Iran’s hardliner media have launched a fresh attack on the nuclear deal ahead of a new UN report that claims that Iran might have had a “military dimension” to its nuclear program.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, November 26, the head of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, said that the report, due to be released on December 1, was not “black and white” on the issue of the nuclear program, adding that the IAEA could not give an iron-clad guarantee that the program’s agenda was purely “peaceful” or entirely devoid of a military agenda.
In response, some of Iran’s most vitriolic right-wing press lashed out at July’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), reached after more than 18 months of intensive negotiation between Iran and the P5+1 countries, including the United States and Russia.
The media response represents the next stage in hardliners’ anti-JCPOA campaign, a means of pressuring the government and exploiting the current situation to gain an edge in the upcoming parliamentary elections, due to take place in February 2016.
In a November 28 editorial, Kayhan’s editor-in-chief Hossein Shariatmadari accused the IAEA of reneging on its obligations, and said that speculation that the agency could not be trusted were now proving to be true.“The ridiculous statements by Amano clearly show that the Iranian nuclear case is not going to be closed, contrary to the extreme optimism of [Iranian] statesmen,” he wrote. Kayhan is published under the supervision of the office of the Supreme Leader.
“JCPOA on the Precipice!” ran Vatan-e Emrouz’s headline. “If the governing board of IAEA does not issue a definitive report on PMD [Iran’s nuclear program] and does not close the PMD case, then in the end we will witness the collapse of the JCPOA,” the article continued.
Raja News was dismissive of statements made by Ali Larijani, Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, referring to them as “astonishing.” Larijani had insisted that, in the initial stages of implementing the JCPOA, the P5 +1 group had not violated the terms of the agreement. On Wednesday, November 25, the Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister, Abbas Araghchi, warned that the Islamic Republic will halt the implementation of the JCPOA if IAEA does not agree to stop pursuing claims that Iran’s nuclear program had included a potential military agenda. Kayhan’s Shariatmadari dismissed Araghchi’s threat as being toothless, referring to it as a cure after the patient had died.
“If the PMD report (which is to be released on December 1) contains statements such as those by Amano then it will show that the case is not closed as far as the IAEA is concerned,” the Raja News website argued, even if certain officials tried to “put a positive spin on it and interpret it in a way that would have Iran continue to abide by its obligations.”
A Slower Plan of Action Spells Trouble for Rouhani
Prior to this weekend’s media storm, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei wrote to President Hassan Rouhani, emphasizing that implementation of the next two stage of the nuclear agreement —halting operations at the Arak heavy-water reactor and reducing half of the stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium to 3.5 percent — could only begin if the IAEA closed the case looking into the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.
Hardliner media have been quick to use the letter to pressure the Rouhani administration to stop implementing parts of the JCPOA.
If next week’s IAEA report does not include a commitment to close the case on behalf of the body’s governing board, it could potentially create obstacles for the implementation of the nuclear agreement. However, sanctions could still be lifted and the JCPOA could still go ahead, albeit at a slower pace.
But from a political point of view, any slowing down of the process could mean that the benefits of the deal will not be made obvious in time to have an impact on next year’s parliamentary elections. This will mean that President Rouhani’s allies will not be able to effectively defend the nuclear accord as part of their election campaigns. Instead, they will be forced to explain to voters why the JCPOA has not changed the country’s economic prospects in a meaningful way.
If the government is put on the defensive, President Rouhani will have less room to maneuver politically, which will boost the domestic agenda of Iran’s hardliners and create an even more hostile environment for reformers. In this environment, Rouhani’s enemies recognize a new opportunity not only to undermine moves to honor the nuclear deal, but also to irrevocably damage the political reputation and aspirations of Rouhani – at home as well as on the international stage.