Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) has released details of a private meeting between Iran’s top nuclear negotiator and IRIB directors about the July 14 nuclear deal in Vienna.
The meeting, which was off the record, took place at the end of July. On Saturday, August 1, the IRIB news site published the comments without the permission of Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s chief negotiator.
Abbas responded immediately, saying the publication of the private conversation was “contrary to national interests and security” and “incompatible with professional ethics.” He also said that the published text contained numerous errors.
A few hours later, the IRIB site retracted the story, stating that the publication had been a mistake. Most of the other Persian-language sites that had republished the text also removed it following Araghchi’s objections.
During the private meeting, Araghchi had tried to not only rebut criticisms of the deal but to also convince IRIB directors that the nuclear agreement encompassed many important achievements. He told them that the media had little influence over the foreign ministry and that IRIB must play its part in ensuring the Iranian people did not become frustrated with the agreement.
Although his statements were removed, it was too late: the controversy had begun.
But what exactly did Araghchi say that was so controversial? IranWire reviews some of the most salient points.
1. The Americans got what they wanted.
Araghchi told IRIB directors that the Americans had one important demand that they needed to meet, and they succeeded: preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. “The main demand of the other side was to block Iran from getting nuclear weapons … We had no problem with that, and granted it to the enemy …meaning that we provided trust, trust that we will not be moving towards the bomb. We granted this to the other side in two ways, by accepting certain limitations and certain supervisions. The other side got what it wanted and can say that they prevented an Iranian atomic bomb.” But he said Iran had not conceded to anything it had not wanted to: “We gave up atomic bomb, a bomb which we did not want and considered forbidden.”
2. Iran arms Hezbollah.
Araghchi confirmed that Iran is arming Lebanese Hezbollah: “We said that we cannot stop giving arms to Hezbollah, and we’re not ready to sacrifice it to our nuclear program. So we will continue doing it.”
3. No deals over other issues in the region — but definitely debate.
Araghchi denied that there had been a deal over regional issues as part of the nuclear negotiations. But he did confirm that discussions took place and important connections had been made during negotiations. “Mr. Kerry said a few times: ‘you are the victim of your own successes in the region. You have had successes in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon and have gained influence. Under these conditions, if we lift the arms embargo against you, we would kill the deal and we would no longer be able to defend it — not with our own allies, not with Arabs, not with Israel and not with Congress. There will be no deal. So we have to keep the arms embargo.’”
4. The possibility of US military action was real, and Iran took it very seriously.
Araghchi confirmed that over the past few years, reports of possible US military action against Iran were taken seriously. “For 10 years they [the Americans] tried everything and used military threats to a maximum level. Maybe people are not aware of the details, but our Revolutionary Guards and military friends know that there were nights in 85-86 [2006-2007] when we were worried that by the morning Iran would be surrounded,” he said. He added that several times they expected to awake to military operations unfolding around them. He said military personnel met to analyse maps to see where military bases were located and “what planes were stationed where. An attack on Iran only depended on the political will of Mr. Obama, who could decide to strike, and they would.”
However, media agencies had queried this, pointing out that Obama became president in 2009. Although it might have been a simple misunderstanding — Araghchi could have simple been referring to the fact that Obama had expressed readiness to use military might, or at least threatened it: Obama did repeatedly emphasize that military action was “not off the table.”
5. Parliament approval is not compulsory.
During the meeting, Araghchi implicitly opposed the claim that Iranian parliament had to approve the Vienna agreement. But he did concede that parliament should be in a position to review the document. “According to its own resolution, parliament must review the agreement — not approve it. The Supreme Leader has stated that the legal process must be followed, but the few times that he mentioned this point, he did not refer to parliament. Nevertheless, the Islamic Consultative Assembly [parliament] will review it. However, I believe that parliamentary approval is not prudent, because the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) contains voluntary provisions, which will turn into compulsory obligations if it is approved by parliament … We have to announce our decision as soon as possible so that if the US Congress wants to reject the agreement, it will singlehandedly carry the weight of rejecting the agreement, and the failure of negotiations. In this case we won’t lose anything. We can return to our own program and the world will consider us to be justified.”
6. Ayatollah Khamenei was in the loop.
Contrary to some regime propaganda, Araghchi explained in detail that the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei was involved in every stage of the negotiations and the agreement: “He was very clear that all the general principles, frameworks and red lines must be decided and supervised by him. He even let his views be known about some of the details. When he first brought up the subject of 190,000 Separative Work Units, he showed that he was a master of the details. He intervened when it was necessary, and we were never poorer for that.
“Those who say that the Leadership has been sidestepped … are debasing the role of the leadership and are doing him an injustice. They don’t help the leadership in any way. It is unjust to him that we should think that he was not and hasn’t been involved in the process of negotiations, or that he hasn’t seen the agreement. The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution was involved in the general framework and the red lines … During recent negotiations, a couple of times messengers brought us messages …The Supreme Leader expressly ordered that 1,000 centrifuges remain at Fordo [Iran’ underground nuclear enrichment facility]… We were worried sick that this wasn’t possible, because they [the Americans] wouldn’t consent to even one centrifuge in that location…What happened at the negotiations and how they came to consent to it is another story. It was a blessing from god.”
7. Even one ton of enriched uranium is enough to make a bomb
Araghchi also addressed Iran’s technological capability for developing an atomic bomb, and what impact it had on Iranian domestic politics. “Some friends claim that it would take us several years to fully restore our [nuclear] program. But it is important to note that these critics are not talking about returning to our current situation. It is not important to return to the situation where we have eight or 10 tons [of enriched uranium]. Even one ton is enough to make a bomb. Of course, we are not going down that road, and we consider the bomb to be forbidden … They [the Americans] are worried that future political developments in Iran could cause the re-activation of the program. They are afraid of this, so are trying not to be left empty-handed. They want to keep sanctions as long as possible, so both sides can continue the process of building trust.
8. A Preemptive Disclosure of Secret Activities.
Araghchi then went on to discuss Iran’s secret work at Fordow: “When they discovered Fordow, we were aware of this and knew that they wanted to make an announcmement about it, so we preempted this. Mr. Soltanieh [Ali Asghar Soltanieh, former chief nuclear negotiator] was ordered to inform the International Atomic Energy Agency; he disclosed this information in a letter to Mr. ElBaradei [director-general of the IAEA until November 2009].”
9. There will be losses, just as in war.
Araghchi compared the recent nuclear agreement with the Iran-Iraq war: “The troublesome details were the costs that we had to pay. But can you show us any [military] operations that did not entail similar troublesome details? When it came to successful operations, did we say how many tanks we lost or how many people were martyred instead of saying what we achieved? Would have we said, for example, ‘Mr. Commander, it was not 100 [martyrs], but 120’? During the Sacred Defense [the war with Iraq], several operations failed, but we never said we were defeated. At most, we said that we had not been victorious. This was the phrase you used in the news.”
10. The conflict with America continues.
Araghchi advocated for continued confrontation with the US, both politically and in the media: “People should not get the feeling that America is now our friend and that enmities are a thing of the past. This is definitely not the case. Our enmity against the US, and their enmity towards us, is not over. We have managed and solved just one bilateral issue. Otherwise, our hostility towards their tyrannical system and their enmity towards the Islamic Republic, its ideals and its values will continue. You must illustrate these points in every way possible, so that that people will not become frustrated. So whenever American officials say anything negative about us, it should not be reported in a way that will make people feel we have been cheated or that they have shown us up.”
11. “We felt alone.”
During the meeting, Araghchi took the opportunity to lash out at certain figures in Iran’s domestic politics: “Unfortunately, over the past two years, we have felt alone many times. We felt that we had to carry the whole weight, and that everybody else was just sitting and waiting to see what the foreign ministry would do. Even in the foreign ministry itself, when there were especially heavy pressures on the team, I distinctly noticed that the media distanced themselves from them; when the negotiations went well, they came closer.”
12. The nuclear program will be cost-effective “in time”.
Araghchi shared his own insights about nuclear weapons and the Iranian nuclear program: “If we had wanted the bomb, then JCPOA is an utter defeat. But if we are after internationally legitimate enrichment and a completely peaceful nuclear program, then this agreement is a great victory. I have always said that if we judge our nuclear program on purely economic criteria, it is a big loss — meaning that if we calculate the cost of the products, it makes no sense at all. But we paid these costs for our honor, our independence and our progress. We will not be bullied by others … Our program will follow the process of industrialization and will become cost-effective in time.”
13. The president’s brother communicated “in code”.
Araghchi’s comments about President Rouhani’s brother, Hossein Fereydoon, attracted considerable attention. “He was our liaison to the president and he took on this role during negotiations. But he was not directly involved in the negotiations. [When contacting the president] he could ask urgent questions in the Semnani dialect [an Iranian dialect difficult to understand and which was widely used during the Iran-Iraq war].” Araghchi said those on the margins of negotiations who communicated in Semnani were helpful because they could hold secret discussions in a language that could not be understood. Again, the reference to the Iran-Iraq war is significant.
14. Hide and Seek with the IAEA
Araghchi did concede there was some shortcomings in Iran’s dealings with IAEA: “We failed at some points, and were late in informing them. Some of these past mistakes were combined with trumped-up charges and unfounded allegations to make a case against our country, which Mr. Amano [the IAEA chief] later referred to as ‘possible military dimensions’…A purely technical case was turned into a political issue. The phrase possible military dimensions (PMD) was used. Cooperation with the agency and giving it more information made the situation worse. Ask our friends at the defense ministry. They are angry that these intelligence leaks made the situation worse. In the new cycle [of negotiations], I told our friends at the defense ministry: ‘I promise you that we will not add a word to the information previously given to the agency.’”
15. A Secret Roadmap with IAEA.
Araghchi provided new information about the confidential agreement between Iran and the IAEA: “A roadmap has been signed by Mr. Salehi [the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization] and Mr. Amano. For example, by August 15 we will provide [the IAEA] with a series of our own evaluations of PMD. The agency will review them and by October 15 the agency’s job will be done.” Aright said the team had no other issues with the agreement but that they would have to wait until December 15 for the final report from Amano. “We have made some predictions and there are a series of things that we must do, but we must wait for the agency to issue that report.”
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