You have to give the Iranians credit for audacity. Having just negotiated a nuclear deal with the West overwhelmingly favorable to its interests, the Islamic Republic is wasting no time in pressing the diplomatic advantage still further.
On the eve of the new year, lawmakers in Iran's parliament, or majles, introduced a bill demanding compensation from the United States for what they claim are "damages inflicted" to the Iranian people over the past four decades. "In order to redeem the rights of the Iranian nation, the Administration is obliged to take necessary legal measures on receiving compensations and damages from the American government" for its past actions, the draft legislation outlines.
The list of Iran's grievances is extensive. Topping it is the CIA-instigated 1953 coup that toppled the nationalist government of Muhammad Mosaddeq and installed Shah Reza Pahlavi as ruler of Iran, an incident that a great many Iranians still see as the "original sin" perpetrated by the United States against their country. But other perceived transgressions – including U.S. complicity with Saddam Hussein during the eight years of the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, and, more recently, purported American support for the Mujahedeen e-Khalq organization, which Tehran labels as a terrorist group – likewise figure prominently in the bill of particulars.
On the surface, the bill is a response to recent moves by the U.S. Congress to provide long-overdue restitution to the 53 hostages of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran as part of its latest spending bill, a step that Iran's leaders have characterized as tantamount to highway robbery. "The American government's move to lay hands on Iran's blockaded assets amounts to theft and we are working to answer it," majles speaker Ali Larijani has declared.
More broadly, however, the legislation is a telling indicator of just how profoundly Iran has managed to turn the diplomatic tables on the West. Two years ago, extensive economic pressure on the Iranian regime by the United States and its diplomatic partners finally succeeded in bringing Iran's ayatollahs to the negotiating table, kicking off protracted talks that were intended to dismantle and contain Iran's nuclear program.
Yet the resulting nuclear deal, announced with great fanfare by the White House this summer, did no such thing. To the contrary, the agreement eventually concluded between Iran and the P5+1 powers provides Tehran with a slow but steady path to the "bomb" over the coming decade, even as it infuses it with an unprecedented economic stimulus (equivalent to a quarter or more of Iran's total economy). Not surprisingly, this state of affairs has served to embolden Iran's leaders to seek still further concessions from the United States.
That's bound to be more than a little bit inconvenient for the White House. In selling the nuclear deal to the American people, President Barack Obama and his advisers played heavily upon the idea that the agreement, having at least temporarily slowed Iran's path to the atomic bomb, lays the foundation for a larger rapprochement between Washington and Tehran. As Philip Gordon, at the time the senior director of Gulf affairs at the National Security Council, put it last fall in a speech before the National Iranian American Council: "A nuclear agreement could begin a multi-generational process that could lead to a new relationship between our countries."
But Iran's new demarche gives us a glimpse into how Tehran itself sees its unfolding rapprochement with the West: not as a vehicle for normalization, but as a tool for gaining restitution from, and retribution against, the United States.