What’s next for the nuclear deal?

Iranian reformist groups have show the recent deal as a victory

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Published: Updated:

While the Iranian reformist parties, newspapers, and media have depicted the recent nuclear deal with the West as a victory, some prominent hardliners disagree, including Kayhan newspaper’s hardliner editor-in-chief Hossein Shariatmadari (who was appointed by Ayatollah Khamenei, and remains a close confidant of his), who has shown the impracticality and prospects of the failure of the six-month deal in his latest column.

Shariatmadari wrote, “this [nuclear] agreement is temporary and for six months. It is not unusual that Iran has previously made such an agreement at least three times,” adding that “[this agreement] is a gradual process which depends on next steps and next negotiations.”

On the other hand, although Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has presented the efforts of his nuclear team as a success, it would not be an unprecedented move if he reversed his position to condemning the first deal.

For example, President Hassan Rowhani’s 2011 book “National Security and Nuclear Diplomacy” includes a letter from Khamenei, showing that the Supreme Leader approved the efforts of Iran’s nuclear team in 2003 (with Rowhani serving as chief nuclear advisor) when they reached a deal with the P5+1.

At the same time, hardliners launched their criticism against the deal, arguing that the Islamic Republic of Iran should continue enriching at the former level of 20 percent and installing new nuclear sites. Eventually, Khamenei, changed his position as well and started to criticize the deal.

To continue enrichment

Khamenei has already, according to Fars News, made a statement in a letter— in response to Rowhani’s letter congratulating Khamenei on the deal— stating:

“Achieving what you have written is worth appreciation and praise to the nuclear negotiating team and other relevant officials and can be the basis for future smart moves… Success in these negotiations showed the big powers can be urged to respect the Iranian nation’s rights and take firm steps towards the final definite resolution of the differences through a logical and reasonable presentation of the Iranian nation’s stances, while respecting all the principles and redlines of the ruling system.”

Anyone who has studied Iran’s nuclear policies closely for the last decade would be cognizant of the fact that the first deal has never culminated into a comprehensive and enduring agreement addressing the concerns behind Iran’s nuclear ambitions

Majid Rafizadeh

In other words, the definition of the deal has played very differently in Iran and in the West. For Iran, the deal is viewed as the surrender of the West to Iran’s nuclear right to continue enriching.

The first message that Rowhani, Khamenei, and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif gave, was that Iran scored a victory by making the West recognize its nuclear rights, allowing Iran to keep its nuclear infrastructure and continue enriching. President Rowhani specifically pointed out, “recognition of Iran’s nuclear rights and safeguarding Iran’s nuclear achievements” combined with the removal of the cruel economic sanctions are Iran’s main victories in this deal.

In addition, Khamenei reinforced his distrust towards the West, in his letter to President Rowhani, adding that “God willing, resistance against greediness (of the other sides) should always remain as an indicator showing that the officials in this sector are moving on a correct path, and (I believe) it will be so.”

After the first deal

There are two possible tracks after the first deal. Primarily, when the six powers and Iran hold the next meetings (the first deal does not mention any outline about further meetings or the continuation process) to focus on detailed goals— which is finding a permanent resolution for and roll back Iran’s nuclear program, along with approaches to remove the security concern— clashes will occur, and Iranians may disagree by walking out of the negotiations, resuming enriching at 20 percent.

The crucial differences leading to the gap between Iran’s political stance on its nuclear program and the international community, p5+1, and IAEA stance on Tehran’s nuclear defiance, are too deep to bridge. The latest remarks by Rowhani, his foreign minister, and Khamenei, show that Iran will never accept pressure to relinquish its right to enrich nuclear program.

According to the moderates, hardliners, and reformists across Iran’s political spectrum, the nation will not accept to roll back the number of its centrifuges nor dismantle its nuclear sites that have been rolling on for decades.

Anyone who has studied Iran’s nuclear policies closely for the last decade would be cognizant of the fact that the first deal has never culminated into a comprehensive and enduring agreement addressing the concerns behind Iran’s nuclear ambitions. All the previous first deals had failed.

Core issues

In fact, one the reason that they were able to reach this temporary deal, or any of the previous ones, was that Iran did not roll back any of its nuclear programs. The deal allowed Iran to continue enriching and to keep its nuclear infrastructure, at the same time easing economic pressures and helping the Rial currency. The deal did not talk about how to close the Fordow nuclear site, heavy water reactor of Arak, prevent processing of plutonium, etc.

In other words, this temporary deal allows Iran, at any time, to be capable of breaching the deal and still have the same material, nuclear capability and infrastructure to reach the nuclear breakaway. The temporary deal was so broad that it fails to address the details. If the first deal had addressed the core issues, then we would not have a temporary deal at the first place.

The second possible track is that the West and the Obama administration— who are unwilling to consider tougher actions or a military option— would extend the six-month temporary deal. As a result, there would be successive temporary nuclear deals getting extended. However, at the end of the day, Iran’s nuclear concern and Tehran’s nuclear defiance are not going to disappear from the politics of the region or international community by such agreements.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar, is president of the International American Council and he serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rfaizadeh is also a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC and a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at rafizadeh@fas.harvard.edu.

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