Iran also in for a contentious debate on the nuclear accord

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, addressed parliament in Tehran, Iran, on Tuesday, July 21, 2015.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, addressed parliament in Tehran, Iran, on Tuesday, July 21, 2015. AP

As the U.S. Congress kicks off a contentious debate over the Iran nuclear accord, hardliners in the Iranian political system are gearing up for a battle of their own, targeting a key verification provision that they hope to defeat in an open parliamentary vote.

The issue is over inspections of sites, including military facilities, suspected of harboring illicit nuclear work that would be conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The treaty, signed by Iran and 189 other countries, is the corner stone of the world’s system designed to curb the spread of nuclear weapons.

“Enough is enough. We will not allow spies for the U.S. and Israel to come here to gain any more from our military sites, “ said Hamid-Reza Taraghi, the international affairs spokesman for the Islamic Coalition party.

Iran had accepted the provision in question, the 1997 Additional Protocol, voluntarily in 2003, and “unfortunately, a lot of information on our military activities were reported to Israel,” Taraghi said in an interview.

According to Annex 5 of the July 15 agreement Iran and six world power reached in Vienna, Iran will provisionally apply the Additional Protocol from the day that the accord is implemented, “pending its ratification by the Majlis,” Iran’s parliament. But according to Taraghi, the Majlis “for sure” will fail to ratify it.

In and out of government, from the country’s Supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to the man in the street, the conclusion of the lengthy negotiations has been warmly welcomed. Implementation will end not just sanctions that have crippled the economy but, many hope, Iran’s isolation that dates back to its 1979 Islamic revolution.

The debate here is proceeding at a slower pace than in Washington. Next week the Majlis will elect a 15-member committee to examine the accord and will decide in September whether the accord constitute an international document to be ratified or merely an executive agreement, said Nozar Shafiee, a member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission of the parliament.

The Majlis views the Vienna accord “with a positive attitude” and “usually has trust in the Iranian negotiating team,” he told McClatchy Wednesday. Parliamentarians also want to end the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully, he said.

But the Additional Protocol “is the most serious issue that parliament wants to debate.” A show of goodwill in implementing the accord by the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the European Community “will play a very crucial role in parliament’s attitude toward the Additional Protocol,” he said.

At the same time, if one side does not implement the accord, “the other side will be authorized not to implement it,” he said.

He described the U.S. debate over the agreement as an internal American affair, but added that if Congress rejects the accord and there’s enough support to override a presidential veto, “this would be considered a disaster for America and for the international community.”

“We would go right back to the zero point,” he said.

Ever since a framework for the agreement was announced in April, Iranian officials have been stating publicly that the country will not allow IAEA inspectors to uncover the country’s military secrets.

The chairman of the foreign policy commission, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, said in April that the path toward ratification will be “definitely not an easy one.”

And earlier this week, the commander of Iranian ground forces, Brig. Gen. Ahmad Reza Pourdastan, asserted that Iran “will not allow inspections of our military centers or sites at all.”

But Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attempted to defuse the debate by saying that the Additional Protocol does not provide arbitrary access or access with no reasons. “In the ’90s, when the protocol was negotiated, a framework was designed aimed at preventing access to military and economic secrets of the countries,” he said.

The issue of access to suspected nuclear sites looks to be an important issue before the Congress, with administration critics demanding the right to have “anytime, anywhere” inspections.

Under the Vienna accord, the IAEA can seek access to sensitive sites in Iran if it suspects they house “undeclared nuclear materials or activities or activities inconsistent” with the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

But Iran can propose alternative means of resolving IAEA concerns which must be given “due and prompt consideration.”

If Iran balks, it triggers a 24-day process during which the two sides would consult representatives of the eight parites to the Vienna agreement who would advise on the “necessary means to resolve the IAEA’s concerns.” Iran would be required to accept their conclusion, which could be approved by a vote of five members.

Iranian members of parliament voice fear that the inspections allowed under the Additional Protocol will jeopardize the country’s security. “The wide range of definitions allowed under the Additional Protocol is what makes us a little worried,” said parliamentary member Shafiee. “The military secrets of the country could be revealed by the inspections. And the military secrets of the country are the supreme national interest of the country.”

He said under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, if a country feels its supreme security concerns are jeopardized, it can declare its intention to quit the treaty within three months.

Jonathan S. Landay contributed from Washington.

Roy Gutman: @roygutmanmcc