Senior officials from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Basij volunteer militia continued to speak out against bilateral talks with the US over Iran’s nuclear program, while stressing that Tehran’s “resistance economy” will allow it to overcome sanctions.
Much of the rhetoric against bilateral talks comes in the wake of the IRGC’s announcement last week that it had downed a US ScanEagle drone in Iranian airspace.
Some commentators, including opposition website Digarban, have suggested that the ScanEagle incident – which took place exactly a year after Tehran reported capture of a US RQ-170 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle – was deliberately engineered to strengthen Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s anti- American stance regarding bilateral nuclear talks with Washington.
The head of Iran’s Basij volunteer paramilitary organization, Brig.-Gen. Muhammad Reza Naghdi, said on Friday that the ScanEagle capture came at the same time as the US was “begging for negotiations” and was therefore “testament to the lying and brutal nature of America.”
“The answer to America’s request for talks was the brave act by the heroes of the IRGC against the assault of [the US] spy drone,” Naghdi said, according to Fars News, which is closely associated with the IRGC.
“The drone incursion is a wake-up call for those who have gone to sleep and talk about negotiations,” he added.
On Friday, Naghdi also said he was opposed to Iran asking for sanctions to be lifted in the next round of nuclear talks with the P5+1 world powers – the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany.
The Basij leader said that sanctions have unlocked Iran’s “latent potential” and the oil embargo could even help the country’s economy cut its dependence on crude sales.
Brig.-Gen. Sadeq Kaki, commander of the IRGC’s Amir-ol-Momenin unit in Iran’s Ilam province, also spoke out against US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks about direct talks, saying that they were “lies and psychological warfare.”
Negotiations should be conducted in conditions of equality, Kaki said, but Washington had made its request of bilateral talks as “its spy plane violated Iranian airspace, which goes to show that its request was mendacious.”
Regardless of whether the ScanEagle drone event was an IRGC ploy to portray Washington as an aggressor in order to strengthen their anti-bilateral talks position – even prior to the event – sources close to the final arbiter of talks, Khamenei, have spoken out strongly against against accepting Washington’s overture.
Last week, the supreme leader’s representative in the IRGC, cleric Ali Saeedi, said that Washington’s proposals of direct talks were a ploy to trick Tehran into capitulating over its nuclear program.
Saeedi accused the US of waging psychological warfare against Iran in order to weaken the country and its people, and that direct talks would only benefit Washington’s strategy of “global hegemonic domination.”
Last month, Saeedi said Western sanctions were nothing to do with Iran’s nuclear program but were a plot to break down the Iranian government.
While IRGC leaders remain opposed to talks with the US, a more optimistic view on Tehran’s relations with Washington was offered earlier this month by Seyyed Mohammad Sadegh Kharazi, Iran’s former deputy foreign minister and ambassador to France and the UN, who is known to be close to Khamenei.
“Iran has reached a point where it must choose between interaction and confrontation with the US,” said Kharazi, who played a key role in negotiating Iran’s offer of talks with Washington via the Swiss ambassador to Iran in 2003 – talks which never took place because Washington rejected them.
“This does not mean that the problems between Iran and the US will be easily solved in the near future; the history of relations between the two countries is filled with bitterness and difficulties and the problems between them cannot be forgotten,” Kharazi added, in a speech that was reproduced on his Iran Diplomacy website.
Although bilateral talks between the US and Iran appearing increasingly unlikely, diplomats have said that the P5+1 world powers are tentatively expected to hold a fresh round of talks with Tehran in early 2013. Separately, the International Atomic Energy Agency is scheduled to visit Iran this week.
Since April, three rounds of nuclear talks have failed to resolve the long dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, which Western powers including Israel say is aimed at developing nuclear weapons capabilities.
If fresh talks do go ahead in January, it is still not clear what package the P5+1 countries intend to present to Tehran, but Iran has made it clear that it is unlikely to back down over its uranium enrichment demands. Uranium enrichment to a level of 5 percent is enough to fuel civilian nuclear power plants, but Iran says it needs 20% enriched uranium is for its Tehran medical research reactor.
Against this background, it is possible that world powers could offer Iran an updated offer on 20% uranium enrichment in exchange for Iran coming clean about the rest of its nuclear program.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, said Friday that Iran was “fully prepared” to negotiate with the P5+1 powers over its nuclear program, but that the West must recognize Iran’s right to enrichment.
“In our view, if Islamic law recognizes the right to peaceful nuclear activities, then we enjoy the right to enrich within the range of peaceful activities,” Mehmanparast said, according to Iran’s ISNA news agency.