 300,000 have been pledged by member states.
To the extent that there still remain questions about the future prospects of the IAEA probe, it remains uncertain how its outcome will impact the separate P5+1 negotiations, which have always been expected to rely on the IAEA reports for key information about Iran’s level of cooperation.
A post at the foreign policy site LobeLog analyzes the emerging Asian bloc comprised primarily of Iran, Russia, and China, and examines why Iran seems to be pivoting east with its foreign policy after trying to reach out to the West amidst nuclear negotiations. The author considers two possibilities without taking a firm position on either. On one hand, the Iranian government may now be hedging against the increasingly likely failure of a nuclear deal that would have eliminated sanctions. In this way, they would be trying to establish an alternative trade infrastructure as a sort of consolation prize in lieu of being freed to Western markets. On the other hand, Iran may be using its deals with Russia as a way of sending a message that it doesn’t need the nuclear deal at all, thus attempting to intimidate the US into giving into more Iranian positions.