While many in Iran’s leadership have insisted they do not want a war with the US, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s public chastising of the Islamic Republic’s president reflects his more hawkish position.
Ayatollah Khamenei has long maintained the view that Iranian negotiators surrendered too much in the deal.
Last summer, he said they had “trespassed the red lines that had been set” and that the country owed the little it had thanks to his advice to Mr Rouhani. Without this guidance, the ayatollah said, “we would have given up more.”
Mr Rouhani’s move to put a referendum on the table could help him settle this internal dispute without losing face and provide political cover for whichever path voters backed.
The Iranian public has been broadly supportive of the nuclear deal and its attendant possibilities for economic growth. The country’s middle classes in particular have been exhausted by years of sanctions and currency depreciation.
But there is also an alternate view that sees a referendum as a device to offer Iranian leadership a pathway back to enrichment.
Iran has held three referendums since its 1979 Islamic revolution, the first to approve the set-up of an Islamic Republic and the second to approve and amend the constitution.