President Rouhani has struck a deal with the Supreme Leader to protect the Government against hard-line criticism of the interim nuclear deal and further negotiations with the 5+1 Powers (US, Britain, Germany, China, Russia, and France), according to well-placed sources in Iran.
In return, Rouhani has pledged to back away from pursuit of measures to open up Iran’s political and cultural spheres. He has also agreed not to seek the freedom of high-profile political prisoners, such as 2009 Presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.
(Editor’s Note: This account is based on sources who have reliable information about the meeting. For their security, EA cannot publish their names; however, we have no doubts about their veracity.)
According to the sources, Rouhani and Ayatollah Khamenei met two weeks ago. The President sought the discussion after his Culture Minister, Ali Jannati, was given a “yellow card” warning by Parliament over issues such as Internet freedom and women’s rights. Other ministers such as Faraji Dana, who oversees higher education, were also warned by the MPs.
Rouhani’s immediate priority, however, was to ensure that Parliamentary opposition did not derail the talks to implement November’s interim nuclear deal. The Majlis, responding to attempts in the US Senate to impose new sanctions on Tehran, was promoting a bill to enirch uranium to 60%. The measure, while largely symbolic, could be used by Iran’s opponents to say that the Islamic Republic was not serious about fulfilling its side of the interim agreement.
The President asked the Supreme Leader to “believe me and trust me to control everything”.
Khamenei responded that he had doubts about details in the interim deal and did not agree with all of its provisions. However, after Rouhani assured him, “We are at your service for any questions,” the Supreme Leader said he would tell hard-liners not to press the nuclear issue.
In return, Rouhani said he would not disturb relations with Parliament by pressing for measures for cultural openness, such as his pledge to unblock websites and free up social media.
Even before the meeting, the Government was silent as cultural activists and musicians were detained, and it has been quiet in the last two weeks as pressure was put on cultural gatherings, with the cancellation of some of them.
Rouhani also appears to backed away from his promise to seek the freedom of all political prisoners. He told the Supreme Leader that he will not press the cases of Mir Hossein Mousavi, who “lost” to President Ahmadinejad in the disputed 2009 election, fellow 2009 candidate Mehdi Karroubi, and Mousavi’s wife and activist Zahra Rahnavard — all entering their fourth year under house arrest. Nor will Rouhani pursue the release of leading opposition politicians such as former Deputy Interior Minister Mostafa Tajzadeh.
The President’s bargain with the Supreme Leader appears to have safeguarded the interim nuclear deal, whose implementation began last Monday. The Government and the US have also announced that discussions for a comprehensive agreement will begin in mid-February.
However, Rouhani, even after giving up the drive on openness and political prisoners, may not be safe from pressure on the domestic front. Parliament has summoned four of his ministers for questioning next week. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif should emerged unscathed; however, Higher Education Minister Dana could be challenged again.
In the most interesting case, Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, who has been working with Rouhani and Zarif to attract investment from foreign companies, will face hard-liners who are sceptical about his plans. That scepticism may be bolstered by elements, such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, who stand to lose income and influence under any new arrangement for Iran’s oil and gas fields.