Talkers Vs. Deciders in Iran's Foreign Policy: Who Is In Charge Of Iran's Foreign Policy?
09 April 2015
By Amir Taheri
Over the years the question has been posed by almost everyone who has had to
deal with the Islamic Republic but no consensus on an answer has been
The question was constantly present in filigree during the latest over-hyped
marathon talks on Iran's nuclear program as the P5+1 ministers often had to
wait for their Iranian counterpart to withdraw from various sessions
ostensibly for prayers but, in fact, to telephone Tehran and ask for
It was obvious that even on fairly simple issues Zarif had to seek
authorization from unidentified authorities back home.
The whole thing assumed an even more bizarre aspect when President Hassan
Rouhani insisted that his brother Fereidoun be present and directly report to
him, presumably because the foreign minister reported to someone else.
Another member of the Iranian team who made his own separate phone calls to
Tehran was Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi who is cast as the
conscience of the Iranian delegation and reported to be charged with the task
of preventing Zarif from giving away all family silver. Iranian sources say
Araqchi reported to the ''Supreme Guide'' through Khamenei's foreign policy
advisor Ali-Akbar Velayati.
Sometimes, the fact that the official facade of Iranian diplomacy doesn't
quite know what is going on is starkly demonstrated.
One example concerns the current crisis in Iraq.
For weeks, the official media was abuzz with reports regarding Iran's role as
''liberator'' of Iraqi territories captured by the so-called Islamic State of
Iraq and Syria (ISIS). General Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds Corps
who is in charge of ''exporting the revolution'' has been photographed and
filmed in a variety of designer combat outfits supposedly leading the Iraqi
army and militias to one victory after another. At the same time, Tehran
newspapers ran traditional obituaries announcing the ''martyrdom'' of Iranian
troops and officers supposedly involved in the Iraqi war. The daily Kayhan,
published under the supervision of ''Supreme Guide'' Ali Khamenei was hard
pressed for superlatives to describe Iran's involvement in ''saving Iraq''.
It was not until Suleimani had to run away from a base he had set up near
Tikrit that talk about his being Iran's greatest military genius since Cyrus
the Great subsided.
However, Rouhani's senior advisor Ayatollah Ali Yunessi went even further by
pretending that Iran had already ''liberated'' Iraq and that Baghdad was now
''our capital''. ''We achieved what the Americans failed to do,'' he boasted.
And, yet; the Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif was repeating he
Westphalian mantra about ''non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other
His spokesperson Marzieh Afkham, a gentle lady who blushes like a bride when
she has to doctor the truth was ordered to deny that Iran had any military
role in Iraq beyond ''offering advice''.
Here is another example of the fog that envelopes policy-making process in
Last month a large delegation of Houthis from Yemen suddenly appeared in
Tehran and within 48 hours negotiated and signed 11 treaties and contracts
with various organs of the Iranian state on a range of issues including
military cooperation, air transport services, and the training of Yemeni
Again, foreign ministry sources claim that the official diplomatic service
was either completely shut out of the process or allowed a minor protocol
Throughout their stay in Tehran and in a subsequent hop-in-hop-out call on
Moscow arranged by Tehran, the Houthi delegation was chaperoned by the Quds
Force. It was also the Quds man in Caracas who was given the task of securing
diplomatic recognition by Venezuela and other leftist Latin American
governments for the Houthi regime in Sana'a.
Whenever Hezbollah leaders of the various branches of Hezbollah from
different countries, most notably Lebanon, visit Tehran on business they are
entirely chaperoned by the Quds Force, the security services and the office
of the ''Supreme Guide'', and not the official diplomatic service. Foreign
ministry sources claim that they don't even know the size of the checks that
are being signed off on in Tehran for the various regional Hezbollah leaders.
Even on the nuclear issue, the official diplomatic service is informed on a
need-to-know basis only. Two months ago the security services arranged
strictly supervised visits to two nuclear centers for Zarif and his
negotiating team. For the rest, they have asked the Zarif team to refer any
queries to Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization who
eventually joined the negotiating team in Switzerland. The fact is that Zarif
and presumably even Rouhani do not have a complete picture of Iran's nuclear
Another example came late last month in the form of a terse note to the
foreign ministry, ordering it to '' establish maritime frontiers'' with the
neighboring Sultanate of Oman through negotiations within three years but on
the basis of a map already provided by the Ministry of Defense.
In other words, what the foreign ministry is asked to do is to force the
Omanis to sign on what has already been decided. The map in question would
substantially change the status quo in the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Oman
and further down even in the Arabian Sea where Iran has a few miles of coast
at Gawadar on the Pakistani frontier. According to the new map a number of
Omani islands and atolls would fall within Iranian territorial waters. One
consequence of this could be Iran establishing full control on the Strait of
Hormuz from both south and north.
What the foreign ministry is asked to do is to inform Oman of a diktat,
something professional diplomats are loath to do.
On all sensitive issues, dealing with the Islamic Republic is always
difficult and its outcome never certain because outsiders have to deal with a
regime suffering from split personality.
This is a regime that is torn between acting as a nation-state and pretending
to be a vehicle for global revolution.
One Iran is represented by smiling diplomats, often with American accents and
even US Green Cards. They are ''the talkers''.
Another Iran is represented by shadowy figures who could be called ''the
deciders'' and, in terms of actual power provide the backbone of the ''deep
state ''in the Khomeinist system.
John Kerry hopes to get a Nobel Peace Prize thanks to ''the talkers''. But
the Iranian nuclear program, designed ad controlled by ''the deciders'' will
Amir Taheri was born in Ahvaz, southwest Iran, and educated
in Tehran, London and Paris. He was Executive Editor-in-Chief of the daily
Kayhan in Iran (1972-79). In 1980-84, he was Middle East Editor for the
Sunday Times. In 1984-92, he served as member of the Executive Board of the
International Press Institute (IPI). Between 1980 and 2004, he was a
contributor to the International Herald Tribune. He has written for the Wall
Street Journal, the New York Post, the New York Times, the London Times, the
French magazine Politique Internationale, and the German weekly Focus.
Between 1989 and 2005, he was editorial writer for the German daily Die Welt.
Taheri has published 11 books, some of which have been translated into 20
languages. He has been a columnist for Asharq Alawsat since 1987. Taheri's
latest book "The Persian Night" is published by Encounter Books in London and