Khamenei Distances Himself from the JCPOA

Week of May 20, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Khamenei Scapegoats Blame for the JCPOA, Says Political System Needs Change

In a speech to university students, Ayatollah Khamenei sought to further distance himself from the JCPOA and shift blame for the deal on President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif. He stated: “They [some people] link the approval of the JCPOA to the leader. Well, you have eyes and ears and have seen everything. You can see the letter that was written about the JCPOA and the conditions that were mentioned for its implementation.”

Khamenei was referencing an October 2015 letter he wrote to President Rouhani outlining nine conditions for Iran implementing the JCPOA. He added in his speech: “If these conditions were not implemented, it is not the responsibility of the leader to interfere.”

Khamenei stated in his speech that he had notified Rouhani and Zarif of his complaints with the deal on many occasions. He declared: “I did not strongly believe  in the way that the JCPOA was implemented. I have said this on many occasions to the president and foreign minister and we gave them notice in many instances.”

He added on why he didn’t prevent the deal: “My position is that the Leader shouldn’t interfere in executive actions unless in areas where the entire the revolutionary movement is being harmed.”

This isn’t the first time that Khamenei has expressed his displeasure with the way the JCPOA was implemented. In March 2016, shortly after the deal was implemented, he cited Javad Zarif as saying that Iranian diplomats were unable to meet some of Iran’s redlines.

In his speech this week, Khamenei also said that the structure of the Islamic Republic must be changed. He stated: “The legal foundations [of the Islamic Republic] are good. But its foundations can become complete and its defects can be resolved. For example, we once didn’t have an Expediency Discernment Council and now we do. It is like this in all political systems. Consequently, while the foundation doesn’t have problems, there must be additions and subtractions [to the political system].”

He dismissed the idea that Iran would switch to a parliamentary system, which he dangled as a possibility in a speech several years ago. He stated: “There have been discussions about a parliamentary system. We extensively discussed this matter in a conference reviewing the constitution. The conclusion was that the problems with a parliamentary system are greater than those of a presidential system.

In a 2011 speech, Khamenei had said Iran might switch to a parliamentary system, stating: “If one day, likely in the distant future, it is decided that a parliamentary system is better to elect executive officials, there is no problem with this.”

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Several Journalists Arrested

Journalist Masoud Kazemi, the editor of a monthly magazine and former reporter for the reformist Shargh, has been imprisoned. Kazemi was first arrested last October but freed after several days. His charges now include “propagandizing against the system” and “insulting the Leader.”

In recent weeks, Keivan Samimi of the reformist Iran Farda and Marzieh Amiri of the reformist Shargh newspaper were arrested.

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Rouhani Says He Needs More Authority

President Rouhani gave a speech to senior clergy where he stated that the office of the presidency should be given greater authority because of the crises facing Iran.  Rouhani stated: “During the Imposed War [the Iran-Iraq War] when we reached the point where we were facing problems, the Council for Supporting the War was created. This council had all the authority. Even the parliament and the judiciary could not interfere in this council’s decision making. Today, we are now facing an economic war.”

Rouhani emphasized that executive authority should be concentrated similar to how it was during the Iran-Iraq War. He said: “Just as during the 8-year war authority was delegated by Imam Khomeini. We were able to manage the war and even created many opportunities. Today we require the same level of authorities.”

Rouhani’s comments echo a speech he gave last week where he said that his administration’s authorities in various fields were limited. He had stated: “When the administration is questioned or when demands are made, there needs to be a look at the other side and at whether on these questions the administration has the relevant authorities.”

Rouhani specified in that speech that his administration lacked authority in the fields of foreign policy, cultural issues, and social media. He stated: “We have to see how much authority the administration has in these fields. The demands of the administration should be in the areas where it has enough authority to meet them.”

Mohammad Reza Khabaz, a former governor appointed by Rouhani, stated that Rouhani needed to set up a council to address Iran’s current challenges. Khabaz said Iran’s situation today was more difficult in some ways than the Iran-Iraq War, stating: “The sanctions today are not comparable to the time of the war. During the war, we only couldn’t buy weapons, but no one was preventing us from selling our oil. Today, we are in a situation that they are preventing us from selling oil in order to impose pressure on the people. The situation is worse than during the war.”

He added: “The current situation is sensitive and it’s necessary to form a ‘Council to Support the Economic War.'”

Rouhani’s comments also spurred criticism, particularly from conservative officials and institutions, arguing that Rouhani is failing to use the authority he has effectively. Abbas Kadkhodaie, the Guardian Council’s spokesperson, stated in this regard: “Presidents have extensive authority under the constitution. During this period, even greater authority has been given commiserate with the conditions faced by the country. Has this extensive authority been used to resolve problems?”

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Senior Officials Says Iran Won’t Enter Direct or Proxy War with the US

Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of the Iranian parliament’s Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, has said that the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf seek to draw the U.S. into a war against Iran. Falahatpisheh said that accusations that Iran was behind the sabotage of oil tankers in the UAE’s Fujairah port were driven by people “whose aim is dragging the Americans into the region and starting a war.”

Falahatpisheh also said that Iran would not enter a direct or proxy war with the United States. He stated: “Not starting a war is the policy of the Islamic Republic. No group can claim that is entering a proxy war on Iran’s behalf.”

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Prominent Reformist Says the U.S. Can’t Invade Iran

Prominent reformist figure Sadegh Zibakalam has said that Iran cannot be invaded the same way as Iraq because the ruling system has a greater degree of legitimacy. He stated: “The Islamic Republic, unlike Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, has support from enough people who would take up arms to defend it against a foreign aggressor. Iran has 80 million people. Even if 10 percent were willing to take up arms to fight off an American attack, that would be 8 million people. This would make any such endeavor impossible for Washington.”

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About Author

Sina ToossiSina ToossiSina Toossi joined the National Iranian American Council as a Research Associate in July 2018. In this role, Sina conducts research and writing on U.S.-Iran relations, Iranian politics, and Middle East policy issues. Sina has been published in Newsweek, The National Interest, The Huffington Post, The Atlantic Council’s IranSource, ThinkProgress, and The Washington Quarterly.
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