According to Breaking Israel News, chief negotiator Abbas Araqchi responded with the same threat, saying that Iran would walk away if “other parties impose their will.” On Sunday, senior Iranian official Ali Akbar Velayati mocked the threat of a US exodus from the talks, saying, “If American leaders don’t want to negotiate, it’s up to them, but they were the ones who were after negotiations.”
Other Iranian officials have expressed the view that the Obama administration is “desperate” for a deal, with many of them explaining this perception in terms of the US president’s apparent interest in coordinating with Iran against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Although his administration has repeatedly denied such coordination, Obama himself has sent multiple letters to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei stating the case. Last December it was revealed that Iran had begun bombing IS targets in Iraq – something that could not take place without at least some level of coordination between Iran and the US.
Most of the bombing campaigns within Iraq, however, have been carried out by a coalition of anti-IS nations led by the US and including several Arab states from the region. Turkey declined to directly participate in the campaign, largely because of the US’s refusal to take action against the Assad regime in Syria, which is supported by Iran in a simultaneous fight against IS and various rebel groups including the moderate Free Syrian Army.
This week, Turkey launched a unilateral military operation in Syria to evacuate and relocate the Turkish soldiers and artifacts at the Sulyman Shah tomb, which belongs to Turkey but is not connected to its mainland, according to Breitbart. This has been described as an “act of war” by the Assad regime, but criticism has also come from other major allies of Iran, including from government officials in Iraq, where Iranian forces and Iran-supported Shiite militias are increasingly absorbing the Iraqi army in the midst of their mutual fight against the Islamic State.
Ironically, Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Jafari said in a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart that Iraq would “not allow any country to undermine Iraq’s sovereignty, either directly or indirectly,” according to Iran’s state-run Fars News Agency.
At the same press conference, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, “In our view respecting territorial integrity and not using force in international relations is a fundamental and rigid principle in the international law and disrespecting this principle could be of no help to the establishment of security in the region.”
He went on to caution against Turkey’s intervention, warning that it “could pose a serious danger to the region,” and suggesting that all foreign interventions against IS should be coordinated through Baghdad. But Zarif also seemed to acknowledge that such coordination effectively translates to coordination through Tehran. “We enjoy very special, deep and extensive relations,” he said of Iran and Iraq.
Indeed, relations between the two countries are so close that billboards depicting the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran and his successor now stand in place of former statues of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, where they advertise for Iraqi recruitment in Iranian-controlled Shiite militias.
In an extensive report on Iran’s military operations in Iraq, Gulf News pointed out on Tuesday that these billboards of Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei are joined by billboards depicting Iranian military commanders, in seeming public acknowledgment of the direct presence of the Iranian military in its fellow Shiite majority country.
Gulf News explains that a secretive branch of the Iraqi government, known as Hashid Shaabi, or the Popular Mobilization Committee, now coordinates dozens of the Shiite paramilitary groups operating in the country, and functions as “the nexus between Tehran, the Iraqi government, and the militias.”
Furthermore, the organization is headed by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a former commander of the Iraqi Shiite Badr Corps, a group that has been trained by Iran since the 1980s. Muhandis is considered to be the right hand of Qassem Suleimani, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander widely reported to be running the Iraqi military operations against IS.
Suleimani himself is listed as a major sponsor of terrorism by several Western governments, and is technically barred from traveling across borders by the United Nations resolutions. Muhandis has been implicated in at least one bombing plot against American targets. Observations such as these are frequently cited by critics of the Obama administration in questioning the wisdom of supporting the Shiite against the Sunni side of the sectarian conflict spanning Iraq and Syria.
And according to The Tower, it is not only Obama’s traditional critics who are taking this line. On Tuesday, the news site said that “even analysts usually aligned with the Obama administration,” like Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, have expressed concern about a policy of short-sighted rapprochement.
Miller wrote in January that an excessive focus on securing a nuclear deal will result in an emboldened Iran, pursuing the same policies as it always has, but with increased strength and clout with which to challenge Western interests in the Persian Gulf region.
The Tower also refers to other analysts as pointing out that Iran is keeping up limited conflict with IS but is also entering into agreements and acts of cooperation with that and other Sunni extremist groups for the sake of antagonism of mutual enemies including Israel and the US. Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Daily Star, writes that “by drawing Western attention to the terrorist problem, it distracts Western governments from Iran’s larger project in the Middle East,” which is to position itself as the central leader of a global movement of political Islam.