Iran nuclear deal faces hard test

By Brian Murphy ,AP

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Even before Iran’s envoys could pack their bags in Geneva after wrapping up a first-step nuclear deal with world powers, President Hassan Rouhani was opening a potentially tougher diplomatic front: selling the give-and-take to his country’s powerful insider interests led by the Revolutionary Guard.

Iran’s ability to fulfill its part of the six-month bargain — which includes greater access for U.N. inspectors and a cap on the level of uranium enrichment — will depend largely on the Guard and its network.

The Guard’s influence stretches from the missile batteries outside key nuclear facilities to the production of the equipment inside. It runs from companies making Iran’s long-range missiles to paramilitary units that cover every inch of the country.

Rouhani’s praise for the deal announced Sunday has sounded at times like snippets from the national anthem.

“The Iranian nation again displayed dignity and grandeur,” he said in a televised address. He went on to laud the “glorious” affirmation that Iran can continue uranium enrichment under the accord — at levels that can power Iran’s lone energy-producing reactor but well below what’s needed to approach weapons-grade material.

Rouhani ended the speech by trying to give the country’s nuclear efforts a sense of homespun honor. Borrowing from the political theater playbook of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he surrounded himself with relatives of Iranian nuclear scientists killed in ambush-style attacks blamed by Iran on Israel and its allies.

But Rouhani is also appealing to the more practical interests of the Guard, whose clout translates into cash. The Guard has a hand in some of the biggest money-generating enterprises in Iran, including import-export gatekeepers and real estate holdings. Its leaders likely recognize that easing Western sanctions will help their bottom line.

What may be a harder point of persuasion is beyond the accord. The Revolutionary Guard must be comfortable that the deal isn’t a prelude to broader diplomatic overtures with Washington that could undermine its standing and reach, which include aiding Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

A veteran commentator on Iranian affairs, Ehsan Ahrari, said the “schizophrenic nature” of Iran’s domestic leadership — one side extolling the accord and the other side wary — stands as the biggest wild card in the Geneva deal.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate authority, has the final word in all key matters and, for the moment, sides with Rouhani on the nuclear talks and the parallel outreach to the U.S. after more than three decades of diplomatic estrangement. The nuclear deal also appears to have widespread public support as a change to ease Iran’s international isolation and perhaps open the way for serious rollbacks on sanctions if the initial six-month phase moves ahead as planned.

“It’s a strong victory for the policies of moderation in Iran,” said Sadeq Zibakalam, a prominent Tehran-based political analyst. “It will boost moderates.”