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Analysis: Has Iran Traded A 'Pearl' For A 'Bonbon'?

Iran will voluntarily "continue and extend its suspension to include all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities," according to its 14 November agreement with the European Union's "Big Three" -- France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

Officials in Europe and in Iran have welcomed the deal because it forestalls Iran's being referred to the UN Security Council and facing sanctions. On the other hand, representatives of Iran's top official, conservative legislators, and the press have objected to the deal.

The Iran-EU agreement notes that the suspension is "a voluntary confidence-building measure and not a legal obligation." Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani stressed this point on 15 November, Mehr News Agency reported. Rohani also noted that the agreement does not mention a permanent suspension of uranium enrichment. Nevertheless, according to IRNA, Rohani said that Iran will suspend its uranium-conversion activities on 22 November, including the making and assembling of centrifuge components. He was adamant that Iran still wants to master the entire fuel cycle.

The next day, Rohani had to appear at the legislature to explain the deal with the EU at a closed-door session. Afterward, he told reporters that the Iran-EU agreement is just a preliminary document that will determine future activities and it does not need parliamentary approval, IRNA reported. "Once long-term agreements are finalized, they will have to be ratified by the parliament," he said. He added that the actual suspension of enrichment-related activities will last only as long as the negotiations, but if they break down or reach a dead end, Iran will no longer be committed to the suspension.
Supreme Leader Khamenei's representative at the Supreme National Security Council dismissed the agreement for making concessions in exchange for nothing tangible, saying Iran effectively exchanged a "pearl" for a "bonbon."

Apparently, Rohani's explanation did not satisfy the parliamentarians, and he had to return for another closed-door session on 17 November, ILNA reported.

Legislators' dissatisfaction with the Iran-EU accord was noted in the Western media on 16 and 17 November, including "The New York Times" ("Nuclear Deal with Iranians Has Angered Hardliners," 17 November 2004).

Of greater relevance is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's opinion of the agreement with the Europeans, because he has the final say in all matters of policy. Khamenei's representative at the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani, dismissed the agreement for making concessions in exchange for nothing tangible, Fars News Agency reported. Larijani said Iran effectively exchanged a "pearl" for a "bonbon." Larijani went on to say that although he respected the Iranian diplomats who interacted with the Europeans, he had reservations about the negotiations themselves.

Uranium enrichment should not be halted without securing economic concessions, he said. The European promise of assistance in gaining World Trade Organization (WTO) membership, furthermore, is a one-time deal whereas suspending uranium enrichment is a continuous commitment, according to Larijani.

Hussein Shariatmadari, the supreme leader's representative at the Kayhan Institute, also came out against the agreement. In an editorial in the 15 November "Kayhan," he wrote that the Iranian negotiators were "swindled." Shariatmadari wrote that in accordance with the September 2004 IAEA board of governors resolution, the negotiators have agreed to fully stop enrichment activities. Doing this, he continued, is a "retreat" from Iran's previously announced "red line."

In an attempt to calm the dispute over the wisdom of the agreement with the Europeans, Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) official Hussein Musavian said on 17 November that the supreme leader has been supervising Iranian nuclear affairs from the outset, IRNA reported. Musavian added that his colleague, SNSC Secretary Hassan Rohani, is just a coordinator.

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami also tried to pour oil on the troubled waters. "Production of uranium and its enrichment as nuclear fuel is Iran's right," he told reporters after a 17 November cabinet meeting. "If we see that the Europeans are not fulfilling their promises, then it is natural that we cannot remain committed to this issue either." Khatami also urged the EU and the IAEA to act in a way that will reassure Iran.

Iran's press, meanwhile, kept up a veritable barrage of criticism about the Iran-EU agreement. The hard-line "Jomhuri-yi Islami" on 17 November, for example, said the officials treat Iranian people as if they are "simple-minded" and the Europeans believe this, too. Even the moderate "Mardom Salari" said on 17 November that the agreement returns Iran to "square one." The reformist "Aftab-i Yazd" said on 16 November that the deal might be the best that Iran can secure, but in a factional jibe it called on the negotiators to explain Iran's weakened position in the negotiating process.

"Nobody could claim that America has increased its power in the past two or three years, and has thus, in coordination with Europe, increased pressures on Iran," "Aftab-i Yazd" added. "So it is we who are weaker, and we must think of the reasons why."