By INU staff
INU - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited the city of Qom, the center of Iran’s Islamic scholarship on Wednesday, where he spoke to leading clergy and students of religion about the ongoing negotiations with the P5+1 over Iran’s nuclear program.
Reuters portrays the speech as an attempt to defray criticism from religious scholars who are overwhelmingly hardliners. The report suggests, as others have done, that there is serious discord between such hardliners and the Rouhani administration, which Reuters describes as “moderate.” But many analysts reject this narrative and suggest that the two sides are closer together than they would have Western negotiators believe.
A blog post made Tuesday by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America expressed the view that the divide between the Rouhani administration and the other representatives of the Iranian power structure is not a divide between hardliners and moderates, but rather between firebrands and pragmatists.
CAMERA criticizes Western media for uncritically describing Rouhani as a moderate in regular news reports, in contrast to editorials and opinion pieces that cast doubt on that term by placing it in quotations marks. It goes on to declare that “one can be pretty sure Rouhani is no moderate in Western political terms,” and that he “has a career-long record as a loyal and sometimes deceptive, brutal servant of the Islamic Revolutionary Republic’s messianic founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his successor.”
CAMERA insists that Rouhani has been misidentified as a moderate due to the fact that he is “willing to use limited, ‘moderated’ tactics in pursuit of broad, extremist strategies.” Such critics of the nuclear talks as the National Council of Resistance of Iran have endorsed a similar view with regard to the nuclear negotiations, citing as evidence Rouhani’s boasting that when he served as chief nuclear negotiator in the mid-2000s, he maintained a calm environment in order to advance Iran’s nuclear program behind the backs of European negotiators.
The actual content of Rouhani’s speech at Qom, quoted by Reuters, seems to affirm the hardline negotiating position endorsed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other leading conservative figures. Khamenei, the ultimate authority in all matters in the Islamic Republic, has insisted upon a nuclear agreement that includes no long-term limits on Iran’s enrichment capabilities, a limited relationship between Iran and international nuclear inspectors, and the immediate removal of all economic sanctions, in contrast to the Western vision of a phased approach.
Rouhani declared, “In the negotiations, we will not accept imposition, humiliation, and the continuation of sanctions.” Such remarks seem to suggest unwillingness to accept Western positions in general, and certainly the Western position that calls for Iran to earn the revocation of sanctions gradually, as opposed to being rewarded with full removal before Tehran’s compliance with the deal can be confirmed.
The Iranian demand for wholesale removal of sanctions has also been expressed by Rouhani’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and has generally been viewed by independent analysts as an unrealistic demand. But some critics of the Obama administration’s approach to the negotiations may be worried that the West will capitulate to that demand, as many of these critics feel that much of the original Western negotiating position has been given up in exchange for very little from Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has characterized the negotiations as having given away 80 percent of what Iran wants, and on Wednesday, according to First Post, Netanyahu declared that based on agreement that now appears to be coming together, negotiators have given up on their stated commitment to prevent Iran from ever acquiring nuclear weapons.
The Associated Press indicates that a similar view was expressed by California Republican Representative Ed Royce during the second day of hearings with Secretary of State John Kerry on this issue. Royce noted that he had been “hearing less about dismantlement and more about the performance of Iran's nuclear program,” a comment that was reminiscent of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s criticism that the US has replaced a strategy of halting Iran’s nuclear progress with a strategy of simply managing it.
But some supporters of the Obama administration’s approach have unapologetically embraced diminished expectations for whatever final agreement may emerge. For instance, a Reuters blog post by Paul Pillar of the Georgetown University Center for Security Studies declares that “there is no better deal coming on Iran’s nuclear program,” and insists that critics should simply “get over it.”
Pillar suggests that opposition to the deal currently being formed is tantamount to encouraging Iran to resume full-scale uranium enrichment and advanced research, and to eject inspectors from the country. But others believe that this is essentially Iran’s endgame even in the event that a weak deal is signed with the P5+1.
An article in the World Tribune by former CIA analyst Fred Fleitz asserts that defenders of the Obama administration’s current policy are ignoring several factors. For one thing, the threat of Tehran ejecting inspectors for the country is not as great as it would be if those inspectors were currently operating without impediments. But Fleitz notes that “the Iranian government has never fully cooperated with IAEA inspectors, refuses to answer the IAEA’s questions about weapons-treated nuclear activity, and did not allow IAEA inspectors to inspect all of its nuclear facilities during the nuclear talks.”
Fleitz also points out that the deal currently on the table allows Iran to carry on with some advanced research and development, and that it fails to address the Arak heavy water plant and apparently trusts Iran to continue work on the plutonium producing facility but stop just before it becomes fully operational.
The prospect of accepting a weak deal was further complicated this week when the National Council of Resistance of Iran revealed the existence of a secret nuclear facility in a Tehran suburb, where Iran is supposedly violating the interim agreement governing nuclear negotiations by engaging in advanced research and undeclared uranium enrichment.
The Christian Science Monitor quotes Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association in Washington as saying that these new reports should be investigated, albeit without torpedoing the talks. He adds that the ideal means of gaining information on sites like this should involve an agreement that gives the International Atomic Energy Agency “unfettered access” to investigate Tehran’s nuclear program. But such extraordinary access does not appear to be attainable based on the current status of negotiations, as a significant expansion of the IAEA’s role inside Iran is one of Ayatollah Khamenei’s stated red lines, none of which have been compromised or so much as contested by the Rouhani administration to date.
Meanwhile, the NCRI’s US representative, Soona Samsami said in a press conference on Tuesday that the existence of the new site is further evidence that the West has been “misguided” in its approach to the Iran nuclear issue, and has failed to recognize that Tehran is an unreliable negotiating partner.