Spotlight on Parliament: Majlis and Nuclear Politics

Just ahead of the June 30th deadline, Majlis Monitor gives an overview of MPs’ responses to the nuclear negotiations, highlighting the more recent developments.

Pressure is on as Iran’s Majlis push to have their say on the agreement

All efforts are concentrated on ensuring the June 30 deadline is met. Meanwhile, Iran’s Majlis approved a bill to obligate the Executive branch to safeguard Iran’s nuclear achievements.

The bill, approved by the Guardian Council on June 25, calls for the following: 

  • the immediate lifting of all international sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear program upon the enforcement of the prospective deal between Iran and P5+1. 
  • the IAEA is allowed to perform normal supervision of nuclear sites under the framework of the agreement, but the inspection of Iran’s highly sensitive military and security sites, sensitive non-nuclear sites, documents and scientists is prohibited. Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) rulings must be observed. 
  • that Iran bears no restriction over developing its scientific endeavors, including acquiring peaceful nuclear knowledge, which should all be under the observance of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC). 

Any nuclear agreement with P5+1 will only be valid if the above three requirements are “observed transparently”. As the Chairman of Majlis, Ali Larijani explained to Majlis in a public session on Sunday June 21, the SNSC was intentionally included in the final draft to allow the Supreme Leader a final say on all the above requirements, as he has direct authority over the SNSC. 

The Majlis are also demonstrating that they want more long-term influence. The bill gives Majlis the right to supervise the stages of the agreement, which would mean that every six months, the foreign minister would be responsible to report to Majlis on the implementation process of the nuclear deal. 

Parliaments on both the American and Iranian side are trying to have their say on the agreement. As Congress in the U.S. makes similar demands, there is an interestingly close symmetry between the actions of both parliaments. The Majlis, like the U.S. Congress, are adding pressure to limit concessions in the agreement. 

Majlis and the procedural back and forth

News sources from inside Iran point to tensions inside Majlis on the day the bill was publicly proposed. During a Majlis meeting on Sunday June 21, there were disagreements between parliamentarians and their current chairman, Ali Larijani, regarding the bill drafted on February 3, 2015 that aimed to safeguard the nuclear achievements of Iran. According to Mehr News Agency, Larijani ordered the National Security Council of Majlis to modify the bill.

 MP HosseinAli Haji Deligani is quoted saying “according to the first version of the bill, the nuclear agreement should have been approved by Majlis. However, following the order of Larijani, the National Security Council of Majlis modified the bill. According to the new version, Majlis approval is no longer required, however, the requirements noted in this bill should be ‘transparently observed’ by the negotiation team.” 

On Tuesday June 9, the Majlis’ National Security and Foreign Policy Committee released a report on the original draft of the bill, which proposed modifications to the text. The deal is only valid if it satisfies the three aforementioned requirements, and while the June 9th report called for the lifting of the sanctions on the day the deal is signed, the last minute modifications on Sunday require that the sanctions be lifted at the beginning of the implementation phase of the deal. The bill also gave supervisory powers to the Committee over the deal’s implementation process, obliging them to release quarterly reports to the Majlis on the progress of the deal’s implementation. 

More importantly, the bill originally indicated that any deal must be ratified by the Majlis, which was modified so no ratification was necessary. According to MP Deligani, this last minute revision in the text of the bill is against Article 146 of the Majlis’ procedural guidelines. According to this article, text of draft bills cannot be revised after the bill goes on public session’s agenda for voting. 

On Sunday’s meeting, while chairman Larijani announced the details of the bill being put to vote, he mentioned that the SNSC’s rulings must be observed. Upon the objection of a few MP’s over the modifications, the chairman argued that the SNSC has a framework that Majlis needs to be mindful of. Larijani reminded the Majlis that “the SNSC is under the supervision of the Leader, we do not want to limit his decision-making powers. We must obey any decision made by the Supreme Leader. The SNSC is not associated with the administration.” 

Although the SNSC is constitutionally chaired by the sitting president, it is under the direct authority of the Supreme Leader. Acting as a middle-man between Majlis and the SNSC, Larijani was referring to relieving pressure from the nuclear negotiating team, highlighting that the SNSC and the Supreme Leader want to ensure Iran is not faced with a deadlock in the negotiations. 

On June 23, the government’s spokesperson, Mohammad-Bagher Nobakht, stated that Sunday’s bill contradicts the Constitution. “Based on article 176 of the constitution, the subject of nuclear talks is within the authority of Iran’s SNSC and the developments are constantly monitored by the council” Nobakht was quoted saying by the IRNA news agency. 

On June 25, Iran’s Guardian Council found the bill compliant with the Iranian Constitution and Islamic laws. A 12-member body consisting of six legal experts and six Islamic jurists, one of the tasks of the Guardian Council is to oversee the bills passed in Majlis for conformity with Islamic principles and Iran’s Constitution. Even though the Majlis was able to pass the majority of its demands, it was not able to secure the ability to ratify the final agreement. This outcome raises the question of what powers, if any, Iran’s legislative body has over the outcome of the nuclear deal.

The Majlis’ influence over the diplomatic process

 It is important to note that in late 2013, President Rouhani transferred the Nuclear negotiations from the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) over to the Foreign Ministry. This transfer allowed the President’s administration to gain more control over the diplomatic process, but it also gave the Majlis expanded oversight over the talks, in addition to taking the process out of the explicit guarantee, or protection of the Supreme Leader. Given the dominance of hardliners and conservatives within Majlis, President Rouhani took a moderate risk with transferring the portfolio, as the MPs now have more opportunities to pose obstacles to Minister Zarif’s team during the negotiations. 

While the Majlis cannot exert significant influence over the outcome of the negotiations, the transfer of the diplomatic process does mean that the legislative branch can influence domestic politics and atmosphere during the talks.