Iran’s New President Will Retreat from the Nuclear Program


With the clarification of the names of the candidates in Iran, the focus now has shifted to their possible policies. A key question for Iran analysts concerns Iran’s nuclear program - which has emerged as the most complex issue in Iran’s foreign policy since the end of the war with Iraq in 1988 – and what direction it will take with each of the presidential hopefuls if he wins the election in June.

My prediction is that, if international sanctions continue, regardless of who is elected in June, his government will retreat from the current position on the issue and agree on a compromise. By “retreat” I mean the acceptance of the P5+1 conditions, i.e., ending all the activities that, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, may lead to the production of nuclear weapons.

This view is not a confirmation of a quite popular notion that the future president of Iran will play absolutely no role in influencing the direction of the country’s foreign policy or the nuclear issue and that it is only the Supreme Leader who, through his inflexible views, determines the fate of such issues. While the Leader in the Islamic Republic is the most decisive element in directing Iran’s foreign and security policies, one should not forget the fact that, under the rule of the very same Leader, Mohammad Khatami’s administration established completely different relations with the EU and no UN Security Council resolution was passed against Iran.

The above-mentioned prediction is not therefore based on dismissing the role of the executive branch in relation to the foreign policy of Iran but merely to emphasize another fact : Iran cannot, in the long-run, continue to resist international sanctions.

The Impact of the Latest Round of Sanctions

Iranian officials repeatedly announce that various international sanctions, which have been in place for three decades now, will never force the regime to change its strategic policies. But the reality is that the nature of the sanctions that have been instituted against Iran’s oil industry and banking system over the past year are fundamentally different from those that existed in any other time in Khamenei’s era.

Iran’s economy has never been sound and Iranians have continuously suffered because of different economic problems. But the intensity of the crisis that has followed the extensive oil and banking sanctions last summer is not comparable to anything the country has faced since the end of the war with Iraq.

In the past year, it is thought that Iran received only half of the estimated 100 billion dollars that it had expected to earn from oil sales. Furthermore, in the planned budget for the current year, a 30 billion dollar oil revenue is predicted, indicating a major drop in income for a regime which receives 70 percent of its foreign exchange requirement from oil exports. On the other hand, even with oil sales, because of the sanctions of Western governments against Iranian banks, the country’s financial institutions cannot receive the oil revenues from their foreign customers.

One common response to the view that international sanctions will result in a retreat by the Iranian regime on the nuclear issue is that Iranian rulers may not be concerned about the living conditions of their citizens or fear greater pressures on them and thus will not change their policies. The point is that even if the regime disregards the economic pressures on the public, one cannot ignore the fact that a drastic fall in the revenues of the Iranian regime translates into a serious fall in the budgets of its security and military agencies and even the impossibility of meeting the direct and indirect expenses of the nuclear program.

At the same time, there is no doubt now that if Iran does not demonstrate flexibility over its nuclear program, new international sanctions will target the remaining sources of revenue of the Islamic regime.

The Myth of the Regime’s Inflexibility

The nuclear program has undoubtedly become a political, security and public relations issue for the rulers of Iran who insist they will never retreat from the program. But experience has shown that such a retreat is possible when international pressure really threatens the lifeline of the regime.

The record of the Iran-Iraq war is a classic example of such a retreat. Less than two years after Iraq’s military aggression into Iran, Iran had attained the upper hand after it recaptured the city of Khoramshahr in May of 1982. In July of the same year the UN Security Council passed resolution no 514 calling on the parties to stop the war. But the Iranian regime ignored the resolution in the hope of more military victories on the ground and in August 1982 launched a major offensive inside Iraq’s territory.

The persistence of military operations resulted in the March 1985 capture of Fav, Iraq’s only water port on the Persian Gulf and in the winter of 1986 the city of Basra was under threat of being occupied. This resulted in the passage of UN Security Council resolution no 598. This resolution not only called for the end of the war but also made provisions for the identification of the aggressor, something that Iran had been insisting on. But still, when the tides of war were seriously turning in Iraq’s favor, the Iranian regime refrained from accepting the resolution because of its dreams of a military victory in future.

A year later, the situation reached the point where Iran’s oil exports through the Persian Gulf became almost impossible, Iraq recaptured many of the areas occupied by Iran and, according to Hashemi Rafsanjani’s memoirs, almost all of Iran’s military operations in 1988 led to military defeats. It was under those circumstances that, just two weeks after the US Navy downed an Iranian passenger plane over the Persian Gulf, Iran accepted the Security Council’s resolution no 598 in the worst possible conditions. Interestingly, until just a few days prior to accepting the resolution, Iranian officials maintained their uncompromising postures regarding the war and described any ceasefire as a betrayal.

It is difficult to imagine that Iran can withstand the new round of oil and banking sanctions which are breaking the backbone of the country’s economy, or that the West will not impose new sanctions on Iran if Tehran continues the current nuclear program.

At the same time, to accept the view that the next Iranian government will not retreat from the current nuclear posture can only mean one thing : that the Iranian regime can withstand the new sanctions for another four years even as international sanctions are moving towards an “oil-for-food” framework. But in view of the devastating effects of the latest round of sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking, and consequently economic sectors, such a scenario is out of the question.

The Impact of the Presidential Election

While its seems that any new Iranian government will step back from the current nuclear program, the results of the election will affect this program to the extent that the timing of such a retreat will clearly have an impact on Iran and the international community.

During the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, if Iranian leaders had accepted the cease fire proposed by Security Council resolution no 598 in 1987 rather than in 1988, the war would have ended on much better terms for Iran. Specifically, the combatants would have suffered tens of thousands fewer casualties, the devastating clash between Iran and the US in the Persian Gulf would not have taken place, and the lasting images of the war for Iran would not have been its repeated military defeats during the last year of the war.

Similarly, the timing and conditions when the Iranian regime decides to retreat from its current nuclear ambitions, and the number of additional sanction resolutions that will have passed when Iran changes its nuclear policies, will make a great difference to the lives of Iranians. And the next Iranian government’s posture and direction can play a decisive role in bringing about that difference.

Source : BBC Persian