The Iran "Deal"—A Fragile Arrangement
14 August 2015
By Amir Taheri
As the tussle over the so-called nuclear deal with Iran continues in Tehran
and Washington, it is becoming clearer by the day that President Barack
Obama's "a chance in a life-time achievement" may not survive beyond his
A similar picture is taking shape on the Iranian side. The Akbar Hashemi
Rafsanjani faction, of which President Hassan Rouhani is a member, hopes to
use the deal as a launching pad for the conquest of key centers of power.
And, yet, the deal may become the undoing of the Rafsanjani clan.
The "deal" has many fundamental flaws. The most important is that it is
reached between two factions in Washington and Tehran, and does not enjoy the
support of the two nations involved.
Because Obama and Rouhani knew that their deal could not win support from
their respective legislatives, they plotted a scheme to circumvent them.
Obama agreed to let the Congress give a view but not as a treaty and only
after it had received an appearance of legality with a dubious resolution
passed by the United Nations Security Council.
Whether the Congress votes for the deal or not, the US commitment to the UN
resolution will remain. The main effect of the Congressional vote, almost
certain to go against the deal, would be to signal that the US, as a
nation-state, does not support it.
Obama may have been too clever by half. His "deal" stands on nothing but an
executive order, a constitutional device by which the president could impose
certain measures. However, an executive order issued by one president could
be canceled by another. Of course, it is possible that Obama could not care
less what happens after he leaves the White House with a claim of "having
saved the world from a nuclear-armed Iran."
A series of revelations, some from leaked off-the-record briefings by
Americans and Iranians, show that the two factions were practically on the
same die from the start.
In a fascinating interview last week, Iran's former Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar
Salehi revealed that during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency, through Omani
mediation, Tehran put five preconditions for the start of secret talks with
the US. "We were surprised when Obama accepted all of them," Salehi recalls.
And that was before John Kerry, who had a long history of contacts with
Tehran including meetings with former President Muhammad Khatami at Davos,
had become Secretary of State.
Salehi recalls that when he briefed newly elected President Rouhani on the
secret talks, the latter was "astonished" at Obama's readiness to bend
backwards to appease Tehran. For Tehran, Obama and Kerry made an ideal team.
During lengthy negotiations in Geneva, Lausanne and finally Vienna, the
Iranian and US teams were often on the same side, fighting to persuade other
members of the P5+1 to soften their positions vis-a-vis Iran.
In an off-the-record briefing in Tehran which was nevertheless partly leaked,
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi cited a number of occasions when Kerry
fought hard to win others to Iran's position.
One occasion was when the French and the British insisted that Iran formally
undertake not to finance and arm the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah.
"Naturally, we refused," Araqchi said. "And it was [John] Kerry who persuaded
others to drop the issue."
On another occasion, Russia was pressing for the ban on sale of arms to Iran
to be lifted immediately. Iran did not want this, presumably because it felt
it would face pressure to buy Russian arms.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later expressed surprise when Iranian
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Kerry joined forces to keep the ban
in place, albeit with minor modifications.
On another occasion, recalled by Iranian Foreign Ministry's Political
Director General Hamid Baeedi-Nezhad who was part of the negotiating team,
Kerry sided with Iran to defeat the British and the French who insisted that
the ban on sale of aircraft to Tehran remain in force for five more years.
"The whole thing was settled when Kerry gave his word on our behalf,"
On another occasion, according to Araqchi, Kerry sided with Iran in rejecting
a demand by the European Union foreign policy "tsarina" Federica Mogherini to
commit Iran not to help Bashar Al-Assad kill more Syrians. Kerry remained
"steadfast" that talks should only focus on the nuclear issue.
Kerry also backed Iran's demand that the travel ban on several civilian and
military officials, and some Arab terrorists linked to Iran be lifted. The
French, British and Germans were opposed, partly because among the names
mentioned were convicted terrorists who had served time in their prisons.
Kerry showed his keenness to please Iran more specifically when he fought to
lift the ban on Anis Naccache, a Lebanese "militant" who had been close to
Imad Mugniyah, once Hezbollah's security chief, and allegedly involved in
plotting the suicide attack that killed 241 US Marines in Beirut in1983.
Faced with European protests, Kerry came out with his famous: We are looking
to the future, not to the past!
Despite kerry's help, the Iranian team failed on one point: Persuading
Germany to cancel arrest warrants issued against four senior Iranian figures,
including Rafsanjani, for ordering the assassination of Iranian Kurdish
leaders in Berlin in the 1990s.
The Germans insisted that their judiciary was independent and that they could
not cancel its decisions.
The talks took so long not because there was disagreement on key issues. Once
the US had agreed to let Iran keep its nuclear capacity, the other issues
were easy to deal with. The talks took so long because Kerry and Zarif, often
working together, were trying to find language that could hide the real
issues and highlight peripheral ones. Kerry wanted to hoodwink the US
Congress; Zarif wanted to take the Islamic Majlis in Tehran for a ride.
By rejecting the proposed "deal" the US Congress would tell the world that
the arrangement is one between Obama and an Iranian faction. As a power, the
US is not committed to a deal running into decades.
In his keenness to get a "deal", any deal, Obama reversed the constitutional
provision under which a treaty needs a two-third majority in the Congress to
become effective. He invented a new method under which the Congress could
undo something that is, and at the same time is not, a treaty, after the
president has approved it.
The "deal" suffers from a crisis of constitutional identity. A negative
Congressional vote could delay its implementation until the president has
exercised his veto.
On the Iranian side the Rafsanjani faction has done even better. It has not
provided an official Persian version of the "deal" and seems determined to
ignore Article 72 of the Islamic Republic's Constitution and simply pretend
that the "deal" is approved without publicly saying so.
At the time of this writing Tehran has not even accepted the new UN
resolution and is thus one step behind Obama in their paso doble.
Amir Taheri was born in Ahvaz, southwest Iran, and educated in Tehran, London
and Paris. He was Executive Editor-in-Chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran
(1972-79). In 1980-84, he was Middle East Editor for the Sunday Times. In
1984-92, he served as member of the Executive Board of the International Press
Institute (IPI). Between 1980 and 2004, he was a contributor to the
International Herald Tribune. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, the
New York Post, the New York Times, the London Times, the French magazine
Politique Internationale, and the German weekly Focus. Between 1989 and 2005, he
was editorial writer for the German daily Die Welt. Taheri has published 11
books, some of which have been translated into 20 languages. He has been a
columnist for Asharq Alawsat since 1987. Taheri's latest book "The Persian
Night" is published by Encounter Books in London and New York.