Claims of military advancement are used for a singular purpose by Iranian hardliners. High-ranking officials in the Iranian military and Revolutionary Guard Corps can frequently be heard to make public statements suggesting that they are capable of winning a war against the US, or prepared for the task of wiping the state of Israel off the map. National celebrations of the Iranian armed forces provide a particular outlet for this, and this year was no exception, although the context was different on account of the recent nuclear agreement and perceived rapprochement between Iran and its mortal enemy the United States.
CNN notes that many leading officials spoke to journalists at the Sacred Defense Week festivities in order to reject the prospect of cooperation between the two countries. The Americans have a totally different nature than us,” said IRGC naval commander Admiral Ali Fadavi. “And these differences will never allow us to cooperate with each other. Even if we have common interests, the ones who are right cannot cooperate with the ones who are wrong.”
This sort of commitment to non-cooperation extends beyond Iranian military officials. It certainly reaches to the highest levels of government, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the ultimate authority in all matters of Iranian policy. But it also includes officials close to the nuclear file, which Khamenei has distanced himself from since the start of negotiations with the West, in an apparent effort to avoid taking a public position on the deal itself.
Non-cooperation was highlighted again on Tuesday when Reza Najafi, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency emphatically declared that recent environmental sampling of the Parchin military base had been carried out by Iranian scientists in absence of any direct oversight by the IAEA, which will be using those samples in an attempt to complete a long-delayed probe into the past military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program.
Parchin has long been suspected of being the focus of much of that past military-nuclear work, including the testing of exploding bridge wire, which can be used as a nuclear detonator. Last month, reports began to surface of agreements signed between Iran and the IAEA which seemed to give Iran nearly complete authority over the inspection of Parchin. This naturally raised the ire of critics of the Iran nuclear deal, given the importance of Parchin to establishing a baseline for Iran’s nuclear know-how. Critics have also alleged that these agreements are symptoms of a recent excess of willingness to trust the Iranian regime to act in good faith, even in spite of the persistence of belligerent rhetoric.
Tuesday’s reports noted some dispute between Iran, the IAEA, and Western officials over whether or not Iran’s sampling at Parchin was indeed fully unsupervised. But there is no question as to whether Iran handled the sampling itself. This was confirmed by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, as reported by the Associated Press. Amano vaguely defended the sampling procedure as being in keeping with established standards for such probes. But Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director of the organization, reiterated a statement that he has made repeatedly in the past weeks: that he sees no precedent for such self-sampling, certainly not at sites like Parchin that have been directly linked to activities with relevance to a nuclear weapons program.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest made the bold claim that the completion of the Parchin sampling process “disproves” critics’ assertions that Iran would be in control of its own inspections. But Iran’s claims about that process seem to explicitly support those assertions. No doubt many critics will consider the physical absence of non-Iranian IAEA personnel to be sufficient evidence that the inspections are controlled by the party being inspected.
By the same token, Earnest’s optimistic characterization of the inspection process is sure to further fuel critics’ arguments about the conciliatory and naïve nature of the Obama administration’s approach to Iran policy. Virtually all prominent Republicans and many Democrats feel that the nuclear negotiations gave away too much to the Iranian regime and that the side deals with the IAEA are an element of this.
What’s more, these sorts of criticism extend beyond the nuclear file and also suggest that President Obama has shown too much willingness to help Iran to secure power and status in the broader Middle East, in keeping with the sort of boasting that is given a special outlet in Iran during Sacred Defense Week.