President Hassan Rouhani announced on April 30 that the details of the nuclear deal would be made public.
The announcement came amid rumors that publication of the Lausanne “factsheet” was imminent, and as tension mounted among the upper echelons of Iranian power. Rouhani told a crowd in Shiraz that the government planned to publish key points of the agreement, with a view to releasing further details later.
On April 14, the Supreme Leader’s official website ran the headline “We have nothing to hide,” replacing the previous headline, which referred to sanctions being lifted. According to the site, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei told government leaders “to inform the people and especially the elites the details and the facts” about the nuclear framework agreement on April 9. “ Nothing is confidential. We have no secrets.”
Prior to this, on April 7, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Aliakbar Salehi, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and members of parliament attended a closed meeting. According to Hamid Rasaei, an MP critical of the Rouhani administration, Salehi said Ayatollah Khamenei intended to make the information public because of the strong, “deep” relationship between the government and its people, and because “the government originates from the will of the people”. Zarif’s opinion echoed that of the Supreme Leader, he said.
Then, on the same day, 213 members of parliament issued a statement demanding the publication of the factsheet.
But not everybody believed releasing the details of the agreement was a good idea. Just as the Supreme Leader’s office made its view clear, former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati — now Khamenei’s foreign advisor —criticized the United States for publishing its own factsheet. Such an action could only disrupt negotiations, he said.
Hossein Shariatmadari, managing editor of the hardliner newspaper Kayhan — which operates under the supervision of the Supreme Leader’s office— tried to clarify the situation. “There have been rumors that the exalted Leader of the Revolution emphasized the necessity of publishing the factsheet, but then agreed that it should not be published after talking to the negotiating team,” he wrote in an editorial on April 20. “It is obvious that these rumors are not true. First and foremost, it is necessary and unavoidable that the factsheet must be published to prevent the other side from twisting its meaning. Secondly, the Leader announced that what he declares publicly is not different from what he believes in private. Of course, there are issues that he does not consider prudent to publicize. This is logical and is in accordance with the major interests of the system and the people.”
Shariatmadari’s Little Mistake
But Mohammad Saeed Ahadian, the managing editor of Khorasan newspaper, disagreed. “In no public session has the Leader ordered the publication of the factsheet,” he wrote. Khorasan, like Kayhan, is published under the supervision of Ayatollah Khamenei’s office. “In his speech, he emphasized that the people must be informed of the facts and the details, but his emphasis was not on the publication of the official factsheet. It appears that Mr. Shariatmadari has made a little mistake by declaring that it is impossible that the leader would not approve of the publication. It has led to consequences in the public sphere, and it is recommended that he correct this little error.”
Clashes in the media such as this again point to divisions within hardliner ranks. Prior to today’s announcement, hardliners had said if the Supreme Leader’s views remained unclear, they would summon Foreign Minister Zarif or President Rouhani for questioning. Undoubtedly, Rouhani’s announcement will lead to further scrambling and recalibration of media strategies.
New year comments by Iranian armed forces chief of staff Hasan Firoozabadi and Revolutionary Guards Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari on March 21 indicated that Supreme Leader agreed with the Lausanne framework, though the Leader’s own New Year address avoided endorsement or rejection of the deal between Iran and world powers.
When it comes to the nuclear issue, Khamenei has tended to speak in general terms. Though he has publicly intervened at certain stages of negotiations, he said recently that he was not involved in the details.
His refusal to accept responsibility or make direct statements about the process has been interpreted by some as a refusal to accept negotiation results. And many say it is best for the Leader to distance himself from the outcome.
Confusion and Election Jitters
Khamenei’s tactic of distancing himself might be based on logic, but it has led to widespread confusion among his supporters, and has led to increased in-fighting. But it is unlikely that Khamenei would have wanted it to escalate to the point that parliament called Rouhani and Zarif in for questioning.
Hardliners are well aware that, in the months leading up to the February 2016 parliamentary elections, , too much public opposition to Rouhani could lead to polarization. In this environment, they cannot be sure of their chances for victory. They know the nuclear agreement is popular with the people. But they want to be in a position to comment and criticize the deal as they see fit. Now that the details are to be made public, they will have to consider their responses – and will undoubtedly express their opinions at length.
A silent Supreme Leader has added to hardliners’ problems. Though they may disagree about the best approach, their ultimate shared goal is to sabotage the nuclear agreement and to continue Iran’s nuclear program without disruption. After Rouhani’s announcement today, all eyes will be on the Supreme Leader, and everyone will want to hear him speak.