US President Barack Obama is in the fight of his life to win congressional approval next month for the “historic” Iran nuclear deal signed in Vienna on July 14. Day by day, US senators and other luminaries, including ex-generals, nuclear experts – and even 300 American Jewish rabbis – jump up with words of support.
That’s in Washington.
But in Tehran, it is hard to find a clue to whether or not Iran’s omnipotent supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei intends to grant Obama his anxiously awaited nod.
DEBKA Weekly’s Iranian experts have collected a few of those clues.
On Aug. 15, the influential Hossein Shariat-Madari ran an editorial in the hard-line Kayhan newspaper: headed “The Sole Option,” in which he wrote: “It can certainly be said that [Khamenei] is not happy with the existing draft of the deal at all. Otherwise why did he repeatedly emphasize: ‘We would not give up the revolution’s principles whether the drafted text gets approved or not’ – given the fact that he had in-depth knowledge of the Vienna deal?”
The writer goes on to say: “So this is the non-negotiable duty of the officials who review the Vienna deal’s text: not to approve any ‘article,’ ‘chapter,’ or ‘content’ which is at odds with the principles and foundations of Islam, the revolution and the existence of the regime, so that they will not have a guilty conscience today before the people and tomorrow before Almighty God.”
Revising the nuclear accord to meet “revolutionary Islamic principles”
Shariat-Madari claims that “all officials and experts – without exception” admit that parts of the Vienna deal and [UN Security Council] Resolution 2231 are “not only incompatible with those principles and the regime, but endanger them and, if implemented, might be disastrous.”
Our Iranian experts detect pointers in this editorial and in other events in Tehran:
1. The reference to “officials and experts – without exception”- is a warning to the proponents of the nuclear accord, and not just President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, who signed it, to toe the line the writer sets out.
Their “sole option” if they wish to escape “a guilty conscience today before the people and tomorrow before the Almighty God” is to bring all parts of the nuclear accord, open and hidden, in line with the “principles and foundations of Islam, revolution and the existence of the regime.”
Our experts point out that the editorial revision and censorship of the more than a hundred pages of text to suit Iran’s religious arbiters is a process that could take years. Meeting all their “revolutionary” requirements would, moreover, effectively demolish the content’s content and goals.
But Khamenei is not afraid of approving this process, knowing that Obama will go to almost any lengths to get the deal approved by Iran.
“Purposeful ambiguity” is Khamenei’s watchword
2. The ayatollah can therefore afford to abide by his “purposeful ambiguity” on the issue. Meanwhile, by manipulating the Iranian media and parliament, he can at any moment cause the current nuclear deal to fall apart like past accords.
3. As matters stand at the moment, the Vienna accord need never be tabled in the majlis for endorsement. Although 209 out of 290 Iranian lawmakers signed a letter calling on the supreme leader to submit the document to a parliamentary vote, a majority would definitely reject it. In any case, they are all under Khamenei’s thumb and so the path to the majlis approval is blocked.
4. Fearing a Majlis rejection, President Rouhani is angling for a vote in the Supreme National Security Council instead, although its decisions are legally effective only after they are countersigned by Khamenei.
In Tehran therefore, the Vienna accord has become the proverbial buck which is tossed back and forth from hand to hand and desk to desk, with every official and legislative body in its path shying away from a decision on its fate.
In Washington, White House and congressional officials lobbying for the deal try to argue that US congressional endorsement would strengthen the hand of its advocates in Tehran. Winning that endorsement may not be an insurmountable roadblock in Washington, but it would not count for much in Iran. No one in Tehran will make the slightest commitment without Khamenei’s say-so. And he has consistently declined to drop his cryptic mask of “purposeful ambiguity.”