While the supreme leader merely said via his official website that he is presently “neither for nor against” the deal, his broader comments reflect the Iranian hardline stance and Iran’s resistance to working with Western nations. These tendencies have helped to make the negotiations extremely difficult and have left a variety of Western observers dissatisfied with the terms that are emerging.
This dissatisfaction was pointed expressed in a Wall Street Journal blog on Thursday, which claimed that the deal that is currently on the table is a good deal for the leaders in Tehran, but likely not for Western interests. The article characterizes the agreement as a means for the Iranians to stall a direct challenge to their nuclear weapons development efforts, potentially leading to international legitimation of the regime’s nuclear program.
The notion that Iran has gotten the upper hand in these negotiations is arguably contradicted by Khamenei’s lukewarm reception of the framework, but at the same time it is supported by recent comments made by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The Blaze quotes Rouhani as saying, “The Iranian nation has been and will be the victor in the negotiations.”
Furthermore, a Reuters video on Thursday showed that Rouhani had joined his Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in asserting that the agreement currently taking shape will remove all of Iran’s economic sanctions immediately after the signing of the document. This is in contradiction to the American fact sheet on the framework agreement, which Rouhani dismissed by declaring that Iran would not sign any agreement that preserved American expectations regarding proof of Iranian compliance before sanctions are removed.
Khamenei rejected the American fact sheet even more explicitly, saying via his official Twitter account that “most of it was contrary to what was agreed” and that it was an example of “the other side… lying and breaching promises.”
It is worth noting that Khamenei has been on record as rejecting the very concept of a framework agreement prior to the final one that is due on June 30. Thus it is his view that nothing in the framework agreement is fixed until the final document is drafted. But his latest remarks indicate that this has not prevented him from claiming that an agreement has been established which is favorable to Iranian demands, or that the US should abide by it.
The Blaze characterizes this situation as the two sides “openly fighting” over the agreement. On this view, it is a situation that spells continued trouble for the final several weeks of negotiations while also potentially raising more questions about the veracity of the framework agreement. The Blaze also indicates that in absence of an official document approved by both sides, it is impossible to know what was actually agreed on April 2, and thus that it is impossible to know which side is right in accusing the other of misrepresenting that agreement.
This is a point that was also emphasized by an editorial at Hot Air. It speculates that the Iranian regime may be deliberately representing the agreement in an attempt to go back on points that it already agreed to, or that the Obama administration may be doing so in order to try to spin the agreement to appear more acceptable to Congress and other critics of his approach to the issue.
The article finds evidence for both scenarios. It point out, for instance, that the US never shared the content of its fact sheet with Iran prior to releasing it, possibly depriving Iran of the opportunity to object to perceived inaccuracies ahead of time. But it also indicates that Iranian officials apparently have indeed changed their standards for what would constitute an acceptable agreement.
In previous weeks, Foreign Minister Zarif reportedly accepted the concept of having sanctions relief removed only after Iran demonstrates compliance, but now he, Rouhani, and Khamenei have all insisted that sanctions must be removed immediately and that the agreement establishes this.
Iran has been accused of moving the goalposts for a potential agreement on several other occasions, as well. And this trend is arguably still ongoing. This week Zarif dismissed the notion of installing surveillance cameras at Iranian nuclear sites even though continuous monitoring is ostensibly part of the framework agreement.
The deal also supposedly grants international inspectors access to all suspicious sites, although it also provides Iran with an opportunity to object to specific requests and to send the issue to an unspecified arbitration process. But on Thursday The Tower reported that Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan had greatly narrowed the range of prospective inspection sites by ruling out access to any military sites.
In arguing this point, Dehqan joined Khamenei in accusing the West of lying about the content of the framework agreement. The Tower further adds that Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander General Ali Jafari had denied that Iran agreed to any restrictions on its enrichment capacity or research and development, while also joining in the claim that all economic sanctions would be removed on July 1.
If taken seriously, claims like these give the impression that the emerging agreement is a wholesale victory for the Islamic Republic of Iran, requiring concession to none of the major demands presented by Western nations. This in turn threatens to add fuel to the fire of Western opponents of a deal that they perceive as being worse than resorting to war or a return of economic sanctions in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Speaking for this side of the issue, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said on Thursday that the Obama administration should issue an ultimatum in response to Iran’s obvious attempts to preserve its national pride by resisting any reasonable agreement.
“I think that what is really needed is a clear message,” Barak said, according to the Times of Israel. “It’s not too late to send an authoritative envoy of the president to come to [Iranian Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei, [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani, close the door behind and tell them: ‘Gentlemen, we fully understand you, we are not going to embarrass you, we’re not going to humiliate you, but you have to understand: either you agree once and for all to dismantle your nuclear military program – or else.”
Barak went on to suggest that if the current verbal conflict over the agreement does turn into military conflict upon the refusal of any such ultimatum, airstrikes would largely be effective at setting back Iran’s nuclear work and the United States would not be in danger of becoming mired in another long Middle East war like those it recently ended in Iraq and Afghanistan.