Power Struggle and the Iran Deal

23 September 2015 | 02:17 Code : 1952208 General category
By: Parisa Farhadi, Media Analyst
Power Struggle and the Iran Deal

After a long, serious engagement, Iran finally struck a historic deal in Vienna with the P5+1 over its controversial nuclear program. Lifting oil and financial sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear capabilities, the Iran Deal ushers a tectonic shift in the power arrangement in the Middle East and preludes a possible, and even indirect, US-Iran alignment in regional affairs.

The deal, however, faced a difficult adoption process in both countries. In the US, the Republicans and AIPAC tried to sink the deal. They launched a huge costly campaign. But they lost when the Democratic members of the Senate successfully shattered the GOP’s efforts and those of the Israeli lobby through an effective filibuster. The deal seems to be finally kept out of the hands of its critics. But the story has not ended yet, at least on the Iranian side.

Before the ink was dry, the Conservatives in Tehran began lambasting Rouhani’s administration and the negotiation team led by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Zarif and his team members, especially Araqchi, were frequently accused of making the regime withdraw of its national nuclear program. Rasai, a radical conservative parliament member, called the deal so ‘malformed’ that even Admiral Shamkhani, the chief of the Supreme National Security Council, was not able to defend it.   

On top of that, conservative parliament members, particularly the radicals, were putting emphasis on their demands of the Rouhani administration to permit the Parliament to evaluate the Iran Deal. Arguing that the deal is a treaty and not an agreement, they increased pressure on Rouhani to leave his harsh position against the Parliament, as they saw it.

On the other side, Rouhani and his team insisted on seeing the deal as an agreement without any Parliament intrusion in the details. “The Parliament's evaluation and alteration of the content of the Iran Deal would disturb everything because the deal has already been adopted and is no longer negotiable,” said the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi. Reminding the Saad-Abad negotiations and Iran’s subsequent signing of the NPT, Salehi added that “The NPT was once adopted in the Parliament and indeed all safeguards and inspections were also adopted, but we faced problems with the IAEA in the NPT framework”. Stating that any treaty brings about commitment, Salehi said, "The opposite party [P5+1] believes that Iran has made some mistakes in its nuclear program which have now been settled with the deal. Thus, the question is, should these already settled issues be examined by the Parliament? The answer of course is no”. He stressed that "We have not lost any of our nuclear sites in Natanz, Fordow, or the heavy water nuclear reactor in Arak, and they will continue their operations”.

But these arguments were still not convincing enough for the conservative Parliament members. The conservative Parliament members’ position was strengthened when Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei permitted the Parliament to evaluate the deal. The permission let critics of the deal intensify their attacks on Rouhani’s administration.  

Amid the harsh parliamentary discussion on the deal, surprisingly covered by the state-controlled national media, Seda-Sima, it was Saeed Jalili, the former chief of the Supreme National Security Council, who branded himself as the main opposition figure of the Iran Deal. In a meeting with some Parliament members already assigned to evaluate the Iran Deal, Jalili claimed that “The Islamic Republic of Iran has given up more than 100 rights in the deal”. Heavily supported by Seda-Sima and his allies in Parliament, called Paydari, he added that “Iran has withdrawn its position in comparison with the 2013 Geneva agreement”. He also mentioned that “according to the Deal, Iran has become an exception, because the deal has replaced ‘Permissions’ with ‘Rights’. This means more responsibility and fewer rights [for Iran]”. On top of that, Jalili put emphasis on the “reversibility of the sanction regimes” as well as “limitations on Iran’s nuclear program” and contended that “despite those martyred on our way to producing 20 percent enrichment, we have now adopted not to do it anymore and to buy the 20 percent fuel from abroad”. Lastly, he asserted that “we have adopted 10-year, 15-year, and 20-year monitoring, all beyond the NPT and crossing the red lines shaped by the Supreme Leader”. It seems that the conservatives’ position is unbreakable.

Jalili’s claims were soon responded to by Salehi. “We [Rouhani’s administration] could not. If you can, begin to negotiate with them to gain concessions not only in Arak, but everywhere. They [P5+1], in return, lift the sanctions and apologize to us. That is an ideal”. He added that “I was a member of the former negotiation team, headed by Jalili, and he mentioned that Iran should have left its 20 percent enriched fuel in return for ‘something’. He never claimed that Iran should have kept its 20 percent enriched fuel and at the same time the P5+1 should have lifted the sanction”. On top of that, Salehi pointed to an important issue, that “while there used to be 19 thousand centrifuges in Natanz, it has now been decided to have only 10 thousand. This is not a decision that we made; in contrast, it had been made during Jalili’s era”. More importantly, he emphasized that “Decisions in Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO) are never made in void. The Supreme Leader stressed that the decision-making processes should never change with the administration coming and leaving”. Lastly, Salehi responded to Jalili’s claim directly when he said, “I heard that Mr. Jalili mentioned they could gain the enrichment right as well as lifting all sanctions. If it was so, he could have signed right away and terminated everything”. On the other hand, he accentuated available documents that showed what had happened at that time.

But the last nail in the coffin was Baidinejad’s cogent argument on Jalili’s claims. As a member of negotiation team in Vienna, Baidinejad was well aware of the vicissitudes in Iran-P5+1 negotiations. After an exact calculation of the very exact time Jalili had dedicated to negotiate with P5+1, he concluded that “Jalili had negotiated with the P5+1 just for 16 days. Without interpreters, it would of course be just eight days”. “In spite of all these negotiations”, he added, “the two parties never agreed on any agreement and their positions on the issue were too wide apart to be bridged. This shows that it would be almost impossible to claim that Iran and the P5+1 had earlier reached an agreement on lifting sanctions and adopting Iran’s enrichment right with regards to such a short time dedicated to negotiations. The final statement declared by Ms. Ashton in Almaty-II also reaffirmed the fact that Iran had not been able to reach any agreement with the P5+1”. Baidinejad finished his arguments by reminding the significance of the secret Muscat negotiations between Iran and the US. “It was in Muscat that the Americans for the first time stated adopting Iran’s enrichment right”.

Baidinejad’s arguments illustrate that negotiations led by Jalili never led to adopting Iran’s enrichment right by the P5+1 as Jalili claimed in the controversial meeting with Parliament members. It also demonstrates that the secret, direct talks with the Americans in Oman were the most important negotiation channel that finally led to the historic deal in Vienna. Negotiations are like mushrooms, since they grow better in the dark.

And the last thing is that power competition among different institutions of the Islamic Republic of Iran is real. It is this harsh competition that punctuates socio-political changes. In other words, the political landscape in Iran has been shaped by struggles of power between institutions at critical junctures. And the Vienna Deal could be one of the most significant junctures in modern Iranian history.