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Rouhani, Khamenei on same page in nuclear talks

Any differences between Iran's president and supreme leader with respect to the nuclear negotiations are tactical, not strategic, and are unlikely to impede a deal.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech under portraits of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Center L) and Iran's founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (Center R), on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Islamic revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's death, at his mausoleum in a suburb of Tehran on June 3, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE        (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)

The opacity of Iran’s domestic politics has led too many policymakers and pundits to jump to the erroneous conclusion that a standoff between President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is at the root of the current impasse in the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 nations (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States plus Germany). According to this line of thinking, Rouhani is keen for a nuclear deal, but is hamstrung by the supreme leader. Meanwhile, Khamenei is supposedly resisting compromise because he fears improved relations with the West more than sanctions and isolation, and because he believes Washington needs the deal more than Tehran does.

In fact, there is no evidence that the Iranian president’s criteria for a good deal are much different from the supreme leader’s. Delivering on his promise to resuscitate Iran’s economy will be nearly impossible without significant sanctions relief, which itself is impossible without a nuclear accord. That is why Rouhani probably agrees with Khamenei that “no deal is better than a bad deal,” since delayed sanctions relief offered by the latter would produce minimal economic reprieve.

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