Where Iran’s Khamenei really stands on the nuclear deal

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has been silent for months about a potential new nuclear deal, but his silence does not mean that he has completely delegated the nuclear issue to President Ebrahim Raisi and his team.

In a recent meeting, which took place in the presence of Raisi and his ministers, Khamenei praised the president on domestic issues in spite of widespread criticism against his mishandling of the economy by hard-liners, moderates and the overwhelming majority of the Iranian people. The ayatollah, however, did not make any comment concerning the nuclear deal.

Nevertheless, Iran’s supreme leader makes the final decision in Iran’s major policies domestically, regionally and globally. And analysis of his near three-decade leadership depicts an autocratic ruler who dictates policies from behind the scenes. He does not allow any negotiation or deal to be advanced or sealed without his blessing.

The main reason for his decision not to make his stance on the nuclear deal public is to evade responsibility in case it fails in the future. For instance, in 2015, he declined to publicly state that he was in favor of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which was agreed by former President Hassan Rouhani and the P5+1 world powers. At the time, Rouhani and his team attempted to send a bill ratifying the nuclear agreement to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, but Khamenei shrewdly directed it through parliament instead. If the bill had gone through the Supreme National Security Council, then it would have needed the supreme leader’s public approval, which he did not want to give. When the nuclear deal failed, Khamenei began blaming the Rouhani administration.

Secondly, since from the supreme leader’s perspective, retreats and concessions mean weakness and humiliation, making his position public would put his authority at risk. After all, the Iranian regime has already retreated from some of its demands, which were supposedly “red lines.” The removal of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the US list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations as a condition for the revival of the nuclear deal was most likely one of Khamenei’s key demands, as he has significantly empowered and emboldened the IRGC and its elite Quds Force in the last three decades.

The main reason for his decision not to make his stance public is to evade responsibility in case the agreement fails

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

But after the Biden administration made it clear to the Islamic Republic that it would not accede to this demand, the theocratic establishment suddenly retreated, which is a sign of humiliation for the regime. President Joe Biden made a final decision to keep the IRGC on the terrorist list last month and a senior administration official told CNN: “The president has been firm and consistent that he will not lift the terrorism designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.” He added: “The current version of the text, and what they are demanding, drops it… So, if we are closer to a deal, that’s why.” To save face, the Iranian regime falsely claimed that it never even made the demand.

The supreme leader appears to be throwing mud at the wall and hoping some of it sticks, in the sense that he is making many demands with the aim of obtaining as many concessions as he possibly can.

One of the Islamic Republic’s new demands is to halt the investigations being conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency into Iran’s undeclared nuclear sites and past activities. If the regime does not have anything to hide, why is it insisting that the IAEA’s probe needs to end?

The head of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, has repeatedly asked Tehran to explain why traces of enriched uranium were found at several undeclared nuclear sites. He said last month: “We want to be able to clarify these things. So far, Iran has not given us the technically credible explanations we need to explain (the) origin of many traces of uranium, the presence of equipment at places. This idea that politically we are going to stop doing our job is unacceptable for us.”

It is worth noting that the Iranian regime previously kept secret some of its nuclear-related operations — such as in Arak and Natanz, which were revealed in 2002 — in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it is a party, and the rules of the IAEA.

In a nutshell, it appears that Khamenei, who has not publicly stated his position, wants a new nuclear deal, but he is attempting to extort as many concessions from the West as he can.

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