To prevent Congress from voting on new Iran sanctions that critics believe would cause the collapse of the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security council plus Germany (P5+1), President Barack Obama has urged Congress to delay the vote until the end of March, according to sources speaking on condition of anonymity.
The March deadline would allow the Obama administration to work toward a “political framework” with Iran that would be then used to achieve a comprehensive deal by June 30, the deadline from November interim deal between Iran and P5+1.
But in his latest speech, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader who has final say on the nuclear program, made two significant statements about the nuclear negotiations.
Khamenei said that he would agree to a “good agreement” and that just like the United States, he believes that no deal is better than a bad deal. This news was highlighted by Reformist media and media in favor of resolving the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program as being a positive sign. They also happen to be some of the most optimistic statements by the supreme leader regarding the nuclear negotiations.
Khamenei also said that he was opposed to recommendations to “agree to general principles in one step, then get to specifics.” He did not say which side or country in the negotiations had recommended this process but added that the specifics and the general aspects of the deal should be agreed and signed in one session. This point was picked up by Iranian conservative media, particular those critical of a nuclear deal.
Vatan-e Emrooz wrote that “a two-stage agreement no longer has a place at the negotiation table.” Seyed Abedin Nouraldin believes that only Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry within the P5+1 countries were upset by Khamenei’s opposition to a two-step deal.
While the article praised Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for saying that he supports Khamenei’s statements about it being a one-step agreement, it wrote that reality is something different. At the demonstrations in support of the 36th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic revolution Feb 11, when Zarif was asked by Mehr News for his response to Khamenei’s comments against a two-stage deal, he said, “The view that I have pursued in the negotiations is this view and I am happy that the view of the supreme leader is also this.”
However, Vatan-e Emrooz rightly pointed out that when the last interim agreement was announced in November, the joint statement clearly states: “We intend to build on a current momentum in order to complete these negotiations within the shortest possible time, up to four months, and if necessary to use the remaining time until the end of June to finalize any possible remaining technical and drafting work.”
Based on the language of the joint statement, it seems that the end of March is a sort of soft deadline for a preliminary agreement. Given that the negotiations are confidential and most of the knowledge of the these talks comes from leaked sources, and sometimes by those with political motivations, it’s not clear how Obama would present this March deal to Congress nor how Zarif will sell this multistep deal, if indeed it is that, to Khamenei. But it's still a possibility Khamenei may have been expressing opposition to a multistep deal that would have other phases after the June deadline.