via LobeLog

by Jasmin Ramsey

A member of Iran’s parliament today criticized the Rouhani government for transferring the nuclear negotiating file from the Supreme National Security Council to the Foreign Ministry because he believes FM Mohammad Javad Zarif sold Iran short on the recent interim deal he achieved in Geneva.

“It has now become clear to many that the negotiations team under the leadership of Mr. Zarif has given the maximum concessions and received the trivial minimum of concessions,” said Tehran MP Hamid Resaei.

Resaei is a conservative cleric with little influence these days, but his words could have easily come from more prominent Iranian hardliners. While they lost the upper hand in Iranian politics after their failure to effectively unite in producing an appealing presidential candidate, the potential for them to regain major influence continues to hang over today’s Iran, which has seen change since Hassan Rouhani became President.

“Iranians have effectively capped their program for now and if there is no concrete economic impact as a result of the agreement soon, then these voices will become louder and reach a greater audience,” said Farideh Farhi, an expert on Iran.

It is this potential that US policy and law makers who want an enduring deal with Iran over its nuclear program which addresses key US concerns should be considering when deciding on strategy. While the US’ own hardliners continue to insist that Iran only understands the language of force, the fact remains that Washington currently has a cooperative partner in Tehran that currently enjoys the backing of Iran’s Supreme Leader. Squandering the opportunity to effectively work with the Rouhani administration will result in a far more advanced Iranian nuclear program under hardliner control and an increased threat of military conflict. But the US can counter these possibilities by weakening the Iranian hardline narrative against dealing with the West through various means of international engagement that will empower the Rouhani government’s pragmatic policy positions, according to a report released today by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a DC-based organization that advocates US-Iran rapprochement.

“[C]oncrete action to fundamentally disprove a core tenant of the hardline narrative – the idea that the West is inherently against the scientific advancement of Iran – will significantly strengthen the positive-sum narrative in ways that facilitate a larger agreement with Iran and help prevent a resurgence of the confrontational policies of the hardliners,” states the report, “Extending Hands and Unclenching Fists.” Authors Bijan Khajehpour, Reza Marashi and Trita Parsi — who offer a combined range of scholarly, economic and US policy expertise on Iran — have consulted with key Iranian figures in identifying 7 projects through which this goal can be achieved with no proliferation risks, including an US/EU-Iran Science Summit.

The report, which was supported by the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and private donors in the Iranian-American community, offers specific suggestions for weakening the Iranian hardline narrative against dealing with the West:

To ensure that the summit will make a deep impact on the discourse in Iran, the U.S. and its partners can work to secure the attendance of prominent American and Iranian American personalities, such as Bill Gates, Pierre Omidyar, or Omid Kordestani. The summit can be held in honor of an ancient Iranian scientist such as Omar Khayyam or Abu Ali Sina (Ibn Sina) in order to further disarm skeptics in Tehran. Collaboration in the area of neuroscience is particularly promising. Iran has some of the most advanced neuroscientists in the world, and American scientists in this field have expressed an interest in collaborating with their Iranian counterparts.

As acknowledged by the report, these initiatives will certainly be viewed suspiciously by various Iranian actors given the dark history of the US/UK-engineered coup of Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953 and more than a century of Western exploitation of Iranian resources. Indeed, there are prominent voices in Iran with substantial followings who will always oppose the country opening to the West, but they have been marginalized since the June 2013 presidential election that saw a moderate, pragmatic cleric — backed by reformist and centrist leaders — take power after 8 years of hardline rule.

“Hardliners in Iran still speak loudly, but they have lost their ability to put an end to plans and programs just by speaking against them,” said Farhi, a NIAC advisory board member who just returned from a 3 month stay in Iran.

The independent scholar cited an EU parliamentary delegation’s recent meeting in Tehran with Jafar Panahi, a director who has been sentenced to 6 years in jail and Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent rights’ lawyer who was released in September after 2 years imprisonment as evidence of the hardliners’ weakened hand. Both Panahi and Sotoudeh (who is especially critical of the government) have been honored in the West for their advocacy efforts.

“There were shouts of sedition and so on but the meeting did happen in Iran’s new political environment and will have an impact on EU-Iran relations,” she said.

“NIAC’s suggestions regarding closer scientific cooperation may also face loud objections from similar folks but Iran’s new political environment will be able to withstand and ignore these challenges with the concrete benefits of these interactions on display,” said Farhi.