Last week, I raised the issue of the identity of the “paper” that President Hassan Rouhani has apparently signed with the P5+1 in Geneva. Claiming to have achieved one of the “greatest diplomatic victories” in Islamic history, Rouhani pretended that the so-called paper “shattered the edifice of sanctions” against Iran. He also claimed he had achieved his “triumph” without offering concessions.
In Western capitals, apologists echoed those claims and depicted a fantasy world in which Rouhani, with Rafsanjani as puppetmaster, would close the chapter of revolution, ease Khamenei out of his position as “Supreme Leader,” and transform the Islamic Republic into an ally of an America itself tamed by Barack Obama.
Despite the hype, the “historic victory” has had a lukewarm, if not to say hostile, reception in Iran, even inside the Khomeinist establishment.
As reaction to Geneva is concerned, one could divide the Khomeinist ruling elite into three camps.
The first consists of the Rafsanjani faction, of which Rouhani is a member. Initially enthusiastic, they are now trying to tone down their claims.
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, Tehran’s key man in the Geneva talks, now says the “paper” was not a treaty and is not “legally binding.”
“It is a political statement,” he says.
Deputy Foreign Minister Hassan Qashqavi is categorical: “Nothing was signed in Geneva,” he told reporters in Tehran last Tuesday. “The paper published was a kind of press release.”
Mrs. Marzieh Afkham, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, went further. “This is only a fact sheet,” she says, “a statement of intent.”
So, now officially there is no agreement, no accord and certainly no treaty. All we have is a list of desiderata in contradictory versions.
Worse still, the mechanism for achieving the desired goals does not exist. Yukio Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has makes no bones about this: “We lack the personnel and funds to ascertain whether Iran fulfils its commitment”!
The body that should sign checks to spend part of Iran’s unfrozen oil income is not yet set up, although a French diplomat has been mentioned as its possible head.
And, yet, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton insists that the P5+1 would do nothing to ease sanctions against Iran unless the Islamic Republic fulfills its commitments first.
The second camp consists of those who have either equivocated or remained silent because they regard the “paper,” whatever label one sticks to it, a brazen exercise in public relations.
Among those who have refused to endorse the “paper” is the “Supreme Leader,” Ali Khamenei.
Rouhani wrote a long letter to Khamenei boasting about the “diplomatic victory.” Khamenei responded with a curt note in which he enumerated some of Rouhani’s claims, but added: “Resistance to the excessive demands [of the P5+1] must continue to be the criteria of the steadfast course of concerned officials; and, God willing, it shall be.”
Rouhani had expected a “Well done, My boy, ” message from Khamenei. It didn’t come.
Taking the cue from “the leader,” the military commanders, especially of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), have also refused to give Rouhani the pat on the back he coveted. Among the handful of military figures who did comment was Gen. Naqdi, commander of the Basij paramilitary units. “They have kept people in suspense with those talks,” he said. “But [those talks] are nothing but a diversion.”
The camp of silence also includes virtually all senior mullahs, including those directly or indirectly on the government payroll. Rouhani sent Foreign Minister Zarif to Qom to sell the “paper” to the mullahs. They listened, but withheld the praise Rouhani had hoped for.
The only leading mullah to sound positive is former Majlis Speaker Ali Akbar Nategh Nuri. “We had no choice but to accept [some concessions] so that calm could return to the country,” he said.
Some regime grandees have practiced equivocation. Among them are the Larijani brothers. The eldest, Ali, the speaker of the ersatz parliament, says Rouhani should try to “preserve the basic structures of our nuclear project,” implying that the Geneva paper threatens that. The next brother, Sadeq who heads the judiciary, says, “We should not sacrifice our values to the lifting of sanctions,” whatever that means.
The regime’s geopolitical theoretician, Hassan Abbasi, also known as the “Kissinger of Islam,” describes the “paper” as “tactical retreat for six months,” a far cry from Rouhani’s claim of “historic victory.”
Former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has drawn attention to previous “freeze” accords signed by Rouhani under President Khatami. Then, Iran did freeze its nuclear program, but got nothing in return. “We hope this new six months will not be like old ones,” he says.
The top candidates in last June’s presidential election have also remained silent, among them Saeed Jalili, the former nuclear negotiator, and Muhammad-Baqer Qalibaf, the Mayor of Tehran.
The third camp consists of those who regard Rouhani’s claims as a cynical ploy. Ruhollah Hosseinian, a member of the Islamic Majlis, has challenged Rouhani to “tell what you really gave and what you really received.”
“We are worried about the consequences of your treaty,” he says.
The daily Mashreq demands that Rouhani publish the full text of the “agreement” and tell the world which version is authentic.
The daily Kayhan describes the event as “much ado about an agreement that lasted only one hour.” Kayhan mocks Rouhani’s campaign symbol of a golden key. “He thought he would bring us the key from New York, and now from Geneva,” it said.
Muhammad Wahidi, leader of the Students’ Basij, is more forthright: “Does this signal the end of resistance?” he asks.
Ayatollah Alam Al-Huda claims that “we gave far more than we are promised to receive.”
Columnist Hussein Shamsian sees a conspiracy “to exclude Iran from balance of power configurations in regional politics.”
The daily Sarat echoes that sentiment: “This agreement means our retreat. It means the end of resistance and throwing away the achievements of revolution.”
University professor Mujtaba Zarei has another claim: “We have put our food and medical supplies under the control of our ruthless enemy in the White House.”
Manuchehr Muhammadi, policy advisor to Khamenei, claims that “America’s criminal leaders cannot be trusted” and that the Geneva is part of a conspiracy for “regime change” in Iran.
Using leaks through friends and relatives, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have also expressed opposition to the paper. Mousavi sees the Geneva episode as part of a saga that started with Rafsanjani’s attempt in 1985 to use US support in his own bid for power in Iran. Rafsanjani’s secret talks with the Reagan administration collapsed because of the “Irangate” scandal.
As for Ahmadinejad, he has invited Rouhani to live debate on TV to assess the president’s “first 100 days.”
Are we back in the 1980s, with the Rafsanjani faction once again hoping to play the American card to crush rivals within the Khomeinist establishment?
Whatever the answer, that strategy is doomed. Today, Iran is very different from those days when Rafsanjani promoted himself as “Akbar Shah.”