The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has once again become one of the most pivotal issues in the upcoming Iranian presidential election – according to those running in it, at least.
From the point of view of some activists, the prospect of the US rejoining the agreement is an incentive for people to turn out, vote and keep the Rouhani administration going.
But other analysts believe a new nuclear agreement will not work a miracle in heating up by a single degree the atmosphere of the election, which is now described as "below zero".
Hassan Rouhani has repeatedly stressed that his opponents want to postpone a US return to the JCPOA until after the presidential election. Meanwhile, the opposition has insisted that this time, they will not allow the government to be the sole party to the agreement; parliament as a whole (currently conservative-dominated) should also be part of the negotiations.
Rouhani has also insisted that on rejoining the JCPOA, the verification of the lifting of sanctions would be swiftly carried out by the government, after which Iran will return immediately to its previous commitments.
But Alireza Zakani, former chairman of the Parliamentary Special Commission in the ninth parliament and one of the opponents of the JCPOA, said this verification should also be carried out by the legislature, not the executive.
Hossein Shariatmadari, the official representative of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic at Kayhan newspaper, also suggested after the attack on the Natanz nuclear facility that either the Vienna talks be canceled – or else that two members of parliament "attend the talks to closely monitor the adherence of the talks to the lifting of sanctions."
Ahmadinejad's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, has also called on Rouhani’s team not to rush into an agreement.
Iran’s principlists know the nuclear talks will ultimately be overseen by the Supreme National Security Council, which is under the direct supervision of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic. But in the meantime, these words are intended to affect the domestic political atmosphere.
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Speaking to IranWire, Mehdi Mahdavi-Azad, a journalist and political analyst, has said that a US return to the JCPOA would have a maximum impact of “five to ten percent” on the final vote.
Both Iran and the United States are determined to return to the pre-Trump era, he said, and the Biden administration is willing to reach an agreement with Rouhani’s team.
Mahdavi-Azad notes that a recent demand by the Leader of the Islamic Republic that the negotiations not be prolonged could give Mohammad Javad Zarif more authority in the negotiations – but ultimately, it is Khamenei’s personal view that will prove the decisive one.
Gholam-Ali Rajaei, a figure close to the reformists, has recently said that alongside the lifting of sanctions is the key to “exciting” the elections in favor of the reformists. Other activists have expressed similar beliefs.
Fars News Agency reports that the Reformism Front planned to write a letter to Biden calling for a return to the JCPOA and the lifting of sanctions. Gholam-Hossein Karbaschi, secretary general of the Sazandegi Party, also confirmed that talks had taken place in this regard but in the end, the matter was dropped.
Despite all of this, turnout in the upcoming election is expected to be low. Both Faezeh Hashemi and Sadegh Zibakalam have said they will not vote even if one of the leading reformist figures were approved. The latter called the pre-election atmosphere “below zero”.
Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, has reiterated the the principlists’ accusation that the Rouhani government is too incompetent to handle the nuclear talks. "Why should those who turned out to be ignorant wear the hat and negotiate again?” he recently demanded.
From the point of view of some analysts, however, although Hassan Rouhani knows that he might not reach an agreement during of his presidency, he still has the future in his mind. Some have even ventured that Rouhani thinks that with the JCPOA, he can manage the future political climate and have a chance to become leader himself.
If the current situation continues, however, he would have little chance. Khamenei’s close associates are trying to eliminate the remaining elements of Hashemi Rafsanjani and the reformists, as well as managing the succession of the leadership.
Mehdi Mahdavi-Azad believes that Rouhani's goal in concluding the negotiations is to bring a dignified end to his government, perhaps one of the most unfortunate of all time.
Rouhani's betrayal of his election promises, the re-introduction of US sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic are among the contributing factors to this lamentable situation. Having the US rejoin the JCPOA would improve Rouhani’s record, but the problem remains that Ayatollah Khamenei is the ultimate final arbiter.