Confusing signals from Tehran over nuclear deal
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.