Results of the Majlis elections held in Iran on February 21 have been summed up. For the next four years, the Iranian Parliament will be dominated by adherents of the Islamic revolution principles, that is, supporters of a conservative course. Will the new Parliament affect Iran's decisions on the nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and the future of the Iranian nuclear program in general?
First of all, it should be noted that the Islamic Republic's political system is built in such a way that the Majlis, despite its democratic nature, is not the final authority for making decisions important for the state and the people. Those are primarily determined by the supreme power represented by the Islamic Republic's lifetime head and spiritual leader, now Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as a number of advisory bodies consisting of the most authoritative Shiite clerics and politicians. Their composition changes not as often and dramatically as that of the Majlis, if at all.
Thus, the system of power built over the 41 years of the Islamic Republic's existence does not imply any vagaries in foreign policy, much less in the defense doctrine of Tehran. But the coming years will certainly evidence a clear swing to the right in these spheres.
Events surrounding the Iranian nuclear deal and the aggravated regional situation force Iran to firmly defend its interests and national sovereignty. The moderate government led by President Hassan Rouhani and the Majlis of the 10th convocation with a reformist majority waited long and patiently for at least some real steps from the JCPOA European participants (the European Union, as well as Great Britain, Germany and France) that would allow Iran reap the benefit of the nuclear agreement. For its part, Tehran fulfilled all the obligations accurately and on time, having significantly limited its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
It bears reminding that after Donald Trump administration's withdrawal from the JCPOA in May 2018, Washington imposed unprecedented tough measures against Iran, substantially complicating the economic situation in the republic. The US demarche and European idleness forced the Iranian leadership to freeze its obligations under the JCPOA, recommission the mothballed centrifuges, start enriching uranium above the permissible concentration of 3.67% bringing it to 4.5%, and to accumulate enriched uranium in excess of the permitted 300 kg. At the same time, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) stated in January 2020 that Tehran has reached sufficient potential to enrich uranium to any concentration level, while enriched uranium reserves had exceeded the stipulated volume fourfold.
Yes, the Rouhani government, in which the President himself, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and Vice-President and AEOI head Ali Akbar Salehi were educated in the West, advocated nuclear negotiations and had high hopes for the agreement.
At the same time, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeatedly warned against trusting Washington. And his most clerical surroundings have been and still are in favor of limiting any contacts with the West. Yet, the supreme power then gave the "green light" to negotiations and concluding a deal, thus sharing the responsibility for its virtual failure with a more liberal government.
Having suspended its obligations under the JCPOA, the Iranian leadership, however, declares readiness to resume compliance with its obligations under the deal at any time, as early as the European participants start living up to their part of the bargain. One of the examples is the final launch of the INSTEX mechanism, which ensures euro payments for the export of Iranian oil and other foreign trade operations.
It is also worth waiting until the election of the Parliament Speaker that will become a certain hint to understand Iran's next steps. If neoconservative Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the former mayor of Tehran who received the largest number of votes in the current election, chairs the Majlis, the Parliament will highly likely not interfere with the government's efforts to preserve the deal. Previously, Ghalibaf has repeatedly expressed support for the JCPOA.
If the Americans and Europeans leave Iran no choice and it will have to abandon the agreement completely, Tehran's threat to withdraw from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) will also become real. President Rouhani has announced such a possibility after the European JCPOA members promised to launch the so-called "reverse" mechanism for resolving disputes. This has been Europe's reaction to Iran's suspension of obligations. The launch of the mechanism may potentially lead to the resumption of international sanctions based on UN Security Council resolutions. The draft law on NPT withdrawal has been submitted to the Majlis. But even if we assume that the decision is made, the withdrawal does not mean Tehran's immediate creation of a nuclear bomb. Apart from international obligations, the Islamic Republic adheres to the national doctrine prohibiting the development and possession of weapons of mass destruction. A fatwah (a religious injunction prohibiting nuclear weapons) to this effect was issued by Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei in January 2013. In an interview with Germany's Der Spiegel in January 2020, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif stressed that the decision not to build a bomb derived not from the NPT but "from our own moral and strategic convictions."
However, Washington and Tel Aviv keep frightening the world with the "Iranian nuclear threat". For another reason this time. On February 9, Iran launched a Simorgh space launch vehicle with a Zafar satellite. The launch was unsuccessful, and the satellite, intended for purely civilian purposes, did not enter the orbit. This triggered another hysteria across the ocean: the launch vehicle's technology is also applicable for ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. But this logic suggests that any space program of any country may be considered a global threat. Back in April last year, Iran's Minister of Information and Communications Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi explained: "The rockets which have currently been developed in Iran for carrying satellites are not something that are a cover for another kind of rocket activity." And on February 12, 2020 Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami told reporters that the country's satellite carriers are "not related to the missiles whatsoever."
The US-fueled hysteria appears just another stridency against Iran. However, it will unlikely have any impact on the defense and space activities of the Islamic Republic, which considers development in these areas its unalienable sovereign right. Besides, being part of long-term programs, rocket engineering and space are nearly independent from the Iranian voters' preferences in specific elections. The entire missile program is run by the research centers and enterprises of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. This Iranian armed forces elite is closely associated with the country's conservative political elite.
Thus, it is almost safe to expect the new Majlis to be conflict-free when making decisions related to Iran's further steps on the nuclear agreement and the defense complex.