November 8, 2013 | Policy Brief

The Widening Gap in Iran Between Rouhani and the RevGuards

November 8, 2013 | Policy Brief

The Widening Gap in Iran Between Rouhani and the RevGuards

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva today to “help narrow differences” and finalize an agreement that would freeze Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for an easing of some economic sanctions. But while the gap between Iran and the U.S. is closing, a new one may be widening in Iran between President Hassan Rouhani, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

As Rouhani’s team moved into office, it realized that Iran’s economy was in “worse shape than expected.” Eight years of mismanagement under president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and sanctions had taken their toll on the economy that teetered on bankruptcy. Having run out of short-term financial measures to ease the pressure, Rouhani opted for nuclear concessions in return for sanctions relief. The aim was to secure fast access to hard currency to keep the economy afloat and prevent social unrest.

While Team Rouhani appears close to getting its hands on that hard currency, the IRGC remains opposed to any concessions. As the custodians of the nuclear program, the guards have everything to lose if Iranian negotiators freeze the program. The IRGC does not mind sanctions. As IRGC deputy commander Brigadier General Hossein Salami put it, sanctions have led to “self sufficiency.” Without foreign companies competing in Iran, the IRGC was able to take over significant sectors of Iran’s economy.

The IRGC also does not mind a state of permanent crisis in Iran’s relations with the West and a domestic state of emergency, which helps the IRGC consolidate their power in Iran. This is why IRGC commander Major General Mohammad-Ali Jafari condemned Rouhani’s phone conversation with President Obama as a “tactical mistake.” This is also why Salami even defied Khamenei’s call for “heroic flexibility” in negotiations with the P5+1, insisting, “there is no flexibility in our strategy.

Khamenei’s statements on the negotiations in Geneva appear to be an attempt to bridge the gap between Rouhani and the IRGC. On the one hand, he seems convinced by Rouhani’s argument that Iran risks bankruptcy. On the other hand, Khamenei can’t afford to alienate the IRGC, which serves as the power base.

While reports indicate that a deal in Geneva may be within reach, it is unclear whether Tehran can deliver on its promises. Khamenei’s attempts to bridge the gap with the IRGC could create new problems between Iran and the P5+1.

Ali Alfoneh is a senior fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Read more on Hassan Rouhani's first 100 days in office:

Rouhani’s New Spymaster After 100 Days by Ali Alfoneh

Rouhani’s Failed Human Rights Promises by Benjamin Weinthal

All of FDD's work on Iran can be found here.


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