On Sunday, 11 October, the Iranian parliament approved the outline of a bill that allows President Hassan Rouhani’s government to implement the nuclear deal agreed between Iran and the world powers in July. The detailed bill will be discussed further, and then put to a vote on Tuesday.
Of the representatives present, 139 voted for the bill, and 100 voted against it.
It was clear from the proceedings, and from statements made by Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani and other representatives, that much has happened behind the scenes in the past two days to prepare the bill.
According to Larijani, Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, reviewed the bill on Saturday night. Larijani reported that both the council and the administration have accepted it.
The views of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei remain unclear. Alireza Zakani, Chairman of the Special Parliamentary Committee on the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the official name of the nuclear deal), said that Larijani had spoken to Khamenei twice about the bill, but that Khamenei has yet to give an opinion.
Larijani implicitly confirmed this, and said that Khamenei “will review” the bill. He added that Khamenei would not interfere because “if he had expressed an opinion, then the parliament could not have contradicted his opinion.”
Ali Akbar Salehi, President of Iran’s Nuclear Energy Agency, speaking to parliament in defense of the JCPOA, said that the Supreme Leader supported the deal.
Threat of Execution by Cement
Meanwhile, an amazing side story has unfolded. Salehi also reported that a fellow MP had threatened his life. “A dear brother from the parliament came to me and swore that he would kill me,” he said. “Is this the way to talk to a servant of the system, and tell him that they would kill him by pouring cement on him and burying him under Arak nuclear reactor?”
An MP reported that it was Ruhollah Hosseinian, a representative from Tehran, who threated Salehi.
In his speech, Salehi said he had been told that he would not live long enough to complete the bill’s implementation. He was alluding to a TV program in which Pirouz Pirouz, a university professor and opponent of the JCPOA, said that the average life expectancy of Iranians is 72, and that Salehi, who is now 66, would not live to see the conclusion of JCPOA. The JCPOA has a lifespan of 10 years.
Parliamentary Vice President Majid Ansari said that in addition to Salehi, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has also been threatened with death.
Ebrahim Nikou, a member of the same parliamentary caucus as Speaker Larijani, reported that JCPOA supporters have also received insulting text messages.
In today’s session, it was not government officials, but Larijani himself who was the target of the deal’s opponents. They accused him of being involved in a secret alliance with Rouhani’s government to support the agreement.
Larijani, addressing the parliament, defended his conduct. He said that he had coordinated his approach with Gholamali Haddad-Adel, the leader of the fundamentalist faction, and insisted that he had no personal stake in the bill’s approval.
Nevertheless, critics accuse him of exploiting the situation with a view toward upcoming parliamentary elections in February 2016. They say that Larijani’s insistence and stubbornness in securing approval for the deal is designed to win him the support of Rouhani’s social base, and to gain the trust of Rouhani’s administration for a coalition in the elections.
Looming Divides Among Hardliners?
It is likely that the nuclear issue will cause important new divides between hardliners and fundamentalists. Both groups have been trying to form a unified front in the remaining months before elections, but the passage of the nuclear bill threatens their unity.
Some hardliners still hope to work their views into the detailed bill.
But today Elias Naderian, an MP critical of the government, warned them that “Some approve of the bill in general but disapprove of the particulars, and they think that if they vote for the outline they can change the particulars. But I tell them: ‘You don’t know the speaker of the parliament. Don’t be a simpleton and imagine that you can change anything in the bill.’”
Opponents of the bill have also pinned hopes on the Guardian Council, the body that decides upon the constitutionality of any law. “Some red lines approved by the Supreme Leader…have not been observed in the JCPOA bill,” said Mohammad Dehghan, member of the parliament’s steering board. “Therefore it is possible that the bill will be rejected by the Guardian Council.”
If the JCPOA bill is finalized, then Rouhani’s government will have achieved a big victory in Iran’s domestic politics. By securing the approval of the three most important institutions—the parliament, the Guardian Council and the Supreme National Security Council—his administration will cease to be the sole supporter of the nuclear deal.
In recent months, President Rouhani’s number one domestic priority has been to transform the nuclear agreement from a government decision to a regime decision. Now this project is close to completion, and enjoys the support of fundamentalists including Larijani, and Ali-Akbar Velayati, advisor to the Supreme Leader in International Affairs.