Jeffrey LewisParis Negotiations Update 9: Domestic Debate Ensues

The Nelson Report contains two bits of informed speculation, one about US policy and the other about Iranian domestic politics.

1. Administration observers express cautious optimism that the deal may stick, saving the United States an ugly sanctions fight at the United Nations that Washington may lose. SECSTATE is expected to offer a halt to enforcement of US sanctions against European companies doing business in Iran, in exchange for a “follow-on consultative mechanism” during his meeting at Sharm el-Sheikh 22-23 November.

2. Iranian hardliners are acquiescing to negotiations, for now, driven by the need for trade and desire to avoid a Security Council referral. No long term prognosis on how long the consensus in Iran will hold.

Notice that the second claim casts doubt on Administration claims that Iran is dead set on acquiring nuclear weapons.

The Asia Times has an article speculating on the internal politics at play.

An intense debate is raging among Iranian ruling clerics over the issue of nuclear programs.

On the one hand you have the so-called ultras, most of them sitting in the most powerful but shadowy League of Islamic Associations, that has recently changed its status to the Party of Islamic Associations, pushing hard for emulating North Korea by ending talks with the Europeans, getting out of both the International Atomic Energy Agency the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

On the other, there are the so-called pragmatists, led by Hojjatoleslam Hasan Rohani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme Council of National Security and the regime’s senior negotiator with both the IAEA and the European trio, namely Britain, France and Germany, warning the other side that if Iran does not show flexibility in satisfying the demands formulated by the IAEA and the Big Three, one might expect catastrophe …

The final word must come from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the leader of the regime. But so far he seems either undecided or incapable of taking sides.

These internal divisions are how arms control works: the process of negotiating an agreement, including the ensuing domestic debates that result in negotiating positions, create a sort of consensus that can be reinforced by the national and international bureacratic structures created under the agreement—an argument laid out lucidly in Chayes and Chayes, The New Sovereignty: Compliance with International Regulating Agreements (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995).

The IAEA has asked for an answer by tomorrow (Wednesday).