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Consequences of Rewarding Tehran for Its Double Speak Diplomacy

Iranian regime’s foreign ministry staff meeting with IRGC Quds Force- Ali Bagheri Kani shaking hands with Qassem Soleimani

In his memoir in the late 1980s, Ali Akbar Velayati, the Iranian regime’s former foreign minister and a senior advisor to the current Supreme Leader wrote, “Once, I went to Imam Khomeini (former Supreme Leader), complaining about the daily Kayhan’s editorials that are derailing our diplomatic efforts to reconcile with the world. But the Imam answered, ‘Let them do their job and you do yours. If some people are listening to you, it is because of their work, not yours.’”

For more than four decades, Tehran has spoken in two languages. This “double speak diplomacy” has always been a consistent doctrine of how the clerical regime in Iran has engaged with the outside world. It is a mindset that envisions terrorism on the ground as leverage at the negotiating table.

When the regime took power in 1979 it did not initiate its first foreign policy encounter with a high-ranking delegation traveling abroad. It made headlines by storming the United States embassy in Tehran, taking 54 Americans hostage for 444 days. Unfortunately, it did not stop there either. It further institutionalized the hostage-taking policy, set up dozens of militant organizations, and went on to terrorize four continents.

Tehran’s double speak diplomacy relies on a “give and take” methodology.

“When Iran is proposing to supply Lebanon with electrical power with excellent facilities, even without Iran asking for anything in return, some Lebanese officials reject such an offer against the interests of their nation,” Hezbollah Executive Council Chairman Hashem Safi al-Din said on March 27, threatening, “These people are afraid of the United States, and therefore anyone who rejects Iran’s offer to supply Lebanon with electricity and food is directly responsible for the calamities that the Lebanese are suffering.”

While prices of fuel and basic commodities in Iran are skyrocketing and record-high inflation is pushing more people under the poverty line, the Iranian state-run website al-Alam wrote on March 25, “Sources in the Lebanese government told Al-Jumhuriyah newspaper that Najib Mikati’s meeting with Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was very positive, during which the Iranian official reiterated his country’s readiness to help Lebanon in all areas, especially in the field of electricity and fuel.”

“Dozens of trucks carrying Iranian diesel arrived in Lebanon on Thursday, the first in a series of deliveries organized by the militant Hezbollah, a powerful group that operates independently from Lebanese authorities, which are struggling to deal with a crippling energy crisis,” wrote ABC news on the same day and Lebanese LBC quoted Reuters that “Iran is ready to supply wheat to Lebanon.”

The cargo was just a recent portion of a series of shipments that started years ago. Tehran’s efforts to exploit the Hezbollah-caused economic crises in Lebanon have been met with serious criticism inside Beirut. Washington has said that Tehran pays $700 million annually to Hezbollah to reinforce the regime’s grip over the country which Ali Khamenei considers a part of Iran’s “strategic depth.”

The clerical regime has also been known to seek influence in other countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian territories, Iraq and beyond.

On March 13, the Iranian regime’s Revolutionary Guards Corps fired 14 rockets from Iran to Erbil in Iraqi Kurdish region, allegedly to target Israeli bases. Iraqi officials widely denounced IRGCs allegations and most observers believe that the regime was warning the Iraqis against efforts to sideline political parties loyal to Tehran in shaping Iraq’s future. Turkish and Iraqi officials tied the regime’s hostility to a gas pipeline project from Turkey to Europe.

Nevertheless, Tehran has made sure its message is conveyed through the means it knows best and this has not been limited to the Middle East. Since almost a decade ago, concerns over the regime’s growing influence in Latin America have been voiced publicly by the United States House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House.

According to United States Institute for Peace, “The Iranian regime began shipping fuel to Venezuela, its closest ally in Latin America in 2020. Although Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, years of government mismanagement and U.S. sanctions on its oil industry have left its refineries in disrepair.”

But the Iranian regime seems determined to render these efforts ineffective and so far, the West has done little to counter the regime’s influence in the world and this has not gone unnoticed in Tehran.

In March 2021, in his new year’s address and three months before installing Ebrahim Raisi as the new president, the Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei gave instructions about how to steer the regime away from being vulnerable to sanctions.

“Our emphatic advice to the officials of our country, whether those who are now in office or those who will come later – is not to tie our economy to the lifting of sanctions. Do not wait for others to decide whether to lift the sanctions or not. Assume the sanctions will remain. Plan the country’s economy based on the continuation of sanctions,” Khamenei said.

One year later, disclosing a ‘governmental money-laundering operation’ and ‘Iranian proxy companies in 61 accounts at 28 foreign banks in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates’, Wall Street Journal wrote on March 18, “The Western officials say the clandestine system has worked well enough that Iranian authorities aim to make it a permanent part of the economy, not only to shield Iran from future possible sanctions campaigns but also to enable it to conduct trade without scrutiny from abroad.”

The last 43 years show that the Iranian regime resorts to warfare and extortion whenever it wants to impose its interests on the other side. The most radical response to Tehran’s behavior by the international community has been imposing the very sanctions that are currently being bargained about and the regime is using rockets, ballistic missile launches, and uranium enrichment to weapon-grade levels to eliminate them.

Dictators and aggressors around the world are watching and learning how the free world is responding and how low the bar can still go. The invasion of Ukraine which now seems to lend urgency to finalizing a deal with Khamenei did not develop overnight.

After two decades, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq might have worn out any appetite for military confrontation and this might not sound as bad news, but the question that remains is when will four decades of caving in and rewarding Tehran’s double speak diplomacy trigger a wakeup call?