If Barack Obama stills believe his outreach to Iran will yield a nuclear deal, he might as well replace Air Force One with a unicorn piloted by the tooth fairy.
President Hassan Rouhani might have made the right noises in English to encourage the White House and Secretary of State John Kerry, but in Farsi, he and his colleagues have been consistent all along; they were playing the United States for fools.
After Obama had his September 27, 2013 phone call with Iran’s new president, for example, the White House celebrated, never mind that Rouhani immediately returned to Tehran and assured Iranians that talks would under no circumstances roll back Iran’s nuclear program. And while the White House interpreted Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s talk of “heroic flexibility” and an endorsement of nuclear deal-making, in Farsi, Khamenei explained that the phrase signaled a change in Iranian tactics, but not in the substance of Iran’s nuclear policy.
Now, there can be no more doubt. Speaking yesterday to a gathering of followers, Khamenei declared that the nuclear talks will “lead nowhere.” He should know, since it’s Khamenei and not Rouhani or Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif who dictates policy. True, Khamenei doesn’t mind if the talks continue—but who would if Iran gets $20 billion just for showing up.
None of this should surprise. In my new book, Dancing with the Devil, I study 35 years of Iranian negotiating strategy examining what Iranian figures say in Farsi about their own strategy. They make no secret of their goals: lull Americans into complacency, promise to talk but don’t deliver, and continue business as usual. It’s bad enough that the Islamic Republic is outplaying the United States. It’s even worse that the Iranian playbook has been open, but no one on the US side has cared to look.