Iranwire – In one of his final addresses to the cabinet as President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani appeared to blame non-adherence to the Iranian Constitution for the fact that Iran was still in the grip of international sanctions in summer 2021.
“If Article 60 of the Constitution had been respected, and not harmed in late November,” he said, “and were it not for December 1, the sanctions would have been lifted in March, and the people would have seen what a country we have.”
This cryptic comment was a reference to a period late last year, when a certain controversial bill was passing through parliament. Entitled “Strategic Action to Lift Sanctions and Protect the Rights of the Iranian Nation”, it was proposed in November and finally ratified on December 1.
The bill compelled the Iranian government to begin enriching uranium up to a purity of 20 percent. It also forced those in charge to reduce International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections by suspending the Additional Protocol, and to increase its reserves of uranium with a purity of five percent.
What is Article 60, and How Can it be Subverted?
Article 60 of the revised Constitution of the Islamic Republic of 1989, which Rouhani said had not been respected by MPs, relates to the manner in which the country is governed under the Islamic Republic. It states: “The exercise of executive power is through the president and ministers, except in matters directly entrusted to the leadership in this law.”
The Constitution officially divides administration of the country’s affairs between the Supreme Leader and the president, with the most important ones all given to the former. The president’s purview is limited to matters not already delegated to the Leader.
The Iranian Constitution includes no mechanism for the Supreme Leader to be held accountable for any action taken during his vast and lifelong tenure – not in front of parliament, nor any other governing institution. The president, however, is beholden to the will of both the Iranian parliament and judiciary – and informally, of course, to other powerful and opaque institutions that form part of the Islamic Republic.
Like other key parts of Iranian Constitution, Article 60 has ambiguities that prevent its full and explicit interpretation in favor of the president, who is nominally the chief executive of Iran. At the same time Oother articles of the Constitution, including Articles 57 and 110, make it plain that interpretation of Article 60 should always be in the Supreme Leader’s favor.
Article 57 states: “The ruling branches of power in the Islamic Republic of Iran are the legislature, the executive branch and the judiciary, which are under the authority of velayat-e faqih [Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist] and the absolute power of the Imam of the Ummah.”
According to Article 110, meanwhile, both “determining the general policies of the Islamic Republic” and “resolving disputes and regulating relations between the three powers” is “solely” for the Leader of the Islamic Republic. The Constitution adopted in 1979 essentially gives Ayatollah Ali Khamenei absolute authority to run the country as he sees fit.
What Effect Did Khamenei’s Intervention Have?
Unfortunately Rouhani was not correct to claim that Article 60 had been undermined when MPs voted to force him to begin enriching uranium to a higher grade. The bill was ratified with the blessing of the Supreme Leader, which was entirely in accordance with the Constitution. In fact, after the law came into force and IAEA inspections in Iran were suspended, Rouhani himself said it was in accordance with Ali Khamenei’s wishes. The intention, it seems, was to create urgency around upcoming talks in Vienna about a US return to the JCPOA.
One month after the controversial law was implemented, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gave an interview for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s official website, in which he said that the Supreme Leader himself had ordered that parliament pass the bill in a meeting attended by himself, Rouhani and Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization.
This weapons-grade level of uranium enrichment had come to a halt in the first 100 days of Hassan Rouhani’s government in 2013, under a temporary agreement with the P5+1. This, in turn, had paved the way for the JCPOA. Whatever the Supreme Leader had in mind, Iran’s resumption of high-purity uranium enrichment – and its subsequent ratcheting-up to 60 percent in April – together with shutting out the IAEA has so far had a delaying effect on the new negotiations.
This is the third time in the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran that nuclear negotiations with world powers have coincided with a change of government in Iran. This, too, has tended to put such talks on hold. Ayatollah Khamenei’s implementation of Article 60, then, had the effect of wiping out the prospects for a return to the JCPOA on Rouhani’s watch and will keep the sanctions in place until the end of his term.