The Elephant in the Room
By Yigal Carmon
MEMRI Daily Brief
October 2, 2015
On September 3, 2015, not two
months after the July 14 announcement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
at Vienna and its celebration at the White House and in Europe, Iranian Supreme
Leader Ali Khamenei dropped a bombshell.
In a speech to the Iranian
Assembly of Experts, he backtracked from the agreement, demanding a new
concession: that the sanctions be "lifted," not merely
If that term is not changed, said Khamenei, there is no agreement. If the West
only "suspends" the sanctions, he added, Iran will merely
"suspend" its obligations. Giving further credence to his threat, he
announced that it is the Iranian Majlis that must discuss and approve the
agreement (or not), because it represents the people – when it is well known
that the majority of its members oppose it, and Iranian President Hassan Rohani
made every effort to prevent such a discussion in the Majlis from taking place.
Adding insult to injury, Ali Akbar
Velayati, senior advisor to Khamenei and head of Iran's Center for Strategic
Research, said on September 19 that the negotiations, concluded and celebrated
less than two months previously on July 14, are actually "not over
Khamenei's demand to replace
"suspension" with "lifting" is not just semantic. It is a
fundamental change, because the snapback of sanctions – the major security
mechanism for the entire agreement – cannot take place with
"lifting," but only with "suspension."
Ever since Khamenei dropped this
bombshell, the Western media has maintained total silence, as if this were a
trivial matter not worthy of mention, let alone analysis.
One might understand this reaction
on the part of those who support the deal. Perhaps they are shocked, at a loss,
and therefore hope that if they pretend they don't see it, it doesn't exist.
Indeed, this is the futile policy regularly adopted by ostriches.
However, one cannot but be
astounded by the silence on the part of the opponents of the deal, including –
oddly enough – Israel and the U.S. Republicans. One would expect these
opponents to pounce on Khamenei's statement and raise hell over Iran's
infanticide of the two-month-old agreement. One would expect them to bring it to
the forefront of a new debate over the deal in any possible forum – in the
U.S., the U.N., and the E.U.
But – nothing.
It may be that these opponents
believe that the agreement is a done deal that cannot be stopped and that the
current U.S. administration will follow through with it no matter what. This
approach reflects not realism but ignorance. Obviously the administration wants
to follow through with the deal. But the deal is no longer in its hands. It is
Khamenei who is throwing a spanner in the works, declaring that he will not
implement the agreement that the West believed it concluded on July 14.
In order to get Iran to implement
the agreement, the language of the JCPOA will have to be changed and a new
Security Council resolution will have to be passed. While in theory this would
not be impossible, it would require a new process, entailing, at the very least,
a public political debate in the West – one that would reveal Iran's
unreliability as a partner and would cost valuable time. And time is not on the
side of the U.S. administration.
Right now, Iran is exposed almost
daily as the ally of Russia against the U.S. Three months after the
"historic" agreement declared by the White House, Iran continues to
seek "Death to America," and the Iranian foreign minister, the
"hero" of the agreement, needs to apologize in Iran for
"accidentally" shaking hands with the U.S. president. The truth of the
agreement is emerging, and it is not certain that what Iran is now demanding
Interestingly enough, the White
House's first reaction was to brush off Khamenei's demand. Iran, said Josh
Earnest, should just do what it had undertaken to do in the agreement, and stop
roiling the waters.
A more sober response followed.
There was hope that the meeting set for September 28 between the P5+1 and
Iranian foreign ministers, on the margins of the 70th session of the U.N.
General Assembly, would produce a solution, but this hope was in vain. Iranian
President Rohani fled back to Iran, on the pretext of the hajj tragedy in Mecca,
and no one in the West knows how to proceed.
The Western media, for its part,
is perpetuating its total blackout on the issue, hoping perhaps for a miracle in
the secret U.S.-Iran talks, which this administration has been conducting for
years. But even a secret U.S. concession will be no solution. Even if it were to
offer a secret commitment to remove the sanctions altogether, Khamenei will not
be satisfied. He openly challenged the U.S., and he needs its public
capitulation. He will celebrate publicly any secret concession. Moreover, any
new U.S. concession will prompt Khamenei to make ever more demands.
The most recent developments, and
the emergence of Russia as a new-old contender for power vis-à-vis the U.S. in
the world, particularly in the Middle East, will only encourage Khamenei to
cling to his tried and true ally, Russia. Indeed, this administration has no
objection to Russia's resurgence in the Middle East, but Russia's blatant anti-U.S.
stance in every venue except in the private, honeyed Putin-Obama talks will
ultimately lead even the blindest of Democrats to realize that Iran is indeed an
enemy of the U.S. – as Iran plainly declares – and that any further
concessions to it make no sense.
It seems that the worst nightmare
of the supporters of the deal – that Iran will do away with the July 14
agreement – is about to come to pass.
*Y. Carmon is president and
founder of MEMRI.