Iran Holding Its Breath for Day After Nuclear Deal

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Iranian men scan newspapers at a newsstand in downtown Tehran, Iran, July 12, 2015.Credit: AP

“We will be at the public’s side in the mass celebrations in honor of the signing of the agreement. As long as they are conducted according to law and religious precepts,” the Iranian police spokesman announced on Sunday, explaining that the police were prepared for celebrations on the signing of an agreement between Iran and the world powers over the former’s nuclear program.

However, Iranian President Hassan Rohani was still restrained. “Even if an agreement is not signed, the world will appreciate Iran’s rational stance,” he said.

Meanwhile, the public and political leadership in Iran are waiting with baited breath for the official announcement. The Iranian delegation to the negotiations even won praise from more than 200 members of parliament for its “strong stand in the face of the exaggerated demands of the other side” – a clear sign that the Iranian parliament is already prepared for the agreement.

In a signed declaration published Sunday, the Iranian parliamentarians reminded Rohani and the negotiating team of the red lines that could not be crossed: The lifting of the economic and military sanctions, no oversight of military installations, and no interrogation of Iranian nuclear scientists.

According to the wording of the declaration, though, it seems that Iran’s red lines are fading ahead of the agreement.

A red line seems to have been crossed by Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, former president of Iran and head of its Expediency Discernment Council – perhaps the most important body in the decision-making process. In an interview with The Guardian, Rafsanjani said an agreement that lifts the sanctions would be a “giant step” and that “we have broken a taboo” in conducting direct negotiations with the United States. If things develop as they should, Rafsanjani told the British daily, it was “not impossible” that the U.S. Embassy could reopen in Tehran. Such a statement has not been heard from an official as highly placed as Rafsanjani, and although it has been a few days since he made the remarks, no condemnation or denial has been heard from Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.

Negotiations with Tehran had long passed the point of no return, after the interim agreement signed in November 2013, which bore Khamenei’s fingerprints. And the principles of agreement read by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry publicly in Lausanne in April showed that neither side was willing to give up on an agreement. The Iranian leadership studied the progress of the talks from two key aspects: the technical details; and the way it would be marketed to the public, the Revolutionary Guards and conservative radical wing.

The technical elements – which included the number of centrifuges Iran could operate, the amount of enriched uranium it could hold onto and the level of enrichment and oversight of the agreement – were actually considered relatively easy to resolve; indeed, some parts were resolved in the early stages of the negotiations.

The talks reached a crisis point when discussion began on the type of sanctions that would be lifted and the timetable for doing so. The Iranian demand was unequivocal: full and immediate lifting of sanctions with the signing of the agreement.

Iran has also already embarked on a series of economic steps, such as the signing of future agreements with a number of international corporations and the construction of a contractual infrastructure with oil customers to restore market shares that were taken away due to the sanctions. On the domestic level, Rohani has ordered broad economic reforms be formulated that already assume that an accord will be signed.

Meanwhile, Iran has adopted a public diplomatic strategy intended to point a finger at the West, especially the United States, if a last-minute obstacle prevents the signing. The Iranian parliament has adopted a law requiring the government to safeguard Iran’s interests and rights in the nuclear realm, but it is in fact the U.S. Congress that will be judged by international public opinion and not Iran. That’s because of the option Congress gave itself to scrutinize the agreement and even reject it by legislation.

But even if Congress rejects the agreement and manages to overcome an expected presidential veto, there is no certainty that European countries, Russia and China will continue holding to the sanctions – certainly not after the United Nations passes a resolution to lift them. If things go that way, many of the U.S. sanctions will no longer have the significance relative to their power before the agreement.

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