Almost 5 weeks away from the March 24 deadline for reaching a general (political) agreement on the nuclear issue, Khamenei made sealing an agreement more difficult. Speaking to commanders of the air force on February 8, he talked about the details of an agreement and while supporting his negotiators, outlined new red lines for them.
Khamenei’s emphasis renders reaching an agreement by the March 24 deadline improbable.
Noting the regime’s retreats due to pressures imposed by the sanctions, Khamenei said: “We have done what we should have regarding the 20% enrichment, Fordow, Arak and the centrifuges. Thus, the Iranian side has acted logically according to the logic of the negotiations… The other side, however, is asking too much, is audacious, and is blackmailing. The other side is illogical… is asking too much. The Iranian nation will not kneel… to bullying.”
Khamenei set new terms and demanded the removal of nuclear-related sanctions in their entirety.
While confessing to the crippling effects of sanctions on regime’s economy, he referred to the objective of the talks: “The goal is to eliminate the sanctions. Of course, sanctions must be removed from the hands of the enemy; true to the word, the sanctions must be removed… Otherwise, if they are not successful in this matter, the Iranian nation, officials, the honorable government, and others have many avenues…”
Khamenei’s speech provoked reaction at the international level. U.S. President Barack Obama, in a joint press conference with Angela Merkel in Washington on February 9, stated: “I don’t see a further extension being useful if they have not agreed to the basic formulation and the bottom line that the world requires to have confidence that they’re not pursuing a nuclear weapon… We now know enough that the issues are no longer technical, the issues are does Iran have the political will and the desire to get a deal done.” Obama said: “We’re at a point where they need to make a decision.”
Before this, in an interview with NBC television on February 8, Secretary Kerry had stated that in the event that a general agreement is not reached, he sees no reason to extend the deadline to achieve a nuclear deal.
Meanwhile, Rouhani, who up to now had been trying to present a positive atmosphere for the talks, said in the February 11 demonstration: “The other side should end its incorrect, anti-human and illegal sanctions… that they are saying Iran came to the negotiating table because of the sanctions; they are lying. Iran came to the negotiating table for the sake of logic and to create peace and stability in the region and the world… Put aside the falsifications. Talk frankly with your nations. Tell them that with the great nation of Iran, the only solution left for the world is engagement.”
Khamenei’s recent statements acknowledges for the first time that the sanctions are a major problem for the regime. However, regime’s emphasis that it intends to keep its nuclear program shows the impasse facing the clerical regime. The nuclear issue is so intertwined with the fate of the regime that, despite all the pressures, it is unwilling to relinquish it in order to seriously cut down the sanctions. Khamenei’s emphasis that the sanctions be removed in their entirety and for a one-stage agreement are two new red lines set by Khamenei for his negotiators that make improbable the prospect for a successful outcome by March 24.
As Mrs. Rajavi has on various occasions indicated, it is now bare to see that given the fact that the regime was brought to the nuclear negotiations out of social pressure and international sanctions, Khamenei will only change the regime’s strategic course if faced with further pressures, including ratcheted up sanctions and the prospect of downfall. Unfortunately for the regime, it is already a long time now that the tic-tac of the clock started for Khamenei and his regime.