The final hours before Iran and the six world powers agreed on a framework about Iran's nuclear program were crucial; Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif and his negotiating team considered leaving the talks and returning to Tehran. Their plane was ready, and Zarif and his team, even some of the major powers who were participating in the talks, were not disappointed with what was achieved by that point. It was US Secretary of State John Kerry who decided not to give up, and the final attempt at a deal lasted from 9 p.m. on April 1 until 6 the following morning. Kerry and Zarif believed it was the last chance to reach a deal — one that no one had been able to reach before. Both sides stuck to their own tough talking points, but it was clear that the lines were drawn far away from the edge of the abyss.
“We arrived at a common understanding on many of the main points,” a senior Iranian official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “What’s left are the very complicated details that need thorough discussion; despite all the sessions and the mutual confidence that was built, each party remains cautious toward the other. Iran wasn’t ready to sacrifice at any cost, the least for promises that might be respected or might not. How is Iran going to implement the agreement without people immediately feeling the change?”
Lifting the sanctions was the main issue. Everyone knew that lifting the sanctions gradually would not be acceptable to the Iranians — the main line drawn by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Everything was ready for an agreement except for this point, in addition to a few other issues. According to information acquired by Al-Monitor from multiple sources in Tehran, a compromise was made that appeased both sides, with Iran and the United States being able to present it in a way that serves their own interests.
One official source in Tehran said, “The trick was the implementation of the agreement and its timing. The world powers want to see implementation [of the agreement] before sanctions are lifted, while Iran wants both simultaneously. The solution was a framework deal that allows Iran to prove its goodwill and the other side would lift the sanctions after the agreement was signed and things get on the right track.”
The official source revealed that all that was agreed in Lausanne, Switzerland, was discussed with both Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Ayatollah Khamenei. He added, “Having someone like Ali Akbar Salehi on the team was a message to the conservatives that things are being done according to the guidelines of the people of Iran and the leader.”
Yet, hard-liners took to the street April 7 and held a sit-in near the parliament where both Zarif and the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran were presenting the framework deal. The hard-liners had been blatant in showing their refusal and opposition to what they described as the worst agreement ever.
Emad Abshenass, the editor-in-chief of the magazine Iran Press, told Al-Monitor, “There are voices refusing the whole thing, those are not just a few. … To Iran it is a victory because our right to enrich on our soil was respected. This was Iran’s request from the start, and regarding the centrifuges, when President Hassan Rouhani was still a negotiator Iran was ready to accept [being allowed] 100 centrifuges. Today we are left with 6,000 and none of our facilities will be closed.”
He added, “Enemies of Iran wanted to see [our] nuclear facilities closed, similarly as they did to Libya before. This did not happen. If at any stage the other party shows reluctance toward the implementation of the whole agreement it’s very easy to regress. Therefore there’s nothing to worry about. This is a good deal as far as we are concerned. Iran got what it wanted and the US comforted itself that Iran isn’t going to build a nuclear bomb, which is something Iran always said it doesn’t want to do.”
In Iran, there is a sentiment that the reasons of those opposed to the agreement there are similar to the reasons of the opponents in the United States. The conservatives in Washington and Tehran are not dismayed with the deal itself, but rather with those finalizing it. The Iran Shura Council elections later this year might see Rouhani’s political current winning the majority of votes, which would mean a strong blow to his rivals, while on Capitol Hill, things are much more complicated with the involvement of Israel and the next presidential elections.
In the Middle East, there are many who do not believe that Iran and the United States did not discuss regional problems, especially with the recent Saudi-led war on Yemen. They believe that Iran and its longtime rival have agreed on a full package, a claim denied by one of the official sources Al-Monitor interviewed.
“Iran’s first condition to negotiate was not to involve other regional issues. If regional matters were discussed, with all the conflict of interests between the US and the Islamic Republic, we would not have reached an agreement,” the source said.
The source suggested that the deal should be the threshold of any cooperation or settlement in the future, which could lead to a compromise. But it will need a real effort to reach common ground with the United States on Syria and Yemen, among other countries.
“There will always be the Palestinian cause and the way we both regard Israel," he added. "I’m not sure this is going to change. Whatever the circumstances are, Iran’s stance is based on history and not a matter of interests and political agendas."