This week’s Six-Power nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna were the signal for all Tehran’s extremists, the Revolutionary Guards IRGC), other radical groups and the majority of Majlis lawmakers, to line up for a major effort to wreck any comprehensive accord capable of impeding Tehran’s drive for a nuclear bomb. If necessary, they are ready to thwart the accord’s implementation by direct action.
These hard-liners enjoy a measure of support from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His power depends very much on IRGC backing. He also shares their ambition to make the Islamic Republic a nuclear power.
The supreme leader therefore indulged in his usual doubletalk when he addressed a celebration of Iran’s National Nuclear Technology Day Wednesday, April 9.
It was necessary for Iran to negotiate with the world powers on its nuclear program, he explained to "break the hostile atmosphere" with the international community.
On the other hand, he stressed that Iran would never give up its nuclear achievements, over which “no one has the right to bargain.”
Referring to the next session on May 13, also in the Austrian capital, Khamenei agreed to Iran continuing talks with the world powers, but “without ceding any of the gains made by its nuclear program.”
Radicals suspect Rouhani may give away too much
His words reflected the mistrust of the anti-negotiation factions, which DEBKA Weekly's sources say are gaining strength from week to week, in President Hassan Rouhani intentions. These radicals suspect he is laying the groundwork for too many concessions at the expense of the nuclear program.
The Vienna talks have been taking place behind closed doors with all the participants committed to secrecy. Khamenei is regularly briefed on their content, but IRGC leaders suspect that those updates are incomplete and unreliable. Their main fear is that Rouhani, in his eagerness for sanctions relief, may grant concessions that would lead to the nuclear program’s shutdown. This eventuality they are preparing to thwart before it is too late.
On the other hand, the economic situation is still dire, showing no improvement since Tehran signed its interim nuclear accord with the six powers in Geneva five months ago.
That deal was supposed to unfreeze close to $11 billion of Iranian assets blocked in the West. But President Rouhani has complained that not a cent of those funds has been paid out, although, according to various publications, the US, Europe, Japan and South Korea have all released many billions of dollars.
The Islamic government is under heavy popular pressure to make good on its commitment to pay out to every citizen a monthly subsidy of 42,500 toman (about $15).
But the money is not there. So the government has applied a sort of means test, asking citizens to register by Internet and fill out forms on their financial situation to justify their need for a subsidy. But for tens of thousands of the poor, especially in the rural districts and among nomadic tribes, the Internet might as well be on the moon. They don’t possess computers – and some don’t even have electricity.
Just two months to produce enough fissile material for a bomb
To reassure hardliners that there was nothing to fear from diplomacy, senior negotiator Abbas Araqchi reported on Wednesday April 9 that the West had endorsed Iran’s right to enrich uranium (true but conditional) and build a heavy water reactor at Arak (false).
He stressed that Tehran had refused to convert the Arak plant into a light-water reactor which can’t produce plutonium. But he also admitted there was a long way to go to a final agreement and serious differences remained between the parties.
Foreign Minister Javad Mohammed Zarif also spoke of differences, but was more upbeat. The talks with the six powers on a comprehensive nuclear accord had reached the halfway mark, he said, with 50-60 percent of the issues in the bag. Drafting of the final version could take place at the next round of talks in Vienna on May 13, he said – well before the July 20 deadline for completing an accord.
The Revolutionary Guards are reported by our sources in Tehran as aiming to produce Iran’s first working nuclear bomb by the coming autumn. They are well on the way there, according to the testimony offered by US Secretary of State John Kerry to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday, April 8.
In a sober assessment of the efforts to stymie Tehran’s nuclear program, Kerry said it would take Iran just two months to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.
Iranian prosecution prepares charges against Rouhani
A major sticking-point on the road to an agreement is Tehran’s refusal to allow credible international inspections. Under the interim deal, the six powers agreed to Iran enriching uranium up to the low 5 percent grade, but only under close international oversight.
DEBKA Weekly's sources in Vienna report that Iran is preventing the opening of an International Atomic Energy Agency office opening in Tehran and refusing to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s Additional Protocol, which provides for IAEA spot checks of suspect nuclear operations without prior notice.
Iran’s negotiators are under strict orders from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei not to allow this condition to be inserted in the final agreement.
The Revolutionary Guards and other radicals are already gunning for President Rouhani. If he yields too much to the six powers, they intend to bring his government down. The IRGC has instructed the state prosecution to draft charges against him and his ministers ready for indictments. They are supported in this by a majority of lawmakers, who want to see the Rouhani government brought down.
There are plenty of pretexts available: The simplest is Rouhani's failure to pull the country out of its economic mess, although his answer to this charge is pat: In six months it is impossible to repair the wreckage of eight years of mismanagement (by his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad).