It is exceptionally difficult for most Westerners to negotiate with Iranians, especially in matters of politics. To begin with, it’s important to realize that Iran thinks of itself as a modern Persia. It is interesting to note that the rule of Shah Reza Pahlevi marked as it was by a panoply of ceremony and imperial trappings was an attempt to recreate the milieu of the past Persian regal presence. This artifice of historical power and prestige still underpins Iran under today’s religiously dominant leadership.
In other words, Iran today still wishes to be thought of by others – as it does itself – as a manifestation of the imperial Persia of the past. This is what drives them to be a nuclear power equal to the strongest nations in the world. In effect, Iran demands to be treated as the major power it once was, instead of the highly sophisticated, yet still Third World country that it is. Essentially, its Shia religious leadership has appeared to assume a character that can only be described as suffering from an institutional version of self-love. They tend to seek a dominant role among fellow Muslims. This ambition sometimes places them in an adversarial role with other Muslim nations.
Iran’s economic power originated from the development of its oil industry. This gave the country an importance in modern terms that it once had held back in the days of the Persian Empire. This special status has tended to diminish as other petroleum sources were discovered and developed throughout the world – including North America. The result has been an attempt by the new mullah-ruled Iran to seek other means of political power development. Hence the substantial and increasing role of Tehran in international terrorism activities. This important political weapon has now been developed to the point where the importance of Iran in world affairs has become disproportionate to its basic national and economic status. And here is where its nuclear development capability becomes critical.
In the past, the field of nuclear weaponry had been dominated by the Great Powers of World War II. Today the potential of nuclear weapons development has spread to lesser powers that desire to be regarded on a par with the “big boys.” In fact, the intellectual and technological underpinnings of the nuclear energy field have become a factor in itself. It is this evolution that now places Iran in a position where its leaders believe it can have world leverage. This creates an entirely new negotiating stance and strength for a once imperial-minded Iran.
One of the particular strengths that Iran has is its ability to argue its case with imagination and a total disregard for truth. This is an intellectual concept that is foreign to Western morality, though not unrecognized as an argumentation device. The fact is that the Iranian Shia’s use of the device has been honed over many generations of their wars against oppression – real or constructed for political advantage. Politically-justified lying is used in all cultures. It’s just that the Iranians are particularly adept at it.
Washington has been utilizing techniques of bargaining with Tehran which have been appropriate in the past as commercial devices traditional with their Iranian counterparts. Unfortunately, these devices do not apply in the same manner with the religiously constrained mullah-led counterparts. The term taqiyah is used generally in Middle Eastern affairs in reference to teachings in the Koran. There are various definitions of the term, but the predominant Shia belief is that not divulging the truth in any action aimed at protecting the Faith or a believer in the Faith is acceptable. Furthermore, the Shia of Iran accept taqiyah as the justification for what is translated as “dissimulation” to protect their faith. Any attack on today’s Iran, real or imagined, is deemed an attack on the Faith. All negotiations and agreements are judged in this context.
The Russians, for their part, are well aware of the philosophical and logical contradictions in Iranian foreign and defense policy. The Russians have had to deal with the Iranians (Persians) for centuries. The fiercely anti-American regime in Teheran has provided an entirely new joint Russia/Iran political perspective. However, the advent of a possible nuclear-armed Iran, even with a useful anti-U.S. government policy, is also a significant matter of concern for Moscow. All in all, Russian shares with the U.S. the desire not to have a proliferation of nuclear weapon capability in the Middle East. This is a factor the Trump Administration must take into consideration and utilize to whatever extent possible.
While domestic opponents of the current Republican Administration may complain about the clear efforts of the Trump White House to establish and maintain a “special” relationship with Vladimir Putin, there definitely is a serious, shared interest of both countries in controlling Persian ambitions.