On Tuesday, Agence-France Presse reported that Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi declared that the US is still Iran’s “number one enemy” and that Iranian foreign policy should not change at all in light of the nuclear deal. Yazdi is the head of the Assembly of Experts, one of the most influential bodies in the clerical government, and his statements reiterate that anti-Western sentiment remains as strong as ever among the highest level policymakers in Tehran.
Previously, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the West of trying to “infiltrate” Iran through implementation of the nuclear deal. He went on to say that Tehran would take all enforceable measures to obstruct and curtail Western influence over the Iranian economy, culture, and political system.
Possibly in support of this policy position, President Hassan Rouhani, who is regarded as a moderate by the US president and some other Western leaders, announced on Monday that foreign investors would be subject to restrictions requiring them to “share the wealth” with Iranian institutions.
Rouhani also announced that the policies and priorities of the Iranian military would remain unchanged, even when these conflict with UN resolutions. The resolution governing the implementation of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany bars the Islamic Republic from pursuing further advancement ot its stockpile of weapons capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.
While Rouhani’s remarks were reported in the Iranian press and quickly picked up by the Western media more than a week ago, there is no indication of Western leaders outlining consequences that the Iranian government might incur for violating UN resolutions. Critics of the Obama administration’s Iran policy have widely criticized the White House and European executives for a weak approach to enforcing Iranian compliance. Many of these critics add that a lack of appropriate threats and ultimatums only emboldens Iran’s illicit activities.
This perspective was brought to the fore again on Tuesday by Breitbart, which accused the Obama administration of falsely claiming that “all options are on the table” when it comes to dealing with Iran in instances of noncompliance with the nuclear deal or confrontation with the West.
The article notes that Iranian officials have publicly disregarded such statements, with Revolutionary Guard Corps Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Asoudi saying, “We should thank Obama for refreshing us by referring to his ‘options on the table,’ including the military one; we just relax and laugh at such ridiculous words.”
Breitbart argues that this situation stems from one-sided fears of damaging relations between the two countries. It points out that Obama has repeatedly refused to take aggressive action in the field of foreign policy, thus allowing Iran to remain unconcerned in the midst of not only its anti-Western rhetoric but also its anti-Western activities such as the establishment of contacts for Hezbollah in South America.
Despite these persistent signs of antagonism from Iran, the US is not the only country whose executive leadership is striving to maintain cool relations with Iran. In fact, some of these efforts go so far as to encourage the inclusion of Tehran in discussions and international actions to confront crisis on which the West and the Islamic Republic have been at odds in the past.
Case in point, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday that she wants Iran to be involved in bringing about a resolution for the Syrian Civil War, according to the International Business Times. Obama previously told the media that he believes Iran is coming to understand that the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad is seriously endangered, and that this will bring Iranian officials to the table for more constructive discussions about a political solution.
But there is no evidence from Tehran’s side that it is willing to consider a solution in which Assad does not remain in power. But his continued rule has been disregarded at various points by Western leaders.
The International Business Times describes Merkel’s statements as an example of how Europe has changed its attitude toward Iran after the Islamic republic agreed to restrict its nuclear program in [exchange for] sanction relief.” But even in the weeks following that agreement, Iran’s official media have repeatedly claimed that the West is to blame for the Syrian crisis, even going so far as to advance conspiracy theories about the US using ISIS to destabilize the Middle East.
In fact, the regions where ISIS currently operates are also regions where Iran has had extensive recent influence, indicating that Iranian support for Shiite militancy has contributed to the rise of ISIS as a Sunni counterpart.
An editorial in Y Net News on Tuesday suggested that the adverse effects of Iran’s sectarian influence go beyond this, as well. It mentioned Lebanon alongside Iraq as places where Tehran has helped catapult sectarian forces into positions of political power. Both of these regions are now suffering from poverty and economic collapse, which the author describes as the price that the two countries are paying for “being the spearhead in Iran’s fight against Sunni operations. The author also claims that these factors have helped to give rise to protest movements which he believes could spread to Iran itself.
Considering that this situation is ongoing, it is evidence of the practical effects of the promise made by the Assembly of Experts regarding the avoidance of change in Iranian foreign policy. Its sectarian motives have been evident at least since the US-Iraq War, as have their effects. Some of these were detailed on Tuesday in an excerpt from a book on the history of the Joint Special Operations Command, published in the Daily Beast.
The piece details the direct involvement of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force in both the sectarian warfare and the governance of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq. This influence made it nearly impossible for the JSOC to do its job in many cases, as some of the major drivers of Shiite militancy were made off-limits by the Iran-backed Maliki government.
To whatever extent the US remains invested in the Middle East in the wake of implementation of the nuclear deal, Iran’s recent comments suggest that the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy will continue to confront and counter that investment in much the same way that it did during the Iraq war.