Risk and Reward: What Iran Learned after a Decade of Nuclear Talks

QOM, IRAN – JUNE 03: Women, dressed in a traditional Iranian hijab, walk past a portrait of the late Ayatollah Khomeini on June 3, 2014 in Qom, Iran. Iran is marking the 25th anniversary of the death of the Ayatollah Khomeini and his legacy of the Islamic Revolution. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.”  It was true for Heraclitus of Ephesus in ancient times, and it is equally true for Iranian leaders nowadays. When Tehran considers its strategy vis-à-vis the nuclear deal, its ideas are shaped by the past mistakes of its top leaders – all were key players in designing Iran’s failed diplomatic strategy in the mid-2000’s.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI) Chief Ali Akbar Salehi were all there when Iran decided to withdraw from its nuclear agreements in 2005 and restart its nuclear activities. Khamenei was Iran’s ultimate decision maker, Rouhani was its chief negotiator, and Zarif and Salehi were the ambassadors to the UN and IAEA respectively. A decade later, the same people face a similar dilemma: Should they comply with the nuclear deal if the United States increases pressure on Iran, or should they withdraw from the agreement and face the consequences? No matter which strategy the Iranian leadership chooses, it will surely be devised in light of Iran’s lessons from the past.

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