Iran’s Rouhani Needs a Nuclear Resolution

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (left) and President Hassan Rouhani

by Jasmin Ramsey

via IPS News

After 34 years of enmity, Tehran and Washington are heavily invested in the success of a deal over Iran’s nuclear programme achieved through teamwork. Now the political future of Iran’s new moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, depends on this issue.

“Resolving the nuclear impasse is President Rouhani’s signature policy initiative,” Mohsen Milani, a professor of politics at the University of South Florida, told IPS.

“If he can’t bring about a nuclear resolution, he will not be able to pursue his other major foreign and domestic policy initiatives, hardliners will have a better chance to gain a majority in the 2016 parliamentary elections and his re-election will be jeopardised,” said the Iran expert.

“The analogy is with President Obama’s affordable health care act – if he doesn’t succeed with that, his legacy will be in big trouble,” he said.

The Joint Plan of Action, a historic first-phase agreement reached in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, China, and Russia plus Germany) on Nov. 24 is scheduled for implementation on Jan. 20.

During the “first step” of the deal, Iran will scale back and limit significant parts of its controversial nuclear programme in exchange for limited sanctions relief. The “final step” of a “comprehensive solution” includes the dismantling of the sanctions regime, according to the text.

Since Nov. 24, the Rouhani administration, which inherited an isolated and economically ailing Iran after winning the June presidential election, has been touting its achievement at home and abroad.

“The Geneva accord means the great powers’ surrender to the great Iranian nation,” said Rouhani during a Jan. 14 speech in Ahvaz, the capital of Iran’s oil-producing Khuzestan province.

“The Geneva accord means breaking the dam of sanctions that was unduly imposed on the dear and peace-loving Iranian nation,” declared the centrist cleric to a cheering crowd.

Iran is also expected to repeat its readiness for a new era in international relations when Rouhani attends the World Economic Forum in Davos next week. The last Iranian leader to attend was the reformist President Mohammad Khatami a decade ago.

But while foreign investors may be eager to cash in on Iranian markets that have been heavily restricted due to sanctions, many barriers need to be lifted before they will be confident enough to do so.

Beyond the logistical and technical complexities involved in the implementation of the monumental accord, the deal also faces external challenges.

The Barack Obama administration is trying to prevent Congress from passing new sanctions on Iran, warning they can derail a peaceful solution to the nuclear conflict and even lead to war.

While no vote has been scheduled on the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013,” which would impose sweeping new sanctions against Tehran if it fails to comply with the terms of the Nov. 24 accord or reach a comprehensive deal within one year, Obama is still battling a heavily pro-sanctions Congress.

On Thursday, Obama even targeted Senate fellow Democrats by urging them to resist new sanctions while the deal is being implemented during a meeting about his legislative agenda.

“The president did speak passionately about how we have to seize this opportunity,” Senator Jeff Merkley told the Associated Press. “If Iran isn’t willing in the end to make the decisions that are necessary to make it work, he’ll be ready to sign the bill to tighten those sanctions. But we’ve got to give this six months.”

So sensitive are the negotiations that the Obama administration only released a nine-page text of the implementation details to lawmakers and senior aides with security clearances on Thursday after serious pressure.

Meanwhile, Iranian hardliners who oppose any U.S.-Iran rapprochement would use any failure of the deal, particularly the imposition of new sanctions, as proof that the Rouhani administration is not fit to lead Iran or protect its interests.

“He campaigned on a pledge to lift the sanctions, end Iran’s isolation and resolve in an honourable and peaceful way Iran’s nuclear impasse with the West,” said Milani. “A lot of people voted for him precisely for that pledge.”

Having lost their political upper hand after failing to unite in producing an attractive presidential candidate in June, these hardliners are currently sidelined.

Even Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who issued multiple public messages of support for Iranian diplomats during and after the Geneva talks, has urged domestic critics to support Rouhani’s efforts on the nuclear issue.

But the Ayatollah has also repeatedly said he does not trust the West to keep up its side of the bargain.

“No one should be under the illusion that the enemies of the Islamic revolution have today given up their enmity,” he said during a speech in the holy city of Qom on Jan. 9.

“Of course, it’s possible any enemy might have no choice but to step back, but the enemy and the enemy’s front-line must not be ignored,” he said.

The Rouhani government has warned of repercussions if new sanctions are passed while negotiations are in process.

“U.S. sanctions against Iran have had no positive results,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told a Russian Newspaper on Jan. 16.

“If radical legislators make an effort to increase sanctions, they will not like the results,” said the lead nuclear negotiator, who also recently warned that “the entire deal is dead” if new sanctions are issued.

“I do believe the Iranians when they say they would quit the talks if more sanctions are imposed,” Barbara Slavin, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told IPS.

“If Congress passes such legislation but not by a veto-proof margin, I think the impact would be serious – a short walk out – but not necessarily fatal,” said the Iran expert, who last visited Iran for Rouhani’s inauguration in August.

“However, it would undermine Obama’s credibility severely if he is perceived as incapable of controlling even the Democratic-led Senate and that would have negative implications for negotiating a comprehensive deal,” she added.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.



  1. One thing caught my eye, that being the foreign investors cashing in on Iranian markets, yet reluctant because of sanctions, I wonder if the cash flow into Iran would stall the build out of the Gas & Oil infrastructure Israel is doing in the Mediterranean along the coasts there, if sanctions were removed and Iran & the U.S. became friends/ally’s again?

  2. Many Aipac stooges in the US Congress simply do not care if they foolishly injure Rouhani.

  3. If one reads carefully the “Summary of Technical Understandings Related to the Implementation of the Joint Plan of Action on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program” released by the White House Press Office, one will see how much Iran has given up in return for how little. Among other steps, Iran has to halt production of near-20% enriched uranium, dilute the near-20% enriched uranium stockpile, not to enrich uranium in half of installed centrifuges in Nataz and three-quarters of installed centrifuges in Fordow, not construct additional enrichment facilities, not commission or fuel the Arak reactor, not construct a facility capable of reprocessing, etc. and all this is to be verified by the IAEA on the basis of daily inspections. In return, Iran will get only between $6 and $7 billion dollars over six months of her $100 billion dollars of assets that have been illegally blocked.

    However, all this still does not satisfy some 59 senators who are pushing for more sanctions on Iran. As opposed to this, one should read the article in the Guardian Newspaper of January 15 on “The truth about Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal” to get a sense of the fairness of those who wish to punish Iran further, but who have closed their eyes to the arsenal of Israeli nuclear weapons obtained in collaboration with the United States, France, England and apartheid South Africa.

  4. Again, the Iranian regime has been brought to the table because of sanctions. No we’re going to give the Iranians a $6 billion payday for simply being polite? No amount of hopeful talk can alter the very basic and fundamental forces at work in Iran. As a religious government, Iran is driven by its core Shiite philosophy and convictions as it battles Sunni-led nations for regional supremacy. Unfortunately there is no separation of church and state in Iran. The mosque IS the state. Imagine if you will, if the US was a religious government led by hardline Christian conservatives and all members of Congress had to be members of the church and the President of the US answered to the head of the church. You don’t think the rest of the world would be alarmed? Why is Iran’s form of government deserving then of our unqualified support in this agreement?

  5. What major power does not support the proposed P5+1 deal with Iran? Answer? None. All support it.

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