By Arab News
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh*
The administration of former Iranian president Hassan Rouhani was on the verge of reviving the nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, until Ebrahim Raisi came to power and altered the regime’s policy.
Under the so-called moderate administration of Rouhani, six rounds of nuclear talks were concluded between Tehran and the P5+1: The UK, France, Russia, China, the US, plus Germany. Rouhani’s technocrat team members, including former foreign minister Javad Zarif, were experienced at reaching an agreement with the West; they knew the nuts and bolts of the nuclear deal as they spent all their political capital between 2013-2105 negotiating with the world powers, finally achieving the JCPOA.
If Rouhani had remained in power for another year, the Islamic Republic would probably have revived the 2015 nuclear deal and had sanctions against its establishment lifted. According to the European officials, almost 80 percent of the draft to reach a deal with Iran was completed in June 2021 under the Rouhani administration.
But as a hard-liner, Raisi wants a new deal that will bring more concessions from the US and the EU3 (Germany, France and the UK). During Rouhani’s tenure, hard-liners repeatedly criticized his administration for failing to gain more concessions in the negotiations. As a result, Raisi’s government has proposed sweeping changes to the draft of the nuclear negotiations.
What concessions are the hard-liners, led by Raisi, really seeking?
First, Raisi’s team wants almost all the US sanctions against the Islamic Republic to be lifted in a verifiable manner, and Tehran to be compensated for the damages. However, many of those sanctions are not linked to Iran’s nuclear program and, instead, are related to the regime’s terrorist activities and human rights violations.
For example, the designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization is a critical issue for Tehran. The IRGC is responsible for maintaining the regime’s revolutionary ideals. These objectives are achieved domestically through several methods, including cracking down on and silencing opposition to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s rule; repression of dissidents; suppressing freedom of speech, press and assembly; and the imprisonment and torture of opponents through the revolutionary courts.
In addition, the IRGC’s hand can be seen in many conflicts, specifically through its elite branch the Quds Force. The IRGC can be regarded as the force behind many militia and terror groups in the region. In Syria, the IRGC and Quds Force have employed various acts of terror to keep Bashar Assad in power and to build permanent military bases. In Yemen, it is inconceivable that the Houthis could have developed the military capability and obtained the advanced weapons they possess without the help of the IRGC and the Quds Force. Several of the ballistic missiles that were fired at Saudi Arabia by the militia were reportedly designed by Iran.
Second, the regime wants the negotiations to focus only on the lifting of sanctions for now. Once the curbs are lifted, the Islamic Republic is then ready to discuss what limits to accept on its nuclear program. But the problem with such a demand is that once the US removes sanctions against the theocratic establishment, Washington will lose any leverage it had for the next round of talks. Raisi’s regime also does not want to discuss Tehran’s ballistic missile program, a core pillar of its nuclear ambitions.
Third, the Raisi administration is trying to get a full guarantee that no party to the deal will withdraw from the agreement in the future. But governments in the US, France, Germany and the UK change with elections and cannot give any guarantees to the Iranian regime on what the policy of the next leadership will be concerning the nuclear deal. Furthermore, what if the regime begins violating the agreement? There should be an option for other parties to pull out of the pact and reimpose sanctions.
Raisi’s administration is acting in such an uncompromising manner because it believes it has the upper hand in the negotiations due to the rapid advance of its nuclear program. The regime first began enriching uranium to 20 percent, then raised the level to 60 percent, edging it closer to weapons-grade levels.
Later, Tehran began producing enriched uranium metal. According to a joint statement by the UK, France and Germany, Iran “has no credible civilian need for uranium metal R&D and production, which are key steps in the development of a nuclear weapon.”
In summary, to score a political victory for hard-liners, Raisi’s regime is seeking to obtain major and unprecedented concessions from the West.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh