Iranian Parliament Reviews Nuclear Deal as North Korea Vows to Keep 'Nukes'

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif delivered a speech in support of the deal, which has been criticized by conservatives and the leadership of the country's Revolutionary Guards.

by John Beck
Jul 21 2015, 7:10pm

Photo by Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA

Iran's parliament is preparing to review the historic nuclear agreement that its foreign minister negotiated with world powers and unveiled last week, while North Korea has pointedly rejected the prospect of negotiating a similar deal regarding its own nuclear program.

The pact was reached after intensive negotiations between Iran and a group of countries known as the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, Britain, China, and France, plus Germany), and is intended to limit Tehran's nuclear ambitions in exchange for relief from crippling international sanctions.

The European Union and the United Nations Security Council have already endorsed the deal. The US Congress, where some lawmakers are as wary of the pact as hardliners are in Iran, is undertaking its own review of the text.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif presented a text of the agreement to the parliament early on Tuesday and delivered a speech before the chamber in support of the deal, which was hatched amid apparent internal opposition. Conservatives and the leadership of the country's Revolutionary Guards have criticized the agreement.

"Some parts of the draft have clearly crossed the Islamic republic's red lines, especially in Iran's military capabilities," Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari was quoted as saying on Monday. "We will never accept it."

Iran has long claimed that its development of nuclear technology is peaceful, but it has been widely suspected of pursuing the ability to develop nuclear weapons. The terms of the agreement will prevent it from producing enough material to do so for at least a decade, and imposes stricter inspections of its nuclear facilities.

Foreign Minster Zarif briefs parliament on Iran's nuclear deal on July 21, 2015. (Photo by Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA)

Zarif attempted to reassure hardliners that his team had done the best it could.

"We don't say the deal is totally in favor of Iran," he said in remarks that were broadcast on state radio. "Any negotiation is a give and take. We have definitely shown some flexibility."

Lawmakers established a 15-member parliamentary committee that is tasked with assessing the accord. Parliament could theoretically reject it, but its members are unlikely to defy the wishes of the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Though he has so far avoided explicitly endorsing the deal and had claimed in recent weeks that the US was seeking to destroy Iran's entire nuclear infrastructure, Khamenei applauded the efforts of Zarif's team after the deal was struck. News of the deal was also greeted with exultation by the country's citizens.

Nevertheless, Khamenei said on Saturday that he would continue to oppose American policies in the Middle East, describing them as "180 degrees" removed from his country's own. US Secretary of State John Kerry called the remarks "very disturbing."

US politicians and allies have also criticized the deal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the accord last week, describing it as a "mistake of historic proportions" that would provide Iran with "a sure path to nuclear weapons." Netanyahu's views are shared by many in the Israeli government who see the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran as a grave existential threat, and who are firmly opposed to any agreement perceived as soft on Tehran.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has frequently criticized US President Barack Obama's dealings with Iran, said last week that it appeared to be "a bad deal" which would result in a far stronger Iran without curbing its nuclear activities. The Republican-held Congress has 60 days to review the accord, and could potentially hold up things even longer.

Many in the international community welcomed the prospect of a final agreement, including representatives from the European Union, the UK, France, and Pope Francis. Some observers also wondered whether a successful deal with Iran might portend similar discussions with North Korea's leadership about its nuclear program.

"The one thing I will say, and I would say to the North Koreans, is that this agreement demonstrates that one can come out of isolation, one can come out from under sanctions, one can become part of the world community or have the potential to become part of the world community and end isolation, and do so in a peaceful way," US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman told reporters in response to a question about the deal's potential impact on North Korea. "I would hope that as this agreement goes forward and it is shown that all parties will comply, that Iran will keep its commitments and that sanctions lifting will then take place, that it perhaps might give North Korea second thoughts about the very dangerous path that it is currently pursuing."

But North Korea isn't keen on negotiating a similar arrangement, its Foreign Ministry insisted on Tuesday.

"It is not logical to compare our situation with the Iranian nuclear agreement because we are always subjected to provocative US military hostilities, including massive joint military exercises and a grave nuclear threat," it said in a statement. "We do not have any interest at all on dialogue for unilaterally freezing or giving up our nukes."

North Korea's nuclear deterrent isn't "a plaything to be put on the negotiating table," the statement asserted.

The exact nature of the secretive country's nuclear arsenal is unknown, but it has conducted a number of nuclear weapons tests in the last decade, with the most recent in 2013. Nuclear disarmament talks fell apart in 2009 and more recent attempts have also stalled, despite diplomatic overtures from the US and South Korea.

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