GOP Victory Puts Iran Nuclear Deal on Nerve-racking Race to Finish

Some Republicans are pushing for further sanctions, but there are signs in the Iranian business press that the November 24 deadline will be met.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, center, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meet in Muscat, Oman, Nov. 10, 2014.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, center, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meet in Muscat, Oman, Nov. 10, 2014.Credit: AP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

New legislation sponsored by about 30 Iranian parliament members won’t get Iran into international animal welfare organizations. The MPs seek a fine of up to $3,700 — or 74 lashes — for anyone walking a dog on the street.

In the explanatory notes, the bill explains how “the practice of walking dogs on the street is an imitation of degenerate Western culture.” It contravenes religious teachings and could dirty Iran’s streets and harm the people’s well-being, the bill states.

Its sponsors say they’re drawing up a list of other “dirty and dangerous” animals verboten as household pets; meanwhile, the authorities will be empowered to impound dogs, which will be sent to zoos or thrown into the desert.

This is apparently another example of Iranian radicals’ efforts to counter bastions of Western living; in particular, it’s another swipe at President Hassan Rohani’s image as a promoter of liberalism and freedom. It appears the new rules have been left to the radicals so they can show they’re fighting Western culture.

On the other hand, the country’s business press has been covering the run-up to a Tehran car show in December. Companies on hand will include Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Volvo and Fiat, and even American outfits like General Motors and Ford.

Meanwhile, about 12,000 European tourists have signed up for tours of Iran on the Golden Eagle Danube Express rail line, and German exports to Iran have jumped 37 percent in the first eight months of the year, the business press is reporting.

These reports suggest that for now the radicals aren’t the only ones having their way, and that a final agreement on the nuclear issue will be signed by the November 24 deadline. This is supported by comments by an adviser to Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif, who told the Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat that following U.S. President Barack Obama’s messages to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the two sides are willing to cooperate with “maximum flexibility.”

The adviser added that Iran notices a change in American policy toward Syria and Iraq — and toward Israel, too — and that this change could spawn closer cooperation. The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran is taking further action to comply with the interim nuclear agreement has been welcomed in Iran, even though the report states that Iran’s responses were inadequate regarding its past nuclear plans and that its contacts with the IAEA have been deferred since November 2.

The Iranians, including Zarif, have gone to Oman this week for a summit with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton; they appear to want to conclude the talks on a positive note.

Iran is expected to agree to transfer half its enriched nuclear materials to Russia, to agree not to enrich uranium beyond 5 percent and to convert its Fordo reactor into a research facility. It is also expected to commit not to produce plutonium and to provide the IAEA with the operating plans for its Arak heavy water facility and to reduce the number of centrifuges in operation.

Iran, which has about 9,400 active and 10,000 idle centrifuges, says the Obama administration is now willing to let it operate 6,000 centrifuges, compared with the 4,000 that were agreed to in previous talks.

It’s clear to both sides that the Republican victory in the midterm elections makes the November 24 deadline critical. Republicans are saying there’s no point in further negotiations if an agreement isn’t signed on time. There are also hints of further sanctions on Iran — something Obama has been able to prevent — making the talks’ race to the finish nerve-racking one.

In both the United States and Iran, opponents of an agreement are eagerly waiting for the talks to fail. This would deprive Obama of his only foreign-policy achievement; it would also deprive Rohani of the legitimacy he has gained based on the prospect that the economic sanctions will be lifted.

A failure could also hurt the standing of Khamenei, who has fully backed the Iranian negotiating team. He has told Rohani’s opponents to keep quiet and hasn't denied remarks by government spokesmen about Iran’s intension to show “maximum flexibility.”

It appears that even the radical religious sages realize that the battle over the nuclear agreement has already been decided; all that’s left is for them to defend ideology. But Ahmad Khatami, for now the main Thursday preacher at Tehran’s main mosque, made clear in his last sermon that “even if a nuclear agreement is signed, it will not dispel the Iranian people’s hatred of Western arrogance.”

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