Iran’s strategy is 'threaten, rinse, repeat' to get concessions - expert

Iran’s goal is to up the pressure on the US by showing it dictates the tempo.

PEOPLE GATHER around the water nuclear reactor at Arak, Iran, in December 2019. (photo credit: WANA NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS)
PEOPLE GATHER around the water nuclear reactor at Arak, Iran, in December 2019.
Iran’s confusing nuclear game of chicken with the international community continued on Monday, a day after a report indicated it had rejected direct talks with the US and the European Union.
The time is not ripe for such a meeting, Iran said. Iran’s goal is to up the pressure on the US by showing it dictates the tempo.
Iran has a well-oiled strategy regarding these threats, according to Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
“Iran is on a preordained trajectory to keep growing its nuclear program in a bid for broader relief,” he told The Jerusalem Post last week. “Consider incremental nuclear escalation and support for proxies as cruise control for Tehran. Washington needs to consider Iran’s nuclear and nonnuclear escalation as part of a coordinated campaign. Each move serves a purpose.”
In light of his comments, it is worth looking at how Iran was recently trying to get concessions and sanctions relief. Toward that end, Iran came up with yet another bizarre process and time frame.
Iran likes time frames to ratchet up nuclear threats. It likes to give several months’ notice before it does something to appear like it is behaving in line with some kind of law or rational approach.
The International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran announced that although Tehran would go ahead with its plan to reduce cooperation with the IAEA this week, including ending snap inspections, they had struck a deal on continuing ‘necessary’ IAEA monitoring and verification activities in Iran,” Reuters reported last Tuesday, adding that this new concept would continue for three months.
“This is a system that allows us to continue to monitor and to register all the key activities that are taking place throughout this period so that at the end of it we can recover all this information,” IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said at the time.
But will that be the case?
Iranian Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi recently said managers of his organization had met with the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency reported.
“There was a nuclear deal, so the delegates wanted us to explain this understanding,” he was quoted as saying. “From this, we determined that the implementation of the law and all supervisory inspections and inspections have been stopped, and this issue has been explicitly stated in the statement of the organization and the agency.”
That means Iran wants sanctions lifted within three months.
“Until the sanctions are lifted, no information will be provided to the agency… If the sanctions are lifted, we will provide the agency with the information retained during this period; otherwise, the information will be deleted from the cameras’ memory after three months and the recording will be stopped,” he added.
Now Iran’s three-month timeline is ticking.
“Extension of information is in the interest of both parties because if we want to have a comprehensive conclusion and evaluation, it requires the agency to have information and to conduct its own investigations based on the information,” Kamalvandi said. “This information is related to the movement of materials... and is provided to the agency when we see the lifting of sanctions or the fulfillment of the obligations of the other parties. We explained our correspondence with the Iranian representative office in Vienna… Unfortunately, the three European countries have begun unconstructive efforts.”
The mechanism by which details are derived but then held in a kind of black box so there is no direct knowledge of what Iran is doing regarding enrichment and its nuclear program is problematic. Iran is now trying to use this three-month window as further blackmail.
It is not clear who will blink first, the US or Iran, because both have painted themselves into a kind of policy corner. Iran thinks it used this method in the past successfully.
“When it comes to Iran leveraging threats, there’s not much new under the sun,” Ben Taleblu said. “Iran either deploys threats that it hopes the West will accommodate before having to carry out, or it employs threats to demarcate where it will act.”
Iran recently threatened to enrich uranium to 60%, he said, adding that it deployed this same threat in 2012 “as an option if negotiations failed. Negotiations, albeit in different formats, continued, and ultimately the 2013 interim deal called the JPOA [Joint Plan of Action] was agreed to a year later. In the latter case, we find the example of Khamenei saying he will meet threats with threats back in 2012, which set the basis for Iran’s tit-for-tat modus operandi.”
Iran uses the same threats again and again. Whether on the nuclear issue or claims it will threaten ships in the Strait of Hormuz. It recently attacked an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman.
“The Iranians are often called brilliant negotiators, but their strategy really is to threaten, rinse and repeat,” Ben Taleblu said. “That’s why we see the same threats from about a decade ago back in headlines today.”
Iran seeks to exploit US domestic politics as well. It wants to redirect US policy to a track where a new Iran deal is the end point. The US was on one track of maximum pressure under the Trump administration.
The question for Iran is how to get the US moving in a different direction. It wants US domestic policy to start talking about how the US needs an “Iran deal or war” as in 2015 and then present the deal as “peace.”
Iran capitalizes on the US fear of “endless wars” in this regard. Iranian escalation in the region is not trying to move America’s partners to fully embrace Iran overnight, but merely to get them to not embrace the US and hedge against it, Ben Taleblu said.
Iran exploits partisan politics in the US and other countries as well. It is a keen reader of Western media and hopes its latest three-month window will get the US moving in a direction toward what the Iranian regime wants.