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In Iran, no political actor opposes reaching diplomatic agreements with the United States as a matter of principle. However, as a matter of principle, every political actor sabotages any attempts by their rivals to reach an agreement with the United States. The expected release of around $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue frozen in South Korea in return for Iran freeing five Iranian Americans imprisoned in Iran is the latest example of the sour grapes of the Iran-U.S. agreement.
When reformist Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reached the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal with the United States in 2015, reformist media praised his pragmatism. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps tacitly welcomed the deal, from which it hoped to benefit financially, but its mouthpieces criticized Rouhani’s alleged nuclear surrender. For good measure, IRGC intelligence also imprisoned Iranian American dual nationals to demonstrate to Washington that the IRGC, rather than Rouhani, was in charge in Tehran.
Today, the positions are reversed: While IRGC mouthpieces have defended the agreement and even supported Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian’s statements concerning efforts to reach a more comprehensive agreement with the United States, reformist newspaper Ham-Mihan criticized President Ebrahim Raisi for “blunting” Iran’s “instruments in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, the Persian Gulf,” in a reference to the expected restriction of the activities of Iranian proxies, in return for a modest $6 billion.
- August 12: IRGC mouthpiece Javan newspaper, which for the most part quoted The Wall Street Journal and “some experts and informed sources” in its coverage of the U.S.-Iranian agreement, wrote: “This is just a part of a more comprehensive agreement, albeit not as comprehensive as the JCPOA.”
- August 12: An editorial in reformist Ham-Mihan criticized the agreement as a sign of the Raisi Cabinet’s inability to comprehend foreign policy issues:
- “What conclusions can we draw from the conditional release of parts of Iran’s foreign exchange reserves in foreign banks in return for freeing a few dual national prisoners? If this move presents a step toward solving foreign policy problems, it certainly is a useful and progressive step we must support. If this is a window opening to negotiations, we must keep it open, and it is worthy of support. However, if this agreement is merely temporary in order to release Iranian funds – that is, conditionally released for the purpose of procuring certain products – this policy is not useful, is harmful to Iran, and is a sign of problems not getting solved and the perpetuation of conditions that have led to the present situation. We do not aim to chastise, but they,” referencing Raisi’s Cabinet, “lost the opportunity to do this three years ago. Iran could have received all of its money within a certain framework, and the flow and transfer of the money would also have been free. But they lost this opportunity due to their incorrect understanding of the circumstances, so they settled with freeing a few dual national Iranian citizens in return for the conditional release of these financial assets. This is a sign of incomprehension of foreign policy issues. This is a sign of the foreign policy bureaucracy and planners’ inadequate understanding … By continuing this path, we will face greater problems, and attending to these small matters is nothing but a waste of time. In the Saudi case and the improvement of relations with them, we did not see any serious developments. Tensions between the two states were reduced and Iran’s political instruments in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, the Persian Gulf, and Iraq became blunted. These instruments were useful in Iran’s regional policy” as a tool to “reach a complete and comprehensive understanding with regard to the region and the JCPOA.” The influx of “$6 billion is not going to solve any important problem in the country – a country whose oil minister says he needs $240 billion in investment in the oil and gas industry. What counts tens of times more than the $6 billion is reducing the risk of foreign direct investment in Iran, which finds itself at the bottom of the charts” for foreign direct investment.
- August 12: Ham-Mihan daily journalist Davoud Dashtbani’s article “The $6 Billion Deal” quoted Abd al-Reza Faraji-Rad, an international affairs analyst, who said:
- “This understanding was not meant to be written on paper and signed. The aim was to have an oral agreement, so it would not need to pass the House of Representatives … The agreement is for Iran to continue to enrich uranium not above 60% level, and, in return, American prisoners in Iran are to be released. The United States will also allow the release of Iran’s money in South Korea, Iraq, and a loan from the International Monetary Fund. In total, Iran would receive $26 billion. A few months ago, when the issue of the fifth American prisoner came to the surface, the negotiations stopped. It was the issue of the fifth prisoner that ruined everything, and negotiations had to start all over through intermediaries. The result was that the initial understanding morphed into a two-phase agreement. In other words, we took one step back. But the agreement also entailed” further negotiations concerning “a more comprehensive agreement after the elections in the United States.”
- Explaining why negotiations have picked up momentum, Faraji-Rad said: “Iran has somewhat lost hope in Russia. After the joint statement by Russia and the Gulf Cooperation Council” endorsing the United Arab Emirates’ position on the disputed Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Musa islands “and doubts concerning the sale of Russian Sukhoi fighters to Iran, Iran wants to speed up the negotiations and wants to free itself from Russia.”
- Turning to potential domestic motives, Faraji-Rad said: “Iran wants to have an economic opening in the wake of the economic opening cooperation with regional countries, in particular states in southern parts of the Persian Gulf. It has established relations with Saudi Arabia, relations with the Emirates have improved, and all these countries, Iran and the states in the southern parts of the Persian Gulf, are interested in stability. Since both parties are in need of stability, I believe Iran will speed up the dialogue with the United States, with or without intermediaries.”
- August 13: Javan columnist Vahid Azim-Nia defended the logic behind Iran’s agreement with the United States:
- “The Islamic Republic acted forcefully when countering the piracy of the Americans,” referencing Iran’s retaliatory measures against merchant vessels in response to U.S. demands for other states to seize Iran’s oil tankers, “and in the diplomatic arena, too, it has acted in a capable and forceful way by persuading the counterpart of its just logic. More than the monetary value of the released funds, this case shows the political and economic capabilities of the government … Iran’s actions in securing the release of the frozen assets are defensible. After years of following up, the property of the Iranian nation has been wrested away from the hands of thieving bandits … Freedom for Iranians imprisoned in the United States based on false allegations, too, was one of the important issues and main objectives of the negotiations.”
- Chastising the government of South Korea, Azim-Nia continued: “Iran’s oil trade with South Korea is legal and takes place within the framework of international regulations and is based on mutual agreement. Iran lived up to its commitments by exporting oil to South Korea, but this country, under pressure from the American regime, did not pay the dollar value of the oil. By pure bullying, and in violation of international law, the American regime forced South Korea not to pay Iran’s due. Powerless and lacking independent political will, Seoul obeyed America … Despicable and pitiful is South Korea, which is not even capable of paying a country with which it has an oil agreement, and this country must pay damages to our country. But let us not forget Tehran’s prowess in the face of the bullying of the American regime. Finally, we wrested our property free from the claws of an international pirate. This is the real message, which has not been subjected to the attention … of the Western media, ever busy fabricating its own narratives … and certain domestic media outlets, which are happily copying the foreign media.”
- August 13: Javan, responding to Dashtbani’s article in Ham-Mihan, wrote:
- “Ham-Mihan newspaper, along with some of its likeminded reformists, has tried to reduce the agreement to the level of a defeat … Unlike the Rouhani Cabinet, which connected everything to the JCPOA, two years of the Raisi presidency have demonstrated that important agreements can take place unrelated to the nuclear issue, the JCPOA, or the Financial Action Task Force,” an international organization that monitors terrorism financing and money laundering.
- August 14: In its coverage of Amir-Abdollahian’s August 14 press conference, Javan wrote:
- “According to the Raisi Cabinet’s foreign minister, Iran has for months kept talks, negotiations, and exchanges of indirect messages with its American counterparts on the table. Amir-Abdollahian did not clearly say that keeping the correspondence with the American counterpart serves the purpose of a comprehensive agreement, but he did clarify that the goal of Tehran’s diplomacy is not just a limited agreement, news of which has been published in recent days … Previously, on Sunday, Javan wrote that a new agreement had been reached as ‘part of a broader non-JCPOA agreement.’”
- Quoting Amir-Abdollahian, Javan continued: “Iran is taking diplomatic paths, and all roads lead to the JCPOA. Yes, it is so, and this is the path we are pursuing, and we hope we reach it so we can publicly declare it.”
- Javan also quoted Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanani, who was also present at the press conference, as saying: “The process of exchanging” prisoners “and the release of Iranian assets are not directly related to the JCPOA negotiations, but these issues can impact, or be impacted by, them. Progress in one track can reduce tensions and open other tracks.”
- August 16: According to IRGC mouthpiece Tasnim News, while presiding over the Cabinet, Raisi said:
- “Achievements related to security and national interests should not be reduced to party, political, or factional equations … Today, the important issue about these resources,” referencing the $6 billion in oil revenue, “is how to spend them. The government, in line with the supreme leader’s emphasis on supporting production, will see to it that all these resources are spent in support of production and economically viable plans.”
is a senior fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. He is the author of Political Succession in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Demise of the Clergy and the Rise of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (2020).
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