home > archive > 2015 > this article


Khamenei redefines Iran's red lines for nuclear talks

By Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall
web posted April 20, 2015

Different Interpretations of the Deal within Iran

On April 9, 2015, Iran's religious-military leadership marked National Nuclear Technology Day, where Iran's nuclear achievements were revealed.  Iran's top leaders, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani, took staunch positions on new red lines for the ongoing negotiations and the final agreement: immediate removal of the sanctions as soon as the agreement takes effect, without connection to other issues; opposition to special monitoring and inspections of Iran's military sites and missile program; and non-intervention in its ongoing assistance to "resistance" organizations in various parts of the world.

In Iran's domestic arena, divergent interpretations of the Lausanne Agreement have emerged between the different leaders. These concern the price Iran paid and, particularly, its stance on the signing of a final agreement. These controversies, along with the public attention given them, constitute a significant part of Iran's negotiating strategy that aims to give the West an impression of domestic wrangling over the terms of the agreement (several Majlis members have indeed pointed out that the Majlis must approve the final agreement).  But the wrangling also reflects genuine disagreements between the different domestic power centers, particularly between the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Foreign Ministry, and possibly also within the IRGC itself and between some of the IRGC and Khamenei.

"The United States Has Recognized Iran's Regional, International, and Nuclear Status"

Along with U.S. President Barack Obama's efforts to market the nuclear agreement in the United States, the Iranian Supreme Leader, president, and negotiating team, headed by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, have likewise been describing the agreement's contents and achievements to the Majlis, to the conservative elements (including those within the IRGC), and to the Iranian people.

In a special address on National Nuclear Technology Day, Rouhani paid homage to the nuclear scientists killed in a string of assassinations and highlighted "Iran's victory over the great military and economic superpower of the world," which, he said, has recognized the regime along with Iran's regional, international, and nuclear status.  He proclaimed: "Did we want more than that…we made clear that we do not submit to power…we proved this [now] as we did during the eight years of war with Iraq…the world has begun to dignify the Iranian nation."

Rouhani also asserted, "Iran will not sign any agreement except one that immediately cancels all of the economic sanctions on the first day of the agreement's implementation." He added that, as the "heroic" negotiation team had made clear, Iran would not give up its nuclear technology to attain peace. "[The enrichment facility] at Natanz will continue its activity. [In addition] over a thousand centrifuges exist and will continue to be installed at Fordow. [Likewise] we will have a heavy-water reactor at Arak to produce medicines and medical equipment."1 Rouhani stated further that Iran would continue its research and development activity, utilizing the potential of its scientists and thinkers in line with its national interests, and declared the inauguration of the domestic "virtual fuel complex, which serves as a testing facility for [nuclear] power reactors and other products."

Khamenei: "No Agreement Has Been Signed"

Khamenei spoke of the Lausanne Agreement for the first time and asserted that "everything is in the details."  Throwing cold water on those who rushed to extol the agreement, he said, "The premature praise that was heaped on me and on others [Rouhani and the negotiating team] is meaningless…. What has been done so far does not ensure, either in principle or in terms of the content that the talks will culminate in an agreement." He also remarked, "The side one cannot trust at all [the P5+1] may be seeking to constrain Iran through the fine points of the agreement [i.e., its technical aspects]."

If people in the West, Khamenei continued, were wondering why he had not yet taken a position on the talks' outcome, it was because "there is no need to take a position since the negotiating team itself says that nothing binding has been reached between the sides…what position am I supposed to take…nothing has happened."  Khamenei also said that he concurs with the U.S. assertion that "No agreement is better than a bad agreement," or, as he put it, "The non-signing of an agreement is more honorable than signing an agreement that compromises the interests and the dignity of your country." The Supreme Leader said he was not responsible for the details, as claimed in the West, and that the negotiating team has his full trust. Nevertheless, he was very disturbed "by the deception, the lies, and the betrayal" that typify the other side; as an example he cited the "fact sheet" the White House issued, "most of which is full of lies."

Khameni on TwitterKhamenei asserted that if, with Allah's help, the negotiating team were to succeed in reaching an agreement, "all the sanctions must be removed on that very day. If they [the West] drag their feet about lifting the sanctions and link it to other processes, why should we continue the negotiations?  We negotiate with the aim of removing the sanctions; linking the sanctions to other issues is completely unacceptable."

Khamenei stressed that he had warned the negotiating team not to enable the West to enter military areas and facilities (such as the Parchin base): "The military leadership of Iran must not permit the entry by foreigners into Iran's military facilities under pretexts of monitoring or special monitoring [i.e., surprise inspections and invasive monitoring] and other pretexts, or to stop the advancement of Iran's defensive capabilities [i.e.,  the issue of the missile and rocket industry, and especially the long-range ballistic missiles that Iran is building]."

Khamenei further emphasized that the issue of Iran's support for resistance organizations in various regions must not be put on the agenda. The talks with the United States, he said, "focus solely on the nuclear issue and not on any other issue…. If the United States behaves appropriately during these talks, there may be room for optimism about talks with it on other issues as well."

Zarif in the Conservatives' Sights

Foreign Minister Zarif, who led the negotiating team, was criticized by ultra conservative elements in Iran. He was even depicted in some cartoons as unconditionally capitulating to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Zarif, who appears in the cartoon prostrate on the deck, says, "It looks like it's now win-win." More scathing yet is the illustration that shows Zarif standing behind Kerry, who is sawing the tree of the Iranian nuclear program's achievements and, apparently, offending the memory of the nuclear scientists who were assassinated on Iran's way to becoming a threshold nuclear state.

On April 7, Zarif and members of his negotiating team presented the framework agreement to the Majlis. Some of the parliamentarians criticized the concessions, as they called them, and Iran's crossing of red lines during the talks. Previously, the foreign minister had given far-ranging interviews to the Iranian media in which he detailed Iran's achievements in the negotiations.  Students from Tehran University students and religious seminaries demonstrated opposite the Majlis and presented 30 questions to the foreign minister on the crossing of red lines during the Lausanne talks and the ambiguity of the joint declaration.

Zarif and the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) presented the main points of the agreement to the Majlis chairman and the members of its National Security and Foreign Policy Committee. Heated arguments erupted between Zarif and some ultraconservative Majlis members, particularly concerning the clauses on future enrichment at the Fordow site in the Qom area and at the main site in Natanz. These parliamentarians, led by Javad Karimi-Ghodousi (one of former President Ahmadinejad's staunch supporters) reviled Zarif for breaching Khamenei's directives.  According to one version of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran will not conduct enrichment at Fordow, only research. Hassan Shariatmadari, editor of the newspaper Kayhan, which is considered Khamenei's mouthpiece, also criticized the agreement and wrote that Iran "gave a saddled horse and received a torn bridle." He called on the government not to exaggerate when describing its achievements in the agreement that are unrealistic, according to him, and to be open to the criticisms for the sake of the national interest.

Waiting for the Iranian Version of the Fact Sheet

Several members of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee who were present at Zarif's briefing said he had told them that in the coming days he would issue the Iranian version of the fact sheet on the agreement signed in Lausanne. They said this was his most important statement during the briefing, "so that those issues that have stirred serious concern among the Iranians will be revised and released in this fact sheet." Iran is taking this step to confront what it calls "lies" in the U.S. version of the document, which, in Iran's view, was aimed at reassuring the U.S. allies in the region. Zarif revealed that the leader ""told us to prepare our own version of the Lausanne joint statement."

The accounts of the briefing also claimed that the Iranian negotiating team had made clear that Iran would not permit, in the context of the monitoring process, the placement of online cameras in its nuclear facilities that would give live transmission of Iran's activity within them, so as to avoid endangering the lives of the nuclear scientists.  According to the Mehr News Agency, Zarif said during the closed door meeting, "Iran will not fulfill any of its undertakings until the Security Council issues a resolution [on removing the sanctions] under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter."

Majlis member Gholamali Jafarzadeh, who was present at the meeting, said the chairman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran stated that Iran's achievements in the field of nuclear energy are what pushed the world powers to the negotiating table. Javad Karimi Qoddousi, another committee member and critic of the agreement, quoted the AEOI chairman as saying that Iran had injected UF6 into the latest generation of centrifuges, the IR8, immediately after the final signing of the agreement with the world powers.

Surprising Support

Support for the agreement, surprisingly, came from IRGC commander Mohammad-Ali Jafari, who censured the agreement's critics and claimed the ongoing criticism could hinder the "diplomatic jihad." Jafari, who expressed support for the foreign minister and the president, emphasized that, as Zarif and his team had declared, Iran's red lines include maintaining its nuclear fuel enrichment cycle, continuing the relevant research and development, and the removal of the sanctions. Jafari said that the United States had failed in its attempt to impose its will on Iran and alter its behavior, and actually it was Iran that had imposed its will on the United States. Iran had induced Washington to replace the policy of "all options on the table" with "a diplomatic channel for solving the nuclear issue."

Jafari added that the United States' insincerity and doubtful credibility when it came to upholding its commitments, along with its distorted interpretation of the joint declaration, posed difficulties for the continued diplomatic endeavor.  Nevertheless, Iran would keep adhering to its red lines (as Khamenei had defined them): a complete fuel cycle and the lifting of all of the sanctions. In this vein Mohammad-Reza Naqdi, commander of the Basij (the volunteer arm of the IRGC), called the United States "a liar that cannot be trusted."

Similarly, Hamidreza Moqaddamfar, adviser to the IRGC commander, portrayed the agreement as an achievement and underlined Iran's right to keep enriching uranium and retain all of its nuclear facilities. He stressed that the United States' retreat from its red lines had been achieved through Khamenei's guidance of the negotiating team, along with the firm stance of the team and the Iranian people. Another reason for the recognition of Iran's nuclear rights, he added, is Iran's "considerable spiritual influence" in the region and in the international sphere. He remarked that one source of concern regarding the lifting of the sanctions is U.S. and/or Israeli access to information on the Iranian nuclear program, to be attained by stealth through the IAEA's inspectors.

What Comes Next?

Khamenei's clarification that "nothing has been signed yet" poured cold water on the joy displayed in some sectors in Iran. It also implied criticism of the negotiating team and the president, who praised the Iranian achievements before any signing of a final agreement. Khamenei's remarks were intended to apprise the negotiating team of Iran's new red lines for the subsequent negotiations and to counter the public-relations campaign of President Obama, who portrayed the West's achievements both to Middle Eastern public opinion and in the United States itself.

Apparently the statement "Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed" will continue to characterize the upcoming, more difficult stages of the talks. These will include precisely those sensitive matters that, according to Khamenei in his response to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), must be included on the negotiating table. Whereas Iran's opening positions are rigid, the West, in the latest talks, has already shown how far it is willing to go for a signature on an agreement.

The window of time remaining before the June 30, 2015 date set for reaching a final agreement, which may also be extended, will see both open and covert struggles in both capitals – Tehran and Washington – and between the West and Iran as well. Iran will keep hewing to Khamenei's new red lines concerning the final results of the agreement and its implications for Iran.

The major changes in the Middle East since the "Arab Spring" or "Islamic Awakening," as Iran calls it, will also ultimately influence the final outcomes of the negotiations. Khamenei has already stated regarding his new red lines that Iran's involvement in the region, including its assistance to "resistance" elements, is not part of the negotiations, and Iran is not required to put them on the agenda. Such words reflect Iran's growing confidence as its regional and international status improves (as evidenced by the revival of its S-300  advanced SA missile deal with Russia) , and its defiant conduct will likely put it on a collision course with countries in the region, and ultimately with the United States itself.

The trigger could be Yemen, where the fighting between Iran and the Houthis on the one side, and the Arab coalition on the other, is escalating. During the months of negotiation over a final agreement, Iran's domestic debate is also likely to continue. Although this debate is authentic, it is also part of Iran's negotiating tactics of projecting domestic disagreements over the "concessions" that it made during the talks on a framework agreement.

The IRGC commander's support for the agreement on the one hand, and, on the other, the opposition of some conservative Majlis members who are associated with Ahmadinejad and of the previous chairman of the negotiating team, Said Jalili, and of Kayhan editor Shariatmadari who is close to Khamenei and serves as his representative in the newspaper, may indicate disagreements within the conservative camp and possibly within the IRGC. ESR

IDF Lt.-Col. (ret.) Michael (Mickey) Segall, an expert on strategic issues with a focus on Iran, terrorism, and the Middle East, is a senior analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and at Foresight Prudence.






Site Map

E-mail ESR



© 1996-2018, Enter Stage Right and/or its creators. All rights reserved.