The nuclear deal and the fall of Aleppo

When the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, the West looked worriedly on but did basically nothing. Oh yes, President Barak Obama did force Bashar al-Assad to desist from using chemical weapons but, on the whole, the war zones were empty of any Western influence. Assad warned the Western powers to stay out of the war while rolling out the red carpet for Tehran to take over the dirty business of a war which had ceased to be an internal “civil” war and now included Tehran’s own agenda in the area, namely supporting Assad, a Shiite-Alawite, in an effort to Export the Islamic Revolution to Syria. Tehran was only too happy to pour in Hezbollah, IRGC and Shiite militant troops while joining Assad’s warning to the West to stay clear of the region. For three years, the war trudged on with no clear winners and many losers.

In 2014, ISIS began its rampage, claiming to set up an Islamic state which would span from Syria to Iraq and inadvertently, the issue of the West’s support to ISIS in its infancy became the perfect cover-up: Tehran and Assad were killing terrorists who were backed by the Western powers and their proxies in the region, namely Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Every horrifying act of terrorism by ISIS only strengthened this narrative even though the West had stopped supporting ISIS long before it began its rampage in 2014. But Assad and Tehran weren’t only fighting ISIS – in fact, most of the war efforts were focused on eliminating any form of opposition against Assad. These efforts took a heavy toll on the Syrian civilian population and led to a massive wave of Syrians fleeing Syria and seeking refuge in Europe but the West still remained politely out of the war.

Meanwhile, the West was trying to clinch the nuclear deal which would, supposedly, keep Iran’s nuclear program in check. But the issue of the nuclear program seemed secondary to most of the EU representatives who eagerly awaited the cash in on the huge potential of the soon-to-be-opened Iranian economy. As the negotiations on the nuclear deal dragged on, the situation in Syria became worst for all sides and still, the West kept its distance, this time out of fear of endangering the nuclear deal. So while suited diplomats from all over the world haggled over the percentages of Uranium enrichment in fancy board rooms in Europe, Syrian men, women and children kept on suffering and getting killed.

The nuclear deal was finally signed in June 2015 and within four months, the red carpet was once again rolled out by Assad (and Tehran) to Moscow, Tehran’s newest and most powerful ally. Russian planes began bombing Syrian rebels while claiming, as before, that it was there for one reason and one reason only: eradicating terrorists. Moscow’s entry to the war was the beginning of the end for the Syrian rebels. It wasn’t only the issue of the Russian air force, it was the fact that such a superpower openly entered the war while the Western powers maintained their distance, demoralizing the Syrian rebels. All this was done while Assad, Tehran and Moscow continued to hypocritically warn the West to stay out of Syria.

Since day one, Tehran has claimed that the only solution to the war in Syria would be a political one and not a military one while at the same time, Tehran and Moscow have invested in the war in Syria tens of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of troops causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrians and the millions of refugees. This glaring discrepancy was once again ignored under the grand goal of eradicating terrorists and the West, once again, sat on the sidelines. As pictures, videos and information regarding the dire situation of the Syrian population leaked out to the world, the pressure on the West to take a stand increased but, once again, nothing. The danger of an escalation which might lead the West to fight against Russia was left the West frozen in indecision.

And then, the siege on Aleppo began and suddenly, the inaction of the West became more unbearable. Most of the troops involved in the siege of Aleppo were not even Assad’s: they were Shiite militants and Hezbollah troops which Tehran had organized. The city was split into two distinct areas: the Western part was pro-Assad while the Eastern part was anti-Assad. As the noose around the rebels tightened, the Russian planes kept on bombing. The war of conflicting narratives sounded like two distinctive echo chambers: One narrative spoke about “liberating Aleppo from the terrorists” while the other narrative spoke about “conquering Aleppo by Tehran and Moscow”. As the siege on Aleppo became more critical, the accusations from the West increased but apart from words, the West didn’t do a thing for fear of “rocking the boat” and being accused of supporting terrorists.

And then, Aleppo fell, or was “liberated”, depending on your point of view and this time, the war of words reached a much higher level. The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, slammed Tehran and Moscow for having “no shame” in fighting Assad’s war and victimizing millions of Syrians in the process while the Russian ambassador to the UN pointed out that the US wasn’t “Mother Theresa” and was far from being a neutral “player” in the war. What he should have done is tell Power that Moscow and Tehran are not alone in having no shame and that the US should take responsibility over the fact that it shamelessly abandoned the Syrian people to a fate in the hands of Moscow and Tehran. History might not forgive the Iranians and the Russians for what they did in Syria but it won’t forgive the West either for what it didn’t do there either or as Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.

 

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The Strategy of Illusion in Tehran

Magic tricks are based on a magician’s ability to misdirect the audience’s attention to her manipulations in order to create an illusion. The audience, who missed the manipulation, is then asked to focus on the end result of the manipulation and the illusion is thus complete. The regime in Tehran has turned the basis of magic tricks into its leading strategy. Whenever Tehran is under pressure, it immediately denies any wrong-doing and then proceeds to misdirect the world’s attention by accusing someone else in order to present a fait accompli of its agenda.

It’s not that Tehran is the only regime guilty of manipulation: most political entities are doing so on a regular basis. But Tehran is perfecting its game to a point where even if it is caught in creating an illusion, it immediately returns to denials, counter-accusations and misdirections in order to maintain the illusion.

It looks something like this: Wrongdoing => Pressure => Denial + Counter-Accusation + Misdirection => Illusion => Pressure => Denial + Counter-Accusation + Misdirection => Illusion etc…

Tehran can continue to claim that it doesn’t promote terror, that there are no human rights problems in Iran, that it isn’t meddling in its neighbors’ affairs, that it isn’t failing in implementing the JCPoA as long as it wants but if you look closely and avoid the misdirections, you will be able to see through these illusions and see Tehran for what it is: a brutal, meddling, religious theocracy with ambitions to create the biggest illusion of them all – to lead a Global Islamic Awakening meant to change the Western hegemony and influence on the world.

 

The illusion of fighting against terror

When Tehran is criticized of supporting terror, it immediately denies supporting terrorism, misdirects the world’s opinion towards ISIS and blaming the West for the rise of Islamic terrorism, while positioning itself as a champion against terrorism.

In this case, the brutal nature of ISIS is the perfect misdirection in order to manipulate its audience into believing that Tehran is actually against terror since ISIS is probably one of the few terrorist organization which is recognized globally as such. Anyone fighting against ISIS is automatically seen as “the good guy” even if this does include people with blood on their hands such as Bashar al-Assad (Syria), Ali Khamenei (Iran) and Hassan Nasrallah (Hezbollah).

Tehran’s denial of supporting terrorism is not an easy misdirection since Tehran openly supports organizations, such as Hezbollah, which are designated as terrorist organizations by many countries in the world. But even if Tehran can’t fool all the people all of the time, it can fool enough people some of the time and as long as enough people believe that Hezbollah isn’t a terrorist organization, the illusion can be pulled off successfully.

Blaming the West for the rise of Islamic terror is a more delicate misdirection since it is based mostly on the Saudi Arabia’s ties with al-Qaeda and the fact that ISIS was established in an Iraqi prison under US rule. Tehran continues its misdirection by linking the US and its allies to ISIS even though such a link is, at present, far from the truth but such a theory is appealing to people with anti-American sentiments and that is enough for Tehran. Meanwhile, Tehran is actively encouraging Islamic terrorism by pitting its terrorist forces, such as Hezbollah, against legitimate Syrian rebels and the Yemenite government.

The weakness of this illusion can be easily spotted the fact that, although Tehran is actively fighting ISIS in Syria and in Iraq, it continues to support terrorism through its Quds forces and its terroristic proxies. Tehran continues to support terrorism on a regional and a global scale and not amount of misdirections can erase this fact.

 

The illusion of human rights in Iran

brothers in lies 2When Tehran is criticized for the state of human rights in Iran, it denies having any problems of human rights in Iran and immediately attacks the US and the UK for problems of human rights within their own countries and blames a lack of cultural misunderstanding.

Once again, Tehran, the supreme illusionist, doesn’t try to deal with the accusations nor alleviate the problem of human rights in Iran despite the fact that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of cases of globally designated human rights abuses in Iran. By misdirecting its Western audiences to focusing on #BlackLivesMatter or the tortures in Guantanamo, it portrays itself as a champion of human rights despite the fact that Tehran systematically abuses and oppresses religious and cultural minorities as well as political opponents, activists, critics of the regime, women and gays.

But since this is usually not enough to convince Western audiences who are appalled at the blatant abuses of human rights in Iran, Tehran tries to misdirect them even further by claiming that the reports of human rights abuses are not only politically motivated to hurt Iran but are lacking in their veracity since they do not take into account basic cultural differences between secular and democratic governments and theocratic Muslim governments. In this manner, Tehran plants seeds of doubt on the notion of global human rights in the first place.

The weakness of this part of the illusion is that many of the problems of human rights in Iran do not stem from Islamic law but the environment of zero-tolerance  to any statement or act that could be interpreted as criticism against the regime. It’s not only about the treatment of gays, women and executions which is dictated by Shariah law, it’s about the treatment of religious minorities, reporters, activists and “dissidents” who are oppressed for criticizing the regime and it’s about a judicial system which limits the chance of a fair trial and a punishment which correlates the nature and the dangers of the crime committed (unlike Atena Farghdani who was sentenced to 13 years in jail for drawing a satirical caricature).

Whether the mullahs in the regime like it or not, Tehran is a systematic abuser of human rights and no amount of finger pointing or claims of cultural differences can erase the abuses of the thousands of Iranians who were oppressed, harassed, arrested, fined, tortured, imprisoned and executed up until this very day.

 

The illusion of helping its neighbors

When Tehran is criticized for its subversive meddling in neighboring countries, it denies doing so and immediately misdirects these accusations towards its regional arch-enemy, Saudi Arabia and its Western allies, insisting on the fact on being “invited” by its neighbors to help the “oppressed” people there.

Blaming Saudi Arabia is an easy misdirection since Riyadh doesn’t even try to hide its efforts of always taking a position opposite Iran in regional conflicts due to the vary basic and age-old Shiite-Sunni conflict which has taken millions of lives since its inception 1,400 years ago. Tehran may openly call for Muslim unity but underneath such calls remain a very basic distrust and hatred which is fueled by each and every act of Sunni-Shiite violence. But Tehran is more meddling in nature than Riyadh for one simple reason: it continues to emulate Ruhollah Khomeini’s vision of “exporting the revolution” to any country which might accept it while Riyadh has no such ambitions. Tehran, in this manner, justifies its involvement in conflicts in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain, conflicts which have led to hundreds of thousands of casualties.

And then, we come to the justification by invitation: Tehran claims that it was “invited” by the government of Syria to join the civil was and is highly critical of the fact that Riyadh claims that it was “invited” by the Syrian rebels to do the same. On the other hand, in Yemen, it is Riyadh who claims to be “invited” by the government while Tehran was “invited” by the rebels. Does Assad, as the president of Syria, a country torn apart by civil war because Assad refused to hold democratic elections, even have a moral right to “invite” Tehran to crush the Syrian rebels? Do the Houthi rebels in Yemen have such a right? And does the fact that Houthis in Yemen and the Alawites in Syria (to whom Assad belongs) are both Shiite-like religions not emphasize that Tehran is selectively trying to save its Shiite neighbors in an effort to export to them the revolution?

Face it: Tehran isn’t “helping” its “oppressed” neighbors by “invitation”, it is helping itself to achieve its Islamic revolutionary ideals of a Global Islamic Awakening which is Shiite in nature and which is headed by the mullahs in Tehran.

 

The illusion of implementing the JCPoA

When Tehran is faced with problems of fully enjoying the fruits of the JCPoA because of remaining non-nuclear sanctions (terrorism, missiles, human rights etc…), it denies any wrong-doing and blames the US for attempting to derail the nuclear deal.

To be honest, the JCPoA was not meant to be a peace treaty with the P5+1 nor was it meant to deal with any other issue other than monitoring and restricting Tehran nuclear program. Tehran made this clear whenever the Western negotiation teams would try to include issues such as Iran’s missile programs, its support of terrorism, its flagrant abuses of human rights etc… When the deal was finally signed the US, the EU and the UN lifted all the nuclear-related sanctions but other sanctions remained. Furthermore, these sanctions were reinforced by Tehran’s continued transgressions in testing long-range missiles, in supporting terrorist organizations and in abuses of human rights.

But the illusionists in Tehran misdirected the world’s attention to the remaining sanctions as if they were in contradiction of the JCPoA, trying to present the US as the one who was not fully implementing the nuclear deal. The fact that the US secretary of State John Kerry practically begged foreign investors to invest in Iran even though Khamenei banned US brands from Iran was viewed presented by Tehran as futile.

And when an IAEA report pointed to the fact that, despite Tehran’s denials, efforts at militarizing its nuclear program were evident from soil samples taken at the Parchin military base, Tehran maintained its denials, accusing the IAEA of politicizing its report.

Yes, Tehran is implementing the JCPoA, as is the US. The problem is that all sides want the JCPoA to be a much more encompassing solution which it isn’t and both sides are selling an illusion of a peace treaty which never really existed. The problem is that Tehran is looking at the problems of implementing the JCPoA as an excuse to return to large-scale enrichment which would then force the West into either accepting Tehran’s militarization of its nuclear program of into trying to stop from doing so.

 

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Iran Nuclear Threat Returns

As the financial benefits of the JCPoA continue to elude Iran due to sanctions unrelated to the nuclear issues (terrorism, human rights etc…), the nuclear issues are moving back to front stage. Tehran is threatening that it would “resume large-scale uranium enrichment” if the US doesn’t free up all sanctions against Iran even though all of the nuclear-related sanctions were lifted on time. In fact, the US has become one of Iran’s major lobby groups in the world, openly calling for world businesses to do business with Iran even if Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned over 227 US corporations from Iran.

To make matters worse, the reports from the IAEA since the implementation of the JCPoA are not helping to blow away the fears of a militarized nuclear program in Iran: the reports emanating from Iran are less detailed and murkier despite the promise for more “transparency” and allow for what President Barack Obama said in order to reassure the world: “this deal is not built on trust; it is built on verification”. The reports lack in-depth data and lingering questions are left unanswered such as the exact whereabouts of Iran’s stockpiles of Uranium.

Furthermore, the IAEA tested soil samples from Parchin, which were unprecedentedly taken from the site not by IAEA officials but by Iranian officials,   produced two different types of man-made Uranium giving reason to believe that tests on nuclear weapons were carried out there in the past. Parchin remains highly suspicious according to the IAEA satellite pictures show evidence of a massive clean-up, evidence that was backed up by the IAEA’s only visit to Parchin in 2015. Tehran, of course, denies any wrong-doings and refuses to allow further inspections of the base.

This refusal is an example of the growing differences between how the JCPoA was understood by the West at its signing and how it’s being interpreted in Iran today. Visits to “suspicious” sites, which was part of the JCPoA to allow IAEA officials “access where necessary, when necessary”, remains another point of contention since the IAEA has not reported on visits to any such sites.

But the problems do not begin nor end with the IAEA. The JCPoA included specified clauses which would forbid the testing of ballistic missiles “designed to be capable of” carrying a nuclear payload. The fact is that since the signing of the JCPoA, Iran has carried out three ballistic missile test that we know of. The US and the UN warned Iran that the missile tests were a breach of the JCPoA but these allegations were hotly contested by Iran’s FM Javad Zarif, the chief architect of the deal: the JCPoA, he says “doesn’t call upon Iran not to test ballistic missiles, or ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads … it calls upon Iran not to test ballistic missiles that were “designed” to be capable….that word (“designed”) took me about seven months to negotiate, so everybody knew what it meant“. This issue was weakened further by the weak wording in which the UN “calls upon” Iran to desist from testing missiles and not “prohibiting” the missile tests. US Secretary of State Johan Kerry tried to rectify the wording by asking Iran to rewrite this clause in the deal but he was brusquely rejected by Tehran’s defense minister who called it “nonsense”.

Other outstanding issues include the stockpiles of heavy water at the Arak plant which were meant to block the possibility of a “Plutonium path” to a nuclear bomb and more importantly, the estimates of Iran’s “break-out” time (to build a bomb) is still being disputed. The Obama administration sold the deal by claiming that it would extend the “break-out” time to one year but the estimates are now placed at only 7 months.

All of these issues point to a growing distrust on both sides on the validity of the JCPoA. This distrust is enhanced by none other than Khamenei himself: the issuer of the infamous “nuclear fatwa” and an ardent denier of Iran’s plans to militarize its nuclear program in the past, present or future, is so disenchanted with the nuclear deal that he continues to add fuel to the fire of fears. In a speech to the Assembly of Experts entitled “With Power, We Can Take From the Enemy (the US/West)“, he made it clear that Iran has mastered the potential to enrich Uranium to 20%, emphasizing that “if a country is able to bring itself to 20%, from there until the 90%-99% (level needed to build a nuclear bomb) is an easy task, there isn’t a long way (left to go). They (the world powers) know this. The Islamic Republic has progressed on this path”.

The fact that Khamenei places so much emphasis on the ideal of martyrdom makes any thoughts of a nuclear bomb in his hands a nightmare of global proportions.

The West, especially the US is now stuck between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”: If it reneges on the deal and slaps back sanctions, Khamenei will follow on his threat to “burn the deal” and will definitely increase the enrichment of Uranium which will pressure the West into deciding whether to wage war on Iran or wait until it builds a nuclear bomb…both options are scary since they can easily lead to World War 3.

The other alternative is to play into Khamenei’s raging paranoia of a “soft war” meant to increase “foreign influence” in Iran through allowing foreign businesses and investments into the Iranian economy. As Kerry stated, “doing business is one of the best ways to create interests and vested purpose, if you will, in furthering transformation“. This strategy is surely a winner in the long run but it requires that Iran remain stable and open to the world for a long time since foreign businesses remain wary of investing in Iran as long as the regime remains volatile.

As long as President Hassan Rouhani remains in power, such a strategy may succeed since Rouhani has placed great emphasis on attracting foreign investments despite Khamenei’s repeated calls to maintain a “resistance economy” as if the JCPoA were not signed. And even if Rouhani does win the 2017 elections, it must be noted that his ability to steer Iran to a less “Revolutionary” path is severely limited by, once again, Khamenei, who is proud to view himself as a “Revolutionary” rather than a politician – a fact which helped Henry Kissinger to say that Iran has to decide “whether it is a nation or a cause“.

Until then, the world will have to keep on holding its breath and hope that Iran will choose peace with the world instead of trying to fulfil Khamenei’s ambitions for a “Global Islamic Awakening” which could be powered by a nuclear war.

 

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Tug of War and Peace in Tehran


The differences between Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and its President, Hassan Rouhani, are growing bigger with every sound bite and what is at stake is nothing less than the future nature of the regime itself.

For decades, Khamenei’s iron will governed everything about Iran. Presidents would kowtow to his will and in the fiasco following the 2009 elections, he made it clear that he was a regime man through and through when he backed the conservative winner of the elections, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, over the protests of rigged elections by a large portion of the Iranian population which had voted for moderate candidates.

But Rouhani isn’t just another president: His popularity is built on his moderateness and his call for far–reaching changes in Iran’s economy, its foreign relations, its human rights etc…He may have grown up within the regime but there can be no doubt that Rouhani view the regime as capable of change.

Both men are popular within their own spheres and although questions abound about just how much Rouhani is a moderate since his past is intertwined with hardline elements within the regime, it’s become obvious that the conflict between the two is growing into a veritable tug of war or a tug of peace.

 

Understanding both men

In one corner is the “Supreme Leader”, chosen by the Assembly of Experts and supported by all hardliners, conservative organizations and, last but not least, the IRGC and most of Iran’s military. Khamenei is fighting to maintain the status quo established back in 1979: A regime, built on and made to maintain a religious theocracy fueled by revolutionary ideals. He is 77 years old, is in frail health and is thinking of his legacy. Khamenei’s mindset is governed by his vision of a Global Islamic Awakening which would revolutionize the whole world, his idealization of martyrdom, his fierce nationalistic pride and his readiness to go to war if this pride is marred in any way. He is the heavyweight in this case since his powers are “supreme” by definition (he is to remain Supreme Leader for life) and his power base is institutionalized through Iran’s governing bodies and organizations.

In the other corner is the president, elected by the Iranian people and supported by all moderates, most of Iran’s younger and more urban populace and much of the Western world. Rouhani is fighting for change he promised back in 2013: A country, built on and made to maximize the welfare of the population in the future and fueled by positive interaction with the world. He is 68 years old, in good health and is thinking about getting elected once again in 2017. Rouhani’s mindset is governed by his vision of a modernized and open society and his steadfast belief in negotiations and peace. He lacks Khamenei’s constitutional and military power but his popularity is on the rise and he is backed by other moderate leaders such as ex-presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Seyyed Mohammad Khatami.

It’s a classic conflict of conservativeness vs. moderateness, of maintaining the past vs. building a better future, of Islamic fundamentalism vs. Islamic secularism, the power of the armed forces vs. the power of the people, of revolution and resistance vs. global acceptance etc…

 

Since 2013 up until today


For the past three years, Rouhani’s path was symbolized by his willingness to negotiate and sign what would become the JCPoA, the nuclear deal. On his election campaign, he promised to free Iranians form the yoke of nuclear-related sanctions which were slapped on by the UNSC for violations of IAEA rules and protocols. He betted his political career on “constructive engagement” with the West in order to reach a deal which would not only free up $150 billion in frozen assets but would bring Iran out of the cold and into the fold of the global community. His bet payed off already during negotiations but peaked when the JCPoA was signed and then implemented. He remains an ardent believer in negotiations as he stated recently that “extremist ideology tells us not to trust anyone, not to trust our neighbors or our friends, while the moderate thought tells us that we have to talk with the world“.

During those two years, Khamenei mostly bided his time by giving Rouhani the minimum support he needed to sign the deal. He made sure that he didn’t overly endorse the nuclear deal nor did he try to stop the deal for fear of stoking up the anger of hopeful Iranians who had enough of being isolated under Rouhani’s predecessor, Ahmadinejad. Khamenei is a more conservative gambler and all he wanted to achieve was a removal of the sanctions not on a monetary level but on a level of national pride. Once the sanctions were lifted, he returned to his “resistance economy“, an economy which would not be overly influenced by foreign trade and investments which clashed directly with Rouhani’s vision of the economy.

Not surprisingly, it was the signing of the JCPoA which led to the open tug of war between the two but the tug of war only grew more visible after the elections for the Majlis and the Assembly of Experts in which the moderates identified with Rouhani strengthened dramatically. Suddenly, the balance of power between the two, which had been under Khamenei until then, inched towards Rouhani.

 

The JCPoA that will lead to war or peace

clash economyThe signing of the JCPoA was viewed as a major triumph by Rouhani: it was the proof that negotiations could be more effective than revolutions and that change was possible in a world of changing power bases. From the first day of negotiations, Rouhani enjoyed a lot of support from the world’s superpowers and the Western world in general. Moscow courted him fervently and Beijing backed him up while the EU and the Obama administration found in him the seed of hope that could neutralize the fears of a third world war ignited in the Middle East. Rouhani was a breath of fresh Iranian air to Iranians and to the world after years of stifled seclusion and oppression and continues to this day to claim that Iran is not a threat to its neighbors nor to the world. And yet, he had three main problems: 1) he remains constitutionally and institutionally weaker than Khamenei, 2) Iran continued to be embroiled in regional conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain, Gaza etc… and 3) the lifting of sanctions following the JCPoA was marred by the fact that the US slapped on some missile-related sanctions, effectively scaring away potential foreign investors.

For Khamenei, the signing of the JCPoA was a clear crossing of some of the “red lines” which he had outlined and it symbolized a normalization between Iran and the US, a normalization which is not compatible with Khamenei’s deep-seated revolutionary hatred of the USA so his first order of command, after taking over Rouhani’s role in implementing the JCPoA was to ban 244 American brands from Iran’s economy and ban any further negotiations with the US. This would have been enough for Khamenei to remain antagonistic but Rouhani’s growing popularity, the world’s growing interest and involvement in Iran’s conflicts and its military prowess as well as the added sanctions which would freeze most Western investors only increased his antagonism.

Rouhani is his own best spokesman but in order to understand what Khamenei really thinks, one must listen to his supporters such as IRGC chief Mohammad Jafari who echoed Khamenei’s antagonism when he said that the JCPoA was “not a cause for pride”  and was forced against the will of the Iranian people and that he is waiting for “an order” to go to war against Saudi Arabia and Bahrain which he called “stupid” and “politically backward”.

These rumbles of war may seem acceptable to Khamenei’s proud and martyrdom-seeking psyche but it probably horrifies Rouhani who understands that normalization with the world is not possible unless Iran’s words and actions maintain a path towards peace.

Misinterpreting the JCPoA to Death

Misinterpretation has been a constant plague for the nuclear deal with Iran. It began at the first round of negotiations and it continues to this day. Why? Because regardless of all the millions of words in the negotiations, the Geneva accord and finally the JCPoA, the real deal remained  unwritten and unsigned and there was a veritable chasm between both sides which was never really bridged.

Tehran and the P5+1 all wanted the nuclear deal in order to finally extricate Tehran from its global pariah/hero status (depending on who was looking) but Tehran wanted the deal to maintain its status quo in regards to the nuclear program in its entirety, its military might within Iran and within countries it was fighting in, its revolutionary ideals which encouraged Tehran to export the revolution to other states and specially it anti-American sentiment. Within the P5+1, there emerged two very different camps: the Russian/Chinese camp which just wanted to get the deal inked and the US/West camp which placed more weight on Tehran’s intentions than on the content of the deal. As time ticked-tocked on, the discrepancies between all of the co-signees of the JCPoA turned into larger misinterpretations, some genuine and some politically motivated.

 

One Step Forward, One Step Back

Each round of negotiations ended with the habitual goodwill pictures followed by misunderstandings, double-talk and accusations. Every step forward heralded, sometimes within hours, a few steps back to the pre-Rouhani-constructive-engagement period, back to the Ahmadinejad era in which Iran was the enemy of the US and vice versa. It might be a “fact-sheet” from Washington which would highlight possible (mis)interpretations or a letter from Khamenei in Tehran which would outline his “red lines”  or  a speech in parliament or congress in Tehran/Washington which would place suspicions on the intentions of each side.

Tehran claimed it could enrich beyond the “5%” limit for research purposes while Washington said no. Tehran claimed it could maintain its heavy water plant operational despite the fact that this could offer a “plutonium route” to the bomb while Washington said no. Tehran claimed that the underground nuclear enrichment base in Fordow would remain operational while Washington said…no. Tehran claimed that all the sanctions had to be lifted immediately while Washington stood to its guns and said, once again, no. There was never anything simple or “black and white” about the deal – it was always shape-shifting, adapting to whoever was talking at the moment. Too many articles within the deal seemed open to misinterpretations, whether they were genuine or politically motivated.

Finally the deal was inked. Once again, within days, Khamenei went on his anti-American rants, IRGC generals issued their anti-western threats and the White House had to explain to Americans that just because Khamenei called the US the “Great Satan”, that he banned 244 American brands and that he supports the “Death to America” calls, the JCPoA was still good for America. Congress huffed and puffed and promised to blow the deal down but Obama threatened to use his presidential veto to uphold the deal which he thought would become his shining legacy. As sanctions were lifted, alarmists in the West pointed out that the money unfrozen by the lifting of the sanctions would be allocated to fund terrorism and subversion and the rhetoric from Tehran only fueled this sentiment: The regime in Tehran seemed happy that sanctions were gone but wanted everyone to know that it had not lost its revolutionary ideals nor its regional ambitions.

The tide swayed towards Iran: The sanctions were lifted, the trade delegations were flying in, Rouhani and  Zarif were welcomed in Western capitals all over the world and it looked like the regime in Tehran had managed to hoodwink the powers of the all of the P5+1 governments, especially the White House. In Tehran, the moderates, led by Rouhani fought it out with the hardliners led by Khamenei himself and the elections for Majlis/parliament and for the Assembly of Experts proved that there were definitely two voices emanating from Tehran.

And then, misinterpretations increased…

 

Missiles take center stage

During all the years of negotiations, the US tried to include other issues in the JCPoA: There were efforts to introduce issues such as terrorism, human rights etc… but these were efficiently barred from the deal by Tehran which maintained that the deal was focused only on the nuclear issue. The US did manage to include Tehran’s missile program in the JCPoA: “Paragraph 3 of Annex B of resolution 2231 (2015) calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology”. It’s important to note that the JCPoA doesn’t “forbid” but “calls upon” Iran to “not undertake” the testing such missiles and the definition of the “capability of delivering nuclear weapons” is also murky at best since Tehran claims it is not trying to build a nuclear weapon at all.

True to form, Tehran launched some long-range missile tests along with statement which reflected the hardline stance of Tehran: Tehran might have signed a nuclear agreement which it planned to uphold to the letter but nothing else in Iran would change and Tehran would keep on involving itself in its neighbor’s affairs and would keep on threatening Israel. That’s when the White House slapped some more missile-related sanctions which reminded Tehran that the deal really was only on the nuclear program and that non-nuclear sanctions were legitimate forms of pressure for what seemed to Washington as illegitimate actions on the part of Tehran.

The regime in Tehran felt free to launch missiles with threats against Israel written on them quite simply because most people in Iran felt that they didn’t need to heed what was coming out of Washington once Moscow was placing its bets on Tehran. Washington pointed out that the missile tests were in violation of the JCPoA but Tehran wasn’t listening. But what nobody in Tehran really took into account was the fact that foreign investors and global banks were not as quick to discount the US as irrelevant. Trade delegations from the West came and went, MoU’s were signed, smiling pictures were shared but money wasn’t making it through the barrier of current US sanctions and the threat of sanctions in the future.

Now it was Tehran’s turn to cry foul by claiming that the US was violating the deal by “urging” investors to stay away from Iran. What made matters worse was the fact that Rouhani was betting on the influx of foreign investments to save the Iranian economy while Khamenei kept on promoting his “resistance economy” and as long as foreign investors shied away from writing those checks, Rouhani was losing ground to the hardliners.

 

 

The spirit vs. the letter



One might say that the spirit of the nuclear deal was dead before being born. The spirit of the deal, the intentions of both sides, remained stuck in the paranoia held between Washington and Tehran, a paranoia which began in 1979 and has remained intact with the regime in Tehran and the Republican party in Washington to this day. A deal might have been signed and some of the leaders in both countries might be open to a comprehensive rapprochement but Iran and the US were not destined to become friends or allies in the near future. The breaking of ranks within the P5+1 only increased the misinterpretations: although the JCPoA was negotiated and inked by the P5+1 as a group, there was no clear unity within the P5+1 regarding Iran and the nuclear deal. Washington found itself at odds not only with Moscow but with Paris, London and Berlin as well, all of whom wanted to be at the front of the line to enter the gates of Iran’s economy.

Once again, both sides spoke about violations by the other side and the US tried to force the UNSC into agreeing that Iran had violated the JCPoA but Russia wasn’t going to let the US come between itself and its new ally and business partner. Instead, Moscow joined Tehran in saving Assad in Syria and planned to increase its regular and military trade to Tehran. Talks about circumventing the dollar and dealing in Roubles led to more agreements and more military deals including the sales of an arsenal of S-300 missiles and of Sukhoi SU-30 jet fighters. The conflict of interest between the P5+1 members became all too clear with Washington and Moscow leading the opposing sides.

So who is violating the JCPoA? Washington is pointing fingers at Tehran and Tehran is pointing fingers at Washington while Rouhani keeps getting weaker and Obama is on his way out. The deal is being misinterpreted to death as more and more leaders are criticizing the deal for not really creating the basis for old animosities to be buried. The defenders of the deal on both sides can point to the success of diplomacy but they cannot eradicate the deadly virus of mutual paranoia.

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IAEA PMD Report Swept Under JCPoA Rug

The latest IAEA report on the Possible Military Dimension (PMD) in Tehran’s nuclear program is conclusive on three critical points:

  • Tehran is guilty of past PMD development: The report shows unequivocally that Tehran did try to develop nuclear weapons between the years 2003 and 2009.
  • Tehran consistently lied about PMD’s in the past: The report is a direct attack on all of the denials by Iranian leaders and the credibility of Khamenei’s much touted and suspicious “nuclear fatwa”.
  • Tehran is still evading issues on its past PMD: The report outlines that many questions remain unanswered by Tehran regarding key issues regarding militarizing its nuclear program.

And yet, this report is to be swept under the rug in a united effort by the UN, the US and Tehran in order to justify and to implement the JCPoA – it will be conveniently buried and will only resurface as an inconvenient reminder if or when Tehran does finally build a nuclear bomb.

 

IAEA PMD Report: Tehran Lied

There are many inconclusive parts to the IAEA report: There is much evidence that is lacking and some evidence could actually point to a non-PMD possibility. And yet, the IAEA makes it clear that Tehran, at least in the past, did try to develop nuclear weapons and that, therefore, Tehran has consistently lied in regards to PMD of its nuclear program:

  • Testing detonators: 79. “The Agency assesses that explosive bridgewire (EBW) detonators developed by Iran have characteristics relevant to a nuclear explosive device“.
  • Hydrodynamic tests in Parchin: 80. “The information available to the Agency…does not support Iran’s statements on the purpose of the building. The Agency assesses that the extensive activities undertaken by Iran since February 2012 at the particular location of interest to the Agency seriously undermined the Agency’s ability to conduct effective verification“.
  • Computer modeling of Explosions: “…The Agency assesses that Iran conducted computer modelling of a nuclear explosive device prior to 2004 and between 2005 and 2009“.
  • Missile delivery systems: 82. “The Agency has verified the existence in Iran of two of the workshops referred to in the alleged studies documentation on the integration into a missile delivery vehicle, but has not received any other information on this area since the 2011 Annex“.
  • Arming tests: 83. “The Agency has not received information additional to that contained in the alleged studies documentation on conducting a test or on fuzing, arming and firing systems since the 2011 Annex“.
  • Pre-2003 program: 84. “The Agency assesses that, before the end of 2003, an organizational structure was in place in Iran suitable for the coordination of a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device“.

The Iranians will be quick to point out that there is no “smoking gun”, only “possible” and “probable” facts which could be construed as evidence and yet one conclusion cannot be escaped: all the Iranian leaders who continuously denied any PMD in Tehran’s nuclear program probably lied (it is impossible to prove whether they knew all the facts or not) and Khamenei definitely lied when he issued his “nuclear fatwa” (it is impossible to believe that he did not know about these experiments).

 

So Tehran Lied and Cheated…Now What?

head_in_the_sand_maskThe report makes it clear that Tehran has cheated and lied in the past but just as in a case of a cheating spouse, this doesn’t necessarily have to lead to a “divorce”. Some might say that people can’t change and as such, Tehran should never be trusted in the future. Others will point out that the fact that a spouse cheated in the past is secondary to the ability of the couple to live a long and prosperous life together. And still others will rightfully point out that the comparison of Tehran’s PMD’s to a cheating spouse breaks down the minute someone new comes into power. Who’s right? Only time can tell.

Khamenei was caught lying and will probably never change his ways but Khamenei is an old man and will soon pass on his Supreme Leadership to someone else who may not harbor aspirations to militarize Tehran’s nuclear program.

Is Tehran to be trusted under the JCPoA? The definite answer is “NO”: The P5+1 should do all it can to not take Tehran at is word and to demand all the necessary information and access required to make sure that Tehran doesn’t build a nuclear bomb.

Will the JCPoA ensure that Tehran won’t build a nuclear bomb? The definite answer is, once again, “NO”: According to all the IAEA reports, including the last, Tehran is still not providing all the information and the accesses necessary to rule out any possible PMD and it is hard to believe that it will do so in the future.

 

The IAEA Report is Dead, Long Live the JCPoA

The overall consensus among the UN, Washington and Tehran is to put Tehran’s shadowy lies in the past and to focus on a brighter future by implementing the JCPoA, the fruit of thousands of hours of negotiations.

This is definitely understandable in regards to Tehran’s wish to look forward since it has the most to gain from the lifting of sanctions. Rehashing accusations of its past is not productive to leading Iran out of its isolation.

Burying the doubts of past PMD infringements by Iran is also understandable among the many countries who want to exploit Iran’s untapped markets and its military-political power post-JCPoA. There is a lot of untapped power and money in Iran and unless a regional/global war erupts, many people are keeping their eyes locked on future prizes instead of looking back doubtfully to the past.

Even Washington, the biggest loser of the nuclear deal (it not only lost face and power, it will be banned from reaping the potential of the Iranian markets) is focusing to the prospects of a better future. Washington’s stance is best understood through Kerry’s thoughts following the damning IAEA report: “Nobody has had any doubts whatsoever about Iran’s past military endeavors. From the get-go, we have consistently said we know that Iran was pursuing a nuclear project” but what really mattered now was “making certain that none of whatever happened in the past can happen going forward into the future”.

Tehran may huff and puff over the accusations on its nuclear past and critics of the nuclear deal are sure to brandish the IAEA report as proof that the JCPoA is built on shaky ground but the JCPoA is a done deal which none of its creators want to undo. May history prove them right.

 

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Post-JCPoA Rouhani Demoted to Back Stage

good cop bad copFrom the day of his election on June 14th 2013 President Hassan Rouhani was the smiling and moderate face of Iran to the world who preached for “constructive engagement” with the West in order to reach a nuclear deal and lift the sanctions. As far as all were concerned, Rouhani was single-handedly defuisng a 35 year old bomb with the blessing of his Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

But since then, on two specific dates, June 23ed (Khamenei issues “red lines” to negotiators) 2015 and then October 21st 2015 (Khamenei pens “red lines” letter to Rouhani), he suspiciously seems to have been fulfilling his role as the “good cop” to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s “bad cop”: Khamenei allowed Rouhani to take front-stage in order to clinch a deal which would lift the crippling and humiliating sanctions but once that was attained, he was expediently demoted to the back stage.

The window of opportunity that Rouhani’s election promised is shutting down rapidly and the world will have to get used to dealing, once again, with a martyr-loving revolutionary instead of a reasonable and pragmatic diplomat.

Rouhani Enters Center Stage

Hassan RouhaniRouhani’s smiling demeanor represented a stark change from his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the West embraced him with open arms. During this time, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei seemed to have taken a back seat and allowed Rouhani to be his trusted guide in the foreign terrain of international negotiations. He offered Rouhani his quiet support, keeping the hardliners back home at bay and significantly toned down his anti-West rhetoric.

Rouhani’s moderate image improved dramatically as he championed the fight against terrorism through his War Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE) initiative which was enthusiastically adopted by the UN and which brilliantly changed Iran’s reputation from being an avid and active supporter of terrorism to being the leading fighter against ISIS and all other forms of terrorism. This repositioning allowed Tehran to claim legitimacy for its military actions in the region, actions that included supporting terrorist militias such as Hezbollah in Syria and in Yemen and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Iran, within two short years had been rebranded and the flood of foreign (specially EU) delegations into Tehran was a clear testament to the fact that Iran had successfully extricated itself from isolation.

During this time, Rouhani even managed to bypass the thorny issues of human rights and social reforms which he had promised to change during his election campaign but which had gotten worst during his presidency: Rouhani made a point of occasionally voiced his opinions against gender discrimination, against the imprisonment of journalists etc…but he never really acted on these issues. He didn’t really have to because, despite his failures in internal affairs, the promise of a nuclear deal facilitated by Rouhani’s foreign policy was perceived by the West, and by most of the Iranian people, as Iran’s best chance for a positive change.

Cue in Khamenei

This idealistic situation began to turn on June 23ed 2015 when Khamenei issued his “red lines” regarding the upcoming deal to both sides of the negotiations table. But as the details of the JCPoA which was signed on July 14th 2015 came to light, it became painfully obvious to all that some of Khamenei’s “red lines” had been crossed.

The hardliners at home immediately went on to attack the deal and even the deal-maker himself, Zarif, admitted that the deal had crossed some “red lines”, most significantly these:

  • All sanctions would have to be lifted immediately: The JCPoA states a gradual lifting of sanctions dependent on implementation of the deal by Iran.
  • Enrichment for the purposes of R&D would be unrestricted: The JCPoA allows for limited enrichment beyond the required 3.5% under supervision.
  • IAEA inspectors could not visit non-nuclear sites such as the Parchin military base: The JCPoA expressly empowers the IAEA to visit any site deemed necessary.

Despite the “weaknesses” of the nuclear deal, Rouhani and Zarif kept on riding the waves of their success: the UN and the EU lifted their sanctions, the open and active support of  Moscow, the trade delegations from the Western countries, the growing isolation of the US and Saudi Arabia…all pointed to the fact that even without a signed deal, Rouhani’s foreign policy had been a massive success.

For the next few months, hardliners in Tehran and Republicans in Washington tried to scuttle the deal and it appeared that there were two distinct voices emanating from Tehran: the voice of the revolutionary Khamenei and the voice of the diplomat Rouhani. In Washington, President Barak Obama went on a limb and after threatening to veto Congress, managed to get the deal ratified. In Tehran, Khamenei took a less positive stance: he continued to support the deal passively support but a) he allowed the hardliners to bash and criticize Rouhani, Zarif and the deal and b) he contradicted Rouhani’s demands to keep the deal out of a vote in parliament. On October 12th  2015,

the deal was finally ratified in Tehran in a close vote (139 in favor, 100 against and 12 abstained) and the JCPoA became a binding reality.

Khamenei Back on Center Stage

But Khamenei wasn’t ready to let go and on October 21st 2015, he penned an open letter to Rouhani, reinstating his red lines for the implementation of the deal – red lines which, in some cases, are in direct contradiction to the JCPoA itself. The cheers from the hardliners in Tehran could be heard around the globe and the very next day, Rouhani answered Khamenei’s letter with profuse thanks and submission  to Khamenei’s demands. Zarif’s own statement of submission quickly followed and suddenly there were two nuclear deals: the one signed by Zarif and ratified in parliament and the one that Khamenei demanded.

As far as Khamenei was concerned, the whole issue of a nuclear deal was meant to change the West’s behavior (ie: lift all the sanctions) without changing one iota of the nuclear program which he claimed would never be used to create nuclear weapons.

Since then, Khamenei has visibly returned to the spotlight and Rouhani, and Zarif,  has been demoted to becoming Khamenei’s “yes-man”. Khamenei resumed his aggressive rhetoric towards the US to a level reminiscent of the Ahmadinejad era and was echoed by other prominent leaders such as Mohammad Jafari, the commander of the IRGC. even on issues such as Syria, Khamenei set the tone.

Some might scoff and say that Khamenei never really let go of the reins and they are probably right: Khamenei is an astute leader and he was probably biding his time. Whether Rouhani was in the know and simply playing a part will not be known in the near future.

What is certain is that Rouhani’s ability to bring about positive changes in Iran has diminished drastically: The nuclear deal seems to be doomed to failure since at some time in the future, the JCPoA guidelines will clash with Khamenei’s red lines. Khamenei’s open hatred for the US is bound to strike a nerve at some time or another in Washington. Abuses of human rights are on the rise in Iran and Khamenei is making sure that no one can do anything about it.

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Khamenei Retroactively Renegotiates the JCPoA

Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei’s open letter to President Rouhani in regards to the nuclear agreement represents re-adapting the signed JCPoA to his red lines, the same red lines he presented to his negotiating team before they signed. In  his letter, Khamenei gave his “blessing” on the deal but added his own red lines which, in some cases, aren’t in tune with the JCPoA that was forged by FM Javad Zarif and the P5+1.

Apart from his suspicious anti-American tone, Khamenei’s letter includes 4 distinct discrepancies:

  1. Written declarations by leaders:
    1. Khamenei stipulates that “EU and the US president” issue written statements which will “reiterate(d) that these sanctions will be fully lifted” as a prerequisite to implementing the deal. These statements are meant to allay Khamenei’s suspicions regarding the willingness of the EU and especially the US to implement the JCPoA but in the process, he creates two major discrepancies.
    2. The first discrepancy is that, according to Khamenei, the JCPoA won’t be implemented until these statements are issued which is not a requirement according to the nuclear deal and furthermore, belittles the nuclear deal since the issue of sanctions is detailed there (the word “sanction” shows up 139 times in the deal).
    3. Second, according to the JCPoA, sanctions will be lifted gradually depending on Tehran’s implementation of the deal and therefore, any statement, even if written out of courtesy to Khamenei demands, cannot include the total lifting of the sanctions.
    4. Khamenei’s demand for written statements not only adds another stipulation that wasn’t included in the deal, it is, in fact, a renegotiation of the issue of the lifting of sanctions.
  2. Nuclear and non-nuclear sanctions:
    1. As far as Khamenei is concerned, the JCPoA means the end of all sanctions against Iran “including repetitive and fabricated pretexts of terrorism and human rights” while the JCPoA provides only for “lifting of all UN Security Council sanctions as well as multilateral and national sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programme“.
    2. In other words, nuclear-related sanctions will be lifted while other sanctions can remain or be added without breaching the deal. The Iranian negotiating team worked hard to keep the negotiations focused only on the nuclear issue and effectively blocked efforts by the P5+1 negotiators to introduce issues of human rights, terrorism, subversion etc…
    3. Now, it is Khamenei who is tying these issues to the nuclear deal.
  3. Timing of sanctions:
    1. Khamenei always sought a total termination of all sanctions before Tehran will begin implementing the JCPoA but, as was stated earlier, the JCPoA stipulates that sanctions will gradually be lifted until the termination of the deal after 8 years.
    2. Without the gradual lifting of the sanctions, the P5+1 would have to “slap-back” sanctions if and when Tehran doesn’t comply with the deal which would be much more complicated (perhaps impossible if Russia/china veto) than relieving the sanctions on the go.
    3. By requiring the full lifting of all sanctions, Khamenei is re-bargaining after the deal was closed.
  4. Dealing with “ambiguities”:
    1. Khamenei points out that there are many “ambiguous points in the JCPoA” and adds that the “interpretation provided by the opposite party is not acceptable“.
    2. Khamenei’s letter includes many “interpretations” for points which he finds “ambiguous” and which he provides his own binding “red lines”.
    3. According to his letter, Tehran, through a “smart panel” will decide what is and what is not acceptable and Tehran’s interpretation is to be the final one.

As expected, President Hassan Rouhani, FM Javad  Zarif, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, Judiciary Chief Sadeq Larijani and numerous other leading Iranian politicians openly accepted Khamenei’s guidelines – it’s hard to imagine them not doing so.

But the question arises what they will do if and when the stipulations of the JCPoA clash with their Supreme Leader’s red lines? Will they side with him and literally scrap over two years of negotiations or will they try to convince him otherwise? And if Khamenei will take the day, as he surely will, what was the use of negotiating with anyone except him? And what is to become of Rouhani?

Once again, the astute Supreme Leader has proven that he is more focused on his visions of a reovlution than Rouhani’s visions of reason and the Iranian people will have to pay the price.

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Internal Conflicts Over Nuclear Deal Plague Tehran


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

khamenei red 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

Dr.-Hassan-%E2%80%AA%E2%80%8ERouhani%E2%80%ACs-%E2%80%AA%E2%80%8Einauguration%E2%80%AC-ceremony-and-his-formal-endorsement-by-Ayatollah-%E2%80%AA%E2%80%8EKhamenei%E2%80%ACRouhani would never openly oppose Khamenei for the simple reason that any such opposition will lead to his demise politically or physically.

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.

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Hillary May Be the Nuclear Deal Breaker

hillaryThis may sound far-fetched but it really isn’t: At the end of the day, Hillary Clinton may be the only person who will decide whether to make or break a deal with Iran. This isn’t a job she might willingly take upon herself but it may simply be a case of being at the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time.

Check out this scenario and then make up your own mind.

 

 

Now that the deal is inked…

Khamenei_2162138bOn July 14th, Kerry and Zarif finally reached a formula that seemed mutually acceptable to both sides. The number of centrifuges, the levels and percentages of uranium enrichments, the protocols of access to IAEA inspectors, blocking the plutonium route etc…Pages upon pages of details meant to block Iran from making a nuclear bomb and meant to unblock money from sanctions. Both sides shook hands, smiled for the cameras and then headed home.

Based on the aftermath of earlier deals both in Geneva and in Lausanne, the two diplomats will now have to focus on pking holes in the agreement in an effort to “sell the deal” to their people. Concessions will be made to seem smaller, details will become ambiguous, conflicting fact sheets will be circulated and accusations will be heard around the globe.

Meanwhile, the deal will be placed before the Majlis in Tehran and before Congress to be ratified:

Will Khamenei council the Majlis to sign or not? Will Obama veto or not? Time will tell. If either one doesn’t, the deal dies. But if both do, they will have to deal with Hillary.

 

After Obama vetoes congress…

secretaryclintonheadshot.0Supposing that Obama and Khamenei decide to lead their countries to a nuclear deal.

This may be enough for Iran since the Majlis will back Khamenei in any case but this may not be enough for the US since Congress can overturn Obama’s veto with a majority of two thirds.

In comes Hillary Clinton and all the evidence point to the fact that she will probably place her weight to sway congress to veto Obama’s veto. Here are a few reasons why:

  • A “deal” and not a “treaty”: The negotiations are set to deliver a nuclear “deal” with Iran and not a “treaty”. This isn’t simply an issue of semantics: A deal is binding to the current administration, a treaty is binding to future administrations. If Hillary becomes president, she can decide whether to back the deal or not anyway.
  • It’s personal: The relationship between Hillary and Obama is strained, to say the least. Insiders say that Hillary is blaming Obama for leaking her e-mails which turned into a media sensations. Blocking Obama’s veto may be sweet vengeance for Hillary.
  • Pro-Iran & Pro-Israel: Although Obama claims to “have Israel’s back”, the whole issue of a nuclear deal with Iran was definitely a slap in the face to Tel Aviv. Hillary, on the other hand is much more pro-Israeli and much less pro-Iranian.
  • The elections are coming: Hillary hasn’t won the elections yet but there doesn’t seem to be a Republican candidate who will give her a real fight. Obama, on the other hand, is on his out of the White House. Approving a deal may antagonize some democrats but squashing a deal will rally support from the Jewish electorate as well as from some Republicans who might find her more appealing than Jeb Bush.

 

If the deal does ever get into Hillary’s hands, there is a good chance that she will send it crashing down in the hope of gaining more support in Congress and in the streets for her elections. Makes sense?

 

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