A Wall Street Journal analysis hedged Thursday that the tensions between Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may make it harder for the former to negotiate a compromise on Tehran's controversial atom work.
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The talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, have been set to begin on Saturday in Istanbul. Iran initially suspended the negotiations in 2009.
The West wants Iran to suspend or – at the very least – significantly reduce its uranium enrichment activities, as well as allow UN inspectors unlimited access to its nuclear sites.
"The international community is united, Iran is isolated, the way to change that dynamic is for Iran to live up to its international obligations and to forsake its nuclear weapons ambitions," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Wednesday.
Keeping up appearances? (Archives: AP)
Iran insists that its nuclear program serves peaceful purposes, but the West believes Tehran is striving to achieve nuclear weapons.
Iran's relentless refusal to change its nuclear policies has sparked speculations of a possible military strike by Israel.
Iran has so far presented a "grand policy" of bargaining with the West, i.e. – it presents a united front which aims to rise above domestic rivalries.
But with just days ahead of the talks, the rivalries between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad appear to have seeped into the country's sensitive nuclear policy.
"I am doubtful that there are creative technical resolutions to the nuclear conflict absent a broader (domestic Iranian) political accommodation," Karim Sadjadpour, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the newspaper.
While Iranian officials have made contradictory comments on whether Tehran would be willing to compromise on the matter, it is widely known that Khamenei has the final say on all state matters. But the brewing domestic divisions could sway his stance.
The strongman. Khamenei (Photo: Reuters)
"If Khamenei feels the internal divisions are getting serious he will not give in because he sees concession as a sign of weakness," the report quoted an adviser in Iran's Foreign Ministry.
Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili – both of whom are affiliated with the ayatollah – have expressed hope that Iran and the West would be able to reach a compromise. .
"Iran's representatives will bring innovative ideas to the negotiating table and we hope that the five plus one countries have a productive outlook as well," Jalili said Wednesday at a news conference in Tehran.
Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani said Monday that Iran could suspend enrichment to the 20% level of purity if its needs were met.
Ahmadinejad, however, reiterated his stance that Iran will not give so much as one iota on the matter.
"Iran will not back down… you (Western countries) will be forced to change your attitude toward Iran," he said.
But on Tuesday Tehran's Parliament passed – with an overwhelming majority vote – a bill that would "pave the way for an easy and quick process to impeach Ahmadinejad."
Political woes aside, the Iranian public's support of the nuclear program is also waning, as the people seem more divided than ever on the matter, as the West's biting sanctions have all but crippled the economy.
The report noted that "A popular saying in Iran these days… is that Khamenei should drink the jar of poison and compromise with the West."
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