The first round of negotiations between Iran and a collection of Western and other interlocutors over the nation's controversial nuclear energy program has sparked tremendous optimism on the part of the West. "I have never had such intense, detailed, straightforward, candid conversations, with the Iranian delegation before," a senior White House official gushed afterward.
Such enthusiasm may prove premature, but it's certainly not too early for hardline skeptics and critics of the talks to stake out the opposite view. In the U.S., as well as Israel, many Iran hawks have bashed the talks before they even began, and they're showing no signs of letting up -- or endorsing the Obama administration's approach to the talks.
Misery loves company, and if the Western hardliners want someone to commiserate with, they might see if they can't get a visa to Iran, where an equally ardent group of hardliners -- led by the corps of the staunchly anti-American Revolutionary Guard -- are just as frustrated and dispirited by the course of the negotiations as they are.
Here are some of the ways in which Western and Iranian hardliners see eye-to-eye.
1. They want total victory. Anything less would be a disaster.
Getting Iran to stop any pursuit of a nuclear weapon is the primary goal of the talks in Geneva, but there are a lot of details to work out. One has to do with how much enriched uranium Iran will be allowed to retain, and at what level of enrichment. (Uranium enriched between 3.5 and 5 percent is sufficient for energy reactors; research reactors require enrichment closer to 19 percent. Anything above 20 percent is considered sufficient for weaponization, although most proper nuclear weapons use uranium that is enriched to 85 percent or more.)
The devil is in the details, but hardliners have already staked out claims against anything short of their absolute goal. Those in the West, led by the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC and many members of Congress, believe Iran should be permitted no enrichment whatsoever.
A slightly softer view, offered by a leading Israeli think tank, calls anything short of absolute cessation of enrichment a "bad" alternative -- although it allows that enrichment at the lower, energy-sufficient level, would be a "less good, but still reasonable," solution.
But the hard-line American stance, as the Heritage Foundation's James Phillips recently put it, demands at a minimum that all uranium enrichment be halted, existing stocks be transferred out of the country, and the Fordow nuclear facility be dismantled.
A deal without these components, Phillips concluded, "is worse than no deal at all."
Iranian hardliners have called most of these demands a violation of their fundamental "red lines." The L.A. Times reports:
In the run-up to the talks, Iranian officials declared that they would never give ground on three “red lines:” no closure of Fordo and Natanz, no halt of low-level enrichment, and no shipping of their stockpile of medium-enriched material abroad.
More recently, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi emphasized that ceasing all enrichment, as well as exporting Iran's stores of uranium to another country for storage, was out of the question, according to Al-Monitor's Iran Pulse: "The prime issue is that enrichment has been a red line. The dimensions of enrichment, the levels and shape will be negotiated and agreed upon. [However,] we will not allow enrichment to be suspended or closed for even one day."
2. Their timing is way off.
Hardliners on both sides seem to think the best time to turn up the vile rhetoric is right in the middle of talks. Sheldon Adelson, the American casino magnate billionaire who supported Mitt Romney's presidential aspirations and strongly backs the government of Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, suggested on Tuesday that the U.S. target Iran with a nuclear weapon, instead of continuing negotiations.
"What are we going to negotiate about?," he said, in remarks first reported by the blog Mondoweiss.
I would say 'Listen, you see that desert out there, I want to show you something.' …You pick up your cell phone and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say, 'OK let it go.' And so there's an atomic weapon, goes over ballistic missiles, the middle of the desert, that doesn't hurt a soul. Maybe a couple of rattlesnakes, and scorpions, or whatever.
Adelson's call for the potential mass annihilation of Iranians may have struck some in the U.S. as less than helpful, but he's got counterparts in the fringe of Iran. There, on the same day, hardliners announced plans to hold a "Death to America" rally in early November, to mark the anniversary of the storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
The Iranian hardliners are worried that with the recent outreach between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and U.S. President Barack Obama, there has been a damaging dissipation in the "revolutionary spirit" of pathological anti-Americanism. From The National:
Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, the deputy commander for cultural affairs of the Revolutionary Guards, announced recently that a surreally named bureaucratic body -- the "Death to the US Committee" -- would be established to orchestrate the rally.
This will take place outside the high brick walls of the sprawling and long defunct former US embassy, which are festooned with anti-American murals and graffiti.
"The crimes of US leaders and international Zionism in dealing with Iran’s great nation will never be erased from public memories and minds," Mr Jazayeri said. He listed the US-backed coup against Iran’s nationalist government in 1953 and current US-led sanctions as proof of American perfidy and hostility, past and present.
Last week, according to The New York Times, a similar rally took place impromptu, sponsored by some radical religious figures -- but also, the paper noted, a reminder of how far the anti-American rhetoric has been pushed into the background by recent detente:
As Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, steers the country away from its confrontational posture toward the West, he is inevitably calling into question the bedrock anti-American ideology of the Islamic republic. That is turning the revolution's leading slogan, "Death to America," into a political battleground.
"These three words are the blood of our ideology," said one of those leaving Friday Prayer, Mohammad Jahanbi. He said he had been a political prisoner during the reign of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and was a veteran of the bloody eight-year war with Iraq. "We must hold on to 'Death to America'; otherwise, our revolution will be lost."
3. They keep ratcheting up the pressure.
In the U.S. Congress, hawks have called for the White House to step up financial sanctions against Iran, even amid signs that the first round of sanctions has been sufficient to spark a detente between the nations. Led by lawmakers like Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), and supported strongly by AIPAC, the hawks have also pledged not to open the door to any lifting of sanctions -- something that the White House may badly need to do, if it wants to show that it is willing to compromise.
"Now is a time to strengthen -- not weaken -- U.S. and international sanctions," some of the lawmakers said in a statement. "The U.S. should not suspend new sanctions, nor consider releasing limited frozen assets, before Tehran suspends its nuclear enrichment activities."
Meanwhile, some Iranian hardliners have decided that this month is the best time to announce new plans for energy reactors -- just the kind of thing that makes American negotiators suspicious of the country's intentions. Constructing the plants on the shores of the Persian Gulf would be “in the national interest and benefit of the country," said Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, according to the American Enterprise Institute's Iran Tracker.
4. They view the other side as violent, unpredictable and untrustworthy.
In Tehran, a billboard has reportedly popped up depicting the American negotiators as duplicitous and unreliable. In the image, an American sits at a table across from his Iranian counterpart. He's wearing a suit on the top half of his body, but underneath the table he wears military fatigues and holds a shotgun. "The US Government Styles Honesty," the billboard reads, according to an editor at Al-Monitor.
Iranian hardliners have repeatedly made a similar point. "Those who rest their hopes on the United States either do not know the US and the White House, or do not know politics," one top military official recently said.
At the same time, American hardliners have embraced a concept of "distrust and then verify" with regard to Iran during the talks, emphasizing that the entire process might be a ruse, and Iran could be seeking merely to get Obama to soften sanctions without giving up important pieces of the nuclear program.
Netanyahu in particular has been a leading advocate of this outlook -- he calls it "distrust, dismantle, and verify" -- positing that Obama, through naivete, may be on the verge of being "hoodwinked" by Iran.
"How depressingly predictable," wrote a leading cynic on the prospect of talks, the Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens:
Iran lies and prevaricates -- about the breadth of its nuclear programs; about their purpose; about the quality of its cooperation with U.N. nuclear watchdogs; about its record of sponsoring terrorism from Argentina to Bulgaria to Washington, D.C.; about its efforts to topple Arab governments (Bahrain) or colonize them (Lebanon); about its role in the butchery of Syria; about its official attitude toward the Holocaust—and the administration thinks priority No. 1 is proving its own good faith.