The ruling regime in Iran is a bifurcated system, wherein there is a nation-state and an ideological state. The latter dominates in setting foreign and domestic policies that are in accordance with “revolutionary ideals.” Furthermore, the nation-state has unconditional allegiance to the ideological state, but not the other way around. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are in charge of the ideological state, while the other less influential arm of the regime is operated by President Hassan Rouhani and his foreign minister, Javad Zarif. Khamenei not only has the final say on all matters pertaining to domestic and foreign policy, but the authority to veto any accord negotiated or enacted by the Rouhani administration.
Pro-regime “Iran experts” in the US ceaselessly advocate for “diplomacy” with the Iranian regime in order to, they claim, prevent a military confrontation. They present Zarif as the key portal to diplomacy with Khamenei and the IRGC. In other words, they suggest negotiating with the nation-state to reach an agreement with the ideological state. These individuals further claim that the IRGC’s malign behavior in the Persian Gulf is the direct result of President Trump’s exit from the JCPOA. It is only through diplomacy, they portend, that the designated terrorist organization is willing to cease its piracy and sabotage in the region.
These propositions are at best naive, and at worst deceptive. There are several reasons for this.
First, Zarif has little power or authority to negotiate or forge any agreement on behalf of Khamenei or the IRGC. This is evident by how his statements change and become contradictory from one interview to another. For example, he once offered a prisoner exchange between the US and the Iranian regime and claimed he has full authority to engage in talks on that topic. In the next interview, he backtracked and said he is unable to intervene as Iran’s Foreign Minister, but can only make recommendations as a private individual. In another instance, Zarif suggested the possibility of talks with respect to the regime’s missile program. Not a day later, Iran’s representation office at the UN made a statement that “Iran will not negotiate about its missile program with anyone at any time.”
Second, while pro-regime “diplomacy” advocates in the US incessantly warn of an impending war with Iran due to Trump’s maximum pressure policy, they conveniently ignore how the IRGC has been maximally trying to ignite a catastrophe (i.e., war) in the Persian Gulf. The logic they present is that the maximum pressure campaign is failing because the IRGC has escalated its acts of terror in the region. The maximum pressure strategy includes Secretary Pompeo’s list of 12 demands for sanctions relief, which almost exclusively pertains to IRGC’s destructive behavior. The IRGC, of course, will never negotiate on this platform, as the 12 demands virtually spell out the annihilation of ideological state.
Third, even if the US reaches an agreement with the nation-state, the ideological state can violate the agreement ad-lib. For instance, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization stated in an interview that during the negotiations with P5+1, he and Khamenei made a decision to refrain from fully dismantling the heavy water reactor in Arak. This means the regime had the intention of violating the deal even before it was signed. Furthermore, the International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed Iran’s enriched-uranium stockpile had exceeded the 300-kilogram limit. Quoting Salehi, a member of the Iranian parliament claimed the regime enriched 24 metric tons of uranium, not 300 kilograms, after the JCPOA. It is impossible to accumulate such volume in a month following the regime’s decision to breach the limits of the JCPOA. Therefore, the regime must have been stockpiling long before they reached that decision.
Under these circumstances, any so-called diplomacy with the regime is futile. Best case scenario, it will result in restoration of the original JCPOA, which the mullahs were violating anyway. Secretary Pompeo and the Trump Administration are correct in not taking Zarif seriously. Zarif is merely a propagandist behind whom the ideological state hides its hideous visage and depravity. The IRGC’s intensification of malign behavior is not indicative of maximum pressure campaign’s failure, but its success. The ever-dominant ideological state is showing its unrestrained nature of violence and extortion. This is the true face of the regime whose sympathizers are urging the US to seek diplomacy with.