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Iran: The Point of No Return

Disagreement within the Regime?

Within the regime in Tehran, there are different factions with regard to the nuclear programme. On the one side there is Rouhani whose primary objectives are the discontinuation of the sanctions as well as the roll-back of the revolutionary guards from key political and economic positions and who might eventually be willing to strike a deal regarding the aforementioned points. On the other side, however, there are the radical hardliners among the revolutionary guards who want the bomb at any price.

They are currently held back by the most powerful man in the state, revolutionary leader Ali Khamenei, who seems to serve as a mediating force between the factions. On the one hand, Khamenei fears that a continuation of the sanctions could destabilise the country and threaten his regime. On the other hand, he gave Rouhani quite little room for manouevre in the negotiations, as he is afraid that substantial concessions might lead to ever higher demands. To ensure compliance, he even put Rouhani under the supervision of Ali Shamkhani, the former commander-in-chief of the revolutionary guards, now the secretary of the national security council and one of the intellectual fathers of the nuclear programme. Against these odds, Rouhani tries to extend his room for manouevre by the help of public opinion and other prominent figures such as the former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The US reluctance to intervene and the negotiating position of the international community

In this constellation it is very important for the international community to play their cards well, because – due to the painful sanctions – it is the first time in ten years that they have the upper hand in the negotiations. Among the 5+1 Group there is a certain willingness to drop or temporarily discontinue parts of the sanctions in return for substantial concessions on the part of Iran. According to Barack Obama’s former Iran advisor, however, this would be a grave mistake. In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Dennis Ross instead advocated an even tougher stance, as long as Iran continues its enrichment activities. This, however, raises the question just how far the United States are willing to go in order to prevent Iran from getting the bomb.

Unfortunately, the track record of the Obama administration in the Middle East gives little reasons for hope. Obama’s initial idealism clearly gave way to a defensive pragmatism. His administration carefully engaged in crisis-ridden Middle Eastern diplomacy but it did not expose itself. Their ultimate goal is to avoid any military engagement. When, in January 2011, protests rose up in Egypt, the United States were one of the last countries to abandon the autocratic president Hosni Mubarak. A few months later, in Libya, France and Britain went to war against Muammar Al Gaddafi. The US took part, but they did not want to take the lead. Due to the insufficient military capabilities of the Europeans, however, they were eventually forced to take control. Back home in Washington, Obama made clear that this was not his war. He probably would not have found public support, anyway. But the poorest foreign policy performance of the Obama administration so far, was delivered just weeks ago with regard to the civil war in Syria. In exchange for the surrender of his chemical weapons, the US basically accepted Basher Al Assad as Syria’s legitimate ruler, allowing him to continue the genocide against his own people.

Now, the only grand-strategic objective that is left on Obama’s Middle Eastern to-do-list is the containment of the would-be nuclear power Iran. In that matter, he has invested the most political capital – yet again with the goal not to be drawn into another war. Of course, he is aware of the dangers stemming from a nuclear Iran: From the threat to Israel to the regional hegemonic ambitions of the regime in Tehran. But given the costly engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, another war in the Middle East would be the worst-case scenario and cannot be expected of the American people. And he also knows that, with a population close to 80 million and their iron resolve the Iranians would be an enemy of a different scale than the barefooted Taliban or the wasted Iraqi army. Moreover, a war against Iran is a real danger to the world economy as the oil price would skyrocket. Many reasons, therefore, not to go to war. But the task of containing Iran remains.

For ten years, Iran mucked around with the international community, created ever new precedents, did not comply with its duties laid down in the non-proliferation treaty, ignored the UN Security Councils demands to stop enriching uranium, repeatedly misled the IAEA and is now close to what is commonly referred to as the ‘point of no return’ on the way to the bomb. Given all that, it is now Iran’s turn to deliver. For the international community it is important to keep their nerves and not to let themselves be carried away by their hope for a diplomatic solution. For, if there is one thing we can learn from previous rounds of negotiations, it is that Iran can only be forced to concessions by a tough stance and persistent pressure.

David Innerhuber is contactable at:


Please cite this article as:

Innerhuber, D. (2014). ‘Iran: The Point of No Return’

Human Security Centre, Defence and Security, Issue 4, No. 4.


About David Innerhuber

David Innerhuber is a PhD-Candidate at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. He holds a BA in social sciences from the University of Graz (Austria) and an MA (with distinction) in history and international relations from Brunel University London. From 2005 to 2006 he served in the Austrian Army and, during that time, participated in the NATO-led peace-keeping mission to Kosovo (KFOR).