Parrying Doubts In Two Capitals, Leaders Sell The Iran Nuclear Deal | St. Louis Public Radio

Parrying Doubts In Two Capitals, Leaders Sell The Iran Nuclear Deal

Jul 20, 2015
Originally published on July 21, 2015 12:46 pm

The U.N. Security Council endorsed a historic nuclear deal with Iran on Monday, and it immediately drew complaints from hard-liners in Tehran as well as from lawmakers — particularly Republicans — in the U.S.

The agreement, negotiated with Iran and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, sharply restricts Iran's nuclear program for the next decade or more in return for relief from painful economic sanctions.

But the agreement still has to pass muster in world capitals, most notably in Tehran and Washington, D.C. Here's a look at how American and Iranian officials are selling this very complex and controversial deal to their domestic audiences.

Tehran Sells Sanctions Relief, 'Resistance' Foreign Policy

The immediate reaction to the deal among Iran's pro-government and pro-military media outlets was to point to who hates it — namely, Israel. The Fars news agency, linked to the powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps, ran a headline announcing, "Israel is the only loser in the nuclear agreement." Press TV broadcast that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "is still fuming" over the accord, while the semi-official Irna news agency went even further, suggesting that "your time is over, Mr. Netanyahu."

Jim Walsh, an expert in international security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says it's an effective tactic.

"Iran has a lot of antipathy towards Israel, and so citing your enemy as saying that it hates this deal could be very persuasive to an Iranian domestic audience," Walsh says.

Farideh Farhi, an Iran analyst at the University of Hawaii, agrees.

"In some ways, you could say that the panicked reaction by [Israeli] Prime Minister Netanyahu is all the Iranians need to sell the agreement," Farhi says.

The argument is especially effective against Iranian hard-liners, who will feel extremely uncomfortable being in the same boat as Israel, Farhi says.

"To refer the hard-liners to that panicked reaction and say, 'What are you talking about? Are you going to behave in the same way that Prime Minister Netanyahu is doing?' " she says.

The heart of the Iranian sales pitch, however, was stated clearly over the weekend by the man who has the final say on nuclear matters, — Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He told a cheering crowd Saturday exactly what hard-liners want to hear: Deal or no deal, Iran's "resistance" foreign policies will continue, no matter what world powers say.

"We will keep supporting our friends," Khamenei said. "The innocent nations of Palestine, Yemen, the governments of Syria and Iraq, the innocent people of Bahrain, and the true resistance of Lebanon will always have our support."

The assumption in the West is that Khamenei can control critics in Iran. At the moment, concerns are still building in Tehran: State media quoted a Revolutionary Guard general as saying there are "serious problems" with the deal, and a conservative activist expressed worries that Iran's cherished nuclear program is being handcuffed in return for an ambiguous promise of sanctions relief.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad-Zarif and Ali Akhbar Salehi, chief of the country's Atomic Energy Organization, were due to brief the Iranian parliament on the deal Tuesday, according to state media.

Washington Plays Up Restrictions, Plays Defense On Sanctions

U.S. officials are placing heavy emphasis on the nuclear cutbacks Iran has agreed to — uninstalling thousands of centrifuges, getting rid of more than 95 percent of its stockpile of nuclear fuel, and more — while defending the lifting of sanctions as necessary and the only realistic way of achieving a deal.

As Congress enters a 60-day period to review the agreement, Secretary of State John Kerry said the alternative is much worse.

"If Congress were to kill this, then we have no inspections, we have no sanctions, we have no ability to negotiate," Kerry told CNN.

Walsh, the MIT analyst, says it will be interesting to see the debate on Capitol Hill develop in the coming weeks, with a number of lawmakers already caught up in next year's campaign season.

"And there's tremendous pressure — there are TV ads running right now in Democratic senatorial campaigns denouncing the agreement and pressuring Democrats to reject it," says Walsh.

But he adds that the pressures could shift if a vote on the deal should come up.

"When it's time to vote," Walsh says, "the U.S. Congress is going to have to ask itself: 'Do I want to take responsibility for killing an international deal that the rest of the world supports?' "

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Since last week, we've heard a lot from the Obama administration promoting the nuclear deal reached with Iran, but we haven't heard much about how the Iranian leadership is pushing the deal. This morning, the U.N. Security Council endorsed the agreement, clearing the path to ease economic sanctions once Iran rolls back its nuclear program. This immediately drew complaints from hardliners in Tehran who oppose the deal their president made. NPR's Peter Kenyon has this report on some of the ways Iran is selling the plan to its people.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: As Iranians get their first look at this nuclear agreement, they're hearing a lot of arguments, and some are citing a surprising source - Israel. Iran's Fars News, linked to the powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps, ran a headline announcing, "Israel Is The Only Loser In The Nuclear Agreement." Press TV reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still fuming, while the semi-official Irna News Agency added what might be a bit of wishful thinking to its headline - "Your Time Is Over, Mr. Netanyahu."

Analysts, such as Jim Walsh with MIT's security studies department, say it's striking to see Iran using Israel's loathing for the accord as a selling point.

JIM WALSH: It is striking, but it makes good political sense. Iran has a lot of antipathy towards Israel, and so citing your enemy as saying that it hates this deal could be very persuasive to an Iranian domestic audience.

FARIDEH FARHI: Absolutely, in some ways, you could say that the panicked reaction by Prime Minister Netanyahu is all the Iranians need to sell the agreement.

KENYON: That's Iran analyst Farideh Farhi at the University of Hawaii, who says it's an especially effective argument against a certain group of Iranians - ideological hardliners who will feel extremely uncomfortable being in the same boat as Israel.

FARHI: Not only to the Iranian population, but also to refer the hardliners to that panicked reaction and say, what are you talking about? Are you going to behave in the same way that Prime Minister Netanyahu is doing?

KENYON: The heart of Iranian efforts to sell this deal, though, is more substantive and more troubling to the West. When Ayatollah Khamenei gave a speech over the weekend, the supreme leader focused on exactly what hardliners want to hear - nuclear deal or not, Tehran will continue to pursue policies that have led Washington and others to brand Iran a state sponsor of terrorism.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AYATOLLAH KHAMENEI: (Through interpreter) We will keep supporting our friends - the innocent nations of Palestine, Yemen, the governments of Syria and Iraq, the innocent people of Bahrain, and the true resistance of Lebanon will always have our support.

(APPLAUSE)

KENYON: At the moment, Jim Walsh at MIT says the most serious threat to the Iran deal is located in Washington, where the Obama administration is trying to sell a nuclear accord to a balky Congress. American negotiators are emphasizing the nuclear concessions Iran will make. That might bother hardliners in Tehran, but in Washington, critics will be questioning the compromises made by the U.S. administration on sanctions and verification. Walsh says despite political pressures, lawmakers will face a pretty fundamental choice if the deal comes up for a vote.

WALSH: The Congress is going to have to ask itself, do I want to take responsibility for killing an international deal that the rest of the world supports?

KENYON: A similar question is confronting Iranian hardliners, who are well aware that most Iranians are eager to re-engage with the outside world. The assumption in the West is that critics in Iran can be controlled by the supreme leader. But Iran has its own political pressures. Concerns are still building in Tehran with the Revolutionary Guard general saying there are serious problems with this deal and a conservative activist worrying that the language on sanctions relief is ambiguous. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his top negotiators are due to brief the Iranian parliament on the deal Tuesday, as efforts to sell this agreement go on. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.