Iran’s top leaders remain ambivalent about whether or not to sign the comprehensive nuclear accord with the six world powers in Vienna as 22 agonizing months of negotiation falter on the brink. The all-powerful supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s latest comment was far from helpful. Saturday, July 11, he said publicly: “The US is the true embodiment of global arrogance,” the fight against which “could not be interrupted” even after the completion of the nuclear talks. He also boasted that the Islamic Republic had “managed to charm the world” by sticking with those negotiations.
debkafile’s Iranian sources report that Khamenei’s remarks reflect the struggle between the pro- and anti-nuclear deal factions at the highest level of the Iranian leadership. For now, President Barack Obama’s odds of less than 50 percent on a final accord may well describe the balance in Tehran.
On June 29, President Hassan Rouhani was planning to resign when he asked the supreme leader to receive him first. He was upset by Foreign Minister Mohamed Zavad Zarif’s recall from Vienna to Tehran for a tough briefing. Zarif had warned the president that the talks were doomed unless Iran gave some slack. The foreign minister said that the six foreign ministers were preparing to leave Vienna in protest against Iran’s intransigence.
Rouhani when he met Khamenei warned him that Iran was about to miss the main diplomatic train to its main destination: the lifting of sanctions to save the economy from certain ruin.
The supreme ruler was unconvinced: He referred the president to the conditions for a deal he had laid down on June 23 and refused to budge: Sanctions must be removed upon the signing of the final accord; international atomic agency inspectors were banned at military facilities, along with interviews with nuclear scientists; and the powers must endorse Iran’s right to continue nuclear research and build advanced centrifuges for uranium enrichment.
Rouhani hotly stressed that those conditions had become a hindrance to the deal going through and insisted that sanctions relief was imperative for hauling the economy out of crisis.
Khamenei disputed him on that point too. He retorted that the revolutionary republic had survived the eight-year Iranian-Iraqi war (1979-187) with far fewer resources and assets than it commanded at present.
For back-up, the supreme ruler asked two hardliners to join his ding-dong with the president: Defense Minister Hosseim Dehqan and Revolutionary Guards chief Mohammad Ali Jaafari.
Both told Rouhani in the stiffest terms that Tehran must not on any account bow to international pressure for giving up its nuclear program or the development of ballistic missiles.
In a broad hint to President Rouhani to pipe down, Khamenei reminisced about his long-gone predecessor Hassan Bani-Sadr (president in 1980-1981) who was not only forced out of office but had to flee Iran, and the former prime minister and presidential candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi, who has lived under house arrest for six years since leading an opposition campaign.
The supreme leader then set out his thesis that the danger of Iran coming under attack had declined to zero, since Europe was in deep economic crisis (mainly because of Greece) and because the US president had never been less inclined to go to war than he is today.
Jaaafri added his two cents by commenting that after a succession of fiascos, Obama would go to any lengths to reach a nuclear deal with Iran as the crowning achievement of his presidency. The Revolutionary Guards chief then added obliquely: “Before long we will present the West with a fait accompli.”
He refused to elaborate on this when questioned by the president, but it was taken as a reference to some nuclear event.
Rouhani left the meeting empty-handed, but his letter of resignation stayed in his pocket.
The next day, when Zarif landed in Vienna to take his seat once more at the negotiating table, he learned about a new directive Khamenei had sent the president, ordering him to expand ballistic missile development and add another five percent to its budget – another burden on Iran’s empty coffers.
Khamenei’s office made sure this directive reached the public domain. Zarif too was armed with another impediment to a deal. Khamenei instructed him to add a fresh condition: The annulment of the sanctions imposed against Iran’s missile development and arms purchases.