Confusing signals from Tehran over nuclear deal

Friday 24/07/2015
Iran’s UN Ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo

BEIRUT - While US President Barack Obama hailed the nuclear agreement with Iran as a historic break­through that has delayed Tehran’s alleged drive to acquire nuclear weapons by a decade, Iranian Su­preme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khame­nei is yet to formally embrace the deal.
Khamenei’s position has raised concerns that he does not favour the agreement or is unwilling to risk an­tagonising hardliners in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and their clerical allies, even though it would lift crippling sanctions. The measures are to be lifted once the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog confirms Iran is dismantling key el­ements of its nuclear programme, which the West says is aimed at de­veloping nuclear weapons.
The agreement got a big boost July 20th when the UN Security Coun­cil unanimously endorsed the Iran deal, including an arms embargo and a ban on ballistic missile tech­nology that are part of five “techni­cal annexes” to the agreement.
But that triggered a blistering broadside the following day from the IRGC commander, Major-Gen­eral Mohammad Ali Jafari, who charged the resolution was an un­warranted interference in Iranian military operations and crossed “red lines” set by Khamenei. “We will never accept it,” Jafari declared.
There is bitter opposition too from long-time US allies in the Mid­dle East, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia, which both fear the agreement, the most important piece of diplomacy in the region since the 1991 Middle East peace conference, leaves Tehran’s nuclear programme intact while freeing up upwards of $150 billion in assets frozen by US-led economic sanc­tions that could be used to finance Iranian subversion across the re­gion.
Political battles over the contro­versial agreement are being fought in the US Congress, an assembly dominated by Republicans who bitterly oppose the deal, and Iran’s Majlis, the Islamic Republic’s 290- seat parliament where hardliners, many linked to the powerful IRGC, are in control.
Obama is seeking to placate Is­rael and Saudi Arabia with the sale of advanced weaponry worth bil­lions of dollars as one of the main inducements. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter headed for Tel Aviv and Riyadh but conceded, “I’m not going to change anybody’s mind in Israel.”
There have been suggestions the agreement could result in the Unit­ed States and Iran coordinating the war against the Islamic State (ISIS), now entrenched in Syria and Iraq. That seems unlikely in the short term but it has raised concerns that Obama is tacitly recognising Iran’s expansionist aims in the region.