The Obama administration prefers that sanctions relief be phased in as Iran demonstrates continued compliance with its requirements under the agreement. But Obama has not expressed firm commitment to this position, electing instead to focus on “snap-back” of lifted sanctions in the event that Iran is found cheating. However, the US Congress is unlikely to go along with a deal that rewards Iran immediately upon singing, and a vote is pending on the floor of the Senate on a bill that would give Congress the power to reject a deal not to its liking.
Especially in light of this potential congressional oversight, Zarif’s slight moderation of his former position on sanctions does not indicate that the difficult issue is nearing resolution. Indeed, the extent to which Zarif has changed his stated position is unclear. As The Guardian points out, he said only that a few weeks’ delay would possibly be acceptable, and he intimated that this would be the case only to the extent that the actual process of removing sanctions would take time.
In other words, Zarif seems to still expect all economic sanctions to be lifting at the same time that other terms of the deal are being implemented, leaving no time for world powers to confirm that Iran is serious about its own implementation measures.
This is not the only issue on which Zarif has evoked the questionable appearance of moderation. Zee News reports that he declared the Islamic Republic to be committed to transparency regarding its nuclear program. But to demonstrate this he asserted that Iran has already given all relevant information to the International Atomic Energy Agency – a statement that the agency itself vehemently disagrees with.
The IAEA has repeatedly criticized Iran for stonewalling a probe of the possible military dimensions of the nation’s nuclear program. That probe has been ongoing for as long as Iran and six world powers have been negotiating over restrictions on that program. And yet only one of 12 key questions are reported to have been thoroughly discussed.
Zee News also reports that Zarif claimed Iran was prepared to accept the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, giving inspectors unrestricted access to the country. But other Iranian officials including members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps have flatly declared that access to military sites is not on the table.
Furthermore, Iran previously accepted the Additional Protocol when international action on its nuclear program was just beginning. But the nation never truly abided by the guarantees provided by the provision, and eventually Tehran officially withdrew its acceptance.
Zarif’s overall trustworthiness on the above points is further called into question by the fact that according to First Post he claimed in his speech that Iran is committed to maintaining freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf – something that is directly contradicted by the fact that IRGC warships surrounded an American-flagged vessel last Friday and then on Tuesday fired a warning shot at and captured a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel reported to be owned by American investors.
Such incidents seem to suggest that notwithstanding the Hassan Rouhani administration’s outreach to the West, the regime remains committed to an aggressive and expansionist foreign policy. In fact, Arutz Sheva reported on Wednesday that Iran had apparently instructed Syrian Defense Minister Fahd al-Freij to attack Israel. The report points out that this would almost certainly have negative consequences for the Syrian government, suggesting that Iran’s foreign policy is “to expand its regional hegemony at all costs.”