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Third Round of Nuclear Talks: Economic Recovery as Hardliners Strike Back

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Iran and the P5+1 (the U.S., Russia, France, China, Britain, and Germany) launched the third round of nuclear negotiations with expert-level talks in Geneva last week, in an attempt to discuss the mechanisms and platforms for implementing the Joint Plan of Action, the interim and temporary nuclear deal struck in November.

Last week, several news agencies in Iran, including the Fars news agency, reported that officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran had made progress with the six world powers and reached an understanding on the details and nuances of how to implement this November's provisional nuclear deal.

In addition, Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency released a report last week quoting Hamid Baidinejad, a nuclear negotiator, as saying that Iran and the P5+1 had "achieved mutual understanding on implementation the nuclear deal." The report also pointed out that Baidinejad said the deal will likely be implemented in late January. Additionally, Iran's lead negotiator Abbas Araqchi made announcements that, according to the official news agency IRNA, state "the two sides have made good progress on different issues." These comments came after the third round of nuclear negotiations continued throughout the night until early Tuesday morning in Geneva.

These rounds of nuclear talks will likely address the broader scheme of the Joint Plan of Action, signed by Iran and the P5+1, which would allow the IAEA inspectors to inspect nuclear sites and oblige Tehran to suspend its most sensitive nuclear work.

Though the main issues on the interpretation of the statement indicate that "Iran will continue its safeguarded R&D practices, including its current enrichment R&D practices which are not designed for accumulation of the enriched uranium," the issue will likely be discussed much later, in the future round of nuclear negotiations.

Economic Recovery

It is likely that Tehran will interpret these statements to mean that it can extend the level, intricacies, and sophistication of its R&D of advanced centrifuges beyond the current scope (particularly in some of the production-related locations, such as Fordow, Natanz, and Arak). At the same time, Tehran believes that these actions will comply with the nuclear agreement, while the P5+1 would interpret the text as a call for Tehran to halt the further advancement of its centrifuges beyond the current development levels.

However, from the current political perspective of the ruling clerical establishment and Iranian officials, it is crucial to be prompt in depicting the negotiations as positive and progressive, due to the fact that these types of verbal agreements and projections of advancement are key to invigorating a stalled economy and key to the political survival of the establishment.

It should be positive news for Tehran that Iran has already gained back almost 20 percent of its currency in just the last seven months, since Hassan Rowhani assumed office. While one U.S. dollar equaled approximately 31,000 Rials a few months ago, the currency exchange is now about 24,100 Rials to the dollar. Before Rowhani assumed office, the conversion value had even reached around 40,500 Rials. Several business sectors are showing improvement, with increasing sales and profits.

Tehran has also been capable of improving its economy by bolstering its trade ties, particularly regarding its oil industry, with nations such as China, India, and other Asian countries, as a result of projections of progress within nuclear negotiations.

As a result, until the main issues and nuances of the nuclear program are addressed, the use and projection of positive moves, even in the short term, can bring Tehran back to its former economic status, strengthening Iran's position geopolitically and, more fundamentally, economically.

Hardliners Striking Back?

On the other hand, the remaining issue is whether there are other crucial sociopolitical challenges to be faced. Intriguingly, the most immediate challenge to Iran's nuclear deal does not emanate from the six world powers (P5+1) but in making a deal with the hardliners who have made advances in their cause over the past few weeks. This trend is increasing across the country but can also be interpreted as the old strategic game of "Good Cop, Bad Cop."

It is also worth pointing out that there are varying interpretations within the P5+1 over whether Iran can spin and conduct research on more advanced centrifuges; this is a key issue in entering the agreement into force. However, this is more of a long-term concern and will be encountered down the road of the negotiations. The conservative backlash, though, has greatly affected the political game of the nation and must be promptly examined.

This week, hardliners executed staged rallies around the country to reinforce their dominance and power, while cooperating with the moderates and other political parties to pressure the P5+1. This week also marked the fourth anniversary of what is perceived in Iran as the conservative party's victory over the oppositional groups regarding Ahmadinejad's reelection. People around the country chanted "death to seditionists," referring to people such as Mehdi Karroubi, Mir Hossein Mousavi and their political sympathizers. Furthermore, according to local media outlets, the hardliner Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami stated in a speech this week in the city of Kerman, "The seditionists should know that the playing arena is not open to them, and our people are very angry that some seditionists have been given crucial government positions."

Additionally, in the Majlis (the Iranian parliament), lawmakers have proposed a bill to enrich uranium up to 60 percent, which falls beyond the current level agreed upon between Iran and the P5+1.

This level of nuclear enrichment can produce weapons-grade nuclear material. This bill was introduced into parliament by approximately 105 lawmakers, with a "double urgency" status (usually meant to be discussed within a week). According to Iran's Press TV website, hardline lawmaker Mehdi Mousavinejad pointed out that this bill, "if approved, will oblige the government to ... enrich uranium to 60-percent level in order to provide fuel for submarine engines if the sanctions are tightened and Iran's nuclear rights are ignored (by major powers)."

These political moves are significant because they can be analyzed and examined in two ways: Either the hardliners are truly seeking to make the government implement such actions (particularly as this nuclear bill, if passed, would help to achieve their objective of a nuclear-armed Iran), or the ruling Iranian leaders, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, are utilizing the parliament, with the assistance of moderates and other political parties, to put pressure on the international community, particularly the P5+1. Through pitting these parties against each other within the nation of Iran, lawmakers would be utilizing the classic "Good Cop, Bad Cop" political strategy to achieve their goals.

Majid Rafizadeh, an American scholar and political scientist, is president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He is originally from Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria.

This post first appeared on Al Arabiya.