Once the deal was signed in Vienna, Kerry/Obama and Zarif/Rouhani went back home to sell the deal to the American and Iranian people respectively. To be more exact, their target markets were not the people themselves but the leaders of both countries and more specifically, the critics of the nuclear deal in both countries. As these four men can testify, the deal is no easy sell and hardliners Washington and in Tehran are simply not in a buying mood.
Washington: Obama vs. Congress
In Washington, the scenario seems set for Congress to shoot down the deal, forcing Obama to veto it, as he promised. From this point, it is impossible to speculate what will happen: the deal may rest on Obama’s veto but Congress has already made it clear that since it is not a treaty, this deal will not be binding on Obama’s successor next year and therefore, the deal’s days are possibly numbered.
Another more spectacular scenario involves Hillary Clinton spearheading a vote to override Obama’s veto by convincing at least 14 Democrats in Congress to vote against the deal. It’s a long shot but it does exist.
Tehran: Only Khamenei Knows
In Tehran, the situation is more and less complicated. The less complicated part is that the deal rests in the hands of one person alone – Khamenei but unfortunately he hasn’t endorsed or shot the deal down…yet: He praised the negotiators, stated that Tehran will continue to act as it has in the past and that the text of the deal should be scrutinized.
Furthermore, only 4 days after the deal was signed, Khamenei let the world know that with or without a deal, Tehran continued to view the US as its enemy, gave support to “Death to America” chants and stated “we will never stop supporting our friends in the region and the people of Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon” – reminding all that Iran may sign a deal but will not change its ways.
The deal has to be ratified by the Majlis, Iran’s parliament, but everyone is waiting for Khamenei’s decision. Majli speaker Larijani stated recently that the deal will be scrutinized by Khamenei himself and the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission and that the MP’s “should not be worried about that“.
Furthermore, it is Khamenei and Khamenei alone who decided what were Tehran’s red lines for the negotiators and as Zarif briefed the Majlis, he candidly stated that he and his negotiators had done their “best to preserve most of the (Khamenei’s) red lines, if not all“…It’s the “if not all” part that is giving hardliners in Tehran the opportunity to shoot this deal down.
Rouhani vs. IRGC
Zarif may maintain that in Tehran, the military and non-military factions follow the same agenda but until Khamenei dictates what that agenda is, the realities of Iranian politics point to the exact opposite direction, especially when it comes to the IRGC.
The power of the IRGC in Iran is hard to estimate since its influence goes far beyond the sphere of the military: it is the driving force of politics and the economy and has actually gained strength due to sanctions. To date, the IRGC’s chief Jaffari is against the deal. According to him, the deal includes distinct violations of the “red lines” outlined by Khamenei and therefore “will never be accepted by us”. These red lines include long term limitations (10 years), inspections of military facilities, limitations on enrichment at Fordow, gradual lifting of sanctions, the trustworthiness of the IAEA and limits on nuclear research.
What further complicates the issue of selling the deal in-house are the ambiguities of the deal itself: Zarif told the Iranian MP’s that, according to the deal, access to military sites will be denied while the deal specifically includes such access under the “Additional Protocol” which allows access to any suspect site allowing a period of up to 24 days for such access to be allowed by Tehran.
Some believe that any nuclear deal and the consequent lifting of sanctions can only weaken the IRGC’s hold on the economy. Rouhani believes in privatizing the economy and the nuclear deal has opened up the possibility of selling state assets to foreign investors – a move which will definitely not please the IRGC.
Rouhani vs. Khamenei
But the deal is important enough for Rouhani to oppose Khamenei indirectly: Apart from touting the deal as a “historical victory” and a “new page in history“, he added for the benefits of the critics of the deal, including Khamenei, that the “new page in history” did not turn “in Vienna on July 14th” but in Tehran on August 4th when the “Iranians elected me as their president”. Furthermore, despite the fact that he constantly played down the effects of the sanctions as a motive for negotiating a deal, he reminded everyone that Iran’s trade had been reduced to a “stone age level” and that he was voted to the presidency on the promise of relieving Iran of the sanctions.
Evoking the support of the Iranian people is obviously meant to dampen any criticism on the deal but since Iran is led by a mixture of democratically elected politicians such as Rouhani and non-elected leaders such as the IRGC, the clerics and the Supreme leader, the support of the people may be impotent if Khamenei deems it so.
In a classic bargaining move, Tehran has wisely decided that the Majlis will vote on the deal in Tehran only after Congress has voted on it in Washington. Until then, a huge political struggle is in play in Iran and the fate of Rouhani and the Iranian people depend on what Khamenei will think at that moment.