NEW YORK (TNS) -- Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's refusal to publicly back July's nuclear deal is encouraging conservative Iranian lawmakers who oppose the pact.
With an eye also on parliamentary elections next year, hardliners have jumped on Khamenei's lukewarm endorsements, calling for the agreement to be approved by parliament, rather than the National Security Council as President Hassan Rouhani favors. That would provide them with an opportunity to poke holes in the accord.
"Iran's legal procedure for approving the nuclear deal remains unclear," Mehdi Khalaji, an Iran analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in an e-mailed note. "The supreme leader refuses to explicitly state not only his own judgment on the deal, but also which institution should make the formal decision of approval or rejection."
In his latest comments on Monday, Khamenei, Iran's ultimate arbiter, suggested the accord might not even become law in Iran, as he restated his opposition to greater U.S. influence in the Islamic Republic.
"They thought this deal -- and it is not clear if it will be passed in Iran or in America -- will open up Iran to their influence," Khamenei told members of the Islamic Radio and Television Union, referring to the U.S. "We blocked this path and will definitely block it in the future."
During two years of talks with world powers, he did regularly express his support for Iran's negotiating team, calling them "children of the revolution." He met with Rouhani hours after the accord was reached and thanked envoys for their "sincere" work.
Khamenei's stance reflects his desire to balance political factions in Iran and allow room for maneuver should the U.S. Congress reject the pact, commentators say. Still, conservative newspapers such as Kayhan have cited his ambiguity as they criticized limits the deal imposes on Iran's nuclear capabilities.
Hossein Shariatmadari, Kayhan's managing editor who was appointed by Khamenei, went as far as to say in a weekend editorial that the supreme leader opposed conditions imposed by the agreement, pointing to his recent comments.
Kayhan and other conservative outlets were issued with warnings by Iran's media regulatory agency for failing to abide by rules on reporting on nuclear matters, the Fars news agency said this month. One magazine was shut down.