TEHRAN, Iran — The Iranian parliament’s establishment of a Special Commission for Reviewing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has turned into a headache for President Hassan Rouhani and the nuclear negotiating team. Yet, despite the ruckus the commission has caused, many lawmakers, lawyers and Rouhani supporters say the whole thing is nothing but a show put on by conservatives who seek to regain power in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Al-Monitor sat down with former Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi to get a sense of the situation. “It’s very good that parliament is becoming involved in the serious issues that our country faces, and there is no problem with this. But exactly how parliament plans to do this, and whether it wants to discuss details or generalities, are things that we have to wait to see,” said Asefi. He qualified his comments and said, “In the end, though, I don’t think parliament will involve itself in the ratification or rejection of the JCPOA, since doing so will have serious consequences.”
Indeed, what has stirred debate more than the potential outcome of the commission’s “review” is the presence of former nuclear negotiators in its sessions. Saeed Jalili, a conservative who ran in the 2013 presidential election, was never required to answer questions in parliament when he led negotiations in 2007-13. Yet, these days, he and his team see it as their duty to provide answers. In a hard-hitting attack on the nuclear deal before the commission, Jalili outlined what he called 100 “violations” of Iran’s “rights.”
Despite the harsh language, this sort of opposition is not widely seen as a credible threat to the deal. According to Mehdi Motaharinia, a political analyst on international issues, “The presence of Jalili and the former negotiating team is only aimed at showing public opinion that they had also worked hard to make the nuclear file a success, and through their current presence [in the commission], they hope to distance themselves from their own failures.”
Behrouz Nemati, the former spokesman for parliament’s presiding board, also echoes this sentiment. He told Al-Monitor, “Jalili’s presence at the commission is like bringing the dead back to life, which is not possible. Jalili should instead answer as to why he destroyed all the opportunities that came up during the six years that he was in charge of the nuclear file, and why he did not bring the  Almaty [Kazakhstan] talks to conclusion.”
But the story doesn’t end here. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the establishment of this commission is the Rouhani administration's and the negotiating team’s opposition to it. Asefi told Al-Monitor, “What the negotiating team has said is that parliament should not ratify the JCPOA. But they never said that there should not be a commission to review the nuclear deal. They also said that parliament should not become involved in the ratification or rejection of the deal.” Asefi added, “The reason that the president, the foreign minister and nuclear negotiating team say parliament should not ratify the deal is because no parliament in the P5+1 [Russia, China, Britain, France, United States and Germany] group of countries has done this. Therefore, there is no need for us to ratify the deal. Second, if we do take such a measure in parliament, it will then become law, and with it, bring obligations for the government and tie our hands. Therefore, it is better if this is not done.”
The controversy surrounding the JCPOA review commission is, as one would expect, attracting a great deal of news coverage inside Iran. One such example is Iranian state TV’s exclusive interview with Alireza Zakani, the conservative member of parliament who heads the special commission. Various accounts have been circulating about why Hamid Baeedinejad, a senior member of the current nuclear negotiating team, did not appear in the program alongside Zakani. When asked about this, Zakani said, “Members of the commission are banned from engaging in debates. Also, Baeedinejad is not on my level.”
Another controversy focuses on Behrouz Nemati, the lawmaker, winking at Deputy Foreign Minister and senior negotiator Abbas Araghchi at one of the commission’s sessions. Nemati later explained the story behind the wink as, “I’m generally a very humorous person and joke around with many of my friends. There was really no meaning behind my wink to Mr. Araghchi during the recent session.”
In yet another example of the level of “debate” surrounding the commission, Deputy Speaker Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabi-Fard in one incident asked reporters why all cameras were present when Jalili attended a meeting but gone when Jalili left. “Why is he the only one being filmed?” Aboutorabi-Fard wondered, adding that this led to questions.
On a more serious note, there has been genuine controversy related to the secrecy surrounding the commission’s session with Rouhani’s chief of staff, Mohammad Nahavandian, and Araghchi. Unlike other sessions, this one was not recorded in any shape or form. So far, neither parliament nor Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, the state broadcaster that has been airing several commission sessions, are willing to accept responsibility for this occurrence.
Moreover, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano’s appearance before the commission has become another point of contention. Commenting on his invitation of Amano, commission chairman Zakani later said that he had done it “as a final ultimatum and not to present [Amano with] the contents of a confidential agreement.”
Indeed, despite the many headlines produced as a result of the commission’s sessions and the harsh criticism that has been levied against the deal and those who negotiated it, it does not appear that the JCPOA is on track to be undermined by parliament. In this atmosphere, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that the commission has merely become a vehicle where conservatives are flexing their muscles ahead of the February parliamentary elections. Whether this strategy will work or backfire remains to be seen.
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