February 24, 2022

Parliament Targets Internet Access in Backdrop of Vienna Talks

Week of February 21st, 2022 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Iran Appears to Move Goalpost on JCPOA “Guarantee”

Differences remain in negotiations to restore the JCPOA in Vienna. This week, Iran’s top negotiator at the talks Ali Bagheri returned to Tehran for what Iranian outlets described as a “very short trip.” Some of the heads of the European delegations also returned to their capitals for consultations.

The rest of Iran’s team of diplomats and technical experts remained in Vienna to continue the talks. Bagheri said upon his return to Iran: “However close we are to the finish line, there is no guarantee we will cross it.”

Officials from Iran, Europe, Russia, and the U.S. continue to say progress has been made and the talks are at an end stage. Notably, Ali Shamkhani, the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, gave a relatively positive assessment after Bagheri returned to Tehran. He stated in a tweet: “A good deal is possible because of significant progress in the talks, largely due to Iranian initiatives.”

However, Shamkhani added: “The final stage of the #ViennaTalks will not take place without Western political decision-making to resolve crucial issues that are required to ‘balance the deal.’”

Earlier in the week, Shamkhani appeared to move the goalposts on what kind of “guarantees” Iran seeks from the U.S. that it will stick with the JCPOA. Shamkhani said preserving Iran’s nuclear capabilities (i.e., it’s nuclear leverage) will be the best guarantee that the U.S. won’t leave the deal.

Shamkhani stated in this regard: “Iran’s peaceful nuclear capabilities must always be above the heads of those who broke their commitments like a Sword of Damocles and will be a real guarantee that they will implement their commitments.”

Shamkhani added: “In 2018 after the US’s exit from the #JCPOA, it would have been better if this ‘inherent guarantee’ had been used more and more impactfully, in accordance to the Leader’s (Khamenei’s) prudence.”

The Iranian newspaper Khorasan 21 explained the “inherent guarantee” that keeping some of Iran’s nuclear capabilities will provide. The newspaper said the U.S.’s concern is regarding Iran’s “breakout time,” or the amount of time it would need to accumulate enough fissile material for one nuclear bomb. The paper said Iran needs “rapid reversibility” regarding its nuclear obligations under the JCPOA, so that if the U.S. reneges again, Iran can reconstitute its nuclear program. The paper argues this would deter the U.S. from leaving the deal.

Shamkhani’s comment was apparently regarding a proposal that Iran keep its advanced centrifuges in the country under any agreement.  Iran has opposed the idea of dismantling its advanced centrifuges and prefers that they be kept in the country under IAEA seal and safeguard.  

Meanwhile, over 250 members of the Iranian parliament issued a (non-binding) statement addressed to Iran’s President Raisi on the JCPOA negotiations. The letter said Iran can only return to JCPOA compliance once the U.S. lifts sanctions and this is verified.

The parliamentarian statement also said Iran must get “guarantees” that the U.S. will stick with the deal, and that sanctions imposed for nuclear, terrorism, missile, and human rights reasons must be removed. The statement also said the JCPOA’s “snapback” mechanism, which allows the P5+1 to reimpose sanctions on Iran, should be amended.

The statement from Iranian parliamentarians follows a letter from nearly 200 Republican members of the U.S. Congress to President Biden. The Republican letter said that any deal reached with Iran that is not ratified as a treaty will have the same fate as the JCPOA, and a future Republican president will leave it again.

Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also gave a speech opposing a U.S. return to the JCPOA. He said Iran’s demands include delisting the IRGC as a terrorist organization, ending the IAEA investigation into past possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, and ensuring economic benefits from a return to the deal. Notably, a report given to the Iranian parliament last summer by former foreign minister Javad Zarif claimed the U.S. had agreed to delist the IRGC as part of a JCPOA return.

In response to Bennett’s comment that the JCPOA will be “weaker” than 2015, Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s top representative at the Vienna talks, stated: “Not true. We will see JCPOA in its original form which by definition cannot be weaker than it was in 2015.”

In other JCPOA-related developments, Oman’s foreign minister visited Iran this week. Iranian media said the trip was related to the Vienna negotiations. Oman played a decisive mediating role in the nuclear negotiations that led to the JCPOA in 2015. Oman’s foreign minister carried a message for Raisi from the Omani Sultan.

Parliamentary Division on Bill Restricting Internet

The Iranian parliament is divided on a bill that would restrict the internet. As covered in a previous issue of Iran Unfiltered, the “protecting cyberspace plan” could restrict access to the few global social media and messaging services not already blocked in Iran, such as Instagram and WhatsApp. It would also further restrict the use of VPNs, which Iranians use to circumvent government filters, and requires Iranian web companies to use domestic data infrastructure.

There has been widespread opposition to the bill in Iran. Over 1 million Iranians signed a petition addressed to parliamentary speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf asking for the bill to be dropped. Many social and political figures have also voiced opposition to it.

There was an attempt this week to implement the law using “Article 85” of the Iranian constitution. This article allows some bills to be passed into law by a parliamentary committee, and not by the full parliament, and be implemented for a temporary period. However, bills passed using this measure have been implemented for years.

A special committee set up to review the bill approved it with 18 votes in favor and 1 vote against. This spurred broad outrage and 130 members of parliament wrote a letter saying the bill must be brought to the full parliamentary floor.

Many MPs spoke out strongly against the committee passing the bill. Sodeif Badri, an MP from Ardabil, said passing the bill was akin to the government “auctioning off its social capital and public trust.” Meanwhile, Ruhollah Hazrat, an MP from Urumia, said the bill was destined to fail “just like other plans to increase restrictions.”

Days later, the parliament’s governing body said the committee that passed the bill “violated” parliamentary rules and the bill’s passage has been “canceled.” The spokesperson for the parliamentary body said that the bill will be revisited after the current budget bill is concluded.

Iran Calls for a “Ceasefire” After Russia Invades Ukraine

Saeed Khatibzadeh, the spokesperson for Iran’s foreign ministry, called for a ceasefire after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Khatibzadeh stated: “The Islamic Republic of Iran invites all sides to stop clashes and establish a ceasefire and to have immediate negotiations for a political resolution of the crisis. It also reminds [all sides] of the need to respect international law and human rights in military confrontations.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Abdollahian said the “Ukraine crisis is rooted in NATO’s provocative actions.” But he added: “We do not see resorting to war as a solution. Establishing a ceasefire and focusing on a political and democratic solution is a necessity.”

Iran has moved closer to Russia in recent years. Iran is seeking to join the Eurasian Economic Union and Shanghai Cooperation Council, organizations that Russia heavily influences. Iran is also seeking to reach a long-term agreement on “strategic relations” with Russia. 

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