Q: You’ve written that the administration of Iranian President Rouhani favors a “cooperative, moderate and win-win approach” with its neighbors and the West. This approach–with easing of sanctions and increased scientific cooperation–would presumably have a positive impact on Iranian business and quality of life, but its implementation requires that the leadership wields power commensurate with its alleged majority–hardly a given due the intransigence of Iranian hardliners. How can trust, lynchpin of any agreement, be established?
Like any other pluralistic political system, Iran also has a number of political factions that have to operate within a complex power structure that is influenced by formal and informal power centers. It is not a secret that there are major disagreements within the country’s key constituencies, but when it comes to strategic decisions, once a decision is made (e.g. the decision to negotiate with the P5+1 and to find a resolution for the nuclear stand-off), then all power centers observe the strategic choice. In that sense, it is for example significant that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has stated publicly that Iran will stick to its commitments from the nuclear negotiations. His apparent pessimism is more related to the belief that the Western parties won’t deliver.
In assessing the behavior patterns of the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is important to appreciate that the mainstream political currents constitute a pragmatic regime that is in most decisions “reactive.” In other words, it will react to confidence-building measures as it needs to fully appreciate the good will of the opposite side. Therefore, trust can be built, if we witness more confidence-building initiatives from the Western parties, especially confidence building in areas where the two sides have mutual interests. Furthermore, when analyzing the Iranian responses, one should focus on the Iranian deeds and not on words that are sometimes designed for domestic audiences.
—Bijan Khajehpour is the managing partner of Atieh International, the Vienna-based international arm of the Atieh Group of Companies, a group of strategic consulting firms based in Tehran. He co-founded the Atieh Group in 1994 to offer strategic consulting services to Iranian and international companies.