Iran’s Islamic regime is more deeply divided than ever over the interim accord signed in Geneva with six world powers on Nov. 24 for a six-month freeze of its disputed nuclear program and negotiations on a comprehensive accord.
Nonetheless, the process keeps going on artificial life support, its tubes fed by solemn commitments by all the parties to continuing the negotiations.
Monday, Dec. 16, Iran’s foreign ministry confirmed that talks were ongoing with US and EU officials, despite the new sanctions Washington imposed on 19 additional Iranian individuals and firms last week. This prompted Iran’s walkout from the Vienna experts’ meeting of Dec. 13 for hammering out the technical details.
Sunday, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told the Washington Post in an interview that his government was “100 percent” committed to reaching a comprehensive final agreement despite the “snag.”
He said he had communicated with US Secretary of State John Kerry, EU Foreign Policy Executive Catherine Ashton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov “to make sure everybody is committed to Geneva.” He said “they are committed to an early finalization of the Geneva process. I share that objective.”
His deputy Abbas Araqshi, while hopping among Europe capitals, sought to strengthen that impression.
Rouhani loses ground against hard-liners on nuclear accord
The glut of “commitments” on tap did not fill the empty the time frame for the six-month process to get started. And so, Wednesday, Dec. 18, Iranian officials, followed by the European Union’s Ashton rushed in to announce that the Geneva talks would be resumed Thursday and limited to two days.
The good old days of interminable, futile palaver with Iran were back.
According to DEBKA Weekly’s Iranian sources, Tehran has set out the coming stages of the negotiating process, on the assumption that procrastination remains the most effective gambit.
The Iranian delegation will be instructed to draw the negotiations out and delay execution month after month by nitpicking and stubborn resistance to every petty technical detail of the accord’s implementation.
President Hassan Rouhani needs to buy time because, on the home front, he is losing ground in his fight for the international deal for Iran’s nuclear program to go through in time for enough sanctions to be lifted before the economy crashes.
Revolutionary Guards Corps chief Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari is fiercely determined to sink the Geneva deal and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is less than supportive of Rouhani’s case.
The battle within Iran’s governing elite is producing mixed directives for its technical team, especially with regard to the oversight measures embodied in the Geneva accord, which also cover the arrangements for on-site visits by IAEA inspections.
Iran’s hardliners won’t let go of Arak, want Zarif gone
The last straw for the hard-liners was the proposal to give up on the heavy water reactor plant under construction at Arak. They were counting on its capacity to produce plutonium at speed for bridging the shortfall of weapons-grade fissile material created by the much slower uranium enrichment process at Natanz and Fordo.
Now, they bitterly blame Rouhani and Zarif for giving way to the six powers and allowing Arak to be put on the table at Geneva. For years, no one challenged Tehran’s argument that Arak was not covered by the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Now this valuable point has been ceded
Their opponents are clamoring for the nuclear negotiations portfolio to be removed from Zarif and transferred back to the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC). This campaign is fronted by the influential clerical lawmaker Hamid Rasaee. It is echoed by other top Iranian politicians.
The council has recently undergone a major change.
After Rouhani’s election victory in June, Khamenei appointed Adm. Ali Shamkhani (See separate item) to replace Saeed Jalilee as SNSC Secretary. Before Jalilee ran against Rouhani and lost, he also acted as senior nuclear negotiator in the previous rounds of drawn-out diplomacy with world powers.
Since the Geneva deal was signed last month, its critics are saying, “Zarif sold Iran’s nuclear program for a song” and even Jalilee got a better deal from the West.
They are referring to the accord’s “untimely decease.” To hammer it into the ground, they are demanding that the accord be put to the vote in parliament where a conservative and radical majority is strong enough to lay it to rest. The anti-accord factions produce chapter and verse of the Iranian constitution which requires all international accords to be submitted to parliament for ratification.
However, Rouhani’s supporters fought back by zigzagging between the deal concluded in Geneva and its downgrade for hard-line consumption, classifying the Geneva document as a “Letter of Agreement” – not an “Accord.”
Rouhani’s argument for nuclear concessions in lieu of sanction relief is rejected
Attempting to still the tempest of dissent, Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani has been explaining that the deal was “not final, only a first station,” whereas the really substantial nuclear negotiations could be dragged out for decades. .
But the dissenters have another beef against President Rouhani. They blast his campaign to convince the country that the dire straits of its economy render nuclear concessions unavoidable for the sake of removing sanctions. Talking to students this week, the president said most national development projects were stuck in the middle for lack of funding.
His opponents insist that Iran’s economic disarray has nothing to do with sanctions; the United States is sunk in huge debt without ever being subjected to sanctions, they maintain.
The conservative journal Kayhan, a mouthpiece of Ayatollah Khamenei, ran an editorial this week accusing Rouhani of conspiring to open the way to resumed relations with “Big Satan.”
The opposition to the Geneva accord gained substantial fodder from the Obama administration’s decision Friday, Dec. 13, to add 19 Iranian individuals and firms to the sanctions list.
The US president was held up in radical circles as bearing out Khamenei’s words that the US was not to be trusted due to its “global arrogance.”