Posted on 03/06/2013 by Juan Cole
The foreign policy of late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez imagined that socialism and anti-imperialism are the same thing, and that he could lead a new sort of socialist international. (He also seems not to have distinguished between anti-Americanism and anti-imperialism.) These considerations shaped his Middle East policy in ways that were contradictory and hypocritical. Chavez, supposedly a man of the people, stood against Iran’s 2009 Green Movement, against the Libyan Revolution to overthrow the erratic Muammar Qaddafi, against the Syrian Revolution.
Iran, while it is a profound critic of the United States, is not a socialist country. Its gini coefficient or measurement of social inequality now is probably worse than in the days of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the monarch overthrown in 1979. As with all oil states, its public sector is large, but it also has a lively private sector, which is dominated by wealthy oligarchs, including some of the ayatollahs and institutions like the Revolutionary Guards. Iran is a right wing theocracy, not a left wing socialist state. If Chavez could embrace a repressive theocracy run for the benefit of wealthy oligarchs, merely because it is anti-American, then of what logical acrobatics was he incapable?
Likewise, Chavez’s support for the Ghaddafis in Libya was based on an extremely superficial reading of Libyan political, economic and social system. The Ghaddafi family looted the country of its wealth, wasting it on ruinous African adventures or squirreling it away in Western banks and real estate. Libya was not a socialist country but a post-Soviet, Russian-style oligarchy. Ordinary Libyans, especially in the east of the country, were increasingly cut out of any share in the country’s oil bonanza. I was shocked last year on my visit there how dowdy and relatively undeveloped Benghazi is; Ghaddafi had clearly punished the country’s second largest city by declining to spend much money on it. Nor was Ghaddafi of 2010 even particularly anti-imperialist. He had welcomed European investment in his oil and gas industries and had much improved relations with the Bush administration. Far from being anti-American, Ghaddafi had a thing for Condi Rice and called Barack Obama his African son. Chavez’s own ally, Iran, largely supported the struggle of the Libyan people against what one ayatollah called “this shell-shocked individual,” though of course Iran condemned the NATO air intervention.
Syria is also no longer a socialist country. The relatives and hangers-on of the ruling al-Assad family transformed themselves into billionaires, using their government contacts to gain lucrative contracts and establishing monopolies. Working Syrians were facing declining real wages in the past decade and very high youth unemployment. Poverty was increasing. Nor was Syria particularly anti-imperialist. In the 1970s and 1980s in Lebanon, Baathist Syria had gladly helped defeat the Palestine Liberation Organization and its Druze and Muslim allies on behalf of the pro-American, right wing Phalangist Party supported by some Christians. After 9/11, the Syrian government tortured al-Qaeda suspects for the Bush administration. It was the US congress that cut Syria off in 2003, not the other way around. And when Obama reopened the US embassy and sought better ties in 2009, al-Assad was perfectly happy to accept.
Whatever one thought of Chavez, he did genuinely improve the lot of the Venezuelan working classes. He won elections and was genuinely popular for this reason. He appears not to have been able to imagine that Khamenei, Ghaddafi and al-Assad are rather less interested in an ideal like the public welfare.
Unable to perform a basic political-economy analysis that would demonstrate that Iran, Libya and Syria had abandoned whatever socialist commitments they once had (Iran of the ayatollahs had never been progressive), Chavez in his own mind appears to have thought that they were analogous to the Bolivia of Eva Morales or the Ecuador of Rafael Correa. Emphatically not so.
He also imagined these countries as anti-American (only Iran really is), and appears to have believed that such a stance covers a multitude of sins on the part of their elites– looting the country, feathering their own nests, and authoritarian dictatorship and police states that deploy arbitrary arrest and torture. In the case of Libya and Syria, the regimes showed a willingness to massacre thousands of their own citizens with bombings from the air and heavy artillery and tank barrages fired into civilian neighborhoods. US imperialism has been guilty of great crimes in Central America and often backed right wing dictators in Latin America generally. You understand how it made a bad impression on Chavez. But the US supported Algeria and many other decolonizing countries in the 1960s and “imperialism” is a thin reed as an all-encompassing analytical tool. There is a sense in which capitalist Russia is seeking a superpower supremacy in parts of the Middle East. Chavez was happy to align with that development.
Venezuela’s stances on the Middle East under Chavez were not usually important in any practical sense. Despite a lot of verbiage, its economic cooperation with Iran has been minor for both countries, and Chavez did no more than make angry speeches about Libya and Syria. Good Iranian-Venezuelan relations provoked a great deal of hysteria in the US, but they don’t actually appear to have been consequential, either in the sphere of economics or in that of security. Despite dark predictions by US hawks, it is probably not very important whether Venezuela keeps its current foreign policy or alters it.
But Chavez did sully his legacy as a progressive with his superficial reading of what ‘anti-imperialism’ entails and his inability to see the neo-liberal police states of the Middle East for what they had become.
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Posted on 03/04/2013 by Juan Cole
News from what Ross Perot used to call the guys in sharkskin suits and alligator shoes– the lobbyists who routinely outvote you and me on Capitol Hill:
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which ought to be a registered foreign agent, opens its annual conference in Washington today. Its three big goals right now are to make sure US government aid to Israel is exempted from the across the board budget cuts of the sequester; to make sure Israel can with impunity go on stealing Palestinian land in the West Bank; and to get permission from Congress for the Israeli Air Force to bomb Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment facilities.
Since Israel is a middle-income country with a nominal per capita income higher than Spain or South Korea, it is mysterious why the US taxpayer should outright give it so much money every year– more especially since the Israelis are breaking international law with their aggressive colonization of the West Bank, which causes no end of trouble for the United States in the Muslim World. Why it should be exempted from the effects of the sequester, when ordinary Americans will not, is further mysterious.
But the maneuvering around the sequester and aid is a minor issue compared to the attempt to do an end run around President Obama and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel by getting senators to sign a permission slip for Israel to attack Iran, saying that the senate:
“urges that, if the Government of Israel is 3 compelled to take military action in self-defense, the 4 United States Government should stand with Israel 5 and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.”
Although the resolution denies being an authorization for war, that is clearly what it is. It was introduced by Lindsey Graham (of course) and Robert Menendez.
The resolution also seeks to expand America’s unilateral war on the Iranian economy, which is arguably illegal in international law, by trying to punish European companies, including pharmaceuticals, that sell to Iran. The US financial blockade is already making some medicines hard to come by for strapped Iranian families with ill children.
An Israeli attack on Iran would certainly draw in the United States. Thousands of US personnel in Baghdad, Qatar and Bahrain would be vulnerable to covert, proxy attacks in response. The Pentagon has repeatedly warned the Israelis about doing anything that might force the US into hostilities, and the brass won’t be happy about this irresponsible resolution.
Former National Security Council staffer and Columbia professor of Political Science Gary Sick notes, “Initiating a war is the gravest step any nation can take. This legislation would effectively entrust that decision to a regional state. Such a decision is an American sovereign responsibility. It cannot be outsourced.”
Just Foreign Policy has suggestions for how you can protest this irresponsible resolution to your elected representatives.
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Posted on 02/27/2013 by Juan Cole
The GOP senators have their own foreign policy, and it isn’t the same as that of President Obama or Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
For them, the US is a 900 pound behemoth that can boss the world around with its high-tech military at will. Their foreign policy is to shoot first and ask questions later, to cowboy it all alone, to never have regrets and never question American supremacy. They believe in a civilizational hierarchy, with Americans at the top of it, and for some of them ‘Americans’ means white Americans.
They strongly supported the illegal US invasion and occupation of Iraq, and many opposed the 2011 US withdrawal from that country. McCain admitted that some of the pettiness toward Hagel derived from grudges over his break with George W. Bush: “There’s a lot of ill will toward Sen. Hagel because when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly, at one point said he was the worst president since Herbert Hoover, said the surge (of U.S. troops in Iraq) was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War, which is nonsense, and was anti-his own party and people.”
I think Herbert Hoover was a very fine president compared to George W. Bush, and so does McCain. That is, McCain privately agrees with Hagel on this issue, and is slamming him in part because he is guilty over his own inability to live up to his ideal of party loyalty. As for Bush’s war on Iraq, the crackpot notion that the entire enterprise was anything but an epochal failure that left hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead and millions displaced, and gave al-Qaeda a new lease on life, should be laughed out of the Senate.
The GOP Orcs have a further list of countries they’d like to invade and occupy. Senator Lindsey Graham added Pakistan to the list. Does anybody else in the known universe think it is a good idea for the US abruptly to go to war with the world’s sixth-largest country, which is a nuclear power, and which is backed by China? I mean, shouldn’t this man just be declared clinically insane and mercifully put in an institution instead of being allowed to strut the halls of power? ( South Carolina, by the way, has among the worst health statistics and the shortest life expectancy in the United States, so that you would think Sen. Graham might have other priorities than becoming a 21st century Lord Curzon.)
John McCain joked about bombing Iran. (A bomb strike on the nuclear enrichment facilities at Natanz near Isfahan would release massive amounts of toxins and likely kill 100,000 innocent civilians.)
The Senate in general is all for keeping several million Palestinians stateless and without basic civil and human rights, and for allowing the Israelis (many of them Americans or Eastern Europeans) to steal what’s left of Palestinian farmland. In the Senate’s racial hierarchy of power, Americans are on top, Arabs near the bottom, and Palestinians are in the toilet. The GOP senators are currently thinking up ways to punish the Palestinians for daring to assert their right to be citizens of a state at the UN.
Hagel’s ideas on foreign policy are pragmatic and cautious, and sane. The real reason that he had a hard ride in his confirmation was that the looney tunes Tea Partiers and Neoconservative dead-enders want to keep alive the insane options as long as they can, the dream of striding in camel boots and khaki through the halls of an abject Islamabad, the dream of reducing Iran to a less prosperous version of the Congo, the dream of erasing the Palestinians altogether, the dream of total and absolute global dominance.
Their sense of innate superiority makes them unable to look about a broken-down America, its treasury looted of trillions by crooked financiers, its 30,000 significantly wounded Iraq War veterans needing trillions in health care over the next decades, its bridges falling down, its school students illiterate in mathematics and science, its factory jobs shipped abroad by scheming corporations, its minorities increasingly denied the right to vote, and its industry spewing 5 billion metric tons of hothouse gases into the atmosphere annually, threatening to wipe out New Orleans and Manhattan with artificial sea level rises.
There is enough to do at home, without small men from small states dreaming of world conquest. Hagel knows this, and so they smeared him with their slime.
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Posted on 02/26/2013 by Juan Cole
The taking of US diplomatic personnel hostage by radical Iranian activists and angry crowds in November of 1979, and then the backing for this action of the government of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was profoundly illegal. I know some of the former hostages, and deeply sympathize with their trauma. Nothing justifies what was done to them.
But Ben Affleck’s otherwise fine, Oscar-winning film, “Argo,” about the escape of some US embassy personnel, functions as American propaganda and a sort of neo-Orientalism. That it was based on a memoir of the incident by a former Central Intelligence Agency operative involved in the rescue is part of the problem. That memoir is a primary source and valuable, but good history, and good story-telling about history, weights sources and tries to correct for their biases. “Argo” does not. Some of the Iranian objections to the film are equally grounded in propaganda concerns, but some are legitimate.
It isn’t just that the memoir slights the massive contribution of the Canadian embassy and Canadian diplomats to the mission and plays up the relatively minor CIA role. (Virtually every good idea that contributed to the success of the rescue came from Canada, but somehow American movie audiences insist that it all has to be about us.) Nor that Britain’s important role is denied and even denigrated Nor is my main objection that a whole series of exciting events are invented that never occurred. It is that the entire context for these events is virtually absent and the Iranian characters are depicted as full of mindless rage.
Although the film begins with an info-dump that explains that the US screwed over Iran by having the CIA overthrow the elected government in 1953 and then helped impose a royal dictatorship in the form of the restored shah, that part of the film is emotionally flat. It tells, it doesn’t show. It is tacked on. It does not intersect with the subsequent film in any significant way. It therefore has no emotional weight and does little to contextualize the Iranian characters (none of whose names I think we even learn).
Former hostage and superb American diplomatic John Limbert makes the same point in Foreign Policy:
“Argo highlights the negative attitudes that the two countries have held toward each other for decades. Its brief introduction attempts to provide historical context behind the embassy takeover, but the film does not convey the prevailing Iranian sense of grievance — real or imagined — that led to the 1979 attack, and to the emotional response in the streets of Tehran . . . More than three decades later, the same atmosphere of suspicion, mistrust, and festering wounds dominates Iranian-American relations.”
You could have had Iranian characters angry that the American-backed Shah or king, Mohammad Reza Pahlevi, had arbitrarily imprisoned them or their friends among the dissidents, and had subjected both intellectuals and members of openly revolutionary groups to torture and murder in prison. That would not in any way have justified what was done to Foreign Service Officers of the State Department, but it would have humanized the Iranian villains of the piece and made the film more complex and less like a comic book.
“Argo” could have been a moment when Americans come to terms with their Cold War role as villains in places like Iran. It could have been a film about what intelligence analysts call “blowback,” when a covert operation goes awry. Instead it plays into a ‘war on terror’ narrative of innocent Americans victimized by essentially deranged foreign mobs.
Muhammad Sahimi writes,
” Mehdi Rezaei, an MKO member, was arrested in April 1972 and executed that September at the age of 20, after enduring horrific torture. Ali Asghar Badizadegan, one of the MKO’s founders, was forced into an electric oven according to his comrade Lotfollah Meysami. He was burned so badly that he became paralyzed, and the SAVAK refused to turn over his body after he was executed in May 1972. As Ali Gheissari writes in Iranian Intellectuals in the Twentieth Century, under Sabeti the Committee was also “responsible for the arbitrary detention, interrogation, and torture of many university students during that period.”
The Shah’s feared secret police, and his entire repressive regime, did not function completely on their own. They had been installed by the US in cooperation with far rightwing Iranian generals and the Iranian equivalent of billionaires, and SAVAK and the regime continued to have close links to the CIA. It is alleged that some of the torture techniques used by the Shah’s SAVAK were taught to them by the CIA. And, it is further alleged that the CIA itself had front groups on and was active in spying on Iranian campuses, in parallel to operations such as COINTELPRO in the US. The anti-Shah Iranian students piecing together shredded US embassy cables in Tehran weren’t looking for photos of the escaped diplomats, as “Argo” implies. (There was no last-minute identification of them or car chase on the tarmac– that was all made up). They were looking for evidence of the ways the intelligence officials under cover at the embassy had been monitoring them and their friends and putting them in torture cells.
Such spying on Iranian dissidents was a very minor part of what US intelligence was doing in Iran at that time– allegedly only three field officers even knew Persian. Mostly they were using Iran as a listening base to spy on the Soviet Union. But keeping Iran subservient and docile was key for Washington to remaining able to deploy its petroleum for Western economic success versus the Warsaw Pact and Communist China, and to being able to use Iran for monitoring the USSR. Hence, some resources were also devoted to repressing critics of the shah. And while liasing with SAVAK to arrest intellectuals and dissidents may have been a subsidiary effort for the Agency, for those whose lives were ruined by the Shah’s apparatus of repression, it rather bulked large.
The US embassy personnel taken captive were not responsible for the Shah and what he did to the Iranian people, but the US government did whatever it could to back the Shah and protect him from international criticism.
The Iranian crowds are depicted in the film as irrational mobs. The Revolutionary Guards at the airport are depicted as angry puritans, worried about Marvel artist Jack Kirby’s somewhat salacious storyboards for the proposed “Lord of Light” film that the CIA optioned for the operation (based on a novel by Roger Zelazny). No Iranian character in the film who has a legitimate grievance against US policy is permitted to be sympathetic or to have any intimate moments that would humanize him or her.
The film tells but doesn’t show some of the US atrocities in Iran. It shows the plight of the hapless US diplomats. In making that key dramatic decision, and then in Orientalizing the Iranian protagonists as angry and irrational, the film betrays its subject matter and becomes propaganda, lacking true moral or emotional ambiguity. Roger Zelazny’s and Jack Kirby’s “Lord of Light” would have been more nuanced.
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Posted on 02/25/2013 by Juan Cole
Posted on 02/20/2013 by Juan Cole
The Washington Post is surprised by the ‘mysterious’ high cost of gasoline in the US but does not mention in this article that the US government, at the insistence of the Israel lobbies, reduced Iran’s petroleum exports by 40% in 2012 by strong-arming countries to leave it in the ground and not import it on threat of third-party US sanctions.
Petroleum prices are at near-historic highs this winter. The average for gasoline in the US has jumped to $3.75 and it is much, much higher in Europe. The price of petroleum as a primary commodity is not a very complicated calculation– it is just supply and demand. The world is producing roughly 90 million barrels a day of oil. The world wants all of that and more, and hence the price is high. If Iran’s one million barrels a day — which the US has forced countries in Europe and elsewhere not to buy– were on the market, the price would be less. (There is a little twist in that sulphur-heavy, ‘sour’ crude is more expensive to refine into gasoline, so taking ‘light sweet’ oil off the market and trying to replace it with sour crude from e.g. Nigeria is costly).
Ironically, the high petroleum prices produced in part by the blockade of Iran oil sales cushion Iran’s government from the sanctions, since what oil it does sell goes for high prices and feathers the ayatollahs’ nests. Over time, some Iranian exports may be taken over by the private sector, which is not subject to the same sanctions as the government-owned enterprises.
The Neoconservatives behind the largely congressionally-led financial blockade against Iran’s oil exports (mandated by last year’s National Defense Authorization Act) promised that the policy would not harm the American economy because Saudi Arabia would be willing to pump extra petroleum to cover the Iranian shortfall. The Saudi ability to replace Iranian exports in the medium to long term, however, is doubted by many analysts, and Saudi exports fell slightly in the last quarter of 2012 from last summer’s heights. There was also a strike at a plant in Libya, and continued security problems for exports in northern Iraq. Not to mention that Syria and South Sudan exports have been halted by political upheaval, and that technical problems reduced the UK’s North Sea production.
Moreover, world demand is not stable, as the Neocons appear to have thought, and the prospect of an economic upturn in Asia this year will cause more petroleum to be used, increasing demand and magnifying the effect of the reduction of Iranian exports. Even the expectation of an upturn puts prices up on speculation.
Having West Texas crude go for nearly $100 a barrel is certainly a drag on the US economy, and as WaPo notes, it is hurting a lot of American workers and businesses. Polls show that drilling for oil in the US, even with environmentally dubious methods such as hydraulic fracturing, is popular with the US public. What they don’t seem to realize is that our sanctions on Iran are the same as closing down a sixth of US production.
Why WaPo and many other American news sources more or less cover up the effect of the US war on Iranian petroleum exports in keeping world oil and gasoline prices high is what is mysterious to me.
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Posted on 02/20/2013 by Juan Cole
Farhang Jahanpour* writes at the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
Room for optimism in Iran and the P5-plus-1 talks
Iran and the P5-plus-1, which includes the United States, will meet again on 26 February in Kazakhstan. This is the first time that the two sides will meet in an atmosphere of continuing mutual suspicion since the third round of talks held in Moscow on 18-19 June 2012 ended in stalemate.
Iran believes that the West, particularly the United States, is using the talks as a pretext to increase the sanctions until Tehran bends to its will; whereas Washington holds that Iran is prolonging the talks in order to continue its uranium enrichment with the aim of producing a nuclear weapon. The fact of the matter is that neither side is sincere in their remarks and both sides are engaged in a cat and mouse game trying to use the talks for domestic purposes and for pursuing other goals, rather than finding a mutually acceptable solution to Iran’s nuclear program.
Based on the recent remarks by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, many pundits have expressed doubt about a positive outcome from the talks. Some have argued that there have been differences of views between the Supreme Leader and President Mahmud Ahmadinezhad, as well as Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on the advisability of talks with the United States.
Speaking at Munich Security Conference at the beginning of February, Vice President Joe Biden said:
“As President Obama has made clear to Iranian leaders, our policy is not containment — it is not containment. It is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. But we’ve also made clear that Iran’s leaders need not sentence their people to economic deprivation and international isolation. There is still time, there is still space for diplomacy, backed by pressure, to succeed. The ball is in the government of Iran’s court, and it’s well past time for Tehran to adopt a serious, good-faith approach to negotiations with the P5-plus-1.”
Answering a question about the possibility of direct US-Iranian negotiations and when they might happen, Biden said: “When the Iranian leadership, Supreme Leader, is serious. We have made it clear at the outset that we would not — we would be prepared to meet bilaterally with the Iranian leadership. We would not make it a secret that we were doing that. We would let our partners know if that occasion presented itself. That offer stands, but it must be real and tangible, and there has to be an agenda that they’re prepared to speak to. We are not just prepared to do it for the exercise.”1
Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi who spoke later at the same conference welcomed Vice President Biden’s remarks concerning direct talks and said: “We take these statements with positive consideration. I think this is a step forward but … each time we have come and negotiated it was the other side unfortunately who did not heed … its commitment.”2 He also told Iran’s English-language Press TV: “I would like to say that these are good signs … We are a rational government and we look into resolving outstanding international issues through negotiations. This is not a forbidden zone. This is not a red line when it comes to holding bilateral talks on particular subjects. Here, I mean the nuclear issue. This is not a red line.”
In Washington, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey said that the United States had the capability to stop any Iranian effort to build nuclear weapons, but Iranian “intentions have to be influenced through other means.” The former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, speaking alongside Dempsey, said that current U.S. intelligence indicated that Iranian leaders have not made a decision to proceed with the development of a nuclear weapon. He continued: “But every indication is they want to continue to increase their nuclear capability, and that’s a concern. And that’s what we’re asking them to stop doing.”3
Speaking after the reports about North Korea’s third nuclear tests, Secretary of State John Kerry made Iran the focus of his comments on North Korea, saying that the international moves against North Korea were important because they would “send a message” to Iran and prove to them that their own civilian program won’t be tolerated.4
Speaking alongside the Canadian foreign minister, Kerry said: “The president has made it clear that his preference is to have a diplomatic solution, but if he cannot get there, he is prepared to do whatever is necessary to make certain that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon.” He stressed that President Obama wants a diplomatic solution in the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, but is ready to take other steps to prevent the country from developing a nuclear weapon.5
Responding to Biden’s remarks about the possibility of conditional direct talks with Iran, in a meeting with Iranian Air Force Commanders during the 34th anniversary celebrations of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Khamenei said: “Negotiations with America will not solve any problems.” In a direct response to Biden’s comments, the ayatollah said: “The ball, in fact, is in your court. Does it make sense to offer negotiations while issuing threats and putting pressure? You are holding a gun against Iran saying you want to talk. The Iranian nation will not be frightened by the threats.”6
Some commentators have interpreted his remarks as the rejection of America’s extended hand, but in reality a careful analysis of his remarks shows that there has been no contradiction between his remarks and the stance adopted by President Ahmadinezhad and Foreign Minister Salehi. Speaking at the ceremonies marking the anniversary of the revolution, President Mahmud Ahmadinezhad welcomed the prospect of direct talks with the United States, but he started his remarks by referring to Khamene’i’s remarks: “As the Supreme Leader said, you hold a gun on top of the nation … You pull away the gun from the face of the Iranian nation, I myself will enter the talks with you.”7
Iranian Foreign Minister Salehi who had welcomed Vice President Biden’s tentative offer of talks during the Munich conference had also complained of “other contradictory signals” by America including the rhetoric “keeping all options on the table.” Speaking to Iranian Press TV, Salehi pointed out: “This does not go along with this gesture (of talks) so we will have to wait a little bit longer and see if they are really faithful this time.”
The combination of all these statements show that while Iranian leaders are open to genuine progress at the P5-plus-1 talks and even to the possibility of direct bilateral talks with the United States, they do not trust the sincerity of the other side, and believe that the offer of talks does not accord with constant threats, the mantra of “all options are on the table”, and intensified sanctions.
In fact, just prior to Biden’s offer of talks, the Obama Administration imposed new sanctions on Iran, which even the New York Times said was economic war against Iran. The treasury said that it would pressurize various countries to withhold payment for Iranian oil. The treasury also widened the sanctions list to include Iranian state media. Iranian foreign language Press TV was dropped from the satellite platform that enabled it to broadcast to the US and Canada.
The United States and Israel have waged cyberwarfare directed against Iran. The sophisticated malware called “Flame” has been identified as having infected computers in Iran. The virus — which Iran said was linked to the Stuxnet worm that knocked out hundreds of its uranium enrichment centrifuges in 2010 — was designed for spying, according to specialist cybersecurity outfits. It had modules allowing it to steal files, capture screens, log keystrokes, record audio through computer microphones and scan nearby Bluetooth-enable devices such as mobile phones, and it could be tweaked and controlled remotely.
The assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, cyber attacks, acts of sabotage, and unprecedented crippling sanctions have been part of the Israeli and Western campaigns waged against Iran. Iran also feels that that the US and its allies are misusing the IAEA to issue trumped up reports about Iran’s nuclear program. In fact, in a statement read during an IAEA board of governors meeting, representatives of the 120 nation strong Non-Aligned Movement noted “with concern, the possible implications of the continued departure from standard verification language in the summary of the report of the director general [Yukio Amano].”8
Therefore, Iran’s skepticism about Western intentions is not the result of paranoia and has some basis in fact. At the same time, it should be pointed out that Iranian leaders are not entering the talks with complete transparency either. Clearly, the intensified pace of uranium enrichment is not due to a pressing need for fuel, because at the moment Iran has only one nuclear reactor in Bushehr whose fuel is provided by Russia.
Speaking on 16 February, Ayatollah Khamenei once again stressed that the Islamic Republic was not seeking to develop nuclear weapons, adding: “”We believe that nuclear weapons must be eliminated. We don’t want to build atomic weapons. But if we didn’t believe so and intended to possess nuclear weapons, no power could stop us.”9 He went on: “We do not want to build nuclear weapons. Not because America would be upset if we do so. It is rather what we have decided. We believe that nuclear weapons are a crime against humanity and should not be built; and whatever weapons there are in the world should be destroyed.”
Various IAEA reports and even NIE reports have indicated that Iranian leaders have not decided to move towards the building of nuclear weapons. However, the reason behind Iran’s insistence to continue with its nuclear program is due to Iran’s desire to have nuclear latency or “the Japan option”.
At the same time, the West is really using the excuse of Iran’s nuclear weapons to impose tougher and tougher sanctions on Iran, in order to bring about a regime change or at least to force it to give in to Western demands on other issues. These include her stance towards the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iran’s support for HAMAS and Hizbullah that Israel and America have designated as terrorist organizations, and above all America’s strategic interests in the Persian Gulf.
It is wrong and counterproductive to link the issue of Iran’s nuclear program to the issue of regime change. The two issues are completely separate and have to be delinked in order to achieve progress on the nuclear issue. The other problem is the West’s habit of linking the desire for regime change to pressure from abroad. Any true and lasting regime change is one that is home-grown and carried out by the people, rather than imposed from abroad in pursuit of other goals.
The best way to empower the Iranian people to rise against the regime and demand greater freedom and democracy is to persuade them that their uprising would not harm the country, in the way that the uprisings in Libya and Syria have done, and that it would not lead to foreign invasion as was witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Isolating the Iranians and putting them under crippling sanctions will push them into the arms of the regime and will antagonize them against the West in the long term.
On the eve of the P5-plus-1 talks, it is time for the West to accept Iran’s right to enrich uranium according to the NPT regulations, and to make a serious offer to break the deadlock. This will require the lifting of sanctions that were imposed on the basis of the bogus claim that Iran was developing nuclear weapons.
In return, Iran should provide much greater transparency by joining the Additional Protocol and opening up all her sites for inspection by the IAEA, because if Ayatollah Khamenei is to be believed Iran has nothing to hide. There is still a realistic possibility of reaching a grand bargain with Iran and putting an end to this unnecessary divergence, because the alternative could be quite devastating for both sides.
* Farhang Jahanpour is a tutor at the Department of Continuing Education and a member of Kellogg College, Oxford, and a TFF Associate.
1. The White House: Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden to the Munich Security Conference, February 02, 2013.
2. Reuters report, 3 February 2013.
4. “Kerry: Response to N. Korea will send Iran a message”, Associated Press, 02.13.13.
5. Kerry: Obama Wants Diplomatic Solution to Iran, Kerry: Obama Wants Diplomatic Solution to Iran, Voice of America, February 09, 2013.
6. “Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejects chance of direct talks with US”, The Guardian, 7 February 2013.
7. “Mahmud Ahmadinejad says Iran ready for nuclear talks with US”, The Guardian, 10 February 2013.
8. Non-Aligned Movement backs Iran in Asia Times Online, September 17, 2010.
9. “Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei denies wanting to develop nuclear weapons”, The Guardian 16 February 2013.
Mirrored from TFF
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