Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has put three teams to work in his office to interpret the complex permutations of the nuclear accord signed in Vienna this month. Their work is split up among the headings of the economy, international relations and the region.
Even when their reports are in, the supreme leader will be in no hurry to pronounce on the deal. In fact, he may never ratify it at all, preferring to redefine his position from time to time in accordance with the state of play between the camps of advocates and opponents. He defines this strategy as a true reflection of the popular or collective common sense. But it really reflects the prevailing mood – not of the common people, but the political, military and religious elite.
Meanwhile he is keeping everyone guessing about his ultimate decision.
At present, a tug-o’- war is in full tilt between President Hassan Rouhani, who is fighting with all his might to sell the Majlis the advantages of the nuclear accord, and the Revolutionary Guards, whose leaders openly criticize its impact on the country’s continued armament. No one talks openly about any major setback to Iran’s national nuclear program; it is euphemistically defended for allowing “continued nuclear scientific development” and supporting “the effort to retain the nation’s deterrent strength.”
The lawmakers of the majlis may be expected to line up behind Khamenei, whatever he decides. But the Guards will not be reticent about leaning hard on him to demand amendments and improvements in the original text.
Khamenei holds back ratification of nuclear accord
Khamenei’s delayed response to the nuclear accord owes much to pride. The Islamic Republic would be painfully humiliated if the US Congress rejected the deal after he had approved it. This is not likely to happen, but Congress was given 60 days to determine its position on the Vienna deal, and the ever-cautious supreme leader is not about to risk his hand.
In the meantime, DEBKA Weekly’s sources in Tehran reveal exclusively that the ayatollah has banned all business with American firms in a secret directive to the country’s economic and financial leaders. The ban extends to the Chevron and Exxon giants and applies to business dealings and opening for US firms to take part in any Iranian development projects. It is in force, until the supreme leader rules otherwise.
For now, he has decided to apportion the economic rewards of the nuclear deal among four countries:
The administration and development of Iran’s gas fields go to Germany and Italy.
Russia gets the oil industry and its development as well the contracts for more nuclear reactors.
The oil refineries including new construction go to China.
For now, Khamenei is pointedly excluding the United States from a share in the economic boom expected to arise from the Vienna deal to keep the heat on the current Obama administration – and, if necessary, its successor. He trusts corporate America to keep the president under relentless pressure to get Iran’s doors opened up for US business to compete with the Russians, Germans, Italians and Chinese. When Washington comes knocking on Tehran’s door, that will be the moment for the ayatollahs to play the economic card for squeezing US concessions on its nuclear program and forcing a blind eye to its violations.
Negative rhetoric on the nuclear accord
Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif defended the concessions made for the deal by explaining that negotiations are “give and take” and Iran couldn’t take without giving something. Rouhani drew on football to illustrate his point: If you strike three goals and the opposite team gets two, you win the game. So if Iran gave certain concessions, its winnings were greater than its losses.
Khamenei’s foreign affairs adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati, who often acts as his mouthpiece, tried sounding tough, without however, knocking the accord over, when he said: “With great courage, we conducted negotiations with six world powers. We gave and we received, but we never compromised on our national security.”
The supreme leader too praised the work of the negotiating team on his Facebook page, without however commenting on the accord’s content. He is still biding his time. But anyone looking for pointers to his intentions would have found a hint in Velayati’s comment partly in support of the Revolutionary Guards chief Gen. Ali Jaafari’s indignant protest at the restrictions Iran accepted on its missile development and military armament.
These two issues, he said, should have been non-negotiable.
Defense Minister Gen. Hossein Dehqan agreed and declared that Iran would never acquiesce to inspections of its nuclear facilities or interviews with its nuclear scientists.
Khamenei then declared that Iran would never abandon its struggle against the “global arrogance’ of the United States and Israel.
First official Iranian admission of a military presence in Yemen, Iraq
Saturday, July 25, a mocking depiction of President Barack Obama appeared on Khamenei’s Twitter account: “The US President has said he could knock out Iran’s military,” the tweet said. “We welcome no war, nor do we initiate any war, but…” A silhouette image of Obama putting a handgun to his head is then depicted.
The supreme leader’s senior adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati, came forward on state television to explain his boss’s message. It was the ayatollah’s way of underscoring the strategic importance to Iran’s security of its massive presence in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon, he said, a presence Tehran will never forego, because it lies at the core of the country’s border security.
This was the first time any Iranian official had openly admitted to an Iranian military presence in Yemen and Iraq.
Velayati’s TV statements betrayed some of the arguments that went back and forth between Iran and the six powers over the wording of various clauses, especially on the issues of inspections and the freeze demanded on Iran’s military development plans and future generations of centrifuges.
Contradicting the US president, Velayati solemnly declared, “Not a gram of enriched material will leave Iran,” adding “Iran will continue to pursue its plans in all spheres.”
Even so, DEBKA Weekly’s Iran experts do not foresee Iran violating the accord so flagrantly that a Security Council would be called to restore sanctions.
Tehran’s potential money trail is already a maze
While Israeli sources refer to “hundreds of millions of dollars” that will be potentially released to Iran with the lifting of sanctions on frozen assets, the Iranians mention much smaller sums.
The governor of Iran’s central bank spoke of $32 billion, of which $23 billion repose in Chinese banks. Another sum cited is $130 billion. But it is generally admitted that China is holding onto the money and is demanding that Iran accepts Chinese goods in the same value according to prices set by… Beijing.
Within the Iranian regime, estimates vary of the total assets held in the banks of different countries, which are due to be unfrozen when sanctions are removed.
The ordinary Iranian has mixed emotions about the nuclear deal. While a small band of young people turned out on the streets of Tehran to celebrate it, people are by and large skeptical about any of the riches about to descend on the country filtering down to improve their lives.
The popular view is that the disparities and disputes over the size of the forthcoming flow of assets is rooted in the rush by high-ups for slices to feather their nests in private bank accounts abroad. It is taken for granted that substantial amounts will be awarded to Bashar Assad in Syria, the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Shiite forces fighting in Iraq.
Future of relations with the US cloudy
The future of relations with the United States is uncertain. Some improvement is expected, but since the nuclear accord was signed, the supreme leader has made no bones about America being the ultimate enemy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He has not ruled out continued dialogue, but only so long as the Americans continue to demonstrate their good will in the application of the nuclear accord.
In the short term, the two governments will soon embark on secret talks on the exchange of prisoners. Tehran is holding three Iranians of US nationality in its prisons, charged with jeopardizing Iran’s national security.
At least eight individuals of various nationalities (including an Iranian woman) are held in US jails for smuggling arms and military technology to Iran. Khamenei is eager to get them released and returned to Iran.