by Lobelog’s Tehran correspondent
The nuclear deal reached between Iran and the P5+1 on Tuesday has elicited a wave of reactions from key figures within Iran’s establishment.
On Tuesday night, mere hours after the agreement was announced, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hosted President Hassan Rouhani and members of his cabinet for a traditional Ramadan breaking-of-the-fast meal at his private residence. Khamenei reportedly said only a few veiled words about the deal during this meeting. A statement about the dinner on Khamenei’s official website read: “The leader of the revolution, in reaction to comments the President made about the result of the nuclear negotiations, expressed his appreciation for the hard work and diligent efforts of the negotiators.”
At the meeting Ayatollah Khamenei also quoted Malek Ashtar, one of the trusted commanders of the venerated Shia saint, Imam Ali, as saying: “Possessing a strong spiritual and mental foundation is critical in order to solve challenges.
In his comments praising Iran’s nuclear negotiators, Khamenei also used the very significant word mojahedat. This term, meaning to struggle for the sake of God, hearkens back to the early years of Islam and has very positive connotations in Islamic societies. Coupled with his quote from Malek Ashtar, Khamenei’s comments can be viewed as a tacit endorsement of the nuclear agreement.
Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament, has in very explicit terms welcomed the deal. On Wednesday, Larijani said in an address to members of parliament that the agreement will lead to the isolation of Israel. “The wrath of officials from the Zionist regime to this agreement indicates that this deal will isolate them,” Larijani proclaimed. He further stated that this agreement “creates space for the Islamic Republic to cooperate with regional and Islamic countries,” a significant statement given Iran’s effective cold war with its neighbors in the Persian Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia.
The most important portion of Larijani’s comments was aimed at preventing hardline factions within the parliament from undermining the deal. “We should review the legal and technical aspects of the agreement in a deliberate manner based on expert opinion and not pay attention to what people say based on their political intentions or to the inaccuracies spread by some news outlets.”
The Iranian parliament has the right to review the agreement but does not have the power to revoke it. On June 22, the parliament passed a bill that obligated the Rouhani administration to not go past any “redlines” in the final agreement. These redlines where outlined in a speech delivered by Ayatollah Khamenei before the final round of nuclear negotiation began in late June, which emphasized that military sites cannot be inspected and that the removal of the sanctions regime against Iran should not be gradual. Based on the “factsheet” that has been published, the final agreement apparently violates these redlines.
Mahdi Koochakzadeh and Hamid Rasaie, two members of the hardline “Steadfast Front” faction of the Iranian parliament, who in the past two years have been the most vociferous critics of the nuclear negotiations in the parliament, have not taken official positions on the deal yet.
However, Koochakzadeh implicitly criticized Iran’s nuclear negotiators by posting a picture on his Instagram page of former Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh kissing the hand of the Shah’s second wife, and asked his followers to think of a caption for the photo. Since many reformist papers have compared Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to Mossadegh, it seems Koochakzedeh is trying to disparage Zarif with this picture. Rasaie posted a cartoon suggesting that Rouhani was “crying wolf” and that the people would not be “deceived” by him anymore.
Elias Naderan, another conservative member of parliament, has strongly criticized what he says is the small role given to the parliament to decide on the nuclear deal. “Who says the parliament is the top decision maker?” he asked. “The American side uses their congressional resolution in the talks, why are we not using our parliament to the extent we can?”
On the other hand, on Wednesday, 203 members of Iran’s parliament echoed Ayatollah Khamenei by signing a statement praising the efforts of Iran’s negotiating team.
An Iranian journalist who has followed the Iranian parliament’s activities with respect to the nuclear negotiations over the past two years tells LobeLog: “The parliament in Iran has little power to affect high-level decisions. Even if all the members of parliament were against this deal, they would not be able to do anything about it given Ayatollah Khamenei’s support of it.”
The journalist believes that most of the bickering about the nuclear deal is being made with an eye to the 2016 parliamentary elections. “The critics of the deal will accuses the Rouhani administration of trying to get closer to the West, and of abandoning Iran’s independence and the ideals of the revolution, in order to create a polarized atmosphere and win the votes of the traditional supporters of the government,” he continued. “I predict that after an agreement these critics will maintain their attacks on Rouhani’s foreign policy in the parliament. But ultimately their opposition to the deal will not affect Iran’s commitment to the deal, so there should not be any worry in this regard.”
Response from the Military and Hardliners
Iran’s military officials have refrained from making any official announcements about the nuclear deal. This is in contrast to what happened after the Lausanne framework agreement was reached in April, when the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Mohammad Ali Jaffari, and the head of Iran’s armed forces, Hassan Firouzabadi, immediately issued statements congratulating the people and the Supreme Leader.
One reason for this may be the sharp reaction of Ayatollah Khamenei to the congratulatory remarks given by Jaffari and the Firouzabadi after the Lausanne agreement, which Khamenei indirectly referred to as “meaningless.” Perhaps these military officials are waiting until Khamenei declares his official position on the nuclear deal so they can ensure their statements are firmly in line with Khamenei’s this time around.
With regards to the conservative papers that have up until now been strongly opposed to the nuclear negotiations, the most prominent among them, Kayhan, featured as its headline on Wednesday a story stating that Rouhani and Obama had given different interpretations of the text of the agreement. The story accused Rouhani of trying to change the meaning of what is in the actual agreement.
However, compared to Kayhan’s previous attacks on the Rouhani administration, which went as far as accusing Iran’s negotiators of committing “treason,” Wednesday’s story had a much gentler tone. This indicates either two things: that Kayhan’s editor, Hossein Shariatmadari, has changed his position and is now supporting a nuclear agreement, or that he has come to realize his efforts to oppose it are futile.
Vatan-e Imrooz, another hardline newspaper that has been opposed to the negotiations, offered no criticism about the deal and even called it “balanced.” An editorial in the paper read: “What has occurred is a give-and-take. There have been important concessions made but we also have gotten important concessions.”
The reactions from Iran this week likely indicate that the power structure in Iran is not opposed to the nuclear agreement and that there will not be any issues for Iran to implement its part of the deal in the coming months. Iran’s Supreme Leader, senior military officials, and important parliamentarians have all signaled their support for the deal, and the hardline opponents of the deal are helpless to defeat it.
Photo: Ali Larijani