The June 30th deadline to finalize an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program may become more challenging for negotiators after pointed comments from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday.
Khamenei listed numerous grievances with the interim framework guiding negotiations; his personal website insists that “All economic, financial, and banking sanctions, implemented either by the United Nations Security Council, the United States Congress, or the administration, must be lifted immediately when the deal is signed.” These heightened demands were accompanied by a bill in the Iranian Parliament which, if ratified, will ban international access to military sites, documents, and scientists as part of any future nuclear deal. The bill must be ratified by the Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog, in order to become a law. But both Khamenei’s complaint and the parliamentary bill contradict the position of the Obama administration, as well the P5+1, which insists that members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) must have unrestricted access to nuclear sites throughout Iran, as well as to non-nuclear sites that they deem to be relevant in order to lift sanctions.
File photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (Photo: BBC)
Tehran’s current negotiations with the P5+1 (the United States, France, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, and Germany) remain precarious and rely on a framework agreement signed in early April. According to a White House statement summarizing the framework, Iran agreed to limit enrichment levels to 3.7% and to make significant cuts to its stockpile of low-enriched uranium for the next 15 years. Iran would also cut down the number of running centrifuges, used to enrich uranium, by approximately 50%. Missile technology and other issues of Western concern – including Iran’s support for terrorism and domestic repression – are not included in the negotiations.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond called on Iran to show “more flexibility” and also gave reason to believe that the negotiations could continue into July. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers in Washington are continuing to urge the administration to not accept any deal that would allow Iran loopholes to avoid thorough UN inspections of their nuclear program. Concern has also been raised by Khamenei’s comments that the freezing of Iran’s enrichment process for the next decade will be considered “not acceptable.”
Khamenei’s speech may just be bellicose rhetoric to appease an audience of domestic hardliners, but with the final details of agreement uncertain, his statements also make the prospects of meeting a deal on June 30th increasingly unobtainable.