What If Tehran Turns Down the Nuclear Deal?
by Daniel Pipes
Whether congressional Democrats accept or reject Barack Obama's Iran deal has great importance and is rightly the focus of international attention. But there's another debate taking place over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that may be even more critical: the one in Iran. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the country's decision maker, just might reject the laboriously worked-out agreementthat he helped negotiate.
On one level, that makes no sense. As a plethora of analyses have established, the Vienna deal is enormously favorable to the Islamic Republic of Iran, legitimizing its nuclear research, assuring its future nuclear weapons program, helping its economy, and boosting its aggressive international goals. These advantages would make it appear absurd for Khamenei not to accept the deal. Plus, most Iranians celebrate the accord.
But rejecting it makes sense if one focuses not on those immediate advantages and instead looks at its future dangers to the Iranian regime's surviving. Leaders of fanatical and brutal governments such as Khamenei's invariably make ideological purity and personal power their highest priorities and he is no exception. From this point of view – its impact on the regime's longevity – the deal contains two problems.
First, it betrays Ayatollah Khomeini's vision of unyielding enmity to the United States, a core principle that has guided the Islamic republic since he founded it in 1979. A substantial portion of the leadership, including Khamenei himself, holds to a purist vision that sees any relations with the United States as unacceptable and bordering on treachery. For this reason, Tehran has long been the world's only capital not seeking improved relations with Washington. These rejectionists disdain the benefits of the deal; they refuse it on grounds of principle.
Second, Iranian opponents of the JCPOA worry about its eroding the Islamist values of Khomeini's revolution. They fear that the businessmen, tourists, students, artists, et al., perched soon to descend on an newly-opened Iran will further tempt the local population away from the difficult path of resistance and martyrdom in favor of consumerism, individualism, feminism, and multiculturalism. They despise and dread American clothing, music, videos, and education. Khamenei himself talks of the U.S. government seeking a way "to penetrate into the country." From their point of view, isolation and poverty have their virtues as means to keep the Iranian revolution alive.
In short, the Iranian debate over the deal is a genuine one, pitting those who argue in favor of the deal's short-term benefits against those fearful of its long-term dangers. Khamenei must make a difficult choice.
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