The ''Candy'' the Mullahs Gave to Obama
05 October 2015
By Amir Taheri
Within days the US Congress is to reach a decision regarding the deal that
President Barack Obama claims he has made with Iran for curbing its nuclear
program. Regardless of that decision, however, Obama has stated that he would
use his power to make sure the deal does not fall victim to political
infighting in Washington.
But what if the real problem Obama faces over his deal is not with the
Republican-dominated Congress but with the Islamic Republic in Tehran?
What if the US Congress votes on a deal that does not really exist because
the Iranian side has no intention of even acknowledging it as a legally
Unless he is a prisoner of his fantasies, Obama is surely aware that the way
Tehran regards the deal is diametrically different from his.
In Tehran, the ruling elite see the deal as a piece of candy to keep Obama
happy with himself, without committing Iran to any definite course of action.
To them, the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan for Action (JCPOA), which
Obama is peddling as ''the chance of a lifetime'', is nothing but a wish list
to be used a la carte. They have not even bothered with providing an official
Persian translation of the text.
The Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei sees the JCPOA as nothing but a proposal to be
examined, improved, amended or even rejected by ''competent authorities.''
In other words, he sees the whole thing as the first step, not the
culmination of 13 years of negotiations.
President Hassan Rouhani goes further.
He claims that the JCPOA is nothing but a ''political document'', not a legal
one. He has opposed its approval by the Islamic Majlis, Iran's ersatz
parliament, under articles 77 and 125 of the Constitution. His reason is that
as long as JCPOA has no legal status in Iran, the Islamic government could
apply or not apply its provisions a la carte. However, if ratified by the
Majlis in the form of an Act of Parliament, it would become Iranian law, its
Other senior officials have used similar arguments, insisting that ''nothing
has been singed and thus nothing is binding.''
Writing in the official news agency IRNA, Dr. Behzad Saberi-Ansari, Iran's
legal advisor in the Vienna talks, states that JCPOA ''is neither an
agreement nor a treaty.''
''In international law,'' Saberi-Ansari writes, ''the test that a document is
or is not an agreement or a treaty is whether its implementation is binding
on the participating sides. In the case of JCPOA this is certainly not the
One reason, he continues, is that JCPOA contains a number of measures that
others, including the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA), must take, something neither Iran nor P5+1 has the authority
Saberi-Ansari recalls that Iran's quarrel over its nuclear program is with
the UN via the IAEA, both of which were excluded from negotiating the JCPOA.
The P5 are certainly permanent members of the UN Security Council, but they
were acting as an ad hoc group with no legal status and no mandate from the
Hamid Baeedi-Nezhad, who headed the team of Iranian experts during the
negotiations, suggests that even if the Majlis approves the JCPOA, the
so-called deal would still lack legal status because none of the other
negotiating parties have signed it.
In any case, the existing text, in English, lacks the format of a draft bill
to be presented to the Majlis. It has to be rewritten, translated into
Persian and put in the proper format and language of an Act of Parliament.
And that means producing a different text. That, in turn, would open a whole
can of worms, starting with the question whether or not the P5+1 would accept
the new Iranian text.
That the JCPOA has no legal validity has also been pointed out in a
''finding'' published by the Council of the Guardians of the Revolution, the
Iranian version of the constitutional court. The council claims that, in its
present form, the JCPOA is nothing but a hyped-up press release stating a
number of desired outcomes.
To be sure, Obama has pushed through UN Security Council resolution 2231 to
give JCPOA some legal weight. However, Iran says it will not accept this
resolution just as it did not accept the six previous ones on the subject.
The reason is clear: the new resolution puts the issue under Chapter VII of
the UN Charter which leaves the door ajar for military action against Iran in
case it does not comply. It would require a great deal of courage even for
the strongest of governments to endorse a text that gives others authority to
use force against it. Even if it had the courage, the Rouhani administration
lacks the strength to contemplate such a course.
There is another, far more important, reason why Tehran is unable to give
JCPOA a legal status.
If JCPOA is honestly implemented, it would put Iran under the effective
tutelage of P5+1 for at least 10 years. (I have written on this at length,
and need not repeat the arguments.) Inside Iran, numerous peoples have also
exposed the ''neo-colonial'' character of the Vienna deal as far as Iran is
concerned. The man who headed Iran's negotiating team for years, Saeed Jalili,
has published a detailed analysis of JCPOA showing how it would impose a
neo-colonial control on key aspects of Iranian industrial, scientific and
defense policies for more than a decade.
In other words, if Iran orally accepted the JCPOA without signing it, the
calculation was that, in time and as headlines change and Obama fades away,
the whole thing would simply be forgotten. In the meantime, the sanctions
regime would crumble as nations rush to secure a chunk of the Iranian market
and natural resources.
I have no direct evidence but a feeling that some even within the Iranian
negotiating team never felt comfortable with a text that transforms many of
Iran's rights into ''permissions'' granted by big powers.
Lest I be attacked by Obama as a warmonger, let me repeat that I never wanted
and do not want anyone to use military force against Iran, least of all the
US under this president. I also want the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear
program established beyond reasonable doubt and sanctions against Iran
lifted. Nor do I begrudge Obama his ''candy'' about which he is making such a
song and dance.
The way out would be direct talks between Iran and the UN with the speedy
implementation of the six previous resolutions on the agenda.
Right now, however, what Obama is marketing is fool's gold which, as always,
could only buy grief.
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.