Behind Ayatollah Khamenei's Support for a Nuclear Deal He Previously Disavowed

Just three weeks before the historic agreement between Iran and the group of six world powers, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued comprehensive red lines for a possible nuclear deal. The nuclear deal reached on July 14 in Vienna clearly violates the lines almost in their entirety.
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Just three weeks before the historic agreement between Iran and the group of six world powers, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued comprehensive red lines for a possible nuclear deal.

His official twitter account summarized those red lines in a table classifying them in seven categories. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) -- the nuclear deal reached on July 14 in Vienna - clearly violates the lines almost in their entirety. Among them:

· No long-term restrictions. One of Khamenei's tweets asserted that "Despite US insistence we do not accept 10, 12 years long-term restriction and the negotiators are already informed about acceptable time frame."

However, the JCPOA establishes a 10-year limitation on enrichment capacity -- 5,060 first generation centrifuges - and a 15-year limit on the level of enrichment, to 3.67 percent, and on Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium, which must be capped at 300 kilograms.

· Immediate removal of economic, financial and banking sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council, US Congress, or US administration on the same day deal is signed.

The JCPOA violates this in two ways. First, US sanctions will not be removed but merely waived by the president for a certain period of time (e.g., for 180 days). He then needs to renew the waiver (s) repeatedly at the end of the allotted time period. Congress does not need to consider removing sanctions until eight years after Adoption Day (90 days after passage of the new UNSC resolution) or upon a report from the Director General of the [International Atomic Energy Agency] to the IAEA Board of Governors ... that the IAEA has reached the Broader Conclusion that all nuclear material in Iran remains in peaceful activities."

This issue was an ongoing debate in Iran since the beginning of the nuclear talks. President Rouhani assured the nation numerous times that the sanctions would not be suspended, but lifted instead. He insisted on this position as recently as the day Iran was celebrating the successful conclusion of the talks.

The other red line violation is that the European Union and US sanctions will cease, but not on the day the deal is signed. Rather, sanctions will be lifted on Implementation Day, which is the day the IAEA reports "verifying implementation by Iran of the nuclear-related" measures it is required to take, including the removal of the Arak's reactor core and thousands of centrifuges which are to be stored under IAEA supervision.

· Inspection of military sites. Khamenei tweeted: "I have already asserted that no inspection of military sites can ever be done."

The inspection of Iranian military sites has been one of the most contentious issues in the talks. Iran would fiercely object to IAEA inspectors having access to suspicious sites, which include military bases.

Although the issue is not explicitly mentioned in the agreement, the mechanism crafted could most likely lead to the granting of such access.

Under the Additional Protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT], the IAEA may request access to any suspicious site, including those of a military nature.

According to the JCPOA, if the IAEA makes such a request and Iran and the IAEA cannot resolve their disagreements within 14 days, a joint commission comprised of eight members -- the six major powers, Iran, and the European Union -- would consider the matter for one week. A majority of the eight could then inform Iran of the steps it must take within three days. The West, including the United States and its European allies -- Britain, France, Germany and the EU -- maintain the final word, while Russia, China, and Iran could not veto such steps.

It is highly unlikely that Iran's Leader is not aware of these reversals. But if so, we should expect his objection and the collapse of the deal. In his open letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, however, Khamenei expressed his gratitude for "the sustained and vigorous effort of the nuclear negotiations delegation." He added, "I ask God to bestow His rewards on them."

What Is at Stake?

Among his followers who shape the backbone of the supporters of the revolution, Khamenei has been the symbol of resistance against the "global arrogance led by the United States." This retreat puts his stature greatly at risk.

His followers are already showing signs of confusion. In a five-hour meeting with representatives of radical Islamic students two days before the conclusion of the Vienna talks, Khamenei was faced with a question regarding the future of the "fight against arrogance" following a deal. He remarked, "Based on Quranic tenets, the battle against the arrogance and hegemonic system could never be interrupted, and today, the US is the clearest embodiment of arrogance."

Numerous times Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders categorically rejected inspection of military sites while the talks were in progress.

Not long ago, Gen. Hossein Salami, the Guard's deputy leader, asserted that allowing foreign inspection of military sites is tantamount to "selling out" and "occupation." He said, "We will respond with hot lead to those who speak of it."

In 1988, pursuant to accepting the truce with Iraq and UNSC Resolution 598, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued an open letter to the nation explaining why he had to end the war. In that letter he wrote, "How unlucky for me that I am still here [alive] and have drank from the poisonous chalice of the Resolution, and feel shame in front of the magnificence and sacrifice of this great nation. ... These days it's possible that many people, because of their emotions and sentiments, may speak of 'why's and 'must's and 'must not's. ... Right now is not the time to discuss them."

Ayatollah Khomeini's position in that critical juncture closed the doors on people questioning his decision. There is no doubt that Ayatollah Khamenei's red line reversals will gain momentum in the conservatives' camp in the coming days. They will not, as evidenced by their tactics in the past, attack the Leader. They will instead assault Rouhani and the negotiators, accusing them of crossing the Leader's red lines.

Eventually, Iran's Leader will have to address and end this infighting over the nuclear deal because indirectly, his credibility has been attacked and is on the line. Whether he issues a statement similar to Ayatollah Khomeini's and puts an end to this remains to be seen.

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