Leaked information: Does Khamenei favor the final nuclear deal?

In less than a month, the Islamic Republic and the six world powers will be reaching the end of their marathon nuclear talks

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

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In less than a month, the Islamic Republic and the six world powers (known as P5+1; the United States, China, Germany, United Kingdom, France, and Russia) will be reaching the end of their marathon nuclear talks, as the June 30 deadline approaches - marking one of the lengthiest international negotiations ever.

The position and opinion of the Islamic Republic’s paramount leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on the nuclear negotiations and the terms of the final nuclear deal can be characterized as the most crucial elements in determining whether a final deal will be reached by the end of June.

Khamenei’s tactic has always been to show and wield power in pubic while avoid being held accountable

Majid Rafizadeh

Khamenei’s recent public comments - which indicate that a final nuclear is impossible by the end of June - belie the reality. When it comes to Khamenei’s view, it is crucial to differentiate between what he articulates publicly to the media, and what the supreme leader’s office instructs the senior cadre of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, the high official of Quds Force, the intelligence (Etela’at) and the nuclear negotiating team discuss behind the scenes.

By analyzing Ayatollah Khamenei’s position on the marathon nuclear talks since the beginning, it becomes easy to draw on the notion, and conclude, that what Khamenei expresses publicly not only misrepresents his real intentions and views, but are not also statements carved into stone.

Leaked information and Khamenei’s recent public statements

Khamenei’s recent public statements represent redlines and total inflexibility towards his terms for the final nuclear deal. But the major question is whether he will be flexible as the deadline inches forward. Recent leaked information suggests that the supreme leader is indeed willing to ignore his redlines and wants the final nuclear deal.

Khamenei recently stated: "We will never yield to pressure ... We will not accept unreasonable demands ... Iran will not give access to its [nuclear] scientists,” he added, “They say we should let them interview our nuclear scientists. This means interrogation… I will not let foreigners talk to our scientists and to interrogate our dear children ... who brought us this extensive [nuclear] knowledge… We will not allow the privacy of our nuclear scientists or any other important issue to be violated.”

In addition, Khamenei clearly stated that the Islamic Republic will not allow foreign inspectors to inspect Iran’s military sites. Nevertheless, when the deputy of Iran’s foreign minister and close advisor to the supreme seader, Abbas Araqchi, was meticulously questioned alongside Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a closed door session of the Iranian parliament, Majlis, different points of views were articulated by the close advisor of the supreme leader.

A hardline member of the parliament, Hamid Rasaee, posted Araqchi’s statements to parliament in Persian language on his site, indicating that the Islamic Republic will indeed allow the inspection of its military facilities. According to the leaked information, Araqchi mentioned that he and the negotiating team have the permission to go ahead with the nuclear talks and accept inspection of Iran’s military facilities.

Khamenei gives green light to negotiating team

It is crucial to point out that Araqchi and Zarif would not have made such statements without the supreme leader’s approval. This suggests that Ayatollah Khamenei tells the negotiating team to ignore the redlines that he sets in the public.

The issue of inspection is a major point in the nuclear talks. If the supreme leader’s public statement regarding his rejection to allow inspection were accurate, then a final nuclear deal would be totally impossible and there will be no need for Iran’s nuclear team to go to Vienna because the United States and Western allies would definitely not accept a deal without some kind of inspection.

Afterwards, Araqchi immediately denied that he received such statements. But why? Most likely, Araqchi was not supposed to reveal what the supreme leader had privately instructed. Khamenei does not desire to hold accountability. Since Iranian politicians are cognizant of the fact that Araqchi, or Iran’s negotiating team, will not articulate a word without having been instructed by the supreme leader, Khamenei did not desire to let the public and parliament know that Iran’s religious leader is making double-faced statements; that his announcements in pubic are different from those he instructs behind the scenes. In addition, Khamenei desires to project a picture that he is not desperate for the final nuclear deal, although the reality suggest otherwise. By showing that Iran is not in need of such a deal, Khamenei is giving more leverage to the Iranian negotiating team to obtain more concessions from the West.

Iran’s negotiating team will not take any action without the approval of the supreme leader. He is the final decision-maker. As a result, Araqchi and Zarif would not have made any statements, or continue to negotiate with the six world powers, without being told to do so by the supreme leader.

The fact that Iran’s negotiating team is continuing with the talks, sitting on the same table with American diplomats, and the fact that there is contradiction between what the supreme deader and his advisors stated publicly indicate that Khamenei is indeed giving a green light to the nuclear team in private and he would accept the inspection of military facilities. Nevertheless, he attempts to publicly shows that he is a powerful religious and nationalistic leader who is totally against foreign monitoring of his country.

The supreme leader’s double-standardness and the difference in what he states publicly and what he instructs behind the scenes, indicates that he indeed needs the final nuclear deal and he will likely be willing to allow inspections in order to obtain the deal. Ayatollah Khamenei is cognizant of the fact that the final nuclear deal is geopolitically, economically, and ideologically a win for him. Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will not be dismantled, Iran’s break-time to become a nuclear state will shrink from one year to zero in the next few years, Iran’s economy will be strengthened, the U.S. will likely ignore Iran’s increasing influence and its proxy war in the region because of the nuclear deal.

Khamenei’s tactic has always been to show and wield power in pubic while avoid being held accountable. He utilizes both the hardliners and moderates for this goal. To reach this objective, he also leaves the presidential office to be held accountable by the public and parliament in case there was any gaffe in the nuclear talks, along with domestic and foreign policy. If the nuclear talks succeed, the supreme leader will still be taking the credits while further ensuring his hold on power.


Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar at Harvard University, is president of the International American Council. Rafizadeh serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. He is also a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. Rafizadeh served as a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC. 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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