The Ministry of Intelligence in Iran continues to control the news about the deal, despite reports in the state-run media of a lively debate between officials and members of parliament described as hardliners opposed to talks or moderates who encourage President Hassan Rouhani to negotiate with the West.
Criticism of Iran’s nuclear program has long been taboo in the Iranian media, and publicly available facts, figures and analyses of the program have always justified Iran’s pursuit of atomic power. However, since the deal was announced in November, a radical — if largely unnoticed — change has occurred in the way news and commentary about the nuclear program are published and broadcast.
For the first time, official discussions about the program are publicly accessible. Media reports about opponents of the deal have warned that the “nuclear heart of Natanz [nuclear facility] stopped beating” and “Iran’s nuclear program has actually come to an end.”
Iran has long denied even having a nuclear program, but was forced to admit its atomic ambitions after the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) disclosed the existence of the program more than a decade ago. The mullahs then changed tactics, and the Iranian media followed by describing the pursuit of nuclear power as a symbol of national pride. The government insisted it had a right to develop a civilian nuclear program to generate energy.
The question now is, “Why?” Why is the Ministry of Intelligence allowing the public discussions about the nuclear deal? The question is important because the tyrannical regime ruling Iran has no obligation to inform the people of news about any of the most pressing issues facing Iranian society.
The primary goal of the campaign of deception is to mislead the global community, especially Iran’s negotiating partners, and portray the mullahs as serious about negotiating an end to the goal of developing a nuclear weapon. The campaign is designed for Rouhani to build trust and demonstrate that he is serious about the talks, even though this is the same man who once bragged about fooling the West in earlier nuclear negotiations.
Another important goal is to trick the West into believing that there are a large number of officials critical of the deal and that any additional economic sanctions would undermine Rouhani’s ability to conduct negotiations.
The fig leaf of opposition to the “moderate” new president, who supposedly spearheaded a new approach that led to a ‘Joint Action Plan,’ was the result of a cost-benefit analysis by the regime to continue enriching uranium while it pretends to shut down the nuclear program. This is a tactical shift from the reckless and defiant declarations under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It also protects the regime from any military action from Israel by preventing the Jewish state from attacking while its strongest ally, the United States, is leading the negotiations.
The campaign of deception is also intended to convince the West that Iran has no secret nuclear facilities.
There is no question that all of the factions of the regime understand that Rouhani’s gesture of moderation and his approach to the nuclear issue is endorsed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as the only possible way to lower the threat of a military strike against its nuclear sites and to find some breathing space from the crippling economic sanction. The lamentations from the “hardliners” and the gesture of strong internal opposition to the nuclear deal are the best Western negotiators can expect from Iran.
The only way to get further substantive concessions from Iran is for the United States to remain loyal to what brought the Ayatollahs to the table in the first place. To change the strategy that worked will backfire as Senator Bob Menendez (D.-N.J.) and 58 of his colleagues have correctly underscored. The Supreme Leader threw in the towel and reluctantly accepted an interim deal out of the fear that another uprising by the young and defiant Iranian population whose patience for is running thin. To deprive Iran of a nuclear bomb would require the United States to make it clear to the Tehran regime that non-compliance will have a heavy price: undermining the very existence of the regime.
Ross Amin is Vice President of the Organization of Iranian American Communities .