By THOMAS ERDBRINK, nytimes.com, JULY 10, 2015
TEHRAN — As nuclear negotiations in Vienna grind on through deadline after
deadline, Iranian officials have begun a public campaign to blame the United
States in the event that the talks fail.
Iran’s public diplomacy has long been geared toward selling a possible
deal to hardliners at home. But as an interim agreement between Iran and the
West was extended on Friday to give negotiators more time, the government
seemed to recognize the need to prove to ordinary Iranians that it had done all
it could to obtain a final agreement and the lifting of economic sanctions.
“Such people may ask those in charge of the negotiations, ‘Why have you
not compromised more?’ ” said Farshad Ghorbanpour, an analyst who is close
to the government of President Hassan Rouhani. “Many of them seem to want
a deal and are much less interested in what Iran needs to compromise.”
That could explain why, after a flurry of Iranian statements in recent
weeks promising that a deal was well within reach, Foreign Minister
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s lead negotiator, told Iranian reporters on
Friday, “The most important issues are not resolved.”
Echoing the remarks of a senior Iranian official who briefed American
reporters on Thursday, Mr. Zarif said that Iran would “never leave the
negotiating table” and that the other side was to blame for the delays.
“Unfortunately, we are witnessing many changes of stances, excessive
demands and also different stances of several P5plus1 member states,” he
said of his negotiating counterparts: the United States, Britain, China, France,
Germany and Russia.
The remarks illustrate the potential for nastiness if a deal is not reached in
the coming days. Analysts said the Iranian leadership would do everything
possible to convince the public that the United States would be responsible for
any breakdown in the talks.
This position is no improvisation. As far back as 2013, after announcing
the direct talks with the United States, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei, emphasized that he was pessimistic about an agreement because
America could not be trusted.
“Of course, America will be blamed if we can’t reach an agreement,” said
Aziz Shahmohammadi, a former adviser to Iran’s Supreme National Security
Council, adding that Ayatollah Khamenei had issued the same caveat on
several occasions. “Failure in the talks will prove that belief in front of the
In Tehran, Friday was Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day, the annual statebacked
demonstrations against Israel. Thousands of people turned out to
shout, “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” while fire trucks along the
route hosed them down with water to ward off the intense summer heat.
Mr. Rouhani, joining a crowd that carried placards saying, “Death to
Zionism,” told reporters that the negotiations were in a delicate state but that
“the future is bright.”
In a speech, the speaker of Parliament, Ali Larijani, a former nuclear
negotiator, warned the United States, “If the talks reach a dead end, it will be
you that will be blamed.”
The negotiations took a downward turn on Monday, American officials
said, when the Iranian negotiating team started demanding that all United
Nations sanctions against Iran, including the ban on the import or export of
conventional arms, be lifted as part of the deal.
Iranian politicians said a Wednesday phone call from President Obama to
Secretary of State John Kerry was the main reason for the talks going sour.
“While the negotiations were moving towards understanding and
agreement, America’s president disrupted the game under the pressure of the
Zionist lobby,” Mansour Haghighatpour, a conservative lawmaker, told the
Iranian Fars news agency. “Some European countries are also responsible for
not reaching an agreement. In case an agreement is not reached, these
countries will be the main reasons for this.”
Iranian state television broadcast an interview on Thursday with Ali
Akbar Velayati, a foreign policy adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei, saying that
Iran would never stop the talks. “It is up to them,” he said of the Americans. “If
they want to go, they can go.”
The change in tone came as a shock to many ordinary Iranians, who had
convinced themselves in recent months, based in large part on upbeat
messages from Iran’s negotiators, that the nuclear talks were a done deal.
Many had been anticipating a bright future after the lifting of the ruinous
economic sanctions, which were imposed because of Iran’s nuclear program.
In elevators, in shared taxis and at family gatherings, Tehran residents
would repeat to one another what they had heard on the news: that the
negotiations were nearly done, that only a few issues remained.
On Thursday evening, after yet another deadline passed without the
announcement of a deal, it dawned on Elnaz Karimi, a 37yearold sales
manager, that the talks could fail.
Sitting at home, surrounded by moving boxes with the television on in the
background, she heard Mr. Kerry announce another extension of the
negotiations. The sanctions have pushed the medical equipment company
where she works to the brink of bankruptcy, she said, and she and her
husband had just bought a new flat.
“What if the deal fails? Will there be more sanctions? What if I lose my
job?” Mrs. Karimi said. “I just never thought no deal is also an option.”