close button
Switch to Iranwire Light?
It looks like you’re having trouble loading the content on this page. Switch to Iranwire Light instead.
switch sites

Tempers Flare as Nuclear Battle Continues

May 25, 2015
Reza HaghighatNejad
6 min read
Tempers Flare as Nuclear Battle Continues

On Sunday May 24, Iran’s parliament gathered for a closed-door meeting to discuss nuclear negotiations. But it did not take long for the session to spiral out of control  — culminating in shouting matches between high-profile politicians, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Hardliner MP Mehdi Koochek-Zadeh was first to launch an attack at Zarif, demanding to know why the foreign minister refused to follow the orders of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

In response, Zarif called Koochek-Zadeh a traitor. Koochek-Zadeh later told the Islamic Republic News Agency, “he rose his voice for no reason at all and was discourteous. But he got his response and went away.”

Also at the meeting was Abbas Araghchi, Zarif’s deputy in international affairs and a senior member of the Iranian nuclear negotiations team.

Another source of anger and frustration came when hardliner MP Javad Karimi Ghoddousi chose to disclose details about the meeting in an interview with Fars news agency. Araghchi reacted to this angrily by posting on Instagram, “I leave him and Fars news agency to God.”

“The inspection of military sites within the framework of the [IAEA’s] Additional Protocol has been accepted,” Ghoddousi told Fars. “But inspection will be controlled and management heavily supervised. And, in terms of nuclear scientists having access, the other side has given us a list of scientists — but we’ve not accepted that those on it can have access to them.”

Araghchi had already made most of these points previously, on May 14. But, by re-stating them, hardliners gained another opportunity to discredit the nuclear team.

Hardliners have justified the attacks by referring to two of Ayatollah Khamenei’s recent speeches. On April 9, the Supreme Leader warned that “military officials in the country are not allowed to let foreigners — who will use excuses like ‘supervision,’ carrying out investigations or other such things – to enter parts of the country that are reserved for security or defense purposes.”

Then, in a speech to military commanders on May 20, Khamenei said, “We will not allow any of our military centers to be examined by foreigners. They say that they need to interview our scientists. In other words, they want to interrogate them,” the Supreme Leader said. “We don’t allow our nuclear scientists or scientists who work in sensitive or important areas to be insulted even in the slightest way. I don’t allow foreigners to speak to our scientists or to the cherished children of the people of Iran who have been instrumental in scientific progress.”

In recent months, Iran’s nuclear negotiating team has regularly used numerous technical terms, such as “managed access,” in an attempt to win over critics. Ahmad Shoohani, a member of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee who was present at the May 24 meeting, said the inspection of military sites would be carried out under strictly controlled and specific circumstances.

“IAEA’s inspectors can take samples from military sites. The P5+1 group has been told that although the Additional Protocol allows the agency to gain access to target sites in less than three days, Iran can only agree to the agency’s requests if the timeframe is increased to 24 days,” Shoohani told Fararu newsite.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius responded and opposed the proposal on May 20. "What happens if Iran doesn't comply? How much time will we have to check? In the current text, it's 24 days, but in 24 days a lot of things can disappear.”


A Nuclear "Disaster" 

But concerns over the details of access reveal hardliners’ real anxiety: that the nuclear deal is essentially a prelude to war. They believe that if authorities concede to inspections, war is imminent.

In an editorial published on May 20, hardliner daily Kayhan described the nuclear agreement as a “nuclear disaster.” The article read, “the agreement, with its present provisions about inspections and the quantity and the quality of their oversight, does not weaken the possibility of war and conflict — it  greatly increases it...The final agreement will unfortunately provide the missing piece in the American intelligence puzzle, and guarantees the success of an attack.”

“After the agreement on access to military sites, the agency’s inspection teams will enter the country to inspect any site that they want and to gather information. Undoubtedly, this process will stop at some point,” Kayhan reported. It suggested inspectors would continue to fabricate reasons to further investigate. “What if the agency doesn’t want to stop? If inspectors are refused access to a particular site, this is when the real adventure will begin! A scenario like this will give them an excuse to attack, which will meet with international approval. Inspectors will say Iran has violated the agreement and that according to Chapter 7 of the [IAEA’s] charter, it has to be punished.”

In recent days, numerous hardliner media outlets have published articles with similar outlooks. “We can’t trust the IAEA because of its record and America’s influence at the agency,” said Rasoul Sanaeizadeh, head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Political Bureau on May 17. “For instance, the martyrdom of our nuclear scientists followed interviews conducted within the framework of IAEA safeguards — and yet information about these scientists was later given to terrorist groups, which led to the death of a number of our nuclear scientists.”

Hardliners have long highlighted the contradictions between the commitments of nuclear negotiators and the preferential policies of the Supreme Leader. It is likely that the events in parliament on May 24 will give further fuel to this argument and the threat it implies.


Two Possible Outcomes

But can this combined effort by the conservative political elite and media truly threaten the success of negotiations?

“Without parliamentary approval, implementing the Additional Protocol is not legally viable,” said parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani on Sunday. However, he previously suggested otherwise; it was reported on April 6 that he had told members of his parliamentary faction that if Iran voluntarily complied with the protocol, it would not need parliamentary approval.

And, on March 16, Larijani said that the nuclear case “is handled by the Supreme Council for National Security and since it is granted permission to do so by the Supreme Leader, the nuclear agreement does not require parliament’s approval.”

From these contradictory statements, it appears that Larijani has taken a step back from his previous position. In the process, hardliners have succeeded in giving parliament a more prominent role in nuclear discussions — or at the very least, they have made it more difficult for the government to work around the vague term “voluntary compliance.”

Currently, both hardliner and moderate factions in parliament are working on their own nuclear bills.  Last week, one hardliner MP told Shargh newspaper that work to combine the two was ongoing.

Equally, Ahmad Reza Dastghaib, deputy chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, told Mehr news agency that “the bill to commit the government into safeguarding Iran’s nuclear rights and achievements will be finalized by the commission on Tuesday [May 26] when it will be ready to go to the floor.”

This bill will be an important indicator of how influential Iran’s parliament can be. There can be two possible outcomes.

The first: that instead of opposing a final agreement, Ayatollah Khamenei will use parliament as a shield and so increase its influence. This will push negotiations to an impasse.

The second: that President Rouhani will gain from a more active role for parliament. If parliament approves the Additional Protocol, Rouhani’s administration will be able to sign a more robust agreement, one that even hardliners can favor.

Having said this, Iran’s parliament has a poor record in making momentous foreign policy decisions, which suggests that it would be unwise to pin too much on the second possible outcome. But history tells us that Iran’s hardliners should never be underestimated, whatever their command and influence.