Omani Foreign Minister’s Visit amid Tensions: Negotiations Must Go On

On 3 December, the visit of Omani Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr Albusaidi to Iran drew considerable attention as it coincided with escalating tensions in the Israel-Hamas conflict. While the official agenda likely included discussions related to this regional crisis, most observers believed that behind closed doors the visit also involved indirect negotiations with Washington regarding sanctions relief and the release of Iran’s frozen assets. The timing of Albusaidi’s visit is noteworthy, occurring in the wake of missile attacks on shipping in the Red Sea by Houthi rebels and the recent passage of a U.S. House bill to permanently freeze Iran’s $6 billion, previously unfrozen following the release of U.S. detainees in August.

Facing economic challenges and a pressing need for funds, Iran finds itself in the delicate position of needing engagement with the United States at a time when Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has been emphasizing “de-Americanization.” This raises questions about the sincerity and justification of such interactions, especially among hardline factions. Despite official denials from the Iranian ministry of foreign affairs regarding any message from Washington, most political observers agree that the Omani official’s visit pertained to both the Gaza conflict, in terms of limiting tensions and preventing the crisis from spreading to the regional level, and Iran’s negotiations for sanctions relief.

Nonetheless, a segment of hardliners within Iran continues to express reservations about engaging in negotiations or agreements with the United States. For instance, hardliners have been criticizing the remarks of reformist former diplomat Kurosh Ahmadi, who suggested that an “unwritten agreement between Tehran and Washington” persists despite recent tensions and Republican rhetoric in the U.S. The Jam-e Jam newspaper portrayed Ahmadi’s views as part of a reformist effort to undermine “anti-arrogance” efforts. Hardline former ambassador Abolfazl Zohrevand has gone further, characterizing the JCPoA as a “project” aimed at enhancing Iran’s relations with the West rather than an agreement. (The word “project” provokes suspicion among hardliners and conspiracy theorists in the Islamic Republic.) Zohrevand has drawn parallels with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and other purported advanced versions of the JCPoA, which, according to him, were prepared but failed to materialize. Referring to the supreme leader’s emphasis on “de-Americanization,” he contends that certain pro-JCPoA circles within Iran seek to counter this process by reviving an agreement that is on the brink of obsolescence. According to him, these groups provide the United States with insights on which sectors should be sanctioned and how such sanctions can be most effective. In a recent ceremony centered around discussions on “supporting Palestine, from slogan to practice,” a hardline university student directly confronted chief negotiator Ali Baqeri-Kani, questioning the duration of continued expenditure on JCPoA talks. Baqeri-Kani’s response indicated a measure of rational way of thinking and commitment to continued engagement and negotiations until both sides reach a sustainable point. Adding to the intrigue, former foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi, in an interview with al-Jazeera news channel, reiterated Iran’s readiness to return to the original nuclear agreement provided that all other parties reciprocate and honor their commitments. Kharrazi dismissed the necessity for any modifications to the terms, citing Iran’s nuclear advancements, and expressed Iran’s willingness to lower enrichment levels back to 3.67 percent.

In examining the stark contrast between the common hardline rhetoric and Iran’s recent actions in response to the Gaza conflict, one can reasonably anticipate a similar approach in the case of nuclear talks. In essence, despite Khamenei’s remarks about “de-Americanization” and the vocal criticism of the JCPoA by hardliners, the hard numbers tell a different story. The Iranian economy grapples with deteriorating conditions, soaring inflation, and an increasing number of protests over delayed or inadequate wages and pensions. These economic hardships cast a glaring light on realities on the ground. As Kharrazi affirmed, Iran’s senior decision-makers are evidently willing to engage in negotiations to revive an agreement that may appear dormant.


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