There is a prevailing belief that Iran wants someone to save it from itself, not from Arabs or the West. Iran’s problem comes from within Iran itself and not from outside its borders. This seems to have been signaled by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who said: “I confirm to you that because of these negotiations [with the P5+1 group] the Islamic Republic of Iran has become safer. No one can any longer beat the drums of war against the Iranian people.”
Let’s take a look at Iran from this perspective. The Iranian regime has, for over thirty years, backed itself into a corner with its slogans, and stances on regional and international issues. It imprisoned itself, its leaders, and its mind, in this corner at a time when the entire world around it was changing. Iran’s political system is based on a model close to Communist China and the Soviet Union’s. However, where China has jettisoned its Leftist, Soviet baggage and created a new regime with a new face, Iran has not. Meanwhile, Basij militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps continue to police people’s ideas and punish whoever opposes them.
Do Iranian leaders really want to escape the prison they have inherited from the revolution? Is Iran really looking to open up? Are its negotiations with the West over its nuclear program an appeal for help to catch up with a world that has changed a great deal?
Zarif has not clearly stated that Iran wants to change, but he did say that his country feels safer because of the negotiations and that Iran feels proud that the P5+1 group sat down to negotiate with it and improve ties. If the minister and the regime feel this way, then what will happen later if an agreement is reached and the confrontational approach Iran has adopted for thirty years ends? The regime’s discourse—which mirrors that of the revolution—is built on the twin ideas of confronting its enemies and making sacrifices in order to do so. But if there is a comprehensive nuclear agreement, this revolutionary discourse will not fit into the new political context. The West will be a friend and a source of food, toys and movies. If this happens, revolutionary Iran will no longer be the same Iran after the negotiations.
Of course, this all depends on the assertion that Iran has indeed backed itself into a corner. It also relies on the political will of the Iranian regime in seeking a way into the modern and global system that does not tolerate rebels. It is also dependent on whether Iran becomes a country that is open to the world and that seeks to export its products and not its rebels and its revolution.
What may thwart the attempt to escape the revolution are Iran’s domestic political struggles, the outcome of which have not been settled, even though Ayatollah Khomeini died a quarter of a century ago. Official celebrations and gatherings still feature massive photographs of the revolution’s leaders, just as the Chinese did in the past as they competed to show loyalty to Mao Tse-tung. However, once Beijing opened itself up to the world, Mao Tse-tung’s image became like that of China’s other bygone emperors. China espoused a history of pride but did not feel the need to bow to Mao or to his teachings.
Zarif says that the world wants an understanding on the basis of logic, dialogue and respect, but the truth is that the world has always tried to reach an understanding with Iran. It is the Iranian leadership that isolated itself, accusing anyone who extended their hand to foreign parties of collaboration, treason and Zionism.
Perhaps these restraints will be broken and the Iranians will free themselves of their cage. If negotiations are a mere trick to attack others and expand influence, then the regime will have chosen to end its life, just as suicide bombers do.