TEHRAN — As nuclear negotiations in Vienna grind on through deadline after deadline, Iranian officials have begun a public campaign to blame the United States in the event that the talks fail.
Iran’s public diplomacy has long been geared toward selling a possible deal to hard-liners at home. But as an interim agreement between Iran and the West was extended on Friday to give negotiators more time, the government seemed to recognize the need to prove to ordinary Iranians that it had done all it could to obtain a final agreement and the lifting of economic sanctions.
“Such people may ask those in charge of the negotiations, ‘Why have you not compromised more?’ ” said Farshad Ghorbanpour, an analyst who is close to the government of President Hassan Rouhani. “Many of them seem to want a deal and are much less interested in what Iran needs to compromise.”
That could explain why, after a flurry of Iranian statements in recent weeks promising that a deal was well within reach, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s lead negotiator, told Iranian reporters on Friday, “The most important issues are not resolved.”
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Echoing the remarks of a senior Iranian official who briefed American reporters on Thursday, Mr. Zarif said that Iran would “never leave the negotiating table” and that the other side was to blame for the delays.
“Unfortunately, we are witnessing many changes of stances, excessive demands and also different stances of several P5+1 member states,” he said of his negotiating counterparts: the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
The remarks illustrate the potential for nastiness if a deal is not reached in the coming days. Analysts said the Iranian leadership would do everything possible to convince the public that the United States would be responsible for any breakdown in the talks.
This position is no improvisation. As far back as 2013, after announcing the direct talks with the United States, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, emphasized that he was pessimistic about an agreement because America could not be trusted.
“Of course, America will be blamed if we can’t reach an agreement,” said Aziz Shahmohammadi, a former adviser to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, adding that Mr. Khamenei had issued the same caveat on several occasions. “Failure in the talks will prove that belief in front of the entire nation.”
In Tehran, Friday was Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day, the annual state-backed demonstrations against Israel. Thousands of people turned out to shout “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” while fire trucks along the route hosed them down with water to ward off the intense summer heat.
Mr. Rouhani, joining a crowd that carried placards saying “Death to Zionism,” told reporters that the negotiations were in a delicate state but that “the future is bright.”
In a speech, the speaker of Parliament, Ali Larijani, a former nuclear negotiator, warned the United States, “If the talks reach a dead end, it will be you that will be blamed.”
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The negotiations took a downward turn on Monday, American officials said, when the Iranian negotiating team started demanding that all United Nations sanctions against Iran, including the ban on the import or export of conventional arms, be lifted as part of the deal.
“While the negotiations were moving towards understanding and agreement, America’s president disrupted the game under the pressure of the Zionist lobby,” Mansour Haghighatpour, a conservative lawmaker, told the Fars news agency. “Some European countries are also responsible for not reaching an agreement. In case an agreement is not reached, these countries will be the main reasons for this.”
Iran’s state television broadcast an interview on Thursday with Ali Akbar Velajati, a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Khamenei, saying that Iran would never stop the talks. “It is up to them,” he said of the Americans. “If they want to go, they can go.”
The change in tone came as a shock to many ordinary Iranians, who had convinced themselves in recent months, based in large part on upbeat messages from Iran’s negotiators, that the nuclear talks were a done deal. Many have been anticipating a bright future after the lifting of the ruinous economic sanctions, which were imposed because of Iran’s nuclear program.
In elevators, in shared taxis and at family gatherings, Tehran residents would repeat to one another what they had heard on the news: that the negotiations were nearly done, that only a few issues remained.
On Thursday evening, after yet another deadline passed without the announcement of a deal, it dawned on Elnaz Karimi, a 37-year-old sales manager, that the talks could fail.
Sitting at home, surrounded by moving boxes with the television on in the background, she heard Mr. Kerry announce another extension of the negotiations. The sanctions have pushed the medical equipment company where she works to the brink of bankruptcy, she said, and she and her husband just bought a new flat.
“What if the deal fails? Will there be more sanctions? What if I lose my job?” Mrs. Karimi said. “I just never thought no deal is also an option.”
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(via NY Times)