TEL AVIV – Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other senior Iranian officials are using intimidation and “blackmail” tactics against President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump to extort further concessions from the U.S., an expert on the Islamic Republic told the Algemeiner on Monday.
The threat from Iran’s atomic energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi that Iran would respond to any perceived American contravention of the nuclear deal was “designed to make the U.S. keep the deal through intimidation, since his comments pertain to the options Iran has to expand its nuclear program,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank in Washington, DC.
Taken together with Khamenei’s recent charges that the U.S. House of Representatives’ approval of the renewal of the Iran Sanctions Act marked a clear breach of the agreement, the comments “are akin to blackmail,” Taleblu told the Algemeiner.
Taleblu said that Iran’s position on Trump is not yet clear.
“There are several indicators that lead one to deduce that Iran is still in the calibration phases of its strategy towards the next U.S. administration,” he said.
“For instance,” Taleblu pointed out, “key hardline and conservative Iranian newspapers like Kayhan (the editor-in-chief of which is quite close to Khamenei), have sought to highlight Trump’s business background, as well as the likelihood that Trump is playing a ‘psychological game’ with Iran over the JCPOA. With respect to Iranian officials, Khamenei and to a lesser extent Rouhani have sought to indicate continuity with respect to their policy toward America. Nonetheless, it is worth recalling that the supreme leader’s enmity and hatred of America is bipartisan.”
“However,” Taleblu continued, “given the outpouring of Iranian official statements about the election not making any difference for Tehran, this leads one to wonder if the Islamic Republic is overcompensating due to the ambiguity Trump cultivated over his Iran policy throughout the campaign.”
Regarding the Trump administration’s Iran policy, it “should look to recent history and course-correct some of the issues in the deal that the current administration overlooked,” Taleblu said.
According to Taleblu, the Trump administration “should not excuse Iran’s excess production of heavy water, which has happened twice now. More broadly it should work to change a key dynamic in the JCPOA’s implementation, namely the asymmetry. Iranian officials often tout that America needs the deal more than they do. They regularly transgress the deal’s spirit and occasionally its letter. To change this, the Trump administration should aim for, borrowing from the noted academic Thomas Schelling, ‘the manipulation of risk,’ and make it known that Iran needs the accord more than the U.S.”
“Moreover,” Taleblu concluded, “the next administration should work to better define what constitutes a transgression, and not leave that up to Khamenei. It should also encourage greater transparency in IAEA reporting, something which was promised but has been lacking. And lastly, it should not let the deal prevent it from targeting Iran’s non-nuclear threats, namely ballistic missiles and its support for terrorism in the Middle East.”