Like US Congress, Iran's parliament makes its voice heard on nuclear deal

Iran’s parliament voted Sunday to ban inspections of Iran’s military sites as part of any final accord with the US and other world powers. The deadline is June 30.

Ebrahim Noroozi/AP
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference on the second anniversary of his election, in Tehran, Iran, June 13, 2015. Rouhani said a final nuclear deal is 'within reach' as Iran and world powers face a June 30 deadline for an agreement. Rouhani said Iran will allow inspections of its nuclear facilities but vowed that the Islamic republic won't allow its state 'secrets' to be jeopardized under the cover of international inspections. A picture of the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hangs on the wall.

The US Congress has made it clear it intends to play a role in the outcome of negotiations on a deal with Iran on its nuclear program.

Now the Iranian parliament is making its voice heard on the sensitive issue as well – and in a manner that could further complicate prospects for reaching a final deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for international sanctions relief.

With negotiators for six world powers and Iran nearing a June 30 deadline for concluding a comprehensive deal, Iran’s parliament voted Sunday to ban inspections of Iran’s military sites as part of any final accord.

Sunday’s vote – which came as some members of parliament chanted “Death to America” – was on draft legislation that can still be amended before a final vote expected later this week. But the ban on inspections of military sites appears to reflect the sentiments of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and some other senior Iranian officials who have spoken of military inspections as a red line for Iran.

Mr. Khamenei is the final authority on virtually all of Iran’s matters of state and is expected to bestow the final yes or no on any nuclear deal.

The United States was quick to counter, through State Department officials, that no deal is acceptable that offers less than full access and transparency on all of Iran’s nuclear sites.

France, a party to the negotiations, has been particularly insistent that any deal will have to include access to Iran’s military sites. In comments to the French parliament last month, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that “France will not accept [a final agreement] if it is not clear that inspections can be done at all Iranian installations, including military sites.”

The Iranian legislation on the emerging nuclear deal was originally seen as a response to action by the US Congress in May giving it a say in final US approval of a deal with Iran. In essence, it was one legislative body saying to the other, “We’ll show you that we have a role in this, too.”

But the evolution of Iran’s legislation has been mixed, to some extent bolstering the moderate forces in Iran anxious for a deal with the West promising swift sanctions relief – while also illustrating the limited powers of the Iranian parliament.

Echoing the US legislation, the original Iranian bill called for parliament to have a role in reviewing and approving any final deal on Iran’s nuclear program. But that oversight has been stripped from the legislation, a move interpreted as a victory for pro-deal forces hoping to remove potential roadblocks to Iranian approval.

The language banning military inspections, on the other hand, is viewed as an expression of pride and of Iranian backbone in the face of international pressures.

Aside from Western pressure, the head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency has also called for inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites to extend to military installations suspected of having undertaken past nuclear-weapons-related research and development.

Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said last month that the IAEA “has the right to request access to all locations, including military ones.”

At the same time, the downgrading of a parliamentary role in approval of a final nuclear deal is tacit recognition that  Khamenei will have the last word anyway.

With just over a week to go before a final deal is supposed to be reached, some observers are predicting that discord over the inspections issue could lead to yet another extension of talks on Iran’s nuclear program.

The Geneva-based negotiations reached an “interim” deal last November but were extended for an additional seven months. In April, a “framework” for a final deal was reached, with the goal of reaching a final deal by June 30.

The Obama administration originally vowed that no further extensions would be acceptable to the US. But with tough issues like inspections and the timing of sanctions relief still unresolved, a growing chorus of voices is calling for the once-rejected option of yet another extension.

Israeli officials have told the US that an extension is preferable in their eyes to a hastily concluded deal. And last week Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, admonished Secretary of State John Kerry to ignore the deadline if necessary.

“June 30 is an artificial deadline,” Senator Corker told Secretary Kerry in a phone conversation Wednesday. “If it takes longer to get the right deal, take longer, please,” Corker says he told Kerry.

And then, once again, there are the French – who have relished the role of spoiler as the US and Iran have appeared at times to make headway on sticking points in the negotiations.

“It’s very likely we won’t have an agreement before the end of June,” France’s ambassador to the US, Gèrard Araud, said in a talk at Washington’s Atlantic Council last month. “Or even after June,” he then added for good measure.

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