Iran lawmakers to wait 80 days before voting on nuclear deal

TEHRAN — The Iranian Parliament will wait at least 80 days before voting on a nuclear agreement reached last week with world powers, as legislators decided on Tuesday to form a committee to study the accord, state radio reported.

The legislators have effectively opted to withhold their judgment until they know whether the American Congress approves of the deal, analysts said, as a way to avoid losing face by appearing to look weak if the agreement is rejected by their counterparts in the United States.

The parliamentary delay in voting also was seen as a way to position the Americans to get the blame if Congress repudiates the agreement, which Iran and six big powers including the United States completed in Vienna on July 14 after arduous negotiations.

The agreement will end punitive sanctions imposed on Iran by the United Nations, United States and European Union in exchange for verifiable guarantees that the Iranian nuclear program remains peaceful.

Iran, which has repeatedly asserted it does not want nuclear weapons, agreed to severe limits on its atomic fuel and other restrictive steps, including increased surveillance by international inspectors, but retained much of the underlying infrastructure of its nuclear activities.

The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a resolution on Monday that creates the basis for its sanctions against Iran to be lifted. Congress, where suspicion toward Iran remains deep-seated, has 60 days to review the nuclear agreement, and it will be at least 90 days before the United Nations resolution officially takes effect.

The Iranian Constitution gives Parliament the right to cancel the deal. That outcome seems unlikely, however, given all the signs that Iran’s top leaders, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word on Iran’s nuclear activities, want it to succeed despite the antipathy he has expressed toward the United States.

A telling indication of their intent was on display on Tuesday when the foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, defended the deal in Parliament.

Mr. Salehi, a former foreign minister, took the extraordinary step of admitting that Iran’s nuclear ambitions have been an expensive drag on the country’s finances, already constrained by economic sanctions.

“We made many decisions to advance national interests,” he said in testimony to lawmakers. “We did not pay attention to costs and benefits.”

Outside analysts saw the assertion as part of an attempt to frame the nuclear accord not as a concession but rather a wise economic decision.

“What’s surprising is that he crossed redlines in official discourse, especially by emphasizing that the nuclear program has drained Iran’s coffers,” said Cliff Kupchan, an Iran expert who is chairman of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy. “Salehi is a conservative, close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — it’s clear the Iranian government wants to consummate the deal.”

Mr. Salehi also said that even if Iran were to build more centrifuges, they would be from an older and more inefficient design. His assertion appeared at odds with what he and other Iranian officials had emphasized in recent years: that the country was ready to upgrade all its centrifuges.

He also sought to put a positive spin on plans to redesign and rebuild the Arak heavy-water reactor so that it will not produce weapons-grade plutonium, a huge Iranian concession in the nuclear talks, and to sell its remaining heavy water. He pointed out that Iran was not the only developing country selling heavy water, and that it was in Tehran’s best financial interest to leave that to others.

Mr. Zarif, the American-educated diplomat who became the face of Iran during the nuclear talks, emphasized what he described as the basic concession the country had secured in the negotiations — its right to nuclear power autonomy, including the enrichment of fuel.

“For 12 years, great powers have tried to prevent an Iranian nuclear program,” Mr. Zarif said. “But today they should tolerate thousands of centrifuges spinning, plus the continuation of research and development. This shows our power.”

This article was written by for The New York Times on July 22, 2o15.