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Will Rouhani and Zarif defy Khamenei by holding direct talks with US on Syria?

Despite Ayatollah Khamenei's public prohibition of dialogue with the United States on regional issues, it appears that Iran and the United States are bound to engage on Syria.

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s supreme leader plainly stated on Oct. 7 that “negotiations with America are forbidden,” seemingly addressing President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Speaking before Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders, he argued that the prohibition stems from the many disadvantages it has. Indeed, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei believes that the United States’ true intention with negotiations is to “infiltrate” Iran, and that only “carefree” and “simple-minded” people who are indifferent to “national interests” would support talks because they “don’t understand the matter correctly.” Thus, Ayatollah Khamenei’s opinion on Syria is that “there is no sense in other nations getting together and deciding on a system of government and the head of that government. This is a dangerous innovation that no government in the world would accept to be imposed on itself.”

It appears that Rouhani has taken the supreme leader’s red lines on board, as displayed in his recent interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. Addressing the topic of Iran-US relations, Rouhani said he sees no link between holding nuclear talks with Washington and having relations with it. Yet, he added, “One day, these [Iranian and American] embassies will reopen, but what counts is behavior. The Americans hold the key to this.” Through his further statement that “if they [the United States] modify their policies, correct errors committed in these 37 years and apologize to the people of Iran, the situation will change and good things can happen,” Rouhani has in effect adopted the same approach as his predecessors Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami. However, Rouhani has put all eggs, including bilateral talks on Syria, in the basket of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — and its implementation. Indeed, Rouhani has said that “if the agreement is implemented well, it can be the basis for fewer tensions with the US and pave the way for a new era [in bilateral relations] … and after that, it may be possible for the two countries to enter talks on other issues.” This is while US officials, including President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, have on various instances supported the idea of dialogue with Iran on issues other than its nuclear program.

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