Iran Daily, Sept 4: Did Supreme Leader Just Step Back from Nuclear Deal?

In a speech on Thursday to the Assembly of Experts, Iran’s Supreme Leader cast uncertainty over his support of the July 14 nuclear deal with the 5+1 Powers, while putting pressure on President Rouhani and the Government.

Khamenei made his first intervention into weeks of debate over how the deal should be approved. The Government has said that the decision is with the Supreme National Security Council, while anti-deal MPs and Government critics have said that Parliament must be allowed to vote on the agreement.

See Iran Feature: Supreme Leader Slaps Down Government — Parliament to “Decide” on Nuclear Deal

The Supreme Leader said that Parliament “must have a role” in the process:

The remarks divided analysts over the Supreme Leader’s meaning. Some said Khamenei was only indicating an advisory role for the MPs — a position compatible with the Government’s view — while others assessed that the reference that Parliament “must decide” supported the call for a vote.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Leader applied further pressure on the Government with the warning that he could pull back from the deal if it was not implemented correctly. Specifically, he declared that all US, European, and UN sanctions must be terminated on the day that the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Iran’s compliance with the terms of the deal.

The IAEA is projected to issue its decision about Iranian compliance about December 15. Most analysts have assessed that, given the legal and political web of US sanctions, it will be months before the American restrictions — notably on Iran’s oil exports — are fully removed. Moreover, Washington and its allies insisted that the July 14 agreement include a process for the re-imposition of sanctions if Iran was later found to be in violation of the agreement.

The Supreme Leader’s Wider Aim

The immediate assessment is that, on the narrow issue of the nuclear deal, the Supreme Leader maintained a careful ambiguity on Thursday. Without clearly backing a Parliamentary rejection of the agreement, he maintained that possibility as well as declaring that he could always pull back his support of implementation.

That position is part of Khamenei’s wider political objective. Yesterday — as President Rouhani and his ally, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, sat next to the Supreme Leader — was a message to the two men to pull back their challenge within the regime.

In recent weeks, Rouhani, Rafsanjani, and their allies have stepped up their attempt to push back other institutions. The President declared — with elections for Parliament and the Assembly of Experts next February — that the Guardian Council must not be allowed to vet and disqualify candidates. Rafsanjani has been speaking with Grand Ayatollahs who opposed the regime’s crackdown on mass protests after the disputed 2009 Presidential elections. The Government has been pursuing its foreign policy of “engagement”, despite opposition from factions such as the Revolutionary Guards.

The Supreme Leader cautioned Rouhani against any sudden moves. Khamenei used his standard rhetoric denouncing US and Israel, while putting in the pointed message that the Government must not give way to an American challenge abroad and encouragement of “sedition” at home:

Today’s Friday Prayers in Tehran and across Iran, delivered according to guidelines from the Supreme Leader’s office, should give further clues about Khamenei’s strategy.

Meanwhile, factions are reacting carefully to Thursday’s statement, confining themselves to the authorized summary of the remarks while choosing headlines that look away from the internal politics.

Fars News, the outlet of the Revolutionary Guards, leads with a summary of “Parliament should not be abandoned” in the review of the deal, but its English-language site finds refuge in the American enemy: “Leader Calls on Iranian Officials to Respond to US Irresponsible Remarks“.

State agency IRNA, which is favorable towards the Government, echoes, “Supreme Leader: Officials Should Strongly Respond to US Rhetorics“, while Mehr News harshly announces, “US Seeking ‘Ultimate Wiping Out of the Resistance Front’“.

University of Tehran academic Seyed Mohammad Marandi, interviewed by Russia’s RT, also spends several minutes denouncing the US while avoiding any reference to the political dynamics inside the Islamic Republic:

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.

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