WASHINGTON – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei unveiled a strategy against international sanctions last week that encourages indigenous development of new technologies within the country, dubbed “resistance economy” by the Iranian government.
The new policy suggests Khamenei might be planning for the possibility that international sanctions could remain in place through the foreseeable future.
“Khamenei’s ‘resistance of economy’ plan could be an indicator that he is preparing for a possible breakdown in negotiations,” Nima Gerami, an Iran expert at the National Defense University, said.
In a paper published last week by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Gerami said that nuclear politics in Iran are more dynamic and consequential than often acknowledged in foreign policy circles.
Gerami casts Iran’s political establishment in three camps: nuclear supporters, who believe Iran’s nuclear rights should remain uninhibited; nuclear detractors, a largely marginalized group that argues against continuing the program; and nuclear centrists, such as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who believe Iran’s nuclear rights should be considered only one of many key issues to the national interest.
Staunch supporters and centrists are still at significant odds, Gerami writes, posing a political challenge to Khamenei, who is sympathetic to both positions.
“[Khamenei] is hedging his bets,” Gerami said in an interview, referring to the Vienna negotiations. “If Tehran’s elite divisions continue to deepen and Rouhani fails to deliver on his domestic agenda by improving the economy, Khamenei might retract his support and scuttle the nuclear talks.”
Gerami said that Khamenei governs not by decree, but consensus – while also marginalizing dissenters, keeping a lid on internal criticisms going public and shutting down intergovernmental debate through the compartmentalization of the program.
The Revolutionary Guards in Iran – and other nuclear supporters – could attempt to undercut Rouhani’s attempts to forge a longterm, credible deal, he said.
“The failure of diplomacy to deliver a comprehensive solution on the nuclear issue would signal the ascendancy of the IRGC and Iran’s staunchest nuclear supporters,” Gerami said. “They would likely respond to additional sanctions with increased belligerence and prolong Iran’s international isolation.”
“Depending on the perceived threat perception and domestic political circumstances,” he said, “that could potentially mean a break out to nuclear weapons.”