In a meeting with high-level clerics and other political elites on Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made clear his confidence in the Iranian position at the nuclear negotiating table.
The headline of the Fars News Agency report on the meeting claims that Rouhani declared that the civilian nature of his country’s nuclear program had been “proved to the world.” However, direct quotations in the same story paint a different picture – one in which Rouhani is keenly aware of how effective his position has been at securing Western concessions without the need to give up much on the Iranian end.
"The world today is forced to accept that the only way to deal with the Iranian nation is interaction and this nation does not bow to pressure and sanctions," Rouhani is reported to have said. The triumphant tone of such remarks ignores the apparently destructive impact of Western sanctions on the Iranian economy, which Iran’s authorities have been eager to cover up in recent years.
Rouhani’s choice to speak out now seems to indicate that those sanctions are no longer considered to be a serious threat now that they have begun to be incrementally removed as part of an interim nuclear agreement with the P5+1 group of international negotiators. Indeed, Thursday marked the release of the fourth and fifth installments of assets previously frozen by the United States. The latest release amounts to approximately 1 billion US dollars, as part of a total 2.55 billion.
Meanwhile, members of the UN House of Representatives were reported to be drafting legislation this week to compel President Obama to report to them on the nuclear deal and seek Congressional approval before it is finalized. Congressmen expressed concerns that the positive effect of sanctions relief on the Iranian economy has been made abundantly clear, even while there has been little public evidence that Iran is upholding its own obligations.
In a Washington Post editorial, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin similarly worries that there is a disparity between the strength of Western positions and the extent of Iranian benefit. She repeats objects from many on the right side of American politics, and some on the left, that President Obama has been averse to strong action.
Such criticisms lead to concerns that Iran will never truly give up its ambitions for acquiring a nuclear weapon, since the weak Western bargaining position means that it will never have to.
Rouhani’s comments in today’s meeting seem to uphold those concerns, since they express an obvious belief that Iran has been in control of negotiations so far. Fars quoted him as saying that Western powers should continue to pursue negotiations “because they do not have any other choice vis-a-vis the great and resistant nation of Iran.”