by LobeLog’s Tehran correspondent
Since the announcement of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 on July 14, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has not expressed any opposition to the deal. Despite some media reports alleging the contrary, his July 18 Eid al-Fitr speech marking the end of the Ramadan did not reject the deal in any form. In fact, during his address he conveyed his appreciation for the efforts of Iran’s negotiating team, whom he referred to as “brothers.” He also significantly stated that ajr awaited Iran’s diplomats, an Islamic term connoting a reward bestowed by God for committing a good action or deed.
However, during his Eid al-Fitr speech Khamenei did criticize the reactions of some American officials to the nuclear deal, which he blamed on their domestic political considerations. “Their domestic issues force them to state, ‘Yes, we brought Iran to the negotiating table, we made Iran capitulate, we got concessions from Iran and so on.’ Well, the reality of the situation is something else entirely,” he proclaimed.
Khamenei emphasized in his speech that nuclear weapons are—in accordance to his fatwa banning them—forbidden on religious grounds, and stated that as such Iran has never had a nuclear weapons program for it to bargain away. He further declared: “They say, ‘we have made Iran capitulate.’ You will see Iran capitulate only in your dreams. Five American presidents from the beginning of the revolution until today have, in pursuit of their wish to make the Islamic Republic capitulate, either died or been forgotten in the annals of history. You will also end up like them. You will never get your wish of getting Islamic Iran to capitulate.”
Appeasing the Conservatives
One political analyst based in Tehran has told LobeLog that Khamenei’s Eid al-Fitr speech was primarily aimed at placating his conservative base. “Anti-American rhetoric has been a central part of the narrative used by Iran’s leaders to maintain cohesion among their most faithful supporters. The nuclear negotiations created uncertainty amongst these groups about whether or not a nuclear deal would lead to the end of such discourse in Iran,” this correspondent says. “This had the potential to sow discord among this constituency. As such, Iran’s Supreme Leader attempted in his Eid al-Fitr speech to stress that the nuclear deal would not mark the end of Iran’s opposition to American policies.”
At the same time, Khamenei underscored in his address that the nuclear deal should be approved through “legal” mechanisms. However, he did not elaborate on what this entailed or which specific state institutions should approve the agreement. Iran’s Parliament and Supreme National Security Council are widely perceived as having an oversight role over approving the agreement. Thus, Khamenei’s comments have served to reinforce in these institutions a sense that they are obligated to pass judgement on the deal.
The commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Mohammad Ali Jafari, who had spurred criticism from some conservative student groups for congratulating Iran’s negotiators less than 48 hours after the Lausanne framework agreement was reached in early April, has been less vocal about the final comprehensive nuclear deal. Roughly a week after the agreement was reached and two days after Khamenei’s Eid al-Fitr speech, Jafari made remarks about the deal that were similar to Khamenei’s muted endorsement of the agreement. “Just as our diplomats and the Leader have previously emphasized, the results of the negotiations should be examined by our legal institutions, and then we can pass final judgment on it,” he stated.
No Division of Opinion?
However, in an interview with the IRGC-aligned Tasnim news agency, Jafari sharply criticized the U.N. Security Council Resolution passed on July 20, contending it would restrain Iran’s missile capabilities. One Tehran-based journalist who covers the IRGC has told LobeLog of Jafari’s comments: “It cannot be expected that the highest officials in the Revolutionary Guards would welcome any measure that would constrain Iran’s missile capabilities in any way. Jafari had to react like this, but his objection to this issue does not mean he opposes the nuclear agreement.”
Jafari further stated in his interview with Tasnim: “In the Islamic Republic there is not a single official who is against the negotiations and a ‘good deal.’ Therefore, whatever foreign media outlets—which take instructions from the enemy’s centers for psychological warfare—say about polarization in Iran about the nuclear issue is a complete fabrication.”
Other senior members of the Revolutionary Guards and Iran’s armed forces have also not said anything negative about the nuclear deal itself but have publicly criticized the United States and efforts to constrain Iran’s missile capabilities.
Masoud Jazayeri, deputy chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, has stated: “It would be better for American officials to accept reality and forget their delirious goals to get access to Iran’s military facilities and limit the Islamic Republic’s defensive capabilities.”
The commander of Iran’s Basij paramilitary militia, Mohammad Reza Naqdi, said at a recent press conference about Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks that there existed a difference of opinion on the nuclear deal between the Revolutionary Guards and the Rouhani administration: “Kerry can eat his heart out. In Iran every decision we make is made in unison. The Americans will take their wish of dividing the Iranian people to their grave.”
In Iran’s parliament, which is dominated by conservative forces, the hardline factions that have opposed the nuclear negotiations have become increasingly marginalized. Ruhollah Hosseinian, a member of the hardline “Steadfast Front” faction of the parliament, said during an address to parliament on July 26: “Our friends are opposed to many aspects of this agreement, which is advantageous to the enemies of the revolution for 8 to 25 years. But unfortunately, the situation in the parliament is such that the voice of those opposed to the agreement is not able to be heard by the public.”
Key figures in the Iranian parliament, such as its Speaker Ali Larijani, the chair of the Parliament’s National Security Committee Alaeddin Boroujerdi, and Ali Motahari, a prominent parliamentarian who is the son of one the Islamic Republic’s founders, have all strongly endorsed the nuclear deal. Hossenian has said of this situation in the parliament: “We are opposed to the agreement. Don’t make us keep our mouths shut and let us speak our mind.”
Most observers of Iranian domestic politics believe that the nuclear agreement could not have happened without Ayatollah Khamenei’s approval, and so, no forces in the parliament or any other power center can prevent the deal from being approved and implemented.
Even the more ardent and sophisticated critics of the nuclear deal in Iran have come to accept that their cause is hopeless. Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor-in-chief of the hardline Kayhan newspaper, which has been a vociferous critic of the Rouhani administration, has accepted that the opponents of the deal cannot prevent it from being implemented:
Even if the parliament or the National Security Council were to examine the agreement and decide that parts of it go against the national interests or that certain redlines have been crossed, the only result will be for their qualms to be recorded in the history books. No change can be made to the agreement to better align it with the positions of Islamic Iran. This is because the U.N. Security Council has already passed a resolution approving the deal, and the text of the agreement is now binding on Iran.