Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Reuters

Something has recently unfolded that comes as little surprise to me and other observers who know too well the mullahs’ regime in Iran and their dealings. Their maneuvers, which they portray as “drinking the cup of poison,” are in fact an expression of political “taqiya,” or cryptopolitics.

This practice of the mullahs is marked by a role-playing game in which they are very gifted. This is a game which those who are hoodwinked about the regime’s true nature and ideology take to be a political struggle between hardliners and reformers.

This thing came as the latest signal from Iran’ mullahs to the next US administration, after being assured that the transfer of power in the White House to President-elect Joe Biden has begun. The thing I am

The thing I am talking about is the recent stream of repeated and rash statements by Iranian officials regarding negotiations with the United States.
talking about is the recent stream of repeated and rash statements by Iranian officials regarding negotiations with the United States.

The messages started with a statement by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani called on President Biden’s new US administration to “make up” what he described as “mistakes” made by the outgoing Trump administration.

“We hope that in its first steps, the next US administration will explicitly condemn Trump’s policies on Iran,” reported the official news agency IRNA, Rouhani calling the policy “anti-human rights and terroristic.” The statement comes not long after Rouhani hinted that his country was ready to cooperate with the new US president.

“We feel that the atmosphere is prepared for closer relations and better interaction with all friendly countries,” he had commented on the results of the US presidential elections. “The problem of the [US] administration, in its final months, was that it was not very familiar with international politics. It was almost carrying out the dictates of the [US] extremists and of the Zionist regime.”

The content of the message is quite interesting: “The Great Satan” is now a friendly country. Put another way, the mullahs’ problem with the Americans does not revolve around sensitive strategic and security issues, but rather, as Rouhani said, around President Trump’s ignorance of the rules of international politics.

What matters is that, in his statement, Rouhani threw the ball in the new US administration’s court He said his country was ready to start negotiations with the United States, provided that Biden returns to the 2015 nuclear agreement and lifts Trump-imposed sanctions. He then laid down other conditions, including the “making up” point.

This may seem odd at a time when scenarios are being floated about a possible decision by President Trump to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities before leaving the White House next January. However, analysis of the situation confirms that the timing is well chosen. By placing the ball in the Biden administration’s court to negotiate, the mullahs want to kill two birds with one stone.

First, they block any possible decision for a military operation and refute any justification that President Trump is supposed to present to Congress, even though he does not need its green light for a limited strike against a threat to US strategic interests.

In other words, they position the new US administration to defend them for their desire to negotiate and their readiness to maintain relations with “friendly countries,” which, by the way, is a carefully worded message to the ears of whoever is interested back in Washington. Second, they are urgently putting the Iranian topic on the table of the new American presidential team.

They do not want it to get busy with other issues at a time when the Iranian economy is suffocating the most from the harsh Trump sanctions. Iran cannot hold it for another month, let alone a year or two, while it waits for the new president to make up his mind.

After the Iranian president pitched in, the turn came for the head of the mullahs’ regime. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei warned against trusting foreign parties to find solutions to the Islamic Republic’s problems. Chief of Staff of the President of Iran Mahmoud Vaezi, for his part, played his part by saying that there would be no new negotiations on a nuclear agreement.

The Iranian official added that it is only natural to welcome Trump’s defeat, not only in Iran but also among US allies. Such a statement totally belies the mullahs’ claims that they are not remotely concerned about the results of the US presidential election. This time, deliberately for media and political manipulation, Vaezi did not go along with the claims of his boss, Rouhani.

According to Vaezi, the negotiations on the nuclear agreement were conducted in stages but “[w]hat happened was that countries, especially the US, did not do their commitments; the most important condition of Iran is that the commitments stipulated in the JCPOA need to be respected both by Iran and the other member states.” There will be no renegotiation of the nuclear agreement, he concluded.

The game is clear this time. Otherwise, how else can President Rouhani announce that his country is ready to negotiate, when his head of staff says that there won’t be renegotiations? Forget Vaezi.

Between Rouhani and Khamenei, it may seem at first glance that there is a disagreement on the negotiations. However, let us recall that any decision on Iranian foreign policy must get the green light from the Supreme Leader.

Rouhani’s discourse that Iran will use “every opportunity” to have the US sanctions lifted, i.e. that he sees an “opportunity” in the election of a new US administration, is not coming from nowhere. Behind it is the OK from the Supreme Leader. In situations like this, the Supreme Leader tries to strike the right balance.

He leaves room for so-called reformers, like Rouhani, to work in the interests of the regime’s objectives. And, at the same time, he enables the radicals to attack them and denounce their political line. A game the mullahs have mastered well.

It allows them to escape any possible fallout or failure, by blaming one side of the regime and not the whole. It is interesting, moreover, to note that Khamenei’s speech on the rejection of negotiations on the lifting of sanctions does not focus on negotiations with the United States.

Rather, it addresses the refusal of the European side to mediate for the lifting of US sanctions, even though this was not expressly stated. Judging by all the recent statements of the Iranian Supreme Leader, his dissatisfaction is stronger with the European position than with the US policy.

“Iran cannot count on them or draw up plans in accordance with their positions [...] [Their] situation [...] is not clear, [they] are constantly taking stances against Iran, [they] cannot be relied upon and one cannot pin hope on [lifting sactions],” he concluded in a criticism apparently directed at European countries.

The implication is such that Khamenei wants to deal directly with the new US administration, far away from European mediators. The mullahs believe that the Europeans have not played a positive role in easing American pressure over the past four years.

This is in line with Rouhani’s claims of clinging to the opportunity with the new US administration, something which, again, he can’t say without the permission of his Supreme Leader.

It’ s only the beginning of a long game. The mullahs have placed the ball in the court of the new American president.

Other parties and regional powers concerned by the Iranian threat must say their words loud and clear. Time is pressing.

Dr.Salem AlKetbi is aUAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate