Officials often tell Western states not to talk down to Iran or make threats. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad -- speaking in Bushehr, Iran on 1 February – said the Western "discourse belongs to the Middle Ages," ISNA reported, referring to an age of hierarchies.
Iran insists its nuclear dossier is a matter of international "law," technicalities, and "rights." It sees persistent Western suspicions as motivated by hostility and opposition to the progress of developing states. That hostility is clear to officials who claim intermittently that fear of defeat is the only reason the West has not attacked Iran. Army chief Ataollah Salehi said in Bushehr on 17 February that if the enemy "thought it might defeat us," it would have initiated an attack in the Persian Gulf, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported.
Western states "do not want Iran to be independent," Prosecutor-General Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi said on 3 February, and they are "taking vindictive decisions against us," ISNA reported. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, a leading conservative cleric, told a Tehran congregation on 17 February that Western threats and even violence could not deter Iran's bid to have nuclear energy.
He accused the West of backing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran in the 1980s, saying the war "ended to our advantage and you were disgraced, and everyone in the world found out how criminal you are." What "world is this," he asked, when "they tell us you cannot do research?"
Legislator Jalal Yahiazadeh said on 12 February that "the states pressuring us today are trying to form a nuclear OPEC" -- a cartel controlling fuel supplies -- ILNA reported. They want "the right to access energy only for themselves, so that when fossil fuels are finished they can attain their colonial aims." Nonaligned members of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) board of governors that voted on 4 February to report Iran's dossier to the UN Security Council "should know," he said, that Western states "will one day turn on them."
Singling Out Straw
Great Britain is a prominent villain in the historical imagination of Iranians and a symbol of foreign treachery. Legislator Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh said on 12 February that the history of recent Iran-EU talks shows that British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has taken the "most divergent positions...and actually every time he has adopted a moderate stance, we have seen harsh and aggressive conduct," ILNA reported. Straw's conduct, he said, should "not cause any optimism in our foreign policy." Iran gave up talking to the EU when it realized it was just killing time, he said.
Deceit and falsehood recur as perceived Western traits. Legislator Alaeddin Borujerdi said on television on 3 February that the West has stirred up such a "scandal" over Iran's program as to lead "our friends" to suspect Iran really does intend to make nuclear bombs.
Conservative politician Hamid Reza Taraqi said on 17 February that clearly the best foreign policy for Iran is to rely on itself, not on Eastern or Western states, as "it has been proven that neither can be relied on or trusted.... One should pay greater attention to states that have proven their true independence [against] global arrogance and imperialist policies," Mehr reported.
Little Confidence In Russia
More recently, there has been a growing skepticism toward Russia, a state more frequently immune to insults by Iran's nomenklatura. Russia has had generally good relations with postrevolutionary Iran. This may be for a persistent left-wing or radical streak in Iran's polity, born as it was of a mass revolution, and which is perceptible in the cordial relations it enjoys with such other states as China, North Korea, Cuba, and, most recently, Venezuela. But the skeptical remarks indicate a growing acceptance that essential interests -- not values or loyalties -- move interstate relations. This is increasingly clear to Iranians after negative votes at the IAEA, which Russia has joined or not opposed.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki (right) with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak in Tehran last month (TASS)
Lawmaker Mohammad Reza Mirtajeddini said on 14 February that Russia "only follows its interests," as shown by its vote to report Iran to the Security Council, Mehr reported. Its proposal for joint Iran-Russian uranium enrichment in Russia, as a safeguard measure, "is not sincere," legislator Javad Sadunzadeh told Mehr on 17 February. Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh said on 18 February that the Russians "know better than anyone" that Iran's program is "clean" but are trying "by mediation to gain concessions and consolidate their own position," Mehr reported. "Russia does not have the necessary goodwill and authority, and one should not rely strategically on [its] proposal," he said. Legislator Javad Jahangirzadeh observed the same day that Iranians' historical memory of Russia is "full" of bitterness, Mehr reported. Its enrichment proposal, he said, is "more disgraceful than the Turkmenchai and Gulistan" treaties that forced Persia to cede Russia its Caucasus territories in the early 19th century.
The proposal violates Iran's sovereignty, legislator Javad Jahangirzadeh said on 19 February. "The age of humiliating collaboration with old colonial powers is over...Asia is implementing America's views with its own hand," he told ILNA. Reformist deputy Nureddin Pirmuazzan told ISNA the same day that the Russians have a "dual role" and "a thousand faces to serve their own interests." History "has shown the Russians cannot be trusted," he said.
Reformists Advocate Wit
Reformist politicians on the sidelines of power agree that Iran has nuclear rights, but say these are better served with wit and diligence, not provocation. Former President Mohammad Khatami said on 15 February that Western states are "undoubtedly" unfair, "because there are three nuclear powers in the region and Israel has nuclear bombs, but they are pressuring Iran. This discrimination...is...generally the result of American pressure."
But he urged Iran to use "good sense" here. Former legislator Mohammad Kianush-Rad told ISNA on 15 February that "radical" positions, presumably by Iranian statesmen, are fuelling "tensions and spreading distrust" toward Iran. Liberal former minister Ezzatollah Sahabi urged "patience" and "confidence-building" in negotiations on 15 February, ISNA reported, while former parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karrubi told ISNA on 12 February that "we must...defend our rights...by remaining respectful to others."
There is an uneasy mixture of realism and idealism in the discourse of Iranian officialdom. In contrast to alleged Western double-talk, Iran invokes the truth, the law, science, progress, and justice when speaking of its nuclear program. And yet it is obliged to sit and talk to states it believes have no morals or principles. It may be that to resolve such discrepancies, the Islamic Republic has practically enshrined the idea of "expediency:" a short-term compromise -- an apparent bending of principles -- to serve higher, immutable ideals. A sense of expediency is the realism of a state its partisans believe is working God's purpose on earth. This outlook is illustrated in reported remarks by a former conservative deputy foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Larijani, who said a few years back that Iranian negotiators would, if state interests demand it, go to the depths of hell to negotiate with the devil.
So as the state speaks of absolutes and of "red lines" over enrichment, its negotiators may -- now and in coming months -- expect to reach an acceptable compromise not unlike the half-way price Iranians agree to pay after haggling in a market.