The political cartoon in the Iranian newspaper Shargh last week does not leave room for the imagination: Civilian airplanes, drawn in the shape of birds of prey, are pouncing on Iran.
Alongside is the caption, “Many businessmen are arriving in Iran.” Now, decision makers in Iran must operate their “money filters,” to sift through the foreign companies that will win lucrative contract bids, those that will have to contend with substantial obstacles, and those that will be told not to show up at all.
According to Iranian spokesmen, some 6,500 foreign companies have already announced that they are prepared to do business in Iran.
Italian firms already received an initial permit to operate in the area of oil infrastructure. European companies will refurbish the fleet of civilian airplanes in Iran.
But McDonald’s is rotating on a spit in the Iranian grill, arousing a public storm. The editor of Iranian newspaper Kayhan, who was appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, warned that a McDonald’s branch in Tehran could turn into a base for spying on the Iranian public.
Another public figure in the country stressed that Iran has fast-food chains that are in any case better than McDonald’s.
In general, he wondered, “Is there a substitute for an omelet with tomato in an Iranian pita?”
For one, Prof. Sadegh Zibakalam, an Iranian university professor, writer and a political analyst, responded derisively: “What do we have that is likely to encourage McDonald’s to spy against us? I can prepare my own list of issues that citizens are dissatisfied with. You don’t need McDonald’s for that.”
By the way, McDonald’s has announced that it does not intend to establish a branch in Tehran for the time being.
But the slings and arrows being flung about are simply symptoms of the political struggle being waged in Iran with respect to the recent agreement.
One of the main disputes focuses on the question whether the parliament needs to approve the deal, or if it is only authorized to examine it to make sure it does not cross any red lines. The speaker of the parliament, Ali Larijani, who personally supports the accord, already made it clear that parliament has no authority to approve or reject it.
Government spokesmen are leaking information to the effect that it is certain businessmen who made piles of money during the sanctions era that are the ones working behind the scenes to undercut the agreement.
According to those same leaks, these middlemen, who made indirect arrangements to bypass the sanctions, raked in $25 billion to $30 billion a year.
Although the government asked to have these businesses be investigated, that demand went nowhere since these middlemen are close to the regime – or at least to those whose intervention provided the necessary capital to the government to help them.
‘War of leaks’
The “war of leaks” claimed two new victims over the past two weeks. One is Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, and the other is Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.
The two of them were part of the nuclear negotiations and gave closed briefings to journalists in Iran, who quickly leaked the details and embarrassed them. According to reports, Araghchi told editors of the radio and television authority that the younger brother of President Hassan Rouhani, Hossein Fereidun, not only was present at the nuclear talks, but also served as the go-between for the Iranian government and his brother.
“Fereidun had no authority to engage in the talks and spoke to his brother, the president, in a local language [called Semnani] to avoid being understood by others,” one Iranian news website reported. (Semnani is part of a family of languages unique to northwestern Iran.)
“This is also the language that was used during the Iran-Iraq war to speak through the wireless when the need arose,” Araghchi was quoted as saying.
But the real bomb that Araghchi dropped was his statement clarifying that the Iranian nuclear program had done great damage to the country.
“If we try to calculate the costs of producing the materials, we cannot even imagine the sums involved,” he reportedly said.
That would have been enough to shake up the country, but Araghchi continued: “If we want to go after nuclear weapons then the Comprehensive Plan of Action (as the nuclear deal is officially called) is constitutes a total defeat, but if we are after legitimate enrichment and a completely peaceful nuclear program – then the agreement is a big victory.”
His statements were quickly taken off the radio and television authority’s website.
Araghchi’s negotiation teammate, Ali Akbar Salehi, received equally unenviable publicity a few days earlier. The Fars website, affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, reported that in a meeting between Salehi and conservative parliament members, he apparently said that reducing the number of centrifuges, as the new agreement demands, will destroy 80 percent of them.
He noted that some of the centrifuges would be destroyed in the process of shutting them down, while others would be damaged while being moved. He told the parliamentarians to pray the deal would not be signed, the Fars site reported.
While a spokesman for Salehi rushed to deny the report, but at a time of tremendous political confrontations, and against the background of deep suspicions of “selling out national interests” – its publication well serves the opponents of the deal in Iran, who are now competing with members of the U.S. Congress in the race to rescind it.