Heated Debate in Iran on Nuclear Deal

August 27, 2015

Garrett Nada

The debate over the nuclear deal is heating up in Iran. President Hassan Rouhani’s administration has been trying to sell the agreement since it was announced on July 14. But hardliners' criticism of the deal is mounting.
 
Part of the debate is over whether or not the agreement and its accompanying U.N. Security Council resolution have crossed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s guidelines. “Some parts of the [U.N. resolution] draft have clearly crossed the Islamic republic's red lines, especially in Iran's military capabilities,” said Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the Revolutionary Guards commander, on July 20.
 
Supreme Leader Khamenei has expressed serious skepticism about the intentions of the West, especially the United States. He has vowed that the deal will not open Iran to American influence. Khamenei, however, has not explicitly declared support for or opposition to the deal.
 
 
Powerful officials, especially in the military and parliament, have argued that the deal does not further Iran’s national interests.
 
Khamenei’s foreign policy advisor, Ali Akbar Velayati, said that the deal is not free of weak points. Yet in a televised exchange with a news anchor critical of the deal, Velayati defended Iran’s negotiating team. “Whatever I say about the deal won’t convince you … I don’t want to argue with you… If there is something that hasn't been achieved, definitely they [negotiators] could not have done more.”
 
Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi also defended the negotiating team. “There are those who claim that the [Rouhani] administration wanted to give the chalice of poison to our supreme leader. This is not criticism. This is an accusation, and it is destructive,” he told Etemad newspaper on August 26. “Whatever was achieved during the negotiations is the result of work by the supreme leader, the government and the negotiators.”
 
Among hardliners, Hossein Shariatmadari argued that the supreme leader’s position was clear. “One can definitely say that the supreme leader is not, by any means, satisfied with the text of the deal,” the editor of the hardline paper Kayhan wrote in an August 15 editorial. In the past, Shariatmadari has been regarded as the unofficial mouthpiece of the supreme leader’s office.
 
The editorial sparked a whole separate debate over who speaks for Khamenei. In a reflection of divisions among hardliners, Shariatmadari’s comment, prompted a swift retort from Hamid Reza Moghaddam-Far, the IRGC media advisor. “How come a revolutionary brother like you is insisting on instilling in his audience a feeling that the supreme leader’s line of thinking is like his?” Moghaddam-Far wrote in an Entekhab op-ed on August 16. (It was translated by Iran Front Page.) “Don’t you think it would be better if you expressed your own views, rather than talk on behalf of the supreme leader?”
 
Other top revolutionary names have also come under fire during the internal debate. Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar, who was the spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy hostage-takers, has (ironically) supported the nuclear agreement. “Everyone is going to benefit more or less [from the diplomacy],” she told BBC reporter Kim Ghattas in August. But Ebtekar added that the deal has given reformists “a lot of leverage among the Iranian political groups.”
 
A front-page article in the hardline newspaper Vatan Emrooz then attacked Ebtekar for her “partisan sentiment.” It also warned about possible U.S. attempts to influence Iran’s domestic politics through the nuclear deal.
 
The following is a sampling of remarks by supporters and critics of the deal in Iran.

Supporters
 
President Hassan Rouhani
 
U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 “is an unprecedented event in the history of the Islamic republic of Iran. Iran's goal was to attain its legal right to enrich uranium and today, the UNSC has explicitly accepted this."
 
"We were in a [football] field where our diplomats were on one side, and on the other, the six world powers were present. In this competition, the referee favored the other side; we won this competition."
—July 22, 2015, in a cabinet meeting
 
Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani
 
“This is definitely a trade-off, and no one would claim a maximal gain for Iran in the JCPOA. However, the major issues of concern for Iran had been well-balanced vis-à-vis the Western demands, which is first to retain the enrichment right and second removal of sanctions, which will not be without its own consequences.”
—Aug. 8, 2015 in an address to Parliament’s Joint Budget Commission as reported by Khorosan
 
The nuclear deal is a “national achievement” that should lead to growth in production and prosperity in the cultural, defense and science fields.
—July 23, 2015 according to IRIB News
 
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
 
Iran achieved its goals of “maintaining Iran’s dignity and might, establishing the nuclear program [of the country], enrichment and retaining the heavy-water reactor.”
 
“For 12 years, great powers have tried to prevent an Iranian nuclear program. But today they should tolerate thousands of centrifuges spinning, plus the continuation of research and development. This shows our power.”
—July 21, 2015, in remarks to parliament via Iran Front Page and The New York Times
 
Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar
 
“This is ultimately a step forward. This agreement is a step for the future of not only Iran and the region, but for peace at the global level.” 
 
“I think that there is this internal debate and you can hear these different voices - some criticizing the agreement, and some opposing it entirely.”
 
“But in general... the majority of the Iranian people view this as a successful step forward.”
—August 2015 in an interview with the BBC
 
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, chief nuclear negotiator
 
“I completely support this agreement, and honest to God, I believe we should celebrate [it].”
—Aug. 9, 2015 at a public event in Tehran via Al Monitor
 
 
Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Hassan Firouzabadi
 
“The armed forces have the most concerns about the effect of the deal on Iran's defense capabilities... but this agreement and the U.N. Security Council resolution have many advantages that the critics ignore.”
—August 8, 2015 according to Fars News Agency via Times of Oman
 
Secretary of Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani 
“The text of the JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) is such that it serves the interests of the Islamic Republic.” 
—August 20, 2015, according to PressTV
Critics
 
Revolutionary Guards Commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari
 
“Some parts of the [U.N. resolution] draft have clearly crossed the Islamic republic's red lines, especially in Iran's military capabilities… We will never accept it.”
—July 20, 2015 via Reuters
 
Kayhan Editor Hossein Shariatmadari
 
“Even by simply looking at the deal you can see some vital red lines of the Islamic Republic have not been preserved.”
—July 2015 in an editorial
 
Ibrahim Karkhaneh, a member of the parliamentary committee to review the nuclear deal
 
“The limitations [imposed on Iran] go beyond the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty].”
—Aug. 1, 2015 according to Fars New Agency
 
Foad Izadi, University of Tehran professor
 
“People realize that Iran has given away a lot of things. The nuclear program has become a symbol of national pride – and people didn’t like that the agreement came at a great price.”
—July 2015 in an interview with The Telegraph
 
Hossein Nejabat, a member of the parliamentary committee to review the nuclear deal
“We will not allow any intrusion to our defense and military installations… There are points of contention in the agreement.”
—July 26, 2015 via Tasnim News
 
Commander of Iran's Basij Force Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi
 
“Any Iranian who reads the Vienna documents will hate the US 100 times more [than in the past].”
 
“All paragraphs of the resolution that the U.S. proposed to the U.N. Security Council are full of enmity towards Iran and show the U.S.’ deep grudge against the Iranian nation.”
 
“The U.S. needs the agreement merely to legalize the sanctions and continue pressure against Iran.”
—July 21, 2015, according to Fars News Agency
 
 
 

Garrett Nada is the assistant editor of The Iran Primer at USIP.

 

Iranian Lawmakers on Nuclear Deal

On August 19, Iran’s parliament selected 15 members for a panel that will review the nuclear deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers. Two dozen law makers volunteered to serve on the panel; 15 were then elected by the full parliament. The group includes 13 conservatives.
 
 
In an interview with Alef news, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that the nuclear deal is not a treaty, and therefore does not require Parliament’s ratification. “As a person who has taught law for quite some time, I have to tell you that the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] is, in fact, under the management and supervision of the U.N. Security Council’s resolutions, which has nullified the previous resolutions,” he said in the interview, which was published on August 21.
 
Another senior member of the negotiating team, Deputy Foreign Minister Majid Takht Ravanchi, also does not see a need for ratification. “The JCPOA’s nature is not like a protocol or an international treaty. The other parties [to the deal], namely the six countries that negotiated with Iran, are not going to ratify it. Thus, there is no need for its ratification by the parliament,” he said on August 26.
 
In September, Iran's top nuclear official, Ali Akbar Salehi, announced that International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano would visit Iran. Shortly after, the chairman of the parliamentary commission, Ali Reza Zakani, asked Zarif in a letter to invite Amano to parliament to answer lawmakers’ questions.
 
On August 16, a petition signed by 201 out of 290 members of parliament called on the government to formally submit the deal for review. The following is a translation of the petition, as published by Entekhab News and translated by Iran Front Page, along with key remarks by the 15 lawmakers on the review panel.
 
Petition Signed by 201 Lawmakers
 
In line with our legal obligations, we, the deputies of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, who have signed this petition announce that:
 
1. We thank the nuclear negotiating team for its tireless efforts in the course of the talks.
 
2. Under Articles 77 and 125 of the Constitution, the review of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action falls under the purview of the Islamic Consultative Assembly and requires cooperation from all relevant institutions.
 
3. The executive branch should immediately present the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in the form of a bill.
 
4. Any voluntary measures and implementation of the deal – be it temporary, permanent or conditional – would be illegal before the approval of the Islamic Consultative Assembly and subsequent confirmation of the Guardian Council.
 
Members of the 15-member panel to review the deal
 
Alaeddin Boroujerdi (Tehran), National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Chairman
 
“We are still distrustful of the United States because of the country’s arrogant nature and its support for the Zionist regime [Israel] in the massacre of the oppressed people of Palestine and its move to back Saudi Arabia’s killing of the Yemeni people. In this climate of mistrust, there are concerns and if they renege [on the nuclear agreement], we will do the same.”
—Aug. 9, 2015 to al Alam TV via Tasnim News Agency
 
Ibrahim Karkhaneh (Hamedan) 
“The limitations [imposed on Iran] go beyond the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty].”
—Aug. 1, 2015 according to Fars New Agency
 
Ismail Kowsari (Tehran), National Security and Foreign Policy Committee member
“The JCPOA [the final nuclear deal or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] is an international treaty. Therefore, Parliament must ratify it.”
—Aug. 2, 2015 in remarks via the Islamic Consultative Assembly News Agency  
 
Hossein Naghavi Hosseini (Varamin), National Security and Foreign Policy Committee member
 
“Ever since news about a confidential agreement between Iran and the IAEA was made public, US lawmakers have been seeking to learn about its content.”
 
“What is surprising is that Amano, who is the director general of an independent international agency, and not a US government secretary, is summoned to the US Senate and he accepts to show up.”
—Aug. 2, 2015 according to Fars News Agency via Iran Front Page
 
Hossein Nejabat (Tehran) 
“We will not allow any intrusion to our defense and military installations.” 
 
“There are points of contention in the agreement.”
—July 26, 2015 via Tasnim News
 
Alireza Zakani (Tehran), Chairman of the JCPOA Committee
“The Administration’s only option is to send the JCPOA as a bill.”
—Aug. 19, 2015 in an interview with Tasnim News Agency
 
Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabi-Fard (Tehran), First Vice-Speaker
 
Vahid Ahmadi (Kangavar) 
 
Mansour Arani (Aran and Bigdel) 
 
Mehrdad Bazrpash (Tehran) 
 
Mansour Haghighatpour (Ardebil) 
 
Seyyed Mahmoud Nabavian (Tehran) 
 
Masoud Pezeshkian (Tabriz) 
 
Gholamreza Tajgardoun (Gachsaran) 
 
Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi (Kerman) 
 
Other lawmakers
 
Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani
 
“We should understand that the current situation is a new era; the negotiations should not be scaled down to merely facile verbal give and take and without difficulty; this has been one of the most difficult negotiations in the history of Revolution; talks had been in constant frequenting between negotiation venue and Tehran to be discussed by authorities and get rechanneled into another module, and it was a two-way street.”
 
“What appears on paper reflects only one side of the difficulties inherent in the negotiations. The deal is the end of a period; however, it is the onset of an eventful era; it should not be assumed that the path after the deal will be without its own difficulties; current propaganda raised about Parchin is quite superficial, aiming at wielding impact on international decision-making, and a solution to domestic concerns inside the United States.”
 
“We should be aware that the post-deal era is a new untrodden path with new challenges; we should understand well the JCPOA document, and act out of honesty and good faith in explaining its provisions.”
 
“This is definitely a trade-off, and no one would claim a maximal gain for Iran in the JCPOA; however, the major issues of concern for Iran had been well-balanced vis-à-vis the Western demands, which is first to retain the enrichment right and second removal of sanctions, which will not be without its own consequences.”
—Aug. 8, 2015 in an address to Parliament’s Joint Budget Commission as reported by Khorosan
 
The nuclear deal is a “national achievement” that should lead to growth in production and prosperity in the cultural, defense and science fields.
—July 23, 2015 according to IRIB News
 

 

Photo credit: JCPOA committee members via Islamic Parliament of Iran website, Ali Larijani via ICANA and Islamic Parliament of Iran website,