Does Iranian President Hassan Rouhani need Iran’s parliament, the Majlis, to supervise and agree to any agreement reached in nuclear negotiations between the P5+1 (United Nations Security Council Permanent Five Members Plus Germany) and the Islamic Republic? In a recent interview Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Iranian parliament’s Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, certainly suggests that this is the case.
Boroujerdi spoke with the Islamic Consultative Assembly News Agency (ICANA) on the ongoing nuclear negotiations, broaching a range of topics including the negotiations’ relative secrecy, whether Iran would sign the Additional Protocols, and parliament’s role in the negotiations. Touching on the negotiations’ secrecy Boroujerdi, despite being a hardline Neo-Principalist (Iranian pressure groups associated with hardliners have been pushing the Rouhani administration to reveal the classified details of the recent P5+1 talks), actually seemed to defend the need for secrecy. Boroujerdi did this by suggesting that revelation of negotiation details too soon could allow hostile actors to derail talks. For instance, he argued that Iran is confronted by Israeli obstruction which seeks to ensure that the nuclear issue does not have a peaceful resolution, insisting that this was because Israel always wants to be able to use this issue as a pressure point against Iran.
In terms of who might leak negotiation details that could harm future talks, Boroujerdi implied that Iran had little confidence in the West: “We have often witnessed that subjects have been leaked by the Westerners and distributed in their publications.” He suggested that the question of leaks of negotiation details, which have the possibility of undermining talks by opening the negotiating parties to pressure from domestic constituencies and foreign allies, was a test of the West: “Given Madame Ashton’s emphasis on the secrecy of the content of negotiations, this subject [of leaks] is a test of sincerity for the West; if subjects are leaked by Western publications, it shows that we cannot trust agreements with the Westerners.” Boroujerdi noted that if Iran could assume that West would respect their agreement with the Iranian negotiating team, it would be a sign that Iran can be hopeful toward them. However: “If they do not stand by their agreements nothing in particular will happen and we shall be back where we started.”
Addressing the question of whether or not Iran could accept the Additional Protocols, which would allow much more intrusive inspections of Iranian nuclear sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Boroujerdi appeared not to rule it out entirely, saying: “We have never had a problem with supervision…If this supervision will be a somewhat enhanced we still do not have a problem, as we have full confidence in ourselves and know our nuclear program is completely peaceful.” Any cooperation on this front, however, would require a quid pro quo in the area of sanctions.
Interestingly, Boroujerdi remarked that: “Acceptance of the Additional Protocols by the Islamic Republic definitely requires the permission of the parliament.” Furthermore, he implied that this would not be the limit of the Iranian parliament’s involvement in supervising and approving nuclear negotiations. Speaking on whether parliament’s Foreign Policy and National Security Committee would attach a representative to the negotiating team, Boroujerdi mused that this had indeed been discussed but because of insufficient time no agreement had been reached. Still, he indicated that he believed it was a “logical” plan because parliament has an oversight role and following detailed discussions with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, some kind of agreement could be reached.
Boroujerdi’s remarks are interesting for at least two reasons. First, it may tell us that parliament, which is dominated by Traditional Principalists and has a strong block of Neo-Principalists, may want to assert some level of authority over the Rouhani administration’s foreign policy. Rouhani is a Centrist, and came to power with strong Reformist backing, evening including some of the latter in his Cabinet. There is, however, a second and potentially more interesting implication of Boroujerdi’s remarks. While the Iranian parliament’s political influence has fluctuated since its inception in 1906, it has had moments when it has been decisive in both domestic and foreign policy. For example, when Great Britain attempted to dominate Persia’s (Iran’s official name abroad prior to 1935) financial and military affairs through the Anglo-Persian Agreement of 1919, the Persian parliament’s refusal to ratify the agreement became grounds for its repudiation later on. Likewise, in 1946 Iranian Prime Minister Ghavam-ol-Saltaneh gave the Soviet Union a petroleum concession in northern Iran to end the Soviet occupation of that region, contingent of course on parliament’s approval. Once the Soviets had actually withdrawn, however, and would be unable to re-invade Iran because of opposition by the United States, the Iranian parliament promptly voted down the concession. This precedence, and the sensitivity of the nuclear issue in Iran, means that parliament has the potential to be a spoiler in negotiations, even if in reality it is unlikely to play such a role once the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has signed off on a deal. This is not too dissimilar to the role occaisonally played by the United States Congress, and U.S. negotiating teams often use congressional pressure as a pretext to gain a better outcome in the negotiations they are involved in. By setting up parliament as a possible roadblock to a final nuclear agreement, Boroujerdi may actually be giving the Rouhani administration’s negotiating team a similar card to play in P5+1-Iran negotiations, thereby potentially strengthening Iran’s hand.