“Iran has already torn it [the nuclear deal] up. Iran has not approved the agreement that President Obama has said that they have approved. They have approved a different agreement in their parliament.”

— Former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), remarks in the Republican undercard debate, Jan. 14, 2016

Santorum’s claim, made during the sixth round of GOP debates, might seem a little odd, given that only days later the International Atomic Energy Agency certified that Iran had met key requirements under the nuclear agreement reached with world powers, including giving up much of its stockpile of enriched uranium, dismantling many of its centrifuges and filled its heavy water reactor with concrete. As a result, nuclear-related sanctions were lifted on the Islamic republic.

But it turns out that some commentators, such as the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), have asserted that the Iranian parliament did not actually pass what is known as the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action, but instead an amended version of it. Is this really the case?

The Facts

Since no one at The Fact Checker reads Farsi, we turned to our friends and fellow fact checkers at Majlis Monitor, which closely tracks the Iranian Parliament, known as the Majlis, and fact checks claims about it. The Majlis Monitor is an offshoot of ASL19, a Toronto-based research organization that seeks to help Iranian citizens circumvent Internet censorship and obtain information online. (ASL19 refers to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Rights, which focuses on the right to freedom of opinion and expression.)

Farhad Souzanchi and Bruce Lyth of Majlis Monitor looked into the matter and reported: “Majlis’ constitutional responsibility is to approve or reject an existing treaty as is, and its bill satisfies that responsibility. It did not pass an amended version of the JCPOA.”

Apparently, there was confusion over the fact that the approval bill included “nine additional resolutions addressed to the Rouhani Administration that refer to other matters.”

While some of these resolutions have been cited as additional provisions, such as calling for the elimination of Israel’s arsenal, Souzanchi and Lyth said the resolutions “are not law and need not be satisfied in order for Iran’s government to have the legal authority to implement the JCPOA. We think that these resolutions are mainly an attempt for Majlis to carve out some relevance for itself on the nuclear file, especially when its own bill gives the Supreme National Security Council (a decision-making body headed by President Hassan Rouhani whose decisions require confirmation by the Supreme Leader) control over implementation of the nuclear deal.”

The vote to approve the bill, which passed 161-59 with 13 abstentions, took place very quickly.

“The reaction of many hardliners to Majlis’ bill was one of lament; several said that Majlis had acted as a ‘rubber stamp Parliament,’” said Souzanchi and Lyth. “We take this to be an indication that opponents of the JCPOA didn’t get the more favorable deal that they wanted. The resolutions Majlis passed were fairly innocuous with respect to the nuclear deal itself.”

The resolution on Israel, for instance, “calls on Iran’s government to use legal, political, and ‘international’ means to bring Israel into a broader Middle Eastern weapons of mass destruction free zone; it does not require the parties to the JCPOA to eliminate Israel’s nuclear weapons. Other resolutions call on the government to use unfrozen assets to stimulate economic growth, and to only implement the JCPOA if the West lifts sanctions.” (Here is a link to their full analysis.)

Indeed, the Majlis Monitor’s report on the vote noted that MPs were upset that the voting process took only 20 minutes and that Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani “was accused of pushing the vote forward and not allowing members of the parliament to give amendments and recommendations.” The report said that hardline MPS were critical, with Hamid Rasaei quoted as saying, “Ali Larijani today, in less than 20 minutes, pushed the approval of a bill that implicitly approves the nuclear deal. He did not allow any proposals other than three proposals to his liking, and did not allow any discussions about favoring or opposing recommendations.”

Kahyan, a hardline newspaper, was also critical of the parliament’s “15-minute decision for 15 years,” the length of the agreement: “While the members of Parliament had approximately 200 recommendations for the modification of the implementation of the nuclear deal, in an illegal act without reviewing these recommendations, the most important foreign policy file of the country was closed in parliament in 15 minutes.”

Update: Yigal Carmon, president of MEMRI, disputed this analysis. “We titled the resolutions of the Majlis ‘an amended version’ because it was not the original JCPOA text, rather Iranian demands that were added to it. No one can call that Majlis resolution an approval of the JCPOA. Majlis speaker Larijani himself said that and so did others, see for example our MEMRI TV report on Iranian Guardian Council Secretary-General Ahmad Jannati,” he said in an email.

Majlis Monitor offered this response:

With respect to Carmon’s assertion that we are confused about the nine resolutions in Majlis’ approval bill, I would direct Carmon to MEMRI’s own translation of the Supreme Leader’s letter approving the JCPOA, in which Khamanei refers to “The nine-point provisions entailed in the recent bill adopted by the Majlis.” See also this additional source that takes MEMRI’s same mistaken interpretation of Majlis’ bill, but yet still refers to “Majlis’s 9-point text.”
On the statements from Larijani and Jannati, it’s important to put them in context, and to not selectively interpret them, as I believe MEMRI has done.  Jannati is a hardline conservative, the longest-serving member of Iran’s Guardian Council, and, as we have noted, for many hardline conservatives, the JCPOA is unacceptable. For many conservatives, speaking favourably in public about the JCPOA is a bit like a Republican speaking favourably about Obamacare.
Larijani is also a conservative, albeit a more moderate one. They each want to be seen to be pursuing Iran’s national interests, and to not pay the political cost of being seen as having sold out to the Western powers. There’s also a political and religious consideration at work: Majlis’ legislation (esp. foreign and defence legislation) and the decisions of the Supreme National Security Council do not go into effect if they do not have the approval of the Supreme Leader. In MEMRI’s own rendering of Jannati’s remarks, “the work of the Majlis pertains to the implementation of the JCPOA [my emphasis].” As a hardline conservative, Jannati strongly believes in the structure of the regime, at the top of which sits the Supreme Leader — who alone has the final say on Majlis’ legislation. This belief may be why he said that Majlis did not “approve” the JCPOA. Its legislation — its approval of the JCPOA — isn’t valid if it does not have the Supreme Leader’s agreement.
With respect to Larijani, again, MEMRI reports him as saying that “the JCPOA was examined at various conferences, and we explicitly approved it in the Majlis.” He does go on to say that Majlis did not approve the JCPOA “in the way that the other side has said,” but this does not mean that Majlis passed an amended version — amended in the sense that the other parties to the JCPOA are bound by Majlis’ resolutions (quoted here). It does, however, mean that Majlis has a role in monitoring the domestic decisions Iran’s Government makes in implementing the JCPOA.

The Pinocchio Test

While government actions in Iran can be opaque and confusing, there appears to be little basis for Santorum’s claim that the Iranian Parliament approved a “different” agreement. He earns Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

Send us facts to check by filling out this form

Sign up for The Fact Checker weekly newsletter