The Islamic Constitution And The Nuclear Deal With Russia – OpEd


According to Iran’s Islamic Constitution, Article 9, “No individual, group, or authority, has the right to infringe in the slightest way upon the political, cultural, economic, and military independence or the territorial integrity of Iran under the pretext of exercising freedom.” The whole text of the Constitution is permeated with the revolutionary spirit of independence and resistance to “foreign influence,” e.g., Article 3.5. From a historical point of view, this living document is the embodiment of the Islamic Revolution, which guides the nation and sets the standard for its political system. Article 77 clearly states: “International protocols, treaties, contracts and agreements should be ratified by the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis)”. This Article is broad and all-encompassing. In turn, this raises the question of whether or not the recent nuclear agreement with Russia for up to nine new reactors requires parliamentary approval? It is the opinion of this author that this agreement has important ramifications in terms of the constitutional guarantee of “economic independence” and is devoid of legal status until it is approved by the legislative process.

One reason why this particular agreement with Russia may be problematic from the constitutional stand point is that it implicates Iran in a heavy and long-term dependence on Russia for the fulfillment of its nuclear agenda. Under this agreement, Russia would provide the nuclear fuel for the reactors, just as it has been for the Bushehr power plant, and the spent fuel will be returned to Russia. One can only imagine the potential hazards of shipment of so much nuclear fuel from ten reactors in various parts of the country, raising issues of safety and environmental protection. There are, of course, a whole series of new questions raised by this new contract, lavishly praised by Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi, the enlightened head of Iran’s atomic energy organization, as a reflection of Russia’s brotherly sentiments toward Iran. Certainly, Iran is grateful for Russia’s nuclear cooperation and partnership with Iran and there are solid reasons for cultivating and advancing this cooperation for the sake of interests of both countries. But, at the same time, there are yellow lights flashed by the constitutional requirements stated above, which counsel careful attention. Assuming that the Iranian lawmakers will scrutinize this nuclear agreement in the near future, their responsibility to examine its conformity with the constitutional parameters is obvious. Their approval of this agreement must be based on the determination of whether or not the agreement trumps the constitution and or poses any potential hazard with respect to the constitutional mandates on “preventing foreign influence” and maintaining the integrity of the country’s “economic independence.” Certainly, this responsibility is also shouldered by the Guardian Council, which is vested with the duty to interpret the constitution and its implementation by the executive branch, e.g., Article 125.

In hindsight, the government’s decision to build so many more Russian-made nuclear reactors might make economic sense but there are also cautionary bumps that raise the question of whether or not this decision also makes sense from the prism of Iran’s political and national security considerations? After all, there is an unmistakable potential for Iran’s ‘Ukranization’ seeded by this agreement, in light of Ukraine’s total nuclear dependency on Russia for all its 16 nuclear reactors. Since it would take many years to build the new reactors — Bushehr took 15 years and had a ten year delay — this matter is not a short-run issue that can be determined on the basis of present cordial Iran-Russia relations. This means that Iranian lawmakers must make sure that no foreign agreement trumps the constitution and the constitutional guarantees of independence aforementioned are not somehow mortgaged to purely economic, and thus one-dimensional, considerations.

Another reason why this nuclear agreement with Russia requires legislative oversight and scrutiny is that it comes precisely at a time when there is a real prospect of the resolution of the nuclear standoff with the West and the future removal of sanctions, which could result in the new possibility of diversifying Iran’s nuclear partners and thus lessening the unwanted prospect of unhealthy dependence on a particular foreign source. The diversification of sources of Iran’s nuclear needs is one thing, an agreement that predetermines and boxes Iran in a nuclear dependence on a bigger neighboring country, is another, warranting scrutiny from the prism of Iran’s laws, above all the constitution. In conclusion, this author’s recommendation to the administration of Dr. Rouhani is that in line with its declarations on the “rule of law” submit the new agreement to the Majlis for approval and to abide by the ultimate decision of the lawmakers, instead of relying on the privileges of the executive branch. Dr. Salehi may need to testify before the relevant Majlis committees to defend this agreement, which is so extensive in nature and so far-reaching in its consequence of cementing Iran’s dependence on Russia for decades to come, that, in turn, raises multiple questions pertaining to Iran’s political and national security considerations. After all, there are so many future contingencies and hypothetical scenarios that cannot be ruled out, such as changing political leadership and direction in Russia in the future and chances of an aggressive region-wide Russian militarism. Iran and Russia have had a tumultuous history full of ups and downs in the modern era and although there are healthy signs of a steadily evolving relationship that is partly based on joint connection to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, (1) nonetheless the weight of past history continues to press itself on Iran, particularly since Iran is not completely convinced that Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis is fully justified (or even in Moscow’s own interests, should this contribute to a substantial weakening of Russian power due to
sanctions, etc.).

In conclusion, for a political system that prides itself with the chief slogan of ‘neither west, nor east,’ the nuclear deal with Russia may have exceeded the limits of “equi-distance” posed by the Constitution and, if so, would need to be trimmed to proper, constitutionally permissible dimensions.


(1) Iran Reviews Its Ties with SCO:

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Ph.D. is an Iranian-American political scientist and author specializing in Iran’s foreign and nuclear affairs, and author of several books.

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