February 26, 2015

Iran Tracker Blog: Iran Likes the Looks of This Emerging Nuclear Deal


Tehran is still projecting cautious optimism that an emerging nuclear deal could meet their expectations to retain an advanced uranium enrichment program while still alleviating United Nations (UN) and Western sanctions. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani surprisingly still feels the need to use the overwhelming public support for the negotiations to isolate his conservative opponents, even though the top leadership remains united on the talks.

Iran shows no signs of giving in to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) demands to disclose its alleged nuclear weapons research activities. Tehran’s blatant intransigence on this issue during the past 15 months of negotiations has not appeared to impede the P5+1 from seeking an agreement with Iran. Iran likely does not believe, consequently, that it must come into full compliance with the IAEA on this issue to get sanctions relief. Recent Iranian Foreign Ministry comments about speeding up cooperation with the IAEA are likely intended only to facilitate negotiations.

On the security front, the IRGC mounted high profile and rhetorically charged exercises in the Persian Gulf even as nuclear talks approach a climax. The exercises likely aim to deter a potential attack if the nuclear negotiations fail. But they are another stark reminder that the IRGC continues to see the United States as an enemy to be driven from the Middle East and will oppose any rapprochement, a view held and articulated recently by the Supreme Leader as well.

Talks, talks, talks and an appeal to the masses:

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ended talks on February 22 in Geneva and are set to resume negotiations on March 2. The added attendance of Ali Akbar Salehi, Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Hossein Fereydoon, Advisor and Chief of Staff to the President, and Ernest Moniz, US Secretary of Energy was attributed to the seriousness, complexity, and more technical nature of the discussion. Multiple reports emerged following the Geneva discussions outlining a potential deal that would freeze Iran’s uranium enrichment for at least ten years, though Secretary Kerry later stressed there are still many unresolved points among the parties. Zarif repeated Iran’s long-standing position on a potential two-stage agreement, stating there will be no final agreement until all details are decided. President Hassan Rouhani expressed optimism for a deal that would be in the nation’s interests. He also claimed that recent Iranian public opinion polls show more than 80% of the population support the nuclear talks and that the nation is the “well-wisher of the negotiations team.”

Problematic report from the nuclear watchdogs:

Iran continues to stonewall the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on possible military dimensions of its nuclear program, despite largely meeting the requirements of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) with the P5+1. A public IAEA report released on February 19 indicates the stockpile of 3.5% low-enriched uranium may be growing beyond the limits of the JPA. Tehran’s refusal to allow a full IAEA investigation of previous research activity potentially related to nuclear weaponization highlights tensions between Iran’s obligations under the JPA, and its longstanding obligations to the IAEA and the UN. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Arraghchi promised on February 24 to speed up cooperation with the IAEA. Iran’s representative to the IAEA had stated after the report’s release that Iran is being fully transparent and that allegations of nuclear weapons research were baseless.

Iran flexes its maritime muscle:

Iranian state television reported the IRGC Navy staged large-scale wargames in the Strait of Hormuz on February 25. The event included a swarm of gunboats attacking a model of a US NIMITZ class aircraft carrier while IRGC helicopters fired anti-ship missiles. IRGC Deputy Commander Brigadier General Hossein Salami stated prior to the exercise’s commencement that Iran’s ballistic missiles can hit enemy vessels at sea with “zero error.” Salami claimed this ability has forced the United States to change its maritime strategy.

J. Matthew McInnis is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. This report was produced in cooperation with the Iran Team of the Critical Threats Project. It analyzes the most important Iran news events of the past week and provides an outlook of the regime’s strategic calculus.