Iran’s body politic is far from tension-free. Not only does the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, keep the tightest of reins on the political process and the politicians who administer it, but Iran’s Revolutionary Guards also regard it as their bounden duty to protect the principles of the revolution by stamping on any politician with too-liberal tendencies.
Back in 2013, Khamanei had lost faith in the then president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, not least because the sanctions imposed by the US and the EU on Iran since 2005 were biting hard, and Ahmadinejad had no policy for easing them. So Khamenei backed the more accommodating Hassan Rouhani in the new presidential elections, and charged him with negotiating Iran’s way out of the sanctions.
Rouhani succeeded, but in his very success lie the seeds of his failure. On November 3 the New York Times reported that Rouhani’s hard-line adversaries in the government were promoting an internal backlash against the nuclear deal. In addition, the Revolutionary Guards Corps had started arresting pro-deal journalists, activists and cultural figures.
The development reflects the current views of the Supreme Leader. Yes, Khamenei heartily approves of the fact that the US and the EU are prepared to lift sanctions on Iran, but no, the Supreme Leader does not like the conditions they have laid down, and that Rouhani has agreed to. Perhaps reckoning that the US president and world leaders are so anxious for a deal with Iran that he has more leeway than the signed document apparently allows, Khamenei has virtually stated in black and white that Iran has no intention whatsoever of adhering to the terms of the agreement reached on July 14, 2015.
July 14 was the day that world powers, led by the US, reached a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran. Under its terms, sanctions will be lifted only when the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) verifies that Iran has implemented key nuclear-related measures, such as reducing its stockpiles of fissile materials and centrifuges.
“Adoption Day”– the day participants would start the process of implementing their JCPOA commitments – was set for October 18. On that day, therefore, the US and the EU began preparatory measures for lifting the multiple sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy since they were first imposed in 2005. Only three days later, on October 21, Ayatollah Khamenei published a letter of guidelines to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about the JCPOA.
This letter, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported, was posted on Khamenei’s website in Persian, tweeted from his Twitter account, posted on his Facebook page in English, and published in English by the Iran Broadcasting Authority. In this document, clearly the definitive statement of the conditions under which Iran would be willing to execute the JCPOA, Iran’s Supreme Leader sets nine new and unilateral conditions that fundamentally change what was agreed on July 14. In short, he has virtually declared the JCPOA a dead letter.
What are these nine new conditions?
First Khamenei demands that sanctions are lifted fully, not suspended, before Iran takes steps to meet its obligations under the agreement. In addition he asserts that any endorsement by the West of the “snapback” option (the reintroduction of sanctions should Iran fail to meet the terms of the agreement) will be considered “non-compliance with the JCPOA”.
Secondly: Any future sanctions against Iran for whatever reason, including terrorism or human rights violations, will “constitute a violation of the JCPOA,” and a reason for Iran to stop executing the agreement.
Thirdly: Under the JCPOA Iran is obligated to start changing the function of its nuclear reactor at Arak and shipping out most of its stockpile of enriched uranium. In his letter Khamenei declares that Iran will not carry out these actions until after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) closes its dossier on Iran, targeted for December 15. But the IAEA will not be able to report about Iran meeting its obligations regarding the Arak reactor and shipping out its enriched uranium by the target date, because Iran is not going to do so by then. In short, the JCPOA has been thwarted from the very start.
Fourth: Iran will change the purpose of the Arak reactor only after there is a signed agreement on an “alternative plan” and “sufficient guarantee” that it will be implemented. In other words, Iran intends to postpone fulfilling its obligations under the JCPOA regarding the Arak reactor to some unknown future date.
Fifth: Iran intends to postpone indefinitely the date set by the JCPOA for shipping out its enriched uranium to another country in exchange for yellowcake. Moreover Khamenei is demanding that Iran receive in exchange for the enriched uranium not raw uranium as per the JCPOA, but instead uranium that has been enriched, albeit to a lower level than the uranium it ships out.
Sixth: Khamenei instructs President Rouhani, while reducing Iran’s ability to enrich uranium under the JCPOA, immediately to expand Iran’s ability to enrich uranium on a 15-year long-term plan for 190,000 centrifuges. In short, he is nullifying the declared goal of the JCPOA, which is to reduce Iran’s nuclear enrichment capabilities.
Seventh: The Iranian Atomic Energy Organization must ensure continued nuclear research and development, in its various dimensions, so that in eight years’ time, Iran will not be lacking in enrichment technology.
Eighth: Khamenei declares that Iran must be involved in resolving queries about the JCPOA – a recipe for unending dispute and the ability to paralyze the execution of the agreement.
Ninth: A new committee tasked with monitoring the execution of the agreement is to be established – nominally to obviate any attempt by the US or the West to cheat, but in effect, a mechanism for creating perpetual obstacles to carrying out the agreement.
So far world opinion has turned a blind eye to Khamenei’s virtual rejection of the nuclear agreement. The US and the EU are proceeding enthusiastically with the first stages of dismantling their multiple sanctions regimes. Government officials and businessmen from around the globe are making a beeline for Tehran, eager to share in the vast commercial opportunities they see awaiting.
The nuclear agreement is the basis for Iran’s re-entry into the comity of nations, and Khamenei seems to be setting the stage for a battle of wills between Iran and the West. Will the West’s desire to come to terms with Iran outweigh Iran’s determination to give away less than their president has actually signed up to? Will the West delay the lifting of sanctions? Who will blink first?