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July 22, 2016
It has been one year since the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCOA), a deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Yet it is difficult to find many writers in the region who are willing to praise the agreement between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (plus Germany), and Iran. Tehran is still eyed with suspicion by observers in Israel and the Gulf, who feel the JCPOA did not do enough to thwart Iranian mischief-making. In Iran, meanwhile, remaining sanctions (such as those targeting Tehran’s missile program), and criticism from the U.S. Congress have prompted threats from the Majlis to abandon the deal. And judging from recent polling data, ordinary Iranians are becoming impatient with the moderate camp, with some reports suggesting the conservatives in Iran might be on the upswing.
Amir Taheri, an Iranian ex-pat writing in Asharq al-Awsat, criticized the deal in an editorial marking the anniversary, accusing both Washington and Tehran of “deception”: “Rouhani had promised that the ‘deal’ would mark the start of a new era of economic prosperity and international acceptability....However, not everyone fell for the elaborate hoax worked out by Obama. Some of us noted right from the start that the only deal made was about the method of circumventing the U.S. Congress and the Iranian ersatz parliament (Majlis). We also noted the fact that the torrent of fool’s gold promised by Rouhani would not translate into hard cash acceptable in this inferior world....A year after the hyped-up ‘deal’, what was known in Western chancelleries as ‘The Iran Problem’ remains intact. In Tehran we have a regime that cannot liberate itself from its revolutionary illusions and continues to behave like a rebellious teenager who refuses to grow up. It tries to make the rest of the Middle East like itself because it is afraid of being forced to become like the rest of the Middle East.”
The controversial new Israeli defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, attacked the JCPOA in one of his first addresses to the Israeli Knesset, according to a report by Jerusalem Post’s Lahav Harkov: “The international community is ignoring Iran's violation of its nuclear agreement with world powers, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman lamented Monday, making his first appearance before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. ‘The Iranian threat is still the greatest threat to the State of Israel,’ Liberman said. ‘Iran is still promoting its missile program with full force...and we don't have to guess whom the missiles program is targeting.’...The Defense Minister pointed to a test-fire of two missiles in Iran earlier this year, which had the message ‘Israel must be erased’ written on them in Hebrew. ‘The fact that nations of the world are trying to ignore this clear violation of UN Security Council decisions about the agreement, which they themselves signed with Iran, proves my point,’ he added.”
This Arab News editorial uses the occasion of an anti-Iran protest organized by the Iranian diaspora in Paris to register displeasure with the JCPOA, which it insists has created more instability in the region: “The world has heard a lot from the ayatollahs in Tehran. This week it had the chance to listen to the authentic voice of Iranians. Opposition activists gathered in Paris in their tens of thousands. The rally, called by the National Council for Resistance in Iran, was one of biggest in recent times. Attendees came from all over the world to mourn 35 years of oppressive rule....Many Iranians at the Paris meeting were probably quietly proud of the achievement of their country’s nuclear engineers. But they were united in horror at the ends to which that technology had been put. Similarly, all had friends and relatives who had suffered as a result of the international sanctions....The punitive sanctions that brought the ayatollahs to negotiating table also nearly brought them to their knees. But the phony Geneva deal let them escape....With sanctions being removed, state funds are escaping international control. Disastrously, the regime now has the resources to redouble its destructive meddling in the Arab world.”
According to a report by Iran’s Press TV, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani angrily pushed-back against U.S. criticism of Iran’s alleged non-compliance with the nuclear deal: “Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani says Iran is left with no choice but to confront the U.S. for its ‘injurious’ measures, calling on the country's top nuclear body to launch a uranium enrichment plant. Larijani on Wednesday touched on three bills being advanced by U.S. lawmakers against Iran’s nuclear accord and the UN chief’s disparaging report about its implementation....months after the accord went into effect in January, the U.S. and the European Union continue to maintain some sanctions on Iran, scaring off companies from resuming trade with the country. Larijani said the nuclear deal includes no reference to Iran’s ballistic missiles, adding that it is only the UN's Resolution 2231 where the subject pops up merely to call on Iran to refrain from developing missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads.”
Asharq al-Awsat’s Adel Al-Salmi writes that Iranian leaders are also angered by reports that other parties that negotiated the nuclear deal have leaked details of that agreement that were meant to remain secret: “Iran accused on Wednesday the P5+1 for breaching an agreement concerning its nuclear program when it published nuclear secrets, saying it had violated the conditions of negotiations. Therefore, a year following the signature of the nuclear deal, the latest developments show the weakness of what was agreed on between Iran and the P5+1 group....Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani had asked to get ready to build a new nuclear enrichment plant, a step that could threaten the future of the ‘nuclear deal’....Reports said that Parliament members supported Larijani’s comments by shouting: ‘Death to America’. This was the second time in a week that a high-ranking Iranian official speaks about the possibility that Iran enriches uranium. Last Thursday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had threatened to withdraw from the Vienna treaty if Washington delayed its promises made in the nuclear deal.”
Reflecting on recent polling data, The National’s Majid Rafizadeh points to another complicating factor for some of Iran’s politicians who favored greater engagement with the West: “When it comes to Mr. Rouhani’s re-election prospects, his popularity and standing are not as high as they used to be. Intriguingly, the new poll reveals that the popularity of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is increasing. Mr Ahmadinejad had announced his retirement from politics but the latest signs indicate that he is positioning himself to lead the Islamic Republic again....In addition, 75 per cent of Iranians believe that the United State is to blame for the lack of improvement in their economy. They think that the U.S. has been creating hurdles preventing Iran from doing business with western companies and fully rejoining the global financial system.... An overwhelming majority of Iranians – roughly 80 per cent – believe it is very important that their country should continue developing its nuclear programme.”
Amir Handjani, in a recent op-ed for the Peninsula, agrees that part of the reason for the declining political fortunes of Mr. Rouhani is related to unrealized benefits following the signing of the nuclear deal: “Iran’s economy continues to suffer. For Iran, the deal was the first step toward economic recovery after years of crippling sanctions. Instead, because of unilateral U.S. sanctions on the Iranian economy, Tehran finds itself in the awkward position of having to rely on the United States to lobby other countries and non-American financial institutions to conduct business with it....At the one-year mark of the nuclear deal, much remains unclear. As the United States approaches a general election, the rhetoric surrounding Iran is bound to become more negative. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has been discussing ramping up pressure and sanctions for Iranian activity on its missile program and her Republican rival Donald Trump has been campaigning on scrapping the nuclear deal altogether. Such views have stirred up contempt in Tehran. This is the most challenging aspect of the deal. Unless the Obama administration does more to see that Iran gets the benefit of the bargain it struck, the nuclear deal will end up doing more harm than good.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.