The Supreme Leader reviews military forces on Friday in North Khorasan Province
An interesting juxtaposition of regime messages on Friday....
The Supreme Leader, on the third day of his trip to northeastern Iran, told a military audience that the Islamic Republic was the only force checking the "war-waging impulse of power-seekers". His Foreign Ministry, however, offered a far more conciliatory message via State news agency IRNA:
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Iran is ready to show flexibility to remove the West's concerns, but this move should have reciprocal measure, too....Iran can move toward eliminating concerns of the West, but the other side should guarantee Iran’s nuclear and enrichment rights for peaceful goals....In talks with Group 5+1, Iran was ready to solve all stated concerns step by step and in a mutually agreed framework.
Mehmanparast's statement is the Iranian response to a diplomatic development in the "West". This week some European officials have signalled that talks over Tehran's nuclear programme might resume after November's US Presidential election --- a source told Julian Borger of The Guardian, “We recognize that the Iranians need something more with which they can sell a deal at home, and we will expect real change on the other side. It is about getting the sequencing right.”
That reference to sequencing is important: it is either an acknowledgement or a parallel to an Iranian "nine-step" proposal, presented to the 5+1 Powers at Moscow in June and reiterated in briefings and private meetings throughout the summer. In the sequenced plan, Tehran's moves toward suspension of enrichment of 20% would be matched by easing of sanctions.
Early in the week, US officials put out their own signal --- through David Sanger of The New York Times --- rejecting the nine-step plan even before it was again presented by Tehran. The European message points either to confusion and possible division in the Western camp. Alternatively, it indicates that the Americans who spoke to Sanger have been overtaken by a willingness to consider negotiations.
Officials in Tehran not only noticed that European message --- they made sure it was known. Iranian media featured the Borger article. Mehmanparast's statement was the affirmation that, if the US and Europeans accepted the nine-step plan as a possibility, Iran is ready to sit down and talk.
But that brings us back to the Supreme Leader. Was he merely posturing to show Iranian strength and defiance before his officials discussed the limits that might be put on Iran's nuclear programme? Or are he and his office already warning those officials --- and those listening outside the Islamic Republic --- that they are unhappy with the renewed references to negotiations?