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Iranian Leaders Hail Nuke Deal's Benefits, Signalling New Accord Is Nigh

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Heading their respective delegations, Josep Borell, second right, European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, second left, meet on the sidelines of a diplomatic forum in Antalya, Turkey, Friday, June 18, 2021
Josep Borell, second right, European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, second left, in Turkey last monthCredit: AP Photo
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Iran’s outgoing president, Hassan Rohani, complained this week that Tehran missed an opportunity to remove the sanctions in March, despite the government and foreign ministry’s efforts. “Had we not been denied that opportunity, the situation today could have been completely different,” he said.

Rohani didn’t direct his complaint at the United States or the powers that held six rounds of talks with it in negotiations to reinstate the nuclear accord. It was aimed directly, albeit without naming him, at Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who opted to pass on the benefits of those efforts, to the new president, Ebraim Raisi.

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Rohani had already been in such a situation, but from the other side. He was the president who received the green light from Khamenei in 2013 to run the negotiations, picking up from his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The public clash between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, who boycotted the cabinet meetings because of Khamenei’s intervention in appointing his ministers, meant a deal would have to wait for Rohani to be inaugurated.

Raisi will be sworn into office on August 3; it is widely assumed he’ll be the one to sign the accord. On the face of it, and according to reports from the powers and from Iran itself, everything is ready to be signed. The United States said this week it was ready for the talks’ seventh round to complete discussion on outstanding points dispute as soon as Iran decides to continue.

Ebrahim Raisi after voting in Tehran last month. Credit: Majid Asgaripour/WANA via Reuters

Now that Iran has started preparations to lift the sanctions, has signed trade agreements and has increased oil production, planning to charge back into the market reopening to it, all that remains is to count the days until Raisi's inauguration.

Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Javad Zarif submitted this week to the parliament his final quarterly report before retiring. The 213-page report details Iran’s mistake in the negotiations and settled the score with the original accord's opponents.

The report details the talks preceding the 2015 deal and the discussions that started this past April, the list of letters between Iran and the powers, the technical details and a survey of Iran’s economic, political and diplomatic situation following the United States’ withdrawal from the nuclear agreement in May 2018. The report also blasts his rivals and lashes out at the accord's opponents.

“The claims that the nuclear accord would restrict Iran’s military abilities and its activity in the region were both refuted,” he wrote.

Iran’s ability to enrich uranium to 20, 60 and even 90 percent and its continued regional operations proved these arguments groundless, Rohani said this week, as though continuing Zarif’s report.

One of the critics’ claims was that the nuclear accord would restrict Iran’s ballistic missile program. They claimed fallaciously there was an unwritten understanding that the deal included restrictions on the missile development program, he stated. Rather, Iran’s became more powerful following the agreement. Iran's participation in the war against ISIS and purchase of S-300 missiles from Russia signaled its increased international status and level of international cooperation.

“The Iranian missile program has developed considerably in the years after signing the nuclear accord; most of the public tests conducted out with these missiles were held immediately after the agreement's signing,” he noted in the report. “We didn’t cross the red lines (dictated by the supreme leader) and resisted the pressure to link the nuclear accord and the missile development program. ... The world has renounced its demand to inspect and supervise our missile program. The threat to act against Iran by force if it buys missile material and technology on the basis of Resolution 1929 became non-binding in Resolution 2231. The inspection and ban will only apply to missiles intended to carry nuclear warheads, which isn’t relevant to Iran, as the supreme leader ruled.”

Zarif pointed to another big Iranian achievement. “Despite the efforts of the Zionist lobby, AIPAC, and although it invested some $40 million in a bid to persuade Congress to withdraw from the agreement, it failed. This is one of the Zionist lobby's rare failures in Middle East affairs.”

Zarif sees this triumph as a main component in Iran's struggle against Israel’s efforts to mobilize the world against it. He also believes this achievement is significant to balance what he admits as Israel’s success in delaying the opening of talks with the Biden administration.

“The Zionist regime’s terror attack, assassinating the nuclear scientist Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh three weeks after Biden’s election, the public response to the assassination and mainly the Israeli strike against the nuclear facility in Natanz in April, shortly after the talks opened in Vienna, were a relative success," the report states. "They stopped Biden’s quick return to the nuclear talks, as freezing the inspection protocol on the nuclear sites and the beginning of the uranium enrichment to 60 percent made Biden’s return to the nuclear accord more complicated.”

This revelation is especially interesting because it shows not only the influence of the assassinations and other strikes attributed to Israel on the negotiations’ pace but also a similar influence on Iran’s decision to suspend international supervision and expand uranium enrichment. Thus, while Rohani may have publicly joined those supporting the supervision’s suspension and breaching the enrichment limitation, Zarif’s tone could indicate that this support was forced upon him.

Generally, the report shows that the regime’s worldview under Rohani and Zarif isn’t reduced to the sanctions and nuclear matters. Rather, it addresses the way Iran has managed to position itself as a significant player in the Middle East and the entire world as a power “that negotiates with world powers on an equal basis,” as he put it. The effort to extract Iran from the corner in which it is portrayed as a pariah, a menacing and terrorist state is also reflected in the details on how Iran is conducting the current negotiations.

Iranian President Rohani speaking in a cabinet meeting in Tehran on Wednesday.Credit: ,AP

Indeed, the most important part of the report recounts the Iranian negotiating team's achievements. “If the United States returns to the accord, all the sanctions it had imposed as part of the Security Council’s resolutions will be revoked. All the additional sanctions the United States imposed after pulling out of the agreement will also be revoked. ... This consists of sanctions on oil export, banking, marine traffic, insurance, shipyards and shipbuilding, gold and precious metals’ import, importing cars and spare parts and car assembly technology, industrial production, mining, drilling, selling airplanes, airplane parts and related technology. The American administration has undertaken to revoke or amend several laws like the law of sanctions on Iran, the 2012 security licensing law, the Iran Threat Reduction Act and the law limiting visas as part of the war on terror, inasmuch as it pertains to Iran,” he wrote.

In general, “the United States undertakes that no American law would stand in the way of fulfilling its commitments according to the nuclear accord,” he added. Zarif made it clear that lifting the sanctions includes sanctions imposed on people and institutions in a way “that could prevent Iran from enjoying the economic benefits promised in the nuclear accord.”

The inclusive interpretation could be that Iran would be removed from the list of states sponsoring terrorism and even the supreme leader and the new president, Raisi, would be exonerated from sanctions.

According to Zarif and Rohani, Iran in fact received everything it had demanded. Even before the end of the sixth round, they and their spokespeople declared it was possible to sign the deal and get the sanctions lifted.

But Rohani knew that as good as the agreement’s clauses may be for Iran, they were a necessary but insufficient condition for signing it. Last month, he acknowledged the big prize would elude him. This is why Zarif explained in his report not only the achievements, but the difficulties and rationale behind the talks. In response to his rivals’ demand to show U.S. guarantees to implement the agreement once signed, he commented: “No agreement is built on trust. On the contrary, it is based on distrust, and that’s the reason the original nuclear agreement is 150 pages long.”

At the same time, “no agreement is perfect for either side," he said. "Each side is dissatisfied with different parts of the agreement. That’s the nature of any deal. So it’s important to reach an agreement to understand the fact that there can be no compromise without considering the minimal level of all the sides’ demands and fears. Maximal demands will lead to erosion and endless negotiations ... not a zero-sum game but a positive-sum game can bring the desired result.”

Zarif is preparing for the criticism expected to be leveled at himself and Rohani when Raisi takes the oath of office, when the attacks on the outgoing government’s “surrender to the United States” and “breach of Iran’s security and sovereignty” could turn into indictments, as some parliament members have already threatened.

He submits a sort of public and even legal defense brief, writing “obtaining an agreement requires courage, self-sacrifice, readiness to pay with your reputation and preferring the national interest over the personal one.... Foreign policy shouldn’t look like a battlefield of political and factional interests.”

Zarif is addressing critical rivals, who describe his report as “a list of fabricated achievements” and “distorting history.”

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