JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on the statements from the supreme leader and how they should be interpreted, I'm joined now by Ray Takeyh. He was a senior adviser on Iran at the State Department until 2009. And Alireza Nader, he's a senior international policy analyst at the RAND Corporation.
Welcome back to the NewsHour, both of you.
ALIREZA NADER, RAND Corporation: Good to be here.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Ali Nader, let me start with you. What do you make of these comments from the supreme leader? We have waited now a week to hear from him. What do you think?
ALIREZA NADER: Well, he's broken his silence, for sure, and made some very aggressive remarks.
But I think, when you look at Khamenei, he's been reluctant to own these negotiations. He has said along…
JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean all along?
ALIREZA NADER: Yes, all along, he said, I will support the negotiators, but I'm very doubtful the United States is going to come through, and we can't trust the United States.
And so I think he's hedging his bets. You know, during his speech, he said, I don't agree or disagree with what we have because nothing has happened yet, we're not at the final agreement.
And so I think he's just playing a political game and trying to keep everybody in Iran happy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Playing a game, hedging his bets? Ray Takeyh, what do you say?
RAY TAKEYH, Former State Department Official: It may be true, but it's an unsettling speech in a number of ways.
For one thing, he suggests that despite what people say, that the office of the supreme leader has been overseeing the details of these negotiations, that is not true, which raises questions, on whose behalf is Foreign Minister Zarif negotiating, if the boss doesn't know the details and doesn't seem to approve or disapprove of them at this point?
And then he outlines terms for an agreement which are essentially contradicted by his own negotiators, namely the notion of comprehensive sanctions relief immediately and also an inspection regime that falls very much short of anticipations that have been raised regarding verification of this agreement.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, what contradiction are you referring to?
RAY TAKEYH: Well, in a sense that he wants all sanctions lifted immediately in a comprehensive, categorical matter, and the day the agreement is signed, while everybody recognizes that at least there's going to be some stages in terms of sanctions relief.
And in terms of negotiation, in terms of verification, obviously, he excluded military and security institutions.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And I want to ask you about that.
Alireza, how do you — Nader — how do you read that, though, that he's saying something that's clearly the opposite or very different from what the U.S. has said about when the sanctions would be lifted? The U.S. is saying they would be gradually phased out.
ALIREZA NADER: Well, I have a hard time believing that he doesn't follow the details of the negotiations.
He knows the foreign minister well. He's worked with the president before, President Rouhani. These guys are working together. Just because he says something in public doesn't mean that's what's really going on. He's taking a political position.
In terms of sanctions relief, yes, he wants the best deal for Iran, he wants sanctions relief up front. And the fact sheet released by the United States said, as long as Iran doesn't comply with the agreement, it's not going to meet sanctions relief.
And Khamenei is trying to play good — bad cop, actually, to Rouhani's good cop and see what he can get, if he can get more out of the deal.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Ray Takeyh, could that be it, bad cop/good cop on the part of him and President Rouhani?
RAY TAKEYH: Well, I think this particular speech in some ways is not reinforcing, but undermining the negotiations, because it raises questions in everybody's mind, does the final and most consequential decision-maker in Iran accept the terms of the agreements that are being negotiated?
When previous negotiator Saeed Jalili spoke, you knew on whose behalf he was speaking. It's unclear in this particular case if the gang in Geneva or wherever they may meet actually have the endorsement, support of the boss back home.
So if this is good cop/bad cop — it may be, but I'm not sure how actually it reinforces the position of the negotiating team.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But you really do believe that the ayatollah could have been sitting and letting these negotiations go on for months, as long as they have gone on, without being aware?
RAY TAKEYH: I find it hard to believe, particularly once Mr. Salehi joined the negotiating team, the head of Atomic Energy Organization, who is close to him.
But in the past, he has taken positions that are contrary to the negotiating teams, like the 190,000 SWU speech that he gave that surprised his own negotiators. So, in the past, he has injected point of views in the diplomatic process which ran in contradiction to what being displayed by his own team.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Ali Nader, another point he made is that the — that Iran is going to — or, rather, that Iran — let me get this straight. I want to make sure I'm getting to the point that I wanted to get to — oh, that he ruled out what he called extraordinary supervision measures over Iran's nuclear activities going forward.
ALIREZA NADER: Right.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How does that square with what President Obama has said, robust, intrusive inspections?
ALIREZA NADER: Sure.
Well, there is an issue of military bases. He doesn't want Iran's military bases inspected. He has said Iran has conventional military bases. It's an issue of sovereignty. The United Nations inspected Iraq, and went into Saddam Hussein's palaces. He doesn't want that for Iran, because he thinks it's an invasion of Iran's sovereignty.
The P5-plus-one wants Iran to answer a list of questions. It wants access to scientists, military bases. Again, can that be resolved? I think so. You know, if we look at the past year-and-a-half of negotiations, we have come very far. And I tend to see the situation as glass-half-full, rather than empty.
From the very beginning, we had doubts whether Khamenei was going to go along. Over time, he has said that he supports the negotiations. And during this speech, he said, I wholeheartedly support them, but I just want to see what comes out of these negotiations.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But on the — and on the inspection point, Ray Takeyh, you see the ability to get that worked out?
RAY TAKEYH: Well, that has been the problem ongoing between IAEA and Iran.
For instance, IAEA wants access to the Parchin military base and is not given that. It wants completion of the work plan that was originally negotiated in 2006 and remains unfulfilled. The intrusive sanctions do have precedent. South Africa, for instance, when it essentially gave up its bomb, made its facilities available for inspection. Military bases are inspected in Brazil as part of additional protocols.
So if he's excluding an entire spectrum of institution, that's very problematic for a verification regime, a verification regime that doesn't have benefit of historical memory. Namely, there will be no disclosure of previous military activities as a prelude to constructing a verification system.
JUDY WOODRUFF: This is unfair to ask this as a very quick last question, but, in terms of Yemen, I talked to Secretary Kerry yesterday. He made it clear the U.S. is not going to tolerate Iran's activities in — is aware and won't tolerate Iran's activities in Yemen.
But, Ali Nader, so how much a priority is Yemen for Iran?
ALIREZA NADER: It's not a vital Iranian interest. Iran is busy in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon.
Iran supports the Houthis who are fighting the Saudis as a way to really provoke the Saudis, to counter the Saudis. But I don't think Iran is willing to go all out for the Houthis. You know, it sees them as a convenient tool, rather than a proxy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Quick last word.
RAY TAKEYH: I think that's largely correct, but this could get out of hand.
As Saudis become more involved, Iranians become more involved, and you have a game of incremental escalation, before long, both parties can be involved in a region, in a country that's not a national security priority for either one of them.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Ray Takeyh and Ali Nader, we thank you both.
ALIREZA NADER: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.