Iran General Attacks Rouhani Over Nuclear Deal, US Sanctions
Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, has criticized Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani for being “more concerned” about saving Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers than with eliminating United States sanctions.
Jafari, who since 2019 leads the IRGC’s cultural, or ‘soft power’ unit, told his senior staff in a meeting that Rouhani was thinking differently to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the IRGC-affiliated Fars news agency reported on Wednesday. Jafari emphasized that Iran’s priority was overcoming US sanctions, not Washington’s return to the nuclear agreement, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Since US President Donald Trump pulled out of the JCPOA in 2018 - thereby violating both a multilateral accord and a United Nations Security Council resolution endorsing it - Iran has insisted, along with other signatories, that Washington should return to the JCPOA. But recently, officials, and most notably Khamenei, have put the emphasis on overcoming sanctions and have said America’s return to JCPOA was not the priority.
It is not clear why Jafari has accused Rouhani of a difference of opinion, except that the president has not openly repeated Khamenei’s position since the Supreme Leader’s speech on January 8. Jafari said that if sanctions were not lifted first, President-elect Joe Biden would treat some sanctions as being outside the JCPOA and keep them in place.
Biden has indicated his administration will return to the nuclear deal. He has not specifically committed to abolishing the Trump administration’s sanctions, although he did write that “Trump violated an agreement that America itself negotiated and then acted recklessly.” Biden has also signaled that his administration would want to negotiate with Iran about its ballistic missile program and its activities in the Middle East – although the original rationale for the JCPOA was to deal with nuclear proliferation separately rather than negotiate a regional security agreement that would draw in the arsenals, including missiles, held by Iran’s neighbors including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The reasons for the shift in Khamenei’s position about a US return to the JCPOA not being the priority are unclear. The leader may intend to put pressure on the Biden administration to reduce Trump’s sanctions as soon as possible, given the economic situation Iran faces.
The second reason may be a concern that Biden, who takes office on January 20, will simply announce a return to the JCPOA without a commitment to eliminate crippling sanctions. Jafari’s attack on Rouhani suggests that some in Iran are concerned that Biden might treat Trump’s sanction as being “outside the JCPOA.”