Iran's Parliament has approved a bill to join the Convention against Funding Terrorism (CFT), amid heated debates between hardline MPs and Majles Speaker Ali Larijani, on Sunday October 7.
In a change of heart, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei endorsed the move by sending a letter to the speaker of parliament.
Some of the opponents of the bill have said clearly that joining the convention may make it difficult for Iran to send financial assistance to terrorist groups such as Lebanon's Hezbollah, Yemen's Houthi rebels and Palestinian groups including Hamas.
The bill was passed with a narrow edge of about 20 votes as 143 lawmakers voted in favor of the bill, 120 voted against, and five abstained, local media reported.
The 120 who voted against the bill, are slightly more than the number of ultraconservative Paydari (steadfastness) fraction members who usually vote against moderate policies and oppose President Hassan Rouhani.
The voting followed a fierce campaign against the bill by hardline media, clerics and vigilante groups, tacitly encouraged by Supreme Leader Khamenei.
Even Sunday morning, IRGC-linked newspaper Javan, as well as other hardline papers such as Kayhan, Resalat and Farhikhtegan took stances against the CFT, a prerequisite called for by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to get Iran out of the blacklist of countries suspected of aiding terrorist groups.
Hardline cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi threatened Majles Speaker Ali Larijani in the evening before the voting telling him in a letter not to pass the bill. Others including Tehran's Friday Prayers Leader Ayatollah Movahedi Kermani had also warned the parliament against passing the bill, adding that the hardline Guardian Council will over-ride it even if it gets through the Majles.
Meanwhile Iran's state TV which is linked to hardliners close to Khamenei broadcast a documentary against joining FATF and CFT the night before the voting, and some 100 members of Tehran's vigilante groups staged a demonstration in front of the parliament while vote was being taken. The demonstrations turned into a mourning ceremony after the bill passed, media reports from Tehran say.
This comes while Kamal Kharrazi, a foreign policy adviser of Iran's Khamenei, predicted on the day before voting that the bill would be approved by the Majles.
Minutes before the bill was put to vote, Larijani produced a letter from Khamenei which said the Supreme Leader was not against ratifying the bill, Iranian media reported. However, he did not explicitly express support for the convention either.
This stance is similar to his behavior regarding the JCPOA. In that case he secretly allowed negotiations with the United States and other world powers but did not give his public blessing to the talks and the ensuing agreement, in a way that he would get credit for the move if it turned out to be successful, and at the same time could distance himself in case the result was not satisfactory.
Khamenei’s supporters split into two groups during the vote; for and against. It is not clear if this was an arranged tactic for the bill to pass - but not overwhelmingly - or it was a genuine difference of opinion.
Iran will need FATF's blessing as the European initiative to save the JCPOA and Iran's international trade against a new round of U.S. sanctions that starts on November 4, depends on Iran joining four international conventions against money laundering, funding terrorism and organized crimes.
Even Moscow, an ally of Tehran's, reportedly told Iran's Central Bank Governor during his visit to Moscow last week that Russian banks cannot help Tehran against US sanctions without Iran committing itself to FATF and the international conventions it required.
Although the Majles has passed CFT on Sunday, the ratification would still not be official unless it is also approved by the Guardian Council within two weeks. If the Guardian Council does not concur with the Majles, Khamenei can refer the bill to the Expediency Council, a body that recently has had the final say over bills that were rejected by Guardian Council.
Nevertheless, time is running out for Tehran as it has only one week left before FATF can take it out of the black list, giving the green light to EU to help Iran circumvent U.S. sanctions.