Progress of sanctions relief will quicken Iran’s power struggle, spur clash with Saudi Arabia
The nuclear watchdog confirmed Saturday night, Jan. 16, that Iran had fulfilled its side of the nuclear deal with the six world powers and that sanctions could be lifted, after US Secretary of State John Kerry, EU’s Federica Mogherini and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had been kept hanging about for the IAEA’s from early morning for a verdict worth some $100-150 billion to Tehran. The wording did not explicitly confirm that Iran had met all the terms of the nuclear deal or that it had mothballed most of its uranium-enrichment centrifuges.
From the start, the deal was viewed with deep suspicion by Israel, Saudi Arabia and US lawmakers. Even the White House spokesman Josh Earnest was moved to comment Friday that “the United States wants to make sure than Iran doesn’t cut any corners.”
debkafile’s intelligence and Iranian sources account for the delay in publishing the nuclear watchdog’s report by the “corners” Iran was still trying to cut. According to our sources, Iran had managed to dodge compliance with key terms of the nuclear deal. Nine tons of enriched uranium were indeed shipped to Russia, but most expert watchers are dubious about three other commitments:
1. Washington and Tehran have claimed that the Iranians fulfilled their commitment to pour concrete into the core of the Arak reactor to disable its capacity for producing plutonium. Two days ago, on Thursday, Iranian officials denied this had been done: Only a token operation may have taken place, if any.
Officials associated with Iran’s radical Revolutionary Guards, which fought tooth and nail against the nuclear accord, commented that instead of pouring concrete into the Arak reactor, it should be poured into the hearts of President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif, for negotiating the accord with the six powers.
Such comments rarely reach the Western media. They are important because they mirror the fierce power struggle ongoing in Tehran, which is heavily fueled by infighting over the nuclear deal and sanctions.
2. That deal provided for the number of centrifuges enriching uranium at the Natanz center to be reduced from 19,500 to 5,050. Our sources report that 9,000 are still in operation.
3. There is no confirmation that the number of centrifuges operating at the underground facility of Fordo was cut down to one thousand, as agreed.
On top of these deviations, the Obama administration admitted last week that the dispute over Iran’s nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, which were tested last month, is still open, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. This makes Tehran liable to a fresh set of sanctions, as US officials too have indicated.
The capture of two US patrol boats by the Revolutionary Guards speedboats last Tuesday, with the 10 American sailors aboard forced to surrender before they were released, was clearly a last-ditch attempt by Iran’s radicals to derail the nuclear accord before the Saturday deadline was reached.
That will not be the last such episode: Iran’s radicals may embark on more such actions to counteract the nuclear deal by striking more American targets and looking for trouble with Saudi Arabi and its Gulf allies.
The fact is that the hard-line factions in Tehran don’t want the sanctions lifted, because they see them as net profit for President Rouhani and his moderate conservatives and his leading backer, former president Hashem Rafsanjani, head of the powerful Assembly of Experts.
Iran's Finance Minister Ali Tayyebnia gave the radicals fodder when he said last week that even $100 billion in cancelled sanctions would not haul the Iranian economy out of crisis or balance the state budget, because the country’s indebtedness is far in excess of that huge amount.
The Iranian-Saudi row is another factor that could upset the nuclear deal, although paradoxically, since oil prices sank below $30, the Guards and Riyadh have a common interest in its collapse.
Iran's expected return to an already glutted market – through the removal of sanctions – will drive prices down further. This, neither the Revolutionary Guards Corps, which control Iran’s oil sector, nor the Saudis want to see.
The spiral of hostility launched with the Saudi execution of the prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, followed by the mob attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran and consulate in Meshaad, and the multiple severance of diplomatic and commercial ties between the Gulf emirates and Tehran, may have the effect of reversing the downward trend of oil prices with a sudden spurt.
Therefore, the rosy prospect the Obama administration paints of a successful landmark deal for curbing Iran’s nuclear capabilities is a far cry from being realized.