Farhang Jahanpour – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sun, 20 Mar 2022 19:44:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7.6 On Nowruz, the Persian New Year: Can the United States and Iran Turn a New Page in Their Relations? https://www.juancole.com/2022/03/persian-united-relations.html Sun, 20 Mar 2022 04:08:33 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=203579 Oxford (Special to Informed Comment) – Sunday 20th March is the vernal equinox, which has been traditionally celebrated by Iranians as Now Ruz (New Day), the Iranian New Year. It is also celebrated in many countries in the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia. The first recorded mention of Now Ruz dates back to 538 BC under Cyrus the Great, but the festival is older and goes back to early Zoroastrian times. According to Ferdowsi’s epic poem Shah Nameh (completed in 1010), Now Ruz was instituted by the mythical Iranian King Jamshid who defeated the demon of darkness and ushered in light and warmth with the start of the Spring. Iranians see Now Ruz as the time for renewal, regeneration, the end of hostilities and turning a new page in their lives.

Iran-US relations have gone through many ups and downs, and have moved from extreme friendship to extreme hostility. Maybe this year’s Now Ruz is a good opportunity for both nations to start anew. What are the main causes of the current conflict between the two countries, and is there any way to bridge that gap and establish at least cordial if not friendly relations between the two? The following bullet points refer to some of the headlines of this long and complex relationship.

1- One of the problems with these relations has been the fact that they have often been based on emotions and sentimentality, rather than on pragmatism and rationality. Henry John Temple who served twice as the British prime minister in the mid-19th century has a famous saying: “Nations do not have permanent friends or enemies, only interests”. The first requirement for better relations between Iranians and Americans is that they should separate their personal feelings from political relations between the two states and nations.

2- The ancient Iranian prophet Mani (216-274) believed in a dualistic cosmology according to which the world is ruled by two opposing forces of good and evil, light and darkness, day and night. He believed that these two forces are in constant struggle until one of them triumphs over the other. In English, the term “Manichaeism” has come to mean duality and the struggle between good and evil.

Unfortunately, this philosophy seems to have had a lasting effect on the Iranian psyche, right up to the present time. Iranians are often accused of “efrat va tafrit”, namely going to an extreme in one direction or the other. What is so strange is that many Americans also share this trait and often see things in black and white, with little awareness of all the shades of grey in between. When Americans befriend a government, as they did with the late Shah’s government or the current Israeli government, they see no evil and hear no evil, but when they turn against a government they take their hostility to extremes as they have been doing with Iran since the Iranian Revolution. In other words, their relations with many countries are based on a zero-sum game.

3- Relations between individuals are very different from relations between nations. We may form a friendship with someone who shares our views and characteristics. On the other hand, nations are large and complex organisms that contain many different and sometimes contradictory interests and policies.

In some ways, there are many similarities between Iran and the United States. The United States is a nation composed of people from all over the world. According to figures produced in 2020, American society was divided into the following groups:

Population 330 million

White 57.8%

Hispanics 18.7%

Black 12.1%

Asian 5.9%

Muslims 1.1%

Jews 2.4%

According to the figures provided by the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2021, there are also more than 1.5 million people of Iranian descent living and working in the United States.

Iranian society is equally diverse. According to figures published in 2019, Iran has the following ethnic divisions:

Population 85 million

Persian 61%

Azeri 16%

Kurdish 10%

Lurs 6%

Baluchis 2%

Arabs 2%

Turkmen 2%

Others 1%

4- Relations between nations are not static, but vary depending on who is in power at different times. Clearly, Iranian relations with the United States under Mohammad Reza Shah were quite different from those under Ayatollah Khomeini, and in recent times the policies of President Obama towards Iran were very different from those of President Trump.

5- Relations based on friendship are different from economic and political relations between governments. Most countries manage to separate their political relations with other countries from their economic interests. India is a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation led by China. At the same time, she is also a member of the so-called Quad, comprising the United States, India, Japan and Australia, with the aim of confronting China. India has extensive commercial relations with both sides.

China has signed a 25-year economic agreement with Iran to invest some $400 billion into the Iranian economy, but she also has equally large agreements for economic cooperation with the GCC states and Israel that are regarded as Iran’s rivals if not opponents.

Iran’s neighbour Turkey is a member of NATO, yet has friendly relations with Russia and China. Turkey bought the Russian S-400 missile defence system in 2019, much to USA’s annoyance, and she has also signed an agreement under which Russia will build a nuclear reactor in Turkey. At the same time, she has major differences with Russia over Syria, Libya and even Ukraine to which she has sold high-precision weapons that have been used against Russia. Nevertheless, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Turkey has remained fairly neutral and has even tried to mediate between them. Having an agreement with one side does not prevent agreements with other players.

Friends turned into enemies:

As far as political relations between Iran and the United States are concerned, they have gone through many changes over the past two centuries. The early phases of those relations were very cordial and even friendly. In 1907, Howard Baskerville, a recent graduate from Princeton University, went to Iran and started teaching English and American history to mixed classes of boys and girls at the American Presbyterian-run Memorial School in Tabriz, the capital of Iranian Azerbaijan.[1]

In 1909, when the Constitutional Revolution was facing opposition from the Qajar ruler Mohammad Ali Shah who wanted to reverse the revolution, Baskerville was so impressed by the people fighting for their freedom that he joined the revolutionaries. On April 19, 1909, Baskerville was killed by a sniper’s bullet and was buried in the Christian Armenian cemetery in Tabriz, while over 1,000 mourners took part in his funeral. He was 24 years and 9 days old.

He was eulogised as a patriot and martyr of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution. Right up to the present time, a bronze bust of Howard Baskerville is on display in the Tabriz Constitutional House. Aref Ghazvini, one of Iran’s leading poets, travelled to Tabriz to pay tribute to Baskerville in 1923 and wrote an ode in his honour.

In 1909, after the Constitutional Revolution triumphed, Iran’s Constitutionalists turned to the United States for assistance to reform its finances. When President William Taft took the oath of office in 1909, his inaugural address expressed optimism about the possibility of improved trade relations with Iran. In 1910, the newly-minted Iranian Parliament recruited a 35-year-old American lawyer, Morgan Shuster, to be ‘Treasurer-General’, and gave him broad powers to restructure the country’s finances. Morgan Shuster devised a new taxation system and planned to set up a tax-collecting gendarmerie.

His active support for the Constitutional Movement and his attempts to improve Iran’s financial affairs displeased the two colonial powers of the time, Russia and Britain, forcing the Iranian vice-regent to expel him in 1911. Back in America, he authored a remarkable book, The Strangling of Persia, which still remains one of the best accounts of the designs of foreign imperial powers to suppress the Iranian constitution. In his book, he wrote: “It was obvious that the people of Persia deserve much better than they are getting, that they wanted us to succeed but it was the British and the Russians who were determined not to let us succeed.”[2]

After the First World War, again Iran turned to another American, Dr Arthur Millspaugh, to continue the work that had been started by Shuster. He was a former advisor to the U.S. State Department’s Office of Foreign Trade. He was hired by Iran’s Finance Ministry and served in Iran from 1922-27 and again from 1942-45. He helped Iran become independent of foreign loans, and he was seen by the Iranian public and government as a liberator from foreign dominance.

Back in the United States, he tried to influence the State Department’s policies towards Iran. Following Morgan Shuster’s example, in 1925 Millspaugh published a book about his first assignment in Iran, The American Task in Persia.[3] After his second assignment, he wrote another book, Americans in Persia.[4]

Six main events in Iran-US relations:

In the recent history of Iran-U.S. relations, five events have shaped those relations:

1- The first event was the 1953 US-UK-orchestrated coup that overthrew the popular government of Mohammad Mosaddeq. That event marked a turning point in the popular perceptions of the United States in Iran, and has poisoned bilateral relations ever since.

2- The Islamic Revolution turned Iran from one of the closest US allies in the Middle East to one of its fiercest enemies. The occupation of the US Embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979, followed by the aborted US attempt to attack the embassy and release the hostages by force, exacerbated the hostilities that have continued right to the present time.

3- While most Americans still hold a strong grudge against Iran due to the hostage crisis, many Iranians hold similar feelings of betrayal and hurt as the result of US support for Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran on 22 September 1979, which killed and wounded more than a million Iranians. Saddam Hussein’s aggressive war against Iran was supported by the whole world—from the United States to the former Soviet Union, Europe and many regional countries. On the other hand, Iran was isolated and had to fight the war almost single-handedly.

4- The fourth source of Iranian complaint has been the example of double standards regarding nuclear programmes. The West knowingly ignores Israel’s nuclear arsenal amassed initially by even deceiving its closest ally, the United States. Far from imposing sanctions on Israel and demanding that she gets rid of her weapons of mass destruction, the United States has prevented the IAEA from inspecting Israel’s nuclear facilities and has even blocked calls for setting up a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. In contrast to its treatment of Israel’s illegal weapons, the United States has imposed a wave of extraterritorial sanctions on Iran on the basis of Iran’s nuclear programme which Iran insists is for peaceful purposes.

5- The fifth event was the signing of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, which was backed unanimously by the Security Council Resolution 2231 that lifted all sanctions on Iran. The nuclear deal was also endorsed unanimously by the EU Council.[5]

After years of hostility, President Obama finally decided to recognize Iran’s right to have a peaceful nuclear programme under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency to which she was entitled as an NPT member. According to the deal, Iran destroyed most of her nuclear material in return for the lifting of US and UN sanctions.

After the signing of the deal, there were nationwide celebrations in Iran and a widespread feeling of a new dawn in relations between Iran and the West. Iran signed some massive oil and gas deals with European and American companies and Iran put in big orders for US aircraft. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that once the deal was implemented, it could prove to be the floor and not the ceiling of many more ambitious agreements in different fields. Unfortunately, President Trump’s violation of the deal further undermined Iranians’ view of the United States and persuaded them never to trust US governments again.

6- The sixth factor has been the slow pace of return to the JCPOA under President Biden. Despite Mr Biden’s promises during his presidential campaign that he would reverse President Trump’s executive order to withdraw from the JCPOA, and despite the fact that he cancelled a large number of his predecessor’s executive orders, he has dragged his feet regarding the JCPOA. More than a year after taking office, he has not re-joined the deal and has demanded that Iran should return to full compliance with the JCPOA before the United States lifts Trump’s sanctions, despite the fact that it was the U.S. president who violated the deal not Iran.

Six U.S accusations against Iran:

1- Iran is building a nuclear weapon. This claim is manifestly false. Even 14 U.S. intelligence organisations in a joint statement stated that prior to 2003 Iran had made some studies regarding the manufacturing of a nuclear weapon, but she had given up those attempts under President Mohammad Khatami and had not repeated those efforts again.[6] In any case, in its various inspections of different sites, the IAEA had reported that there had been no diversion of nuclear activities towards the manufacturing of weapons.

Furthermore, the nuclear deal blocked all paths to Iran’s access to nuclear weapons. The agreement reduced Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile by 98 percent and restricted the level of enrichment to 3.67 percent. Given that an enrichment level of more than 90 percent is needed to build a single nuclear bomb, the deal makes it impossible for Iran’s uranium to be weaponized. Under the deal, Iran also reduced the number of its centrifuges from 20,000 to a little over 5,000, far below the number that would be needed for manufacturing a single bomb, even if she wanted to do so. Iran closed the Arak reactor, which was capable of producing plutonium, and agreed to severe restrictions on research and development activities in other facilities. In short, the agreement made it virtually impossible for Iran to build a single bomb.

2- Iran has violated the nuclear deal. The IAEA which is in charge of inspecting Iran’s nuclear programme in 15 separate reports has stressed that Iran abided by the terms of the deal until more than a year after President Trump had violated that deal. In response to the illegal sanctions imposed by the United States, Iran went beyond some of the limits for enrichment set out in the JCPOA, but all those activities have also been under IAEA supervision, and there has been no attempt at enriching uranium beyond 60 degrees of purity which is too low for making a bomb.

3- Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism. The charge of terrorism has been levelled at many countries, but it all depends on what one means by terrorism. Iran has assassinated a few active opposition leaders abroad, but sadly this is a nefarious practice carried out by many countries, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, to name only two.

Iran helped to establish the Lebanese Hezbollah after the Israeli invasion of that country, but that movement has become a part of the Lebanese government and sees itself as a champion of the Shi’is in Lebanon, rather than as a terrorist organisation. In most of its actions, it seems to act independently rather than taking orders from Tehran.

4- Iran is working with Al Qaeda. The charge of Iran’s collaboration with Al Qaeda is as false as the same charge made against Saddam Hussein. During the lead-up to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration levelled two false accusations at Saddam Hussein’s regime. First, that it possessed weapons of mass destruction, and second that it had close relations with Al Qaeda. Those lies paved the way for the devastating war against Iraq. Fast forward nearly two decades and the former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who was intensely hostile towards Iran made exactly the same allegations regarding Al Qaeda’s ties with Iran as a parting shot before he left office. Naturally, Pompeo did not provide any evidence in support of his claim, but he knew that this was a highly effective and dangerous charge because the 2001 Authorization for Use of Force passed by Congress in the wake of 9/11 allows the president to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations.”[7]

5- Iran is intent on destroying Israel. Certainly, the relations between Iran and Israel have gone from correct, if not friendly, relations under the late Shah’s government to extreme hostility. Both sides use very ugly and hateful speech against each other, which only serves to intensify their mutual hostility. Both sides exaggerate the other side’s actions taken against them and refuse to respond to signals of friendship from the other side. While even some Arab regimes that have been implacably hostile to Israel have established relations (under US pressure), there is no reason why Iran which has had a unique relationship with the Jews throughout history cannot move towards friendly relations with Israel. After all, Iranians cannot be more Palestinian than the Palestinians. The best policy for Iran and all Middle Eastern countries is to join the global consensus to help the Palestinians either to acquire their own state alongside Israel or to live in a single state minus the apartheid laws.

6- Hostility with Iran serves US interests in the region. American policy in the Middle East, with non-stop wars with Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, etc. has been a very sorry chapter in American foreign policy. The United States has sold a huge quantity of weapons to some dictatorial Arab regimes, but as the Russian invasion of Ukraine has shown most of them have been unreliable allies. Most of them refused to condemn the Russian aggression and have turned to both Russia and China for purchasing weapons and even nuclear reactors. Persian Gulf regimes have also started mending fences not only with Iran but even with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is visiting the UAE this week-end.

What needs to be done?

1- As the talks in Vienna are reaching their final phase, both countries should draw a line under the Trump era and should move towards closer political and economic relations. Unfortunately, as there is some sign of progress in Iran-US relations, the Israelis have moved beyond acts of sabotage and killing of Iranian scientists to direct attacks on Iranian military installations. There was an attack on an Iranian military base in Kermanshah on 14 February and the Israeli media boasted that six Israeli drones had attacked the base destroying hundreds of Iranian drones.[8] Iran retaliated by hitting an alleged Mossad training base in the Kurdistan region of Iraq near a new US consulate in Erbil.[9]

Meanwhile, in an astonishing move, all Republican Senators, with the notable exception of Senator Rand Paul, in a letter to President Biden, warned him against reviving the nuclear deal with Iran.[10]

2- As the result of a new agreement, Iran should be encouraged to resume her oil exports that were halted following Trump’s sanctions and maximum pressure policy. At a time when oil and gas prices are rising and creating many problems for the European and global economy, Iran’s plentiful oil and gas reserves can make up for the loss of Russian fossil fuel. Iran has tens of millions of barrels of oil in storage which she can release almost immediately, and within a few months can return to exporting more than 2.5 million barrels of oil.

Unhappy about the prospect of Iran competing with Russian exports, during the final phases of the nuclear talks Russia dropped a spanner in the works by demanding that her trade with Iran should not be subject to US sanctions.[11] This threatened to derail the agreement, but after the visit of Iranian foreign minister to Moscow and talks with his Russian counterpart, Lavrov agreed to drop his objections to the deal.[12]

3- After the original nuclear agreement reached in 2015 under President Obama, both sides acted timidly and did not make full use of the agreement. The US Treasury failed to lift all the sanctions that had been agreed and hardliners in Iran also criticised Rouhani’s government alleging that Iran had given up too much in return for too little. This time, both sides should make use of the opportunity and must move fast to expand political and economic relations. The sad history of the past four decades has shown that both sides have lost a great deal as the result of mutual demonization, while their enemies have benefited from Iran’s full participation in regional and international developments.

4- One way to draw a line under the past is for both sides to apologise for past behaviour. In 2,000 when Iran’s President Mohammad Khatami was calling for closer relations with the United States, the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright acknowledged the United States’ role in overthrowing Mosaddeq’s government and called US policy towards Iran as “regrettably short-sighted.”[13] President Biden may not be able to tie the hands of a future US president not to renege on a new nuclear deal as Iran has demanded, but it would be gracious if he could apologise for Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and the imposition of illegal sanctions on Iran. Equally, many Iranian officials have publicly acknowledged that taking US diplomats hostage was against international law and even against Islamic teachings. Their public apology for that illegal act would go a long way to heal the wounds of the hostage crisis.

After more than four decades of hostility, there is a conjunction of different factors that can bring the two nations together and usher in a new springtime of hope and renewal in their relations. Both sides should seize this opportunity.


[1] For a brief biography of Baskerville see Fereshteh Sabetian: “The American Hero in Iran: The True Story of Thomas Baskerville”, SurfIran, July 17, 2018. https://medium.com/@surfiran/an-american-hero-in-iran-the-true-story-of-howard-baskerville-3953ae752f27

[2] Morgan W. Shuster, The Strangling of Persia: A Personal Narrative, (Mage Publishing, Washington D. C., 1912).

[3] Arthur Millspaugh, The American Task in Persia (New York, Arno Press, 1925)

[4] Arthur Millspaugh, Americans in Persia (Washington D.C., The Brookings Institution, 1946)

[5] “Iran nuclear deal: EU statement on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action”, European Council https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2017/10/16/iran-nuclear-deal-eu-jcpoa/

[6] “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities”, November 2007. https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Newsroom/Reports%20and%20Pubs/20071203_release.pdf

[7] Public Law 107-40, 107th Congress. https://www.congress.gov/107/plaws/publ40/PLAW-107publ40.pdf

[8] “Hundreds of Iranian Drones Destroyed in Israel-attributed Attack Last Month.” Haaretz, March 15, 2022. https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium.HIGHLIGHT-israel-destroyed-hundreds-of-iranian-drones-in-massive-strike-1.10674930

[9] “Deep Dive: Did Iranian missile strike follow ‘unheeded’ warnings?” Amwaj, March 18, 2022. https://amwaj.media/article/erbil-iraq-kurdistan-masrour-barzani-attack-irgc-iran-israel

[10] “GOP senators ramp up pressure on Biden to scrap Iran talks”, The Hill, March 14, 2022. https://thehill.com/policy/international/598117-gop-senators-ramp-up-pressure-on-biden-to-scrap-iran-talks

[11] Trita Parsi, “Already fragile JCPOA talks ‘paused’ over Russian demands”, March 11, 2022 https://responsiblestatecraft.org/2022/03/11/already-fragile-jcpoa-talks-paused-over-russian-demands/

[12] “Amir Abdollahian: Russia to cooperate with Vienna talks until agreement reached”, March 16, 2022. https://www.tehrantimes.com/news/471134/Amir-Abdollahian-Russia-to-cooperate-with-Vienna-talks-until

[13] “Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, Remarks before the American-Iranian Council,” March 17, 2000. https://web.archive.org/web/20150707013627/http:/fas.org/news/iran/2000/000317.htm

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Top Nine Policy Recommendations for U.S. in wake of Afghanistan Debacle https://www.juancole.com/2021/08/recommendations-afghanistan-debacle.html Mon, 16 Aug 2021 04:02:02 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=199522 Oxford (Special to Informed Comment) – I do not wish to rub salt into the wounds of US and British officials who are responsible for the humiliating debacle in Afghanistan, but there is no way of sugar-coating this appalling tragedy, especially for hard-pressed Afghans who have experienced war and occupation for over 40 years. In my contacts with various senior Afghan officials and ordinary civilians, especially women, during the past 40 years I had been very encouraged and impressed by how they used a short period of peace to get educated, to establish a civil society, to serve their country and to assume positions of responsibility with relative ease, only for all those hopes and dreams to come tumbling down in a matter of few weeks.

The hasty withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan in the dead of night, the hurried departure of US personnel and a few Afghan helpers under fire from Kabul Airport, and the lightning speed of Taliban victories can only be compared to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975 and for the British to the Suez fiasco of 7 November 1956. In fact, it can be argued that the fall of Afghanistan has been worse than either of those occasions, because both in the war in Vietnam and the invasion of Egypt the other side received powerful support from major powers, while in the case of Afghanistan a bunch of fanatics on motorbikes with no foreign support with the exception of some backing from Pakistan managed to defeat the world’s most powerful superpower.

The Taliban conquered most of Afghanistan in less than two weeks and a day after surrounding Kabul, the Western-backed President Ashraf Ghani who only a day earlier had promised strong resistance fled to Tajikistan with his vice-president and a few other senior officials, leaving the ordinary people to the mercy of the Taliban. It was an act of abject cowardice and betrayal.

No doubt, many articles and books will be written about this great geopolitical failure by the West, but here are some initial thoughts.

1- Already former President Trump and a number of neocons are blaming President Biden for his hasty departure, but this is totally unfair. The problem started with the start of the US venture in Afghanistan, not in the way that it ended. Initially both the Mujahedin and the Taliban were supported by the West and by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE to confront the Soviet forces that had occupied Afghanistan. In fact, it seems that the creation of the Mujahedin predated the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

In a remarkable book, former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates revealed the scale of covert support for the Afghan Mujahedin, even six months prior to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. [Robert M. Gates, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), pp. 143-49.]

2- The factor that was most responsible for the fall of Afghanistan was President Trump’s decision to announce the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, even without consulting Afghan leaders or Western allies. His decision to hold talks with the representatives of the Taliban in Doha behind the back of the Afghan government emboldened the Taliban and undermined the morale of Afghan leaders and armed forces. It seems in this case, America first became America only.

In his various interviews with the media, Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the British Parliament, said that negotiating with the Taliban behind the back of the Afghan government was as if US officials had negotiated with IRA terrorists at the height of the Troubles behind the back of British officials about the fate of Ireland. He complained: “we abandoned the Afghan people”.

3- A clear lesson drawn from the failure of Western intervention in Afghanistan, the same as in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, etc., is that trying to follow old colonial wars in the 19th and the 20th centuries in the current century is bound to fail.

The United States has spent trillions of dollars on these futile wars with a huge loss of life only to leave the situation worse than before. In today’s world most countries and even militia have access to deadly weapons and are not as likely to put up with foreign occupation the way people in the third world were prepared to do in previous centuries.

This does not mean isolationism, but a clear and coherent strategy of working with other countries to achieve common goals. The world is faced with many existential threats, climate change, food and water shortage leading to mass migration, the pandemic, the threat of annihilation by nuclear weapons, etc. None of these problems can be resolved by war or by countries separately. They require collective action and a move away from war to cooperation.

4- One major consequence of the latest failure must be to limit the power and ambition of the neoconservaties and their dream of world domination. The time has come to end the dominance of neocon cabals who have been responsible for distorting US foreign policy and causing mayhem and misery around the world. Millions of liberal Americans who are opposed to the aggressive policies of the neocons must find their voice and must force the neocons to take a backseat in foreign policy.

5- The latest events in Afghanistan must also have a lesson for Israeli right-wing leaders to realise that reliance on brute force and on American backing has its limits. They can ensure their future presence in the Middle East not by non-stop expansion, suppression of the Palestinians and occupation of more and more of their lands. They should seriously start negotiating with the Palestinians in good faith before it is too late.

6- European countries should learn that blind support for US policies is a disservice to them as well as to the United States’ long-term interests. Had they been bold enough to pursue an independent course of action on Afghanistan and other Middle East crises they would have been able to remind some neoconservative US politicians of their excesses and mistakes when they go wrong and prevent catastrophes later. They should act as independent states, rather than as colonies.

7- The resurgence of the Taliban is not only of major importance to Afghanistan but also has many geopolitical ramifications. Without doubt, it cannot be good news for US interests, at least in the short term, but the rule of the fanatics in Kabul can pose many dangers for the neighbouring countries.

There are different scenarios in their relations with neighbouring countries. Pakistan is a clear winner because of its links with its own Pashtun populations and its historical relations with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Taliban clearly need foreign friends in order to keep their population happy. They could either form an alliance with Pakistan, China and Iran that already have good relations, in which case it will be against India’s interests. Alternatively, they can form an alliance with India and Central Asian states with Russian backing, which would weaken their reliance upon Iran and China. Their best policy, however, would be to have good relations with all their neighbours and with all outside powers, including the West.

8- Finally, understandably, there is a great deal of apprehension in Afghanistan, especially among Afghan women, about a return to the harsh practices of the last time that the Taliban were in power. Despite the promises of some Taliban leaders that they have learned from the past and have moderated their policies, the behaviour of some Taliban fighters in the cities that they have occupied during the past two weeks have been far from reassuring. There have been summary executions, including the dragging the bodies of some of their victims through the streets. In some cities they have expelled women from their jobs and have forced them to go back to the home.

The Taliban must realise that the Afghanistan that they are inheriting is very different from the country that they ruled 20 years ago. There are many more educated Afghans now that there were before. Women have experienced a long period of freedom and social involvement. The whole Afghan society has had a taste of democracy and freedom. They are unlikely to put up with the Taliban’s old, medieval beliefs and practices. For the sake of the vast majority of Afghan people and for the sake of not making themselves isolated as they were before, they must adopt a more progressive and more moderate form of Islam, especially as most of their practices are not in conformity with Islamic teachings. In any case, the world today is not that of 1,400 years ago, and they must move with the times, as Islam prescribes.

9- Now that the West has left Afghanistan and betrayed millions of ordinary Afghans, it is incumbent upon Western governments to at least continue their humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people who will be in need of help more than ever before. It is also important that they take an active interest in the behaviour of the Taliban and will use all the international organisations to ensure that the rights of girls, women, ethnic groups and religious minorities will be respected.

—-

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

ABC News: “Kabul falls to Taliban”

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America wants to be known in Mideast as Champion of Free Speech, so Why is it Censoring Iranian Websites? https://www.juancole.com/2021/06/champion-censoring-websites.html Wed, 30 Jun 2021 04:03:29 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=198630 Oxford (Special to Informed Comment) – The Bureau of Industry and Security, an agency of the United States Department of Justice, in a statement on Tuesday 22 June announced that it had seized 33 websites and news outlets used by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU), and another three run by the “Iran-backed” Kata’ib Hezbollah in Iraq for allegedly engaging in “disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations”.[1] The list included Press TV, Iran’s main international English-language channel, and Al-Alam, Iran’s Arabic-language channel.

The sites were replaced on Tuesday with notices in English and Arabic saying that they had been “seized” as part of a law enforcement action.[2] Clearly, nobody had told them that Iranians speak Persian, not Arabic.

Whoever was responsible for this gross act of censorship clearly did not know much about various news outlets in the Middle East, because in addition to closing a large number of Iranian news outlets, they also closed down a number of non-Iranian outlets, some of which are even hostile to Iran. They included Forat website that belongs to Amar al Hakim, who is perceived to be one of the best friends of the United States and the Saudis in Iraq.

Additionally, a children’s station, Hud-hud, was shut down, as well as three non-Iranian TV stations, two of which, Al-Anwar and Ahlulbayt based in London and Iraq, belong to the anti-Iranian Shirazi movement. The third, Karbala, belongs to the Imam Hussain Shrine that comes under the supervision of the Iraqi Shia source of emulation (marj’a), Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Lualua TV, an Arabic-language Bahraini channel that broadcasts from the UK, was also taken down.

Several other Shia media outlets, in places as far as Azerbaijan and Nigeria, also displayed seizure notices, prompting some observers to speculate that the crackdown was an attack on Shia sites, both religious and political, in Iran and abroad. Presumably, in the minds of many in the US government, Shia equals the Iranian State.

The seizures have affected only the .com, .org and .net domains that are under US jurisdiction. Some of those websites went back online shortly afterwards under different domains, including Press TV that remains available at the .ir domain.

When Iranian officials block some foreign media that clearly engage in hostile propaganda against the Iranian government and in some cases openly call for boycotting the elections and toppling the regime, US officials are quick to accuse Iran of censorship. During the past few days, Western and especially American authorities and media have been up in arms about the closure of a TV station in Hong Kong. However, as an example of American exceptionalism, the same does not seem to apply to them.

This is despite the fact that the United States claims to be a supporter of free speech, but this grotesque act of censorship is a clear case of double standards and the best example of “do as we say, not as we do”. You cannot establish democracy and free speech in other countries by violating those values so blatantly.

The move also weakens international trust in the independence of US domains and gives credence to the propaganda that the internet is a tool of the empire. It will also strengthen the arguments of Iranian authorities that Western, particularly American, domains are unreliable and even hostile, and Iran has to develop its own National Information Network (NIN), which is an internet nationalisation initiative by Iran.

It is difficult to understand the logic behind this overt act of censorship. One is bound to ask what makes U.S. authorities so afraid. How many Americans watch or listen to the Iranian media that these officials are so worried that they might be misled by Iranian “disinformation”!

Some have argued that the aim of such antics has been to increase leverage against Iran in the nuclear talks. One lesson that we should have learned from President Trump’s violation of the nuclear agreement and his policy of maximum pressure on Iran is that it failed miserably. Not only that policy did not bring Iran to its knees and force it to accept US diktat, on the contrary, it persuaded her to engage in “maximum resistance” and to even increase its nuclear activities.

In January 2020, following the assassination of the commander of Quds Brigade, General Qasem Soleimani, Fars News Agency’s .com domain was blocked. A few months later, the United States seized two websites utilised by Kataib Hezbollah, as well as 92 Iranian domain names. If those measures did not produce enough leverage against Iran, it is unlikely that the closure of 33 other Iran-linked websites would act as a leverage.

The resumption of Iran-US dialogue and the return to the landmark nuclear deal are too important to be subjected to such childish tactics. Furthermore, such hostile actions are contrary to any good-faith negotiations with Iran in the midst of nuclear talks. They will only further alienate the Iranian people from the West and persuade them that the United States has hostile intentions against them, as the Iranian government claims.

It is not clear whether President Biden or senior officials in his administration were involved in or informed of this move. The State Department spokesman Ned Price refused to comment, indicating that US officials working on Iran were likely not in the loop.[3]

If true, this by itself is alarming and shows that neocon influence in all US administrations, Republican or Democratic, is so dominant and widespread that they take major decisions on their own initiative, even against the wishes of their bosses. The same was true of the influence of the neocons under the Clinton and Bush administrations. Even under the Obama administration, the Treasury seemed to pursue its own policy of imposing sanctions on Iran despite the nuclear deal, which was the most important policy initiative by President Obama.

In May 2021, after the United States imposed sanctions against the Islamic Radio and Television Union, the pro-Israeli Washington Institute for Near East Policy praised the move, but called for additional action against traditional media entities and “affiliated television channels, radio stations, websites, and related organizations around the region.”[4] This move seems to be in line with the demands of that think tank and other hawkish pro-Israeli entities.

However, regardless of who has been responsible for this short-sighted and counterproductive action, global public opinion will blame the Biden Administration for it. During the presidential campaign, Biden tried to distance himself from Trump’s illegal acts and unilateral sanctions, and after being elected he announced that “America was back”. However, these moves make it difficult to decide which America is back, because such actions are reminiscent of the illegal and chauvinistic behaviour of the Trump Administration, especially the intensely anti-Iranian campaign waged by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

During his inaugural address, President Biden said: “We will lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example.” We have seen the effects of the US example of power in many disastrous wars fought in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.

After thousands killed and trillions spent over the past 20 years, US forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan in what should be regarded as a humiliating defeat. Even before the remaining US forces have left, the Taliban forces are resurgent and are advancing in various parts of Afghanistan, and the Afghan government is in a very shaky position.

The trip by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Dr Abdullah Abdullah to the White House on 25 June has been described by Afghan officials as most disappointing. Apart from platitudes that the United States was committed to supporting the Afghan people, there was no clear or tangible offer of assistance. The Afghan government could not check the advances of the Taliban when thousands of US forces were stationed in Afghanistan. It is not clear how they can stem the tide when US forces have withdrawn completely.

As for the force of the values, freedom of speech is one of the strongest American values, enshrined in the First Amendment. By censoring foreign websites and radio and tv stations, any pretence of upholding freedom of speech sounds hollow.

All this makes it clear that in its foreign policy the United States under the Biden Administration, as under the Trump Administration, has no strategy, no vision and no imagination for dealing with complex global issues, apart from resorting to force or coercion. Biden is still continuing the illegal sanctions imposed on Iran by Trump, and has been dragging his feet in re-joining the landmark nuclear agreement.

He has failed to reverse Trump’s illegal policies towards the Arab-Israeli conflict and the sham agreements forced on some small Arab states in the name of the Abraham Accords. Not only did it not condemn Israel’s policies of ethnic cleansing in the West Bank and its ferocious attack on besieged Gaza, it is even increasing US military support for Israel. It has not called on the ultra-right new Israeli government to stop the expansion of illegal settlements and annexing more Palestinian territory.

Biden’s anti-Russian and anti-Chinese crusade, resulting in a new Cold War between the East and the West, is making the world much more dangerous than before. In the midst of the pandemic and the threat of climate change, the United States is spending billions of dollars on new nuclear-armed submarines.[5]

What the United States and the world need is a thorough rethink of US foreign policies and a serious attempt to uphold its values, for a change, in deeds and not in words alone. The continuation of the current state of confusion, unipolar policies, neglect of US values, exceptionalism and disregard of international law will prove disastrous for the United States and its relations with the world.

Farhang Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Languages at the University of Isfahan and a former Senior Fulbright Research Scholar at Harvard. He taught for five years at Cambridge University and for more than 30 years he was a part-time tutor at the University of Oxford.


[1] United States Seizes Websites Used by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union and Kata’ib Hizballah https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/united-states-seizes-websites-used-iranian-islamic-radio-and-television-union-and-kata-ib

[2] “US seizure of Iran-linked websites ‘shortsighted’, analysts say”

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/6/24/how-us-seizure-of-iran-linked-websites-could-lead-to-more-restric

[3] “US seizure of Iran-linked websites ‘shotsighted’, analysts say” Al Jazeera, 24 June 2021. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/6/24/how-us-seizure-of-iran-linked-websites-could-lead-to-more-restric

[4] https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/understanding-irans-vast-media-network-arab-countries

[5] “Do We Really need Multi-Billion-Dollar Naval Vessels that can deliver 16,128 Hiroshimas?” https://www.juancole.com/2021/06/billion-vessels-hiroshimas.html

—–

Bonus Video:

Al Jazeera: “US seizes three dozen websites used for ‘Iranian disinformation’”

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Iran: The Election Trump did succeed in Spoiling https://www.juancole.com/2021/05/election-succeed-spoiling.html Wed, 26 May 2021 04:04:03 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=198018 Oxford, U.K (Special to Informed Comment) – Although Iran is one of the few countries in the Middle East that has regular presidential, parliamentary and local council elections, those elections are far from free and fair when judged by the standards of advanced democracies. The June, 2021 polls will be even more flawed, in large part because powerful right wing figures have determined to exclude other candidates even more extensively in the past. But the United States is also partly to blame.

In 2013, the voters had turned to a moderate and centrist candidate, Hasan Rouhani, who won in the first round of the election. Rouhani promised a more open society at home and the resolution of the nuclear dispute with the West. As the result of the energetic efforts of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and President Obama’s decision to recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, the landmark nuclear deal was signed. When Zarif returned to Tehran after having signed that agreement, there were nationwide celebrations and many people went to the airport and carried Zarif on their shoulders.

The deal meant that Iran’s nuclear activities became open to IAEA inspections and Iran adopted the provisions of the Additional Protocol. Consequently, the fear of Iran producing an atomic weapon was removed. The lifting of the sanctions meant that the Iranian economy experienced a period of rapid growth and Iran placed billions of dollars of orders for civilian aircraft and for the development of its oil, gas and petrochemical industries.

Unfortunately, President Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and imposition of a vast array of illegal sanctions on Iran meant that the Iranian economy went into a nosedive, and the latest chapter of Iranians’ hope of rapprochement with the West collapsed. Many Iranians felt cheated and betrayed, and although Rouhani and Zarif were initially very popular, economic hardships, the banning of Iranian visitors to the United States, and Pompeo’s relentless campaign of the demonization of Iranians turned the people against the moderates.

This time, 590 candidates, including 40 women, registered for election on June 18th, but all of them were eliminated with the exception of seven. Apart from Ahmadinejad, other prominent candidates who were eliminated included Ali Larijani who had served as Majles speaker for 12 years, and was also the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator during the first round of negotiations with the EU-Three.

There are a number of reasons why Iranian voters cannot vote for their favored candidates. The first reason is that the most basic pillar of any democratic system is freedom of expression and assembly, both of which are lacking to a large extent in Iran. Freedom of speech is very restricted and politicians and even journalists often get into serious trouble, including disqualification, jailing and worse, by expressing views that are contrary to the narrow range of views tolerated by the leading figures of the regime.

Even presidents have been censored when they got out of line, as was the case with the first president of the Islamic Republic Abol-Hasan Bani-Sadr who was impeached for opposing Ayatollah Khomeini, was forced to flee and has lived ever since in exile in France. Mir-Hossein Mousavi, former Prime Minister and presidential candidate in the landmark 2009 presidential election that led to nationwide protests and the birth of the Green Movement, has been under house arrest ever since.

Former Reformist President Mohammad Khatami who won the election by the largest margin in post-revolutionary elections has been banned from appearing in public or engaging in any political activity since 2009 when he too supported the Green Movement.

Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the two-term president, was also censored by Ayatollah Khamenei when he opposed Khamenei’s interference in his government by reinstituting the minister of intelligence whom Ahmadinejad had dismissed. The Guardian Council rejected his qualifications when he tried to run for president in the 2017 presidential election and again in the 2021 election.

The second reason why Iran cannot be regarded as a functioning democracy is the lack of an independent judiciary that can enforce the law regardless of political considerations. The current judiciary in Iran is one of the weakest links in the Iranian establishment. Not only is it corrupt and severely politicized, it is clear that many dual nationals that are tried and jailed by the judiciary or by the even the more objectionable revolutionary courts affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) are in practice hostages that are detained as bargaining chips for deals with foreign governments.

The third and the most obvious factor that undermines democracy and fair elections in Iran is the undemocratic role played by the Guardian Council that is in charge of approving the credentials of the candidates. The Guardian Council has 12 members, six of whom are senior clerics appointed directly by Ayatollah Khamenei, and the other six are chosen by the judiciary, whose head is also appointed by Ayatollah Khamenei and answerable to him.

Ahmad Jannati, the 94-year old chairman of the Guardian Council who has been a member of the Guardian Council since 1980 when he was appointed to the post by the late Ayatollah Khomeini, and has been its chairman since 1988, is one of the most rightwing elements in the Islamic Republic. He also occupies the prominent post of the Chairman of the Assembly of Experts, the body charged with choosing the next Clerical (Supreme) leader. By selecting a list of candidates that particularly favors Ebrahim Raisi, the current Head of the Judiciary (Chief Justice), Jannati is practically ensuring Ra’isi’s promotion to the post of Supreme Leader after 82-year old Ayatollah Khamenei’s death.

In all former elections, the Guardian Council made sure to include the names of the candidates from different political groups in Iran, mainly divided into Reformist, Centrist and Fundamentalist (that call themselves Principlists). Therefore, although the voters had a narrow choice of candidates who had been vetted and approved by the rightwing Guardian Council, at least they could choose between the bad and the worse.

In fact, an amazing feature of Iran’s presidential election has been that power has been passed round between one of those three groups and usually when one main party was in power it was followed by a president belonging to one of the other camps. After Khomeini’s death when the then President Ali Khamenei who belonged to the more conservative wing was chosen as the Clerical Leader, Hashemi-Rafsanjani who portrayed himself as “the commander of reconstruction” and belonged to the centrist or moderate wing of the establishment was elected president.

In 1997 after Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami who was the leader of the Reformist Movement asked Khamenei if he would be allowed to run. Wanting to provide a semblance of competition for the establishment candidate Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, Khamenei agreed with Khatami’s candidacy. Once people had a real choice between a hand-picked conservative figure and one who promised to provide greater freedoms at home and better relations with the world, they flocked to him and he won in a landslide with more than 70 per cent of the votes. He lived up to his promises and introduced what could be described as a reformist revolution in Iran and extended the hand of friendship to the West with his Dialogue of Civilizations.

Predictably, Khatami was opposed by the rightwing opponents in Iran who attacked his reformist policies, and unfortunately his approaches to the West were repulsed. He expressed his condolences to “the great American people” following the terrorist attacks on 9/11, and his government even helped the United States in its war against the Taliban by persuading the Northern Alliance to cooperate with the Americans. However, the Neoconservatives in the U.S. administration who have always been worried about any rapprochement between Iran and the United States, responded to his friendly gesture by adopting the “dual containment” policy against both Iraq and its enemy Iran, and they even included Iran in the so-called “Axis of Evil”.

The humiliating failure of Khatami’s policy of rapprochement with the West led the voters to move from one extreme to the other, and elect the radical candidate Mahmud Ahmadinejad. The controversial 2009 presidential election, which many Iranians regarded as fraudulent, and the emergence of the Green Movement led to the voters’ disenchantment with Ahmadinejad. As we have seen, his successor, Rouhani, was made to look like a fool when Trump reneged on Western promises of sanction relief, casting doubt in the electorate on the effectiveness of such centrists.

The hard liners have taken advantage of this skeptical mood in the public, as detailed above, to simply sideline anyone outside their tight clique. Another prominent figure who has been rejected is the current First Vice-President Eshaq Jahagiri who was one of the candidates of the Reformist group. All Reformist groups had put Mohammad Javad Zarif’s name at the top of their list, but the leaking of the tape of three hours of his conversation with the Iranian economist Saeed Leylaz in which he talks disparagingly of the excessive power of the IRGC over domestic and foreign policy, and reveals Russia’s destructive role in the nuclear talks put an end to his chances.

The seven candidates who have been approved include Ebrahim Raisi, the hard-line head of the judiciary who was a member of a committee that approved the execution of thousands of jailed members of Mojahedin-e Khalq on Khomeini’s order. So, from the chief executioner and the chief assassin he became the Head of the Judiciary and most probably will be the next president

Mohsen Rezai, the former commander of the IRGC, who ran unsuccessfully in 2005, then again in 2009 and 2013, registered for the June election on May 15, the last day allowed, and was chosen as one of the seven candidates. Saeed Jalili, the hard-line former nuclear negotiator under Ahmadinejad is another approved candidate. Other candidates are minor and little-known conservatives, with the sole exception of Mohsen Mehralizadeh who is known as a Reformist but was not on the list of main candidates by the Reformist groups.

Although Iranian presidents are not the ultimate sources of power in Iran, it is quite wrong to dismiss them entirely. They are in charge of the extensive executive branch and can change the direction the country takes. There clearly was a great deal of difference between a hardliner like Ahmadinejad, a Reformer like Khatami and a Centrist such as Rouhani.

It seems that the next Iranian government will be headed by a radical, right-wing president in close alliance with the IRGC. The lack of any real competition means that the next presidential election is a sham and more an appointment of a pro-regime functionary than a real election. It is predicted that the level of public participation will be the lowest in the history of the Islamic Republic. So, the democratic element in Iranian politics will become even weaker.

Although most of the blame for this abysmal situation lies with the fundamentalist, clerical system in Iran, the move to the right can partly be blamed on former President Trump and his policies. If instead of withdrawing from the nuclear deal he had built on it and had brought Iran closer to the West, most probably someone like Zarif would be at the top of the list of candidates and would have had a good chance of winning. So, Trump did a great disservice to Iran, to the United States and to the cause of peace in the Middle East.

——

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

France 24 English: “Iran politics: seven candidates approved to run in presidential polls”

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On 41st Anniversary, has Trump’s Belligerence Strengthened the Iranian Government? https://www.juancole.com/2020/02/anniversary-belligerence-strengthened.html Tue, 11 Feb 2020 05:02:27 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=189062 Oxford, UK (Special to Informed Comment) – On February 11, 2020, the Islamic Republic of Iran marks the 41st anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution. Thus, it has defied the Trump administration’s prediction of its demise for two years beyond its allotted time.

In his speech at a conference of the MEK (Mojahedin-e Khalq or People’s Jihadis) in 2017, for which he received huge fees, the former National Security Advisor John Bolton said: “The outcome of the president’s policy review should be to determine that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 revolution will not last until its fortieth birthday…and that is why before 2019 we here will celebrate in Tehran.”[1]

In 2018 President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani also predicted: “Freedom is right around the corner … next year I want to have this convention in Tehran.”[2]

The Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his neocon allies have tried very hard to fulfill those wishes and to bring about regime change in Iran before its 40th anniversary. To this end, they have implemented a policy of “maximum pressure” and have imposed unprecedented illegal sanctions in violation of the unanimously approved U.N. National Security Council Resolution 2231 that lifted all the earlier sanctions on Iran as part of the nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA).

The nuclear deal was reached between Iran and the United States, and all other permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany (5+1). The deal was also unanimously endorsed by the European Union Commission.

After President Trump violated the nuclear deal (there is no clause in it allowing one side to withdraw unilaterally) on 18 May 2018, Iran continued to abide by it for a whole year. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is in charge of supervising the deal, in 15 separate quarterly reports – five of them since President Trump came to power – has confirmed that Iran had faithfully carried out all her obligations under the deal. As late as last week, the IAEA stated that there had been no violations of the nuclear deal.[3]

A year after US withdrawal from the deal when Iran continued to be deprived of the economic benefits to which she was entitled, the Iranian president announced that Iran would take incremental steps to reduce her obligations under the deal, unless other parties fulfilled their commitments. Although all the steps that Iran has taken so far have been in keeping with the JCPOA, under the IAEA supervision and are reversible, they have been portrayed by US officials as major violations of the deal, and they have continued to increase the sanctions on Iran.

The other signatories to the deal criticised President Trump for his violation of the deal and promised to remain faithful to it. The EU3 (the United Kingdom, France and Germany) tried very hard to keep the deal alive by devising the INSTEX mechanism to facilitate trade with Iran.[4]

However, in view of US pressure and the dominant role that the US dollar plays as an international currency, all their efforts have proved futile. US sanctions amount to a virtual siege or blockade, which is an act of war. Not only have they drastically cut Iran’s oil exports which form a large part of the government budget, they have also prevented Iranian banks and industries engaging in normal business with the rest of the world.

This is on top of the United States blocking Iranian nationals from visiting the United States, and even detaining many Iranian US residents or Green Card holders for hours of questioning at the borders before readmitting them to the United States.

Contrary to the claims of US officials, the sanctions have also blocked the sale of food and medicine to Iran, despite the fact that there is no explicit restriction against them. However, due to the difficulty of banking transactions, in practice, Iranians cannot even import much-needed medicine.

Recently, the Swiss government suggested a new package to sell some $2.3 million worth of medicines to Iran. Even if this plan is implemented it is a drop in the ocean.[5] Before, the imposition of the sanctions, Iran imported more than $3.5 billion worth of medicines a year.

If there were any doubts about President Trump’s real motivation for violating the nuclear deal with all its grave consequences, his remarks at the ceremony unveiling the so-called “Deal of the Century” made his motives absolutely clear. Trump did not violate a truly remarkable non-proliferation agreement that could have acted as a model for other similar deals because it was in any way defective or did not prevent Iran from ever manufacturing a nuclear bomb. The main aim was to help his friend Benjamin Netanyahu in his vendetta against Iran.

When the nuclear deal was being negotiated under President Obama, Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress to kill the main foreign policy initiative of a sitting president, and he received dozens of standing ovations for this act of discourtesy. He did not get his way then, but as the Trump administration came to power, surrounded by strong supporters of Israel, including many Christian Zionists, Netanyahu found a unique opportunity to achieve his goal.

Standing next to Netanyahu at that ceremony, Trump said: “As everyone knows, I have done a lot for Israel: moving the United States Embassy to Jerusalem; recognizing — (applause) –- recognizing the Golan Heights — (applause) — and, frankly, perhaps most importantly, getting out of the terrible Iran nuclear deal.”[6] So, it is clear what was the real reason behind violating the nuclear deal.

The US’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran has had a number of other grave consequences. It has put Iran and the United States on a path to war. In May 2019, there were attacks on four ships in the Indian Ocean, and the US said that it was highly likely that Iran was behind those attacks.

When, as directed by former National Security Advisor John Bolton, British marines boarded and stopped an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar for allegedly transporting oil to Syria, Iranian revolutionary guards seized the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero for alleged violations near the Strait of Hormuz. Both tankers were subsequently released with their cargoes intact.

On June 19, 2019 Iran shot down an advanced US military drone, claiming that it was flying over Iranian territory, and provided the debris of the drone in its waters to prove the point. On 14 September 2019, two major Saudi oil facilities were attacked by 25 drones and cruise missiles, cutting Saudi output by half. The Houthis claimed responsibility for those attacks, but the United States again pointed the finger at Iran.

However, the most serious incidents took place in December 2019 and January 2020. After a US contractor was killed in missile attacks at a US base in Iraq, US officials blamed Kata’ib Hezbollah, which they described as “Iran-backed militia”, for the attack. In retaliation for that killing, US forces attacked three of Kata’ib bases, killing dozens and wounding dozens more. Al-Arabia has put the number of those killed at the bases at 63.[7]

Those killings gave rise to massive protests in Baghdad, including an attack on the US Embassy, which was used as an excuse to assassinate the commander of the IRGC Quds Force, General Qasem Soleimani, and the deputy leader of the Kata’ib Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and a few other Iraqi officials who were with them.

Millions of Iraqis and Iranians took part in the funerals of those two generals. In retaliation for Soleimani’s assassination, Iran fired two dozen missiles at two US bases in Iraq. At first, President Trump tweeted that all was well, and no one had been injured. However, gradually it transpired that a number of forces in the bases had suffered traumatic brain injuries. At first, the number was put at 11, then 34, 54, 64, but according to the latest Reuters report more than 100 US troops suffered brain injuries.[8]

Iraqi officials have recently stated that the initial attack on the US base that killed one contractor had been carried out by ISIS, not by Kata’ib forces.[9] So, it seems that the world was brought to the brink of a major war on the basis of either a deliberate lie or a misunderstanding.

It is clear that Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure”, involving crippling economic sanctions and even threats of war has not brought the Iranian government to its knees. On the contrary, it has forced Iran into the position it held prior to signing the JCPOA. Meanwhile, many Majles deputies have demanded that the government should withdraw from the NPT. That will be a very provocative move that will make the situation even worse than it is at present.

But perhaps the worst outcome of Trump’s policy towards Iran has been to undermine the position of the moderates and reformers in the Iranian government and strengthen and embolden the hardliners. On 21 February, Iranians go to the polls to elect a new Parliament or Majles. The current Majles is dominated by moderates with 120 Reformist deputies, 86 hardliners or Principlists, 10 associated Principlists, 66 independents, and five from religious minorities.

However, the hard-line Guardian Council has disqualified a large number of applicants for election, including 90 of the current 290-strong parliamentarians. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has criticised the disqualifications, saying: “We cannot simply announce that 1,700 candidates have been approved and ignore the question of how many political groups those people represent. That’s not what an election is about.”[10] He has called on the current parliament to pass legislation limiting the vetting powers of the Guardian Council.

This issue has opened up a major rift between moderates and hardliners. The West should have supported the more moderate elements who work for reconciliation with the West and more political freedoms at home. Repressive regimes can be changed either through foreign-led military force, and we have seen the consequences of such violent actions in Iraq and Libya; or through a gradual but meaningful change from within. Iranians have shown that they are in favour of peaceful change, but the current policies of the Trump administration have made this almost impossible.

The current impasse in Iran will either result in a much more hard-line government, similar to the one led by President Mahmud Ahmadinezhad, or even in a military coup led by the IRGC. Either scenario will push back the possibility of democratization in Iran by many years, and might even lead to a devastating war. The neocons who have been pushing Trump to pursue these policies have not served him, the United States or Iran well.

The only alternative is for the United States to return to the nuclear deal, lift the sanctions and then try to reach a more comprehensive agreement with the Iranian government. The other alternative is war.


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfmLyrQ7E24]

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ouaJ16Lyds

[3] https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-usa-iaea-iran/u-n-watchdog-sees-no-new-iranian-violations-of-nuclear-deal-idUKKBN1ZZ2SU

[4] https://www.dw.com/en/instex-europe-sets-up-transactions-channel-with-iran/a-47303580

[5] https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-02-03/there-s-hope-for-humanitarian-trade-with-iran

[6] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-prime-minister-netanyahu-state-israel-joint-statements/

[7] https://www.zeitoons.com/71386

[8] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-pentagon-tbi-exclusive-idUSKBN2041ZK

[9] https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/02/07/bombshell-iraqi-officials-say-isis-not-iran-likely-behind-rocket-attack-trump-used?cd-origin=rss&utm_term=AO&utm_campaign=Daily%20Newsletter&utm_content=email&utm_source=Daily%20Newsletter&utm_medium=Email

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/09/purge-of-reformists-in-iran-election-could-doom-nuclear-deal-say-diplomats

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The Disunited Kingdom https://www.juancole.com/2019/12/the-disunited-kingdom.html Sun, 15 Dec 2019 05:01:49 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=187892 The General Election in the United Kingdom on Thursday 12 December produced a major earthquake in British politics. Although opinion polls had shown either a narrow majority for the Conservative Party or a hung parliament, and the gap between the Conservative and the Labor parties had narrowed during the last few days of the campaign, the outcome came as a shock not only to the opposition parties that lost so badly, but even to the Conservative Party that could never dream such a landslide. President Trump was one of the first leaders to congratulate Boris Johnson with promises of “massive” trade deals.

A long list of Tory failures

The Conservative Party’s failures during the past ten years include: a botched EU referendum, former Prime Minister David Cameron’s immediate resignation after the referendum with no provision having been made for its aftermath, a disastrous general election called by Theresa May in 2017 to give her a mandate to rule, which turned a slim Tory majority into a hung parliament, three years of disunity inside the Conservative Party and the repeated defeats of the agreement reached by Theresa May with the EU mainly due to the uncompromising stances of the right-wing extremists in the Conservative Party who wanted to leave without an agreement.

The party had pursued a long policy of economic austerity that had produced almost unprecedented poverty among the lower classes, an NHS in crisis, and a widening gap between the super-rich and the poor. This disastrous record should have normally resulted in an overwhelming Labor victory. Yet, it seems that none of those lies and failures had an effect on the way that people voted.

A lackluster campaign

Boris Johnson, the leader of the Conservative Party, had led a lackluster campaign, had refused to take part in many interviews, and had attracted ridicule the day before the election for hiding in a fridge in order to run away from an interviewer.

He had also produced a very thin and unambitious Manifesto. Many of his campaign promises were immediately revealed to have been false. He promised to build 41 new hospitals, but then it turned out that funding would be provided for only six hospitals during the next five years and the rest of them would be built at some indeterminate date in the future. He claimed that there would be 50,000 new nurses during the next parliament, but it soon became clear that the figure included 18,500 existing nurses. Meanwhile, the National Health Service has been experiencing its biggest crisis in many years.

Johnson’s uncaring reaction to the photo of a four-year-old boy lying on coats on the floor of an overcrowded hospital caused a great deal of panic in Tory ranks. He took the reporter’s mobile and put it in his pocket. There were many similar incidents that revealed his uncaring attitude.

Labor Manifesto

On the other hand, the Labor Party membership was bigger than ever before, turning it into the largest Socialist party in Europe. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labor Party, ran a very energetic and positive campaign, being surrounded by vast cheering crowds wherever he went. The Labor Party Manifesto was one of the most ambitious and indeed revolutionary manifestos for change in recent decades, and it seemed to be largely popular. Corbyn put forward what he called “the most transformative, radical and exciting program ever put before the British electorate”.

The Manifesto promised to bring energy, water, rail and mail delivery companies into public ownership, and that it would nationalize BT Group’s Openreach network so it could roll-out ultrafast broadband across the country for free.

Clearly, all of this came at great cost. The Confederation of British Industry claimed that the nationalization of public utilities would cost £196 billion (about $263). The Labor Manifesto also promised to abolish tuition fees for university students, to provide funds for continuing education and training, to bring the voting age down to 16 from the current 18, to spend billions more each year on the NHS, and also to provide a nationwide Social Care System to work alongside the NHS in order to cater for an aging population. In order to pay for those huge costs, the Labor Government would raise taxes on the top five percent of wealthy people, would introduce a wealth tax and would close tax loopholes. Most of those promises seemed to be very popular with the people.

Winners and losers

However, despite all this, Boris Johnson won the biggest Conservative victory since the glory days of Margaret Thatcher’s third term in 1987, and despite the seeming popularity of its Manifesto, the Labor Party suffered the worst result since the 1935 General Election.

The Lib Dem Party’s young and newly elected leader Jo Swinson, who had boasted at the start of the campaign that she would be the next British prime minister, lost her seat of East Dunbartonshire to the Scottish National Party. Far from gaining a huge majority the party lost one of its 12 seats (that of its leader).

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Union Party (DUP) that had kept Theresa May’s minority government in power in return for scrapping the so-called Backstop, which separated Northern Ireland from the rest of Britain, lost two of its 10 seats. Its deputy leader Nigel Dodds lost his seat to the Irish Nationalist Sinn Fein Party.

Clearly, the biggest winner was the Conservative Party which won 365 seats, gaining 47 new seats, while the Labor Party was the biggest loser with only 203 seats, losing 59 seats.

Reasons for Labor defeat:

Since the election, Corbyn’s critics have mentioned three main reasons for his failure: The lack of clarity in his Brexit plans, fears about national security, and Corbyn’s personal unpopularity. There is some truth in all of them.

Brexit

Johnson’s main slogan was “Get the Brexit Done”, something that appealed to the Leavers and even to millions of Remainers who had become disillusioned with three years of squabbling in parliament. The Lib Dems decided to go completely against the referendum and abolish Brexit altogether. However, the Labor Party tried to remain faithful to the views of both the 17,410,742 people who had voted to leave and 16,141,241 who had voted to remain in the EU.

Labor proposed to hold new talks in Brussels within three months and reach a better deal that would not damage trade between the EU and the United Kingdom by remaining in the Single Market, and one that would safeguard the rights of workers, and then put it to a new referendum within six months and carry out the outcome.

This proposal was too complex to sell in a few words on the doorstep. Meanwhile, the rightwing media accused Labor of more dither and delay, while Johnson claimed that he would get out of Europe by the end of January and would reach a new trade agreement by the end of next year. This of course is a great exaggeration if not a downright lie, because any complex new agreement would take more than a year to conclude. The EU-Canada agreement took more than seven years to negotiate. In fact, Labor’s proposal to remain within the Single Market would have resulted in a simpler and quicker agreement.

However, voters want clarity and simple solutions, not detailed intellectual arguments. A Labor source said: “It wasn’t that people didn’t like the policies, people thought there was too many of them.” Jon Lansman, leader of the Corbyn campaign group, Momentum, said: “The manifesto was too detailed and too long. It was a programme for 10 years, not for government.”

Security Risk

The Tory media also highlighted the alleged security risk that Corbyn would pose. Corbyn had always campaigned against Britain’s wars of aggression, such as the 2003 Iraq invasion and the 2011 attacks on Libya. He had said in the past that NATO should have been disbanded after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, and that he would never use nuclear weapons. The fact that the Labor Conference had reversed those decisions and pledged that Britain would remain a member of the NATO and would keep nuclear weapons as a deterrent did not seem to sway the diehard pro-war pundits.

Corbyn’s unpopularity

Corbyn went into the campaign with the lowest net satisfaction ratings of any opposition leader since the late 1970s. This of course is not surprising. Practically the entire corporate media which controls perhaps over 90% of the entire written and broadcast media had waged a sustained campaign against Corbyn ever since he had been elected the leader of the Labor Party.

Anti-Semitism

In addition to all the previous charges levelled against Corbyn, there has been a vicious and sustained campaign, accusing him falsely of “anti-Semitism”. Of course, many prominent Jews have openly challenged those charges and have in fact shown that there is more anti-Semitism in the Conservative party, among the rightwing groups, and in society as a whole than in the Labor Party, and that incidents of anti-Semitic remarks in the Labor Party have declined since Corbyn has been the party leader, but none of those academic studies have made a difference.

There has hardly been a day when one of the bulletins of some of the main broadcasting organizations, including the BBC, has not made a reference to Corbyn’s alleged anti-Semitism. Jewish MPs and Peers have paraded over the media denouncing Corbyn, and right in the middle of the campaign, Britain’s Chief Orthodox Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, launched a savage attack on Corbyn, stating that he was “unfit for office”. He went on to say: “A new poison — sanctioned from the top — has taken root in the Labour Party,” adding that in the election “the very soul of our nation is at stake.” [https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/labour-antisemitism-corbyn-not-fit-for-high-office-says-ephraim-mirvis-0thlclsns?fbclid=IwAR2Qv-_xt6zqvJczD8O3BnOnpXvkfeU6UxlQ7W2uAqM3mnMTX-BeMKu3Zso]

This was despite the fact that in a statement of Jewish Voice for Labour many Jewish Labor Party members wrote: “We are Jews who are entirely comfortable in the Labour Party. But we are far from comfortable seeing the terrible history of the Jewish people exploited by those intent upon scuppering the best hope in decades for ordinary and vulnerable members of our society.” [https://merip.org/2019/04/israel-and-the-antisemitism-playbook-in-great-britain-and-the-grassroots/]

In an excellent scholarly article entitled “Smoke Without Fire: The Myth of a ‘Labour Antisemitism Crisis’, forming a chapter of a book on the “Labour Antisemitism”, Jamie Stern-Weiner and Alan Maddison debunked that myth writing: “This last claim—a recent invention even in the context of the ‘Labour antisemitism’ campaign—is the most tenuous, flying as it does in the face of Corbyn’s entire documented political career. From April 1977, when he helped organise the defence of Jewish-populated Wood Green from a National Front rally;[1] to the 1980s, when he headed Anti-Fascist Action and was arrested protesting apartheid in South Africa;[2] to June 2015, when he worked with antifascists to prevent a neo-Nazi march on Golders Green;[3] to his first day as Labour Party leader, when he spoke at a demonstration in support of refugees[4]—throughout his political life, Jeremy Corbyn has been a dedicated and principled anti-racist campaigner.” [https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/article/smoke-without-fire-the-myth-of-a-labour-antisemitism-crisis/]

Also over 200 prominent Jewish members and supporters of the Labor Party stated: “We believe that the Labour party under the progressive leadership of Jeremy Corbyn is a crucial ally in the fight against bigotry and reaction. His lifetime record of campaigning for equality and human rights, including consistent support for initiatives against antisemitism, is formidable. His involvement strengthens this struggle.” [https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/feb/20/jeremy-corbyn-labour-party-crucial-ally-in-fight-against-antisemitism?CMP=share_btn_tw]

However, none of these statements received a fraction of the attention in the media devoted to the statements of the chief rabbi and other detractors of Corbyn.

As Professor Neve Gordon, an Israeli law professor currently at Queen Mary University of London, wrote: “Since I moved to London two years ago, hardly a day has gone by without a new attack against Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in the British media. These attacks follow a familiar script: a fragment of some action, photo or errant remark from Corbyn’s past is unearthed and sensationally presented as fresh evidence of his sordid character—and this information is then mobilized to demonstrate that Labour’s leader is ‘antisemitic and pro-terrorist.’” [https://merip.org/2019/04/israel-and-the-antisemitism-playbook-in-great-britain-and-the-grassroots/]

These incidents have included photographs of Corbyn laying a wreath in a Palestinian cemetery in Tunis in 2014, falsely claiming that he had been paying homage to the terrorists who had carried out the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre. The Daily Telegraph published an exclusive report showing pictures and a video of Corbyn at a 2012 conference in Doha, Qatar, where he chaired a panel discussion about the plight of Palestinian refugees.

These incidents do not show any anti-Jewish action or sentiment by him or members of the Labor Party, but he is demonized due to occasionally speaking about the Palestinians and criticizing some of the policies of the rightwing Israeli government under Netanyahu. As Professor Gordon points out: “And, finally, what are the political objectives of such vicious and relentless attacks? There are two apparent reasons. First, Corbyn has a clear economic agenda and is not one to abandon his beliefs in the face of power…. Second, if Corbyn’s bid in the next elections is successful he will be the first prime minister in British history, and indeed in the history of Western governments, that is pro-Palestinian.” [https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/feb/20/jeremy-corbyn-labour-party-crucial-ally-in-fight-against-antisemitism?CMP=share_btn_tw]

These attacks on Corbyn set a dangerous precedent both in the United States and in Britain, warning all those aspiring to office that any criticism of Israel and support for the Palestinians will spell the end of their political career.

To conclude, the rather vague Labor Party position on Brexit and these vicious attacks by the establishment media against Corbyn were the two most important factors behind the defeat of the Labor Party and the ascendance of the Conservatives

Threats to the union

However, the situation is not as rosy for the country as the Conservative victory indicates. The Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), which is demanding independence from the United Kingdom and wants to remain in the EU practically swept the board in Scotland with 48 seats, gaining 13. The Conservatives have only six seats, having lost seven; and Labor has only one, having lost 6 seats in Scotland.

There is a similar picture in Northern Ireland. For the first time in history the Nationalist parties in Northern Ireland won more votes than the Unionist DUP that wants union with Britain. It is important to bear in mind that both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted strongly to stay in the EU in the 2016 EU Referendum. While in England 53.4% voted to leave versus 46.6% to remain, in Scotland 62.0% versus 38.0% voted to remain, and in Northern Ireland 55.8% versus 44.2% voted to remain in the EU.

There have always been strong nationalist sentiments in both Scotland and Northern Ireland. Although in the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum 55.30% versus 44.70% of the Scots voted to remain as a part of the United Kingdom, recent opinion polls have shown that now there is a majority in favor of independence in view of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, something that is confirmed by the results of the latest election, which in Scotland was turned into a referendum on whether to remain as part of the United Kingdom or apply for continued EU membership.

These developments do not bode well for the continued unity of the United Kingdom. There have already been demands in Northern Ireland for a referendum to decide whether it should maintain its union with the United Kingdom or join the South, thus remaining in the EU. Opinion polls show a majority in favor of remaining in the EU.

The SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has said that Boris Johnson has “no right” to stand in the way of another Scottish independence referendum. She has argued that the election result “renews, reinforces and strengthens” the mandate for a new referendum. In a speech in Edinburgh on Friday, she told Mr. Johnson: “You, as the leader of a defeated party in Scotland, have no right to stand in the way. The people of Scotland have spoken. It is time now to decide our own future.” She has already requested that SNP should be granted the legal power to hold another referendum vote.

So, although the Conservatives can take great satisfaction in the result of the election that has given them a big majority to rule for the next five years, this election may mark the start of the disintegration of the United Kingdom. Scotland and Northern Ireland may eventually break away from Britain and join the EU, especially if Johnson concludes a hard Brexit that would curtail the unimpeded trade between those two parts of Britain with the EU. However, in his victory speech, Johnson adopted a conciliatory tone and spoke of a “one-nation Conservatism”. For the sake of Britain, let’s hope that he can deliver on those promises.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Boris Johnson says voters in north can trust him | ITV News

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Forty Years Later, US and Iran still Haunted by Embassy Hostage Crisis https://www.juancole.com/2019/11/haunted-embassy-hostage.html Mon, 04 Nov 2019 05:03:30 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=187201 (Informed Comment) – The 4th November 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the Iran Hostage Crisis that has dominated and poisoned Iran-US relations ever since. The event refers to the seizure of a number of US diplomats and other employees in the United States Embassy in Tehran by the so-called “Muslim Students Following the Imam’s [Khomeini’s] Line”, a few months after the victory of the Islamic revolution.

A number of female and black hostages were released on Khomeini’s orders, and Richard Queen who was suffering from multiple sclerosis was released on 11 July 1980. The remaining 52 hostages were kept in captivity for 444 days until they were freed on 21 January 1981.

Embed from Getty Images
(Original Caption) Tehran, Iran. This photo taken on the first day of occupation of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran shows American hostages being paraded by their militant Iranian captors. The picture was obtained by UPI after the FBI showed no interest. It was brought into the U.S. by an Iranian.

More than any other event in the history of the relationship between the United States and Iran, that event has affected the US perception of Iran and like an albatross has cast its deadly weight on their bilateral relations.

Initially, the hostages were kept in the US Embassy compound and were treated reasonably well, although nothing could have justified that illegal act that went against all diplomatic norms and even against the clear instructions of Islam, which the hostage-takers professed that they were upholding.

However, on 24 April 1980, President Carter ordered a surprise military expedition to rescue the hostages. According to that plan, a C-130 transport plane and eight helicopters landed at a deserted airfield near Tabas in North East of Iran, which the American military had used under the Shah. The helicopters were then supposed to land at a disused caravanserai near Tehran. They were then going to attack the embassy compound at dawn, kill the guards and rescue the hostages and fly them back to the airfield to be flown out of the country by the C-130 transport plane.

That ill-fated mission was aborted as the result of three of the eight helicopters experiencing failure during the landing in the desert due to a sandstorm. Another helicopter, meanwhile, collided with the C-130 transport plane, killing eight U.S. servicemen.

President Carter took personal responsibility for the failure of the mission and called on the BBC, the Voice of America and other Western media to broadcast frequent announcements in their Persian programmes, letting everyone know that the mission had been aborted, in order to notify those who were in charge of making preparations at the caravanserai and in Tehran so that they would not go ahead with their plans.

It was lucky that the ill-conceived mission was aborted, because had it gone ahead it would have resulted in a bloodbath and probably the death of all the hostages. Iran was still in the grip of revolutionary zeal, and many of the students who were guarding the compound were armed and highly motivated. They would have retaliated to any attack, resulting in a major military confrontation between the Iranian forces and a few dozen US troops.

After the failed attempt to rescue the hostages, they were scattered to different parts of the country and were treated worse than before, because the hostage-takers were afraid that similar attempts would be made to free them by force.

Myths Concerning the Iranian Revolution

There have been many myths about the hostage crisis. A frequent charge is that President Carter “lost Iran” due to his weakness and not taking military action. Taking military action thousands of miles away against a country in the throes of a massive revolution would have been absolutely foolhardy and would have handed Iran to America’s main Cold War rival, the Soviet Union.

In fact, a number of US officials, including the National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and President Carter’s Chief Domestic Policy Adviser Stuart Eizenstat and others, recommended military action, but cooler heads prevailed. The Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and especially the US Ambassador in Iran William Sullivan who knew the situation in Iran well, as well as practically all US allies, strongly advised against it.

The other myth is that President Carter turned his back on the Shah and allowed Khomeini to take over. This myth is particularly strong among many Iranian royalists who do not want to admit that the Shah was toppled due to his own mistakes, and would like to blame foreigners for his downfall.

This myth is also completely false, as right to the end President Carter backed the Shah and tried to keep him in power, but there was no way that the Shah could have suppressed the revolution at such a late stage. There were many mistakes made earlier on during his reign, especially the 1953 coup led by the CIA and the British MI6 against the democratically-elected and popular Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, that led to the revolution.

So, if anyone has to be held responsible for “losing Iran” it should be those who planned and carried out the 1953 coup, setting Iranian democracy back by decades. In fact, President Carter sacrificed his presidency in order to bring about a peaceful resolution to the hostage crisis and to make sure that all the hostages returned to their homes safe and sound, as they did.

The Release of the Hostages

However, as a final act of spite, Khomeini refused to free the hostages before President Carter had stepped down, and eventually they were released on 20 January 1981, minutes after President Reagan was sworn in as the 40th US president.

There have been persistent rumours about a deal being struck between the Iranian government and the members of President Reagan’s election team not to release the hostages until after the election or the end of President Carter’s term. Those around President Reagan have denied those rumours but the Iranian president at that time Abol-Hasan Bani-Sadr has insisted that members of the Reagan team contacted Iranian officials making that demand.

The Main Reasons behind the Hostage Taking

Although the wounds of that event have not yet healed, most people are not aware of the real reasons behind that terrible event and the cost that Iran has paid and continues to pay for it.

Throughout 1978-79, there was a massive nationwide uprising against Mohammad Reza Shah’s autocratic rule. Three groups led the opposition to the Shah. The first group consisted of moderate secular reformists who simply wanted the Shah to abide by the Iranian Constitution and reign and not rule. From a couple of years before the revolution, they formed various groups functioning within the existing political constraints. They published a number of open letters calling for change, for free elections, for allowing the Iranian Parliament (the National Constituent Assembly or the Majles) to function as a check on the government, especially on the Shah’s unlimited powers.

The second group was led by various leftists and communist groups, such as the traditional pro-Moscow Tudeh Party, and some hardcore armed groups such as the Feda’iyan Khalq (the Devotees of the Masses) and the Islamic-Marxist Mojahedin-e Khalq (the Holy Warriors of the Masses, or MEK), and a number of smaller and less extreme groups.

Two of the radical groups, the Feda’iyan Khalq and MEK, had engaged in armed clashes against the Shah’s security forces and US military advisors who were in charge of training Iranian forces on the most advanced military equipment that the Shah had purchased. Towards the end of the Shah’s rule, Iran counted for half of all US arms sales. These groups acted as the foot-soldiers of the revolution and were mainly responsible for bringing Khomeini to power.

During the later stages of the uprising, these groups were joined by disaffected and radical clerics, although traditional members of the clergy, such as the highest-ranking Shi’a cleric of the time, Ayatollah Ali Shari’atmadari, did not take part in the uprising.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who had been exiled from Iran by the Shah in 1964 for openly opposing his policies, especially the Shah’s decision to grant judicial immunity to thousands of US military personnel who were serving in Iran, led the religious opposition from his place of exile in the Holy City of Najaf in Iraq and for the last few months before the revolution, from Paris, after he was expelled from Iraq on the Shah’s request.

After the revolution, these three groups started fighting for their share of the booty. Initially, a moderate reformist, the leader of the Iran Freedom Movement Mehdi Bazargan was chosen to form a transitional government. He selected a cabinet mainly drawn from the moderate opposition, including many US-educated ministers. However, his powers were curtailed by Khomeini and the hard-line clerics, and in his own words he became like a knife without a blade.

Bazargan’s foreign minister, Ebrahim Yazdi, who had lived in the United States for many years and also had a US Green Card, was accused of being a secret CIA agent and resigned with Bazargan. Bazargan’s deputy prime minister, Abbas Amir-Entezam, was accused of spying for the United States and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He died last year while still under house arrest. The real reason for his dismissal was his open opposition to a theocratic government, led by the clerics.

Another US-educated activist Sadeq Qotbzadeh who was a close aide and interpreter of Ayatollah Khomeini when he was in Paris and who also acted as a foreign minister during the hostage crisis was charged with planning to assassinate Ayatollah Khomeini and was executed. Earlier in his life, he had been a supporter of Mosaddeq’s National Front and had also taken part in many anti-Shah demonstrations.

Meanwhile, the challenge from the leftist forces was more severe and more violent. MEK had started waging a savage campaign both against Khomeini and the clerics, and against the moderate opposition whom they accused of being pro-American or even secret US agents whose aim was to subvert the revolution. When Mas’ud Rajavi, the leader of the MEK was prevented by Khomeini in running for president due to his alleged atheism, the MEK started a reign of terror against the leading members of the clerical establishment.

As the result of an attack against the premises of the Islamic Republic Party when a number of leading government officials were meeting, they killed over 70 top officials, including the most powerful man next to Khomeini, Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, and a large number of ministers and Majles deputies. On 30 August 1980, they detonated a bomb at the presidential palace killing President Ali Raja’i and Prime Minister Mohammad Javad Bahonar.

Meanwhile, Khomeini waged a major campaign against the MEK, killing hundreds of their members and eventually forcing the MEK leadership to flee Iran. During the Iran-Iraq war they joined Saddam Hussein’s army and attacked Iran during the last phase of the war, as the result of which Ayatollah Khomeini ordered a few thousand of their imprisoned members to be executed if they did not repent.

US Hostages as Pawns in the Internal Battle

Although by the time of the hostage crisis the worst atrocities between these groups had not yet taken place, nevertheless, the rivalry and hostility between those three groups was already quite clear. The hostage crisis had a number of aims, one of which was to challenge the US’s presence in Iran, but the main reason for the hostage crisis was to neutralise the democratic and the communist opposition to the regime and to consolidate the position of the clerics as the main sources of power in Iran. The hostages were cynically used as pawns in that deadly game.

Prior to the November attack on the US Embassy in Tehran, some members of the radical Marxist group the Feda’iyan Khalq had attacked the Embassy on 14 February 1979 and had taken a US marine, Kenneth Kraus, hostage. Prime Minister Bazargan immediately sent his Foreign Minister Ebrahim Yazdi to talk to the hostage takers. His mission succeeded and the militants left the embassy within three hours, and they also released Kraus six days later.

However, anti-US and anti-imperialist agitation continued and the leftist groups accused the government of colluding with the United States. Radical religious groups tried to neutralize the leftist accusations by carrying out a similar mission against a foreign embassy. According to Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, one of the five original planners of the US embassy attack, Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad (then an engineering student and later two-term president of Iran) urged the group to attack the Soviet Embassy instead of the American Embassy. His view was that the Soviets were supporting the most dangerous enemies of the Islamic Revolution, i.e. the violent communist groups. He argued that the monarchist and nationalist groups who were allegedly supported by the United States were much less dangerous than the leftist forces. When the rest of the group rejected Ahmadinezhad’s proposal, he withdrew from the entire enterprise.

In order to counter the left’s “anti-imperialist” slogans, some radical Muslim students decided to launch an attack of their own on the US Embassy in order to show that they were as revolutionary as the Marxists. So, a group of them got together and consulted a young cleric, Mohammad Mousavi-Kho’iniha, about what they intended to do. He warned them against it, because he said that the government was bound to attack and dislodge them as it had done in the case of the earlier attack by the Feda’iyan Khalq.

However, he also told them that if the takeover of the Embassy proved successful by attracting mass support, Khomeini would not oppose it. So, the hostage crisis was in reality the symbol of a struggle between the leftist and religious forces to gain control of the revolution.

Mousavi-Kho’iniha got in touch with Ahmad Khomeini, Ayatollah Khomeini’s son and the director of his office, to ask if Khomeini would approve of an attack by Muslims students on the U.S. Embassy. Apparently, Khomeini did not respond for a few days, and Mousavi-Kho’iniha took his silence as the sign of his acquiescence, but of course Khomeini did not respond so that he would not be directly implicated in the affair and to have the option of denying having given his permission for it.

Consequently, on 4th November 1979, a group of radical Muslim students attacked the Embassy in the early hours of the morning, following the Shah’s admission to the United States for medical treatment. Some of the young radicals were genuinely afraid that the Shah’s admission to the United States would lead to a repetition of the 1953 coup and his restoration to power.

One of the ringleaders of the attack, Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, said later that initially they had intended to occupy the embassy for a few hours to object to some US policies. He said: “Announcing our objections from within the occupied compound would carry our message to the world in a much more firm and effective way.”

However, the takeover of the embassy proved more popular than they could have imagined, with large groups of leftist and radical Islamic students, including MEK members, gathering and demonstrating in front of the Embassy, demanding the return of the Shah.

After two days of silence, seeing the level of public support for the takeover of the embassy, Khomeini finally put his full support behind the students, and called their action “the second revolution”. He added that the first revolution had been against the Shah, while the second revolution was against imperialism. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Bazargan and the entire cabinet resigned when they failed to kick the students out of the Embassy.

Consequently, with the occupation of the US Embassy, Khomeini had achieved the ousting of the nationalist government, and leftist groups were also sidelined and silenced. With that illegal act, Khomeini consolidated his power at the expense of national interests. The future president, Abol-Hasan Bani-Sadr, has stated: “During this time, I called all the ambassadors from the European and North American countries and told them that the occupation of the embassy was in fact a strike against the Iranian government; it was we who were being held hostage. I asked them to help us end it.”

The occupation of the American embassy was a brilliant tactical move as far as the religious militants were concerned. It served Khomeini’s domestic purposes well, as he managed to crush the leftist forces one after another. It consolidated the power of the mullahs and silenced their opponents. The liberal elements were intimidated by highly selective and even fraudulent leaks from the embassy files about their alleged links with the “Great Satan”; while the leftist forces were jubilant about that audacious “anti-imperialist” move, which humiliated America and put an end to the possibility of the return of the monarchists or other right‑wing elements to power.

A Costly Enterprise

Although the hostage crisis served Khomeini’s short-term interests, it proved a very costly mistake as far as Iran’s foreign policy was concerned. The image of American diplomats held hostage, blindfolded and humiliated, has been ingrained in the minds of all Americans.

Iran paid and continues to pay a very heavy price for that illegal and outrageous act. In addition to blocking billions of dollars of Iranian assets abroad, the United States adopted a very hostile stance towards the Islamic Republic. Probably without the hostage crisis, Saddam Hussein would not have dared attack Iran, would not have received the backing of the West, and Iran would not have been left so isolated that she only managed to defend herself at enormous cost.

That mistake resulted in Iran’s international isolation, devastated the country as the result of the war, and inflicted hundreds of billions worth of damage on the country.

However, 40 years after those tragic events, the time has come for both countries to lay to rest the ghost of the past and start a new chapter in their relations. Iran has moved a long way away from those revolutionary days. Under President Hassan Rouhani Iran extended the hand of friendship to the West and after long negotiations with the United States and other permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany they reached a landmark nuclear deal. According to 15 quarterly reports by the IAEA, Iran had meticulously carried out all her obligations under the deal, but President Trump violated the deal and the Security Council Resolution 2231 by withdrawing from it.

The continuation of this hostility does not benefit either country and is leading to a very tense and dangerous situation in the Persian Gulf. The only sane course of action is to allow bygones to be bygones and to start a new chapter of friendship and cooperation.

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Britain’s Trump: The Further Failure of Right Wing Populism https://www.juancole.com/2019/09/britains-further-populism.html Sun, 08 Sep 2019 04:03:33 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=186203 (Informed Comment) – After only six weeks in office, Johnson’s grand plan to leave the European Union with or without a deal by 31 October has collapsed like a pack of cards and, instead, he may have the shortest term as prime minister in British history. So, unlike the United States, the cause of right wing populism seems to have floundered in the United Kingdom, in the same way that it did in Italy and France.

On 23 July 2019, the blond, rumbustious, free-wheeling Brexiteer Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, known to all as Boris, was elected Britain’s 55th Prime Minister (77th if one counts the terms that different prime ministers served). On the same day, speaking to high school students in Washington, President Trump said: “We have a really good man who’s going to be the prime minister of the UK now, Boris Johnson. Good man. He’s tough, and he’s smart. They call him Britain’s Trump and people are saying that’s a good thing. They like me over there, and that’s what they wanted. That’s what they need. He’ll get it done. Boris is good, he’s going to do a good job….”

Already during his state visit to Britain in early June, in an inappropriate intervention in Britain’s domestic politics, Trump had made it clear that he favored Boris Johnson as prime minister. Meanwhile, he had denounced the then Prime Minister Theresa May who had arranged his state visit as “foolish” in her handling of Brexit. In a tweet, Trump wrote: “I told @theresa may how to do that deal, but she went her own foolish way-was unable to get it done. A disaster!”

Although many people in Britain too regard Johnson as a British Trump, there are some marked differences as well as similarities between them.

Like Trump, Johnson was born in New York to wealthy English parents, when his father was studying economics at Columbia University. Boris held dual British and US nationality.

Johnson’s paternal great-grandfather was a Muslim, Circassian-Turkish journalist Ali Kemal, and his mother is the granddaughter of Elias Avery Lowe who was a Russian Jewish immigrant to the United States. Johnson has described himself as a “one-man melting pot”, with Muslim, Jewish and Christian grandparents. He abandoned his mother’s Catholicism and became an Anglican.

Johnson went to the exclusive and expensive Eton College and then to Balliol College, Oxford, to study classics. He is in the habit of dropping some Latin or Greek sentences in his speeches. In 1986, he was elected President of the prestigious Oxford Union, something that improved his oratorical qualities. Johnson had a privileged childhood, and his earliest recorded ambition was to be “world king”, but for the time being he has to content himself with being the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

After graduation, Johnson spent a number of years as a journalist, including as a columnist for the Times and the Daily Telegraph and finally as editor of The Spectator that is often seen a step on the ladder to high office in the Conservative Party. In 1989 Johnson was appointed to the Daily Telegraph’s Brussel’s bureau to report on the European Commission. During his five years in that post, he developed a very strong dislike for the EU venture and his well-written but very critical articles played a major role in discrediting the Commission to British readers.

He witnessed the changes that took place in the European Union after the end of the Cold War. He wrote: “It was a wonderful time to be there. The Berlin War fell and the French and Germans had to decide how they were going to respond to this event, and what was Europe going to become, and there was this fantastic pressure to create a single polity, to create an answer to the historic German problem, and this produced the most fantastic strains in the Conservative Party, so everything I wrote from Brussels, I found was sort of chucking these rocks over the garden wall and I listened to this amazing crash from the greenhouse next door over in England as everything I wrote from Brussels was having this amazing, explosive effect on the Tory party, and it really gave me this I suppose rather weird sense of power.”

After his stint at journalism, he entered politics and in 2001 he won the safe Conservative seat in Henley on Thames. He was re-elected with a much bigger majority in 2005, but in 2007 he resigned his seat to run as the mayor of London. He defeated the widely popular leftist incumbent Ken Livingstone and served as mayor for eight years, organizing the London Olympics.

In 2014 he sought selection as the Conservative candidate and won Uxbridge and South Ruislip at the 2015 general election. When Prime Minister David Cameron announced the referendum on the EU membership, Cameron led the Brexit campaign against Cameron’s policies.

In response to a comment by President Barack Obama that Britain should remain in the EU, in an article in The Sun Johnson wrote that Obama’s views might have been shaped by an “ancestral dislike” of Britain owing to his “Part-Kenyan” background.

While serving as British foreign secretary in Theresa May’s cabinet, Johnson resigned his post due to the agreement that May had reached with the EU for an orderly departure and again led the campaign for a hard Brexit. As the result of the resignation of a number of her key ministers, May was forced to resign and Johnson was elected Prime Minister by two-thirds of the votes of the members of the Conservative Party.

Unlike Trump’s administration, Johnson’s cabinet is multi-ethnic, and three of four great offices of the state are now held by children of immigrants. Dominic Raab, foreign secretary and deputy prime minister, is the son of a Jewish father who came to Britain from Czechoslovakia in 1938. Unlike most of the hard right in the Conservative Party, Raab began his career working as an international lawyer and even spent a stint at the human rights organization Liberty. He spent a summer in 1998 working at Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.

Sajid Javid, the chancellor of exchequer, is the son of Pakistani Muslim immigrants. His father worked as a bus driver, and his mother who grew up in a small village in Pakistan did not speak English. Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, was born to Gujarati parents who emigrated to UK from Uganda in the 1960s.

Johnson’s cabinet shares a very strong pro-Israeli stance with the Trump administration. After Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel, Johnson said that it represented a “moment of opportunity” for peace. In June 2018, Johnson accused the UNHRC of focusing disproportionately on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.

Other members of his cabinet also share his pro-Israeli proclivities. Despite his short association with Palestinians, Dominic Raab has been a steadfast supporter of the state of Israel. In a number of articles, he condemned UN recognition of a Palestinian state. In a 2010 blog post, he defended the Israeli forces’ attack on the Mavi Marmara ship attempting to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, an incident in which 10 pro-Palestinian activists were killed.

With regard to Saudi Arabia, Raab urged the UK not to allow the gruesome murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October last year to undermine the UK’s relationship with Riyadh. He told the BBC: “We are not throwing our hands in the air and terminating the relationship with Saudi Arabia, not just because of the huge number of British jobs that depend on it but also because if you exert influence over your partners you need to be able to talk to them.”

The new Home Secretary Priti Patel is also a staunch supporter of Israel. She was forced out of Theresa May’s cabinet in 2017 for holding many unofficial meetings with Israeli government officials while on a “private holiday”, without telling the Foreign Office. She was accompanied by Lord Polak, honorary president of Conservative Friends of Israel.

As International Development’s secretary, she was critical of the UK’s decision to invest the Department’s funds to support the Palestinian territories. In October 2016, Patel ordered a review of the funding procedure, freezing approximately a third of Britain’s aid to the Palestinians during the review. During her visit to Israel, she had recommended that the Department for International Development should give money to field hospitals run by the Israeli army in the Golan Heights.

Sajid Javid too has not hidden his admiration for Israel. In a meeting of the Conservative Friends of Israel, he proclaimed: “I am a proud, British-born Muslim, and I love my country more than any other place on earth,” but he added that if he had to live anywhere in the Middle East it would be Israel.

He has also taken a heavy hand against Israel’s enemies. In February 2019, he added the political wing of Hezbollah to the UK’s terror list, along with its already outlawed military wing, a policy close to the hearts of the members of the Trump administration.

Gavin Williamson, the new education secretary, served as defense secretary in May’s cabinet. However, in an unprecedented move, he was sacked by May after allegedly “compelling evidence” came to light that he had leaked details of a National Security Council meeting to the press regarding Huawei. He has been one of the most overtly hawkish ministers in recent history. In 2018 he described the UK as having become “too timid” following its wars in the Middle East, and praised “properly considered” military intervention. In view of his earlier dismissal, his appointment as education secretary in Johnson’s cabinet has raised many eyebrows.

After his election by fewer than 100,000 members of the Conservative Party, Johnson formed the most right-wing government in recent British history. One of the conditions of the appointments of his new ministers was that they had to pledge their adherence to Brexit. Having formed a loyal and cohesive cabinet, Johnson got to work to achieve his aim of implementing Brexit. In his first speech in front of the steps of 10 Downing Street he pledged that he would get Britain out of the EU “deal or no deal, do or die” by 31 October.

In order to achieve this aim in the face of a parliament that had repeatedly rejected a no-deal Brexit, Johnson decided to prorogue (a fancy term for close or suspend) the parliament for five weeks shortly after it came back from the summer recess, in order to give little time for the opposition parties to oppose his plans. He decreed that the parliament would meet for a few days before it closed down again for five weeks for party conferences and for the start of a new session of the parliament.

In order to justify the parliament’s suspension, he said that the Queens Speech announcing the programs of the new government that is normally held in November would be brought forward to 14 October. Normally, the parliament debates the new government’s programs for a few days, and then there would be very little time to debate Brexit and pass legislation, in effect forcing the country to leave the EU with no deal by the 31st October deadline.

His unusual and undemocratic suspension of parliament for five weeks united all the opposition parties. When they returned to the parliament on 3 September, opposition parties put forward a motion to take control of parliament in order to pass legislation preventing the government from leaving the EU with no deal. As the prime minister started to deliver his first speech in parliament one of the Conservative MPs moved from the government benches and joined the Liberal Democrats, depriving the government of the single majority that it enjoyed. Thus, all of a sudden, Johnson found that he was at the head of a minority government.

The motion to take control of parliament passed with a majority of 27 votes, and the subsequent motion to force the government to ask for an extension from the EU so that the government could not crash out with no deal on 31 October passed with a majority of 29 votes. Being annoyed by the defection of 21 Conservative MPs to the opposition and voting for the bill, Johnson took the whip away from them, in practice expelling 21 prominent MPs from the Conservative Party, thus further reducing his support in parliament.

The MPs who were sacked included Father of the House, a former Treasury Secretary Kenneth Clarke who has served as an MP since 1970, Sir Nicholas Soames, Winston Churchill’s grandson and a former defense minister who has been an MP since 1983, and many other prominent MPs. It is remarkable that the very popular leader of the Scottish Conservative Party Ruth Davidson who saved the party from extinction resigned in disgust. Three former prime ministers have come out strongly against Johnson, including former Conservative Prime Minister John Major who has taken Johnson to court for closing parliament. Maybe the most damaging of all was the resignation of his brother Jo Johnson, who had been appointed Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, who said that he would also stand down as an MP.

The bill approved by parliament requiring Johnson to get an extension to Bresixt was sent to the House of Lords to be debated. The government was hoping that Conservative peers would filibuster the debate and the bill would not be approved before the prorogation. Opposition MPs took their duvets to the House of Lords, saying that they would not leave until the bill was passed. Eventually, Conservative peers gave in and approved the bill, which should be sent to the Queen to be signed into law on Monday 9th September.

Boris Johnson has said that this would theoretically bind his hands and that he would not obey it. He said he would rather die in a ditch than ask for an extension. If he refuses to obey the law, he will plunge the country into a constitutional crisis. A former Attorney General has said that if he disobeys the law he will be taken to court and sent to jail.

Johnson has said that next week he will call for new elections, but according to the fixed-term parliament that was made into law by David Cameron he needs a two-third majority to have early elections, which is impossible for him to achieve. He has said that he would introduce a one-line bill trying to undo the fixed-term legislation, which would require a simple majority, but opposition parties have said that they will not vote for it until a no-deal Brexit is a thing of the past and until he has asked for an extension beyond 31 October.

So, for the time being, Britain’s Trump does not seem to have achieved his aim and has indeed faced the worst week imaginable. If he sticks to his word to refuse to ask for an extension he will have to resign, which will make his premiership the shortest in history.

However, new elections have to be held sooner or later and Johnson is trying to portray himself as being on the side of the people against parliament. With the split in the Conservative Party and a rising Brexit Party that will take some of the Conservative votes, it is unlikely that Johnson will succeed. British politics has to go through a number of other unexpected stages before we know the final outcome.

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Channel 4 News: “Could MPs take the PM to court to force Brexit delay?”

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After Trump’s Breach, Iran said it Would Withdraw from Some of the Nuclear Deal: It Hasn’t https://www.juancole.com/2019/06/trumps-withdraw-nuclear.html Fri, 28 Jun 2019 04:06:47 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=184974 (Informed Comment) – In early May, on the anniversary of US withdrawal from the JCPOA, Iran announced that in view of US violations of the nuclear agreement and crippling sanctions that have been imposed on Iran preventing her from exporting the bulk of her oil, if European powers who were also signatories to the deal fail to activate their so called “Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges” (INSTEX), providing Iran with some economic relief, by 27 June 2019 Iran would exceed some of the limits imposed on her by the deal.

Right on cue, the Economist published a lead article on 27 June entitled “How to Contain Iran”. It started with the assertion “It [Iran] is poised to breach the nuclear deal it signed with America and other powers in 2015”. On the same day, the New York Times published an editorial titled: “Iran Says It Will Pass a Uranium Cap. Is It a Threat? What Happens Next?” It called Iran’s decision “a potentially combustible new phase in the country’s confrontation with Washington.”

Various other leading publications have condemned Iran’s “breach” of the nuclear deal. The pusillanimous leaders of the three European countries that were part of the nuclear negotiations with Iran – the United Kingdom, France and Germany – have also criticised Iran for the “ultimatum” that it had allegedly issued, and called on her not to breach the terms of the deal.

In order to see whether Iran has breached her part of the deal or whether it has been the United States and the EU that have seriously breached the deal, it is necessary to briefly review the history of the nuclear deal or, to give it its full title, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

After many decades of hostility between Iran and the West and after two years of intense negotiations, Iran and the leading global powers reached a landmark nuclear deal on 2 April 2015. It is important to stress that the JCPOA was not a bilateral agreement between Iran and the United States, but was an international agreement reached between Iran and the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany.

Furthermore, it was officially endorsed by the European Union (the EU) and embodied in a document published by the EU’s European External Action Service, titled “Joint Statement by EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif”. At the same time, the document was published by the U.S. Department of State titled “Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program”. Above all, the agreement was given the force of international law by the Security Council Resolution 2231 that lifted all the sanctions on Iran.

At the time of the agreement, Iran had installed 19,000 centrifuges in two enrichment facilities in Natanz and Fordo, and had a stockpile of 10,000 kilograms of enriched uranium of 3.67% purity. Iran also had a heavy water reactor in Arak for producing plutonium.

Iran was also producing a small amount of uranium enriched to 19.5% in order to provide fuel for a small reactor in Tehran that produced radio isotopes for medical use. The reactor that had been built by the United States under the former Mohammad Reza Shah required uranium enriched to 19.5% as its fuel. Iran had been forced to produce the required fuel as the United States had refused to sell Iran the fuel and had also prevented other countries from doing so.

In keeping with the JCPOA, Iran halted its production of uranium enriched to 20 per cent, mothballed 80 percent of its uranium enrichment program and agreed to reduce her 10,000 kilograms of low enriched uranium to only 300 kilograms for 15 years. Iran also removed the core of the heavy water reactor in Arak and filled the channels with cement, rendering it inoperable. Iran also dismantled over 13,000 centrifuges, leaving the country with 6,104 primitive first-generation IR-1 machines, of which 5,104 are enriching uranium to 3.67 percent, and 1,044 machines at the Fordow site that will remain inoperative for 10 years.

Meanwhile, all of this was carried out under the strict supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which will also continue to closely monitor Iran’s future nuclear activities. So far, in 15 quarterly reports, the IAEA has certified that Iran has carried out all its obligations under the JCPOA.

Furthermore, Iran agreed to adhere to the Additional Protocol, which means unannounced inspections by IAEA inspectors of any nuclear site at the time of their choosing. So contrary to the false propaganda that the JCPOA has limited Iran’s dash to a bomb by a number of years, by accepting the Additional Protocol Iran has agreed to permanently give up any desire for nuclear weapons.

Prior to signing the JCPOA, it was alleged that Iran was three months away from producing enough enriched uranium for a single nuclear bomb if she wanted to follow that route (the so-called breakout period). This was despite the fact that Iran’s Clerical Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa saying that possession, storage or use of nuclear weapons is haram, or forbidden according to Islamic teachings.

However, as the result of the JCPOA, Iran is more than a year away from amassing enough uranium for making a single bomb, and she has to withdraw both from the Additional Protocol and the NPT in order to accumulate enough high-level enriched uranium. Therefore, the whole world would have plenty of time to know about it. Since 16 January 2016, the JCPOA Implementation Day, Iran has carried out its obligations under it.

Prior to the signing of the agreement, the Israelis alleged that Iran had carried out some research for military purposes, the so-called PMD or Possible Military Dimension. As a part of the inspections of all Iranian sites, including the military site in Parchin, the Director-General of the IAEA Yukiya Amano visited Parchin at the head of a group of inspectors, and after testing soil samples they certified that there had been no nuclear weapons activities at the site and there had been no diversion from the peaceful use of nuclear technology. It is important to stress all this in order to keep the recent Iranian decision in perspective.

As the negotiations were reaching their final stages, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited by the Speaker of the House of Representatives to address the joint session of Congress and speak against a key policy of a sitting president. Netanyahu made a number of baseless allegations, and received 19 standing ovations, but the agreement between Iran and the international community continued.

Although Netanyahu failed to prevent the deal under President Obama, his supporters in Congress and in numerous pro-Israeli think tanks continued their campaign against the deal. During his election campaign, presidential candidate Donald Trump who received his biggest campaign donation from the fanatically pro-Israeli casino owner Sheldon Adelson, and other billionaire donors Paul Singer and Bernard Marcus, picked up Netanyahu’s slogans against the deal and called it “the worst deal in history”.

After achieving power, President Trump continued his anti-JCPOA campaign. Finally, on 8th May 2018 he ditched the deal, re-imposed sanctions and has been forcing other countries to cease any dealings with Iran too. As a result, not only has Iran lost some $130 billion in oil revenue, but its inflation has soared, Iranian currency has tanked, unemployment has increased, the economy has gone into recession and the sanctions are affecting the lives of millions of ordinary people. Even the importation of food and medicine, which are technically exempt from the sanctions, has been made impossible due to banking restrictions imposed on Iran.

This is despite the fact that as a signatory to the JCPOA, the United States had pledged to implement it in “good faith”. Section (viii) of the Preamble and General Provisions of JCPOA document reads: “The E3/EU+3 and Iran commit to implement this JCPOA in good faith and in a constructive atmosphere, based on mutual respect, and to refrain from any action inconsistent with the letter, spirit and intent of this JCPOA that would undermine its successful implementation. The E3/EU+3 will refrain from imposing discriminatory regulatory and procedural requirements in lieu of the sanctions and restrictive measures covered by this JCPOA”.

Under the JCPOA, Iran is required to cap its stock of low-enriched uranium at 300 kg of uranium hexafluoride enriched to 3.67 percent or its equivalent for 15 years, and is required to sell any excess amount. However, not only has the United States imposed illegal, extraterritorial sanctions on Iran, in contravention of the JCPOA it has even prevented other countries buying the small amount of enriched uranium that Iran produces. Therefore, on the first anniversary of U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, Iran announced that as it is not possible to export the small amount of excess uranium that it produces, by 27 June the amount produced would exceed the 300 kg of uranium hexafluoride that it is allowed to keep under the JCPOA.

On 17 June 2019, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said: “We have quadrupled the rate of enrichment (of uranium) and even increased it more recently, so that in 10 days it will bypass the 300 kg limit.” It is important to bear in mind that this is still low-enriched uranium to 3.67 percent.

By doing this, Iran wants to indicate that in view of the fact that the United States has violated the JCPOA for over a year, it also will violate some of its requirements. As it happens, the amount allowed has not yet been breached, but in any case we are still a long way away from enriching uranium to 19.5 percent which is still regarded as low-enriched uranium (20 percent and above is regarded as medium level) and further away from over 95 percent enrichment that is required for making a single bomb.

This by itself does not mean a major violation of the JCPOA, but is merely a symbolic gesture by which Iran wishes to put pressure on the EU to activate its transaction channel, the so called “Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges” (INSTEX) that will allow companies to continue trading with Iran to a limited amount despite U.S. sanctions. That project has been talked about for over a year and still it has not been set up. Therefore, Iran wishes to pressurise Britain, France and Germany to get on with it.

Regardless of the fact that Iran’s decision to exceed the small amount of low-level enriched uranium does not pose any threat to the substance of the JCPOA, nevertheless, it is important to stress that the situation cannot continue as it is at the moment. If the EU wishes to prevent the breakdown of the JCPOA as it says it does, it should take some serious steps to ensure that Iran derives some economic benefits from it to which she is entitled. Iran’s decision should not make it harder for the Europeans to stay on board, but should spur them on to take some concrete steps.

In view of the current threats of war in the Persian Gulf, and U.S. demands of an effective surrender by the Islamic Republic of its nuclear programme, its regional policy, its relations with other regional states, and in fact its political and economic autonomy, it is incumbent upon other countries, especially the signatories to step up their efforts to save the deal. They should make it clear to President Trump that his threat of war on Iran, his genocidal comments such as “the official end of Iran” or “the obliteration of Iran” and his most recent statement that he does not need an exit strategy are not acceptable. They should realise that a war with Iran will not remain limited to Iran, but most probably will result in a conflagration in the entire Middle East.

In view of the impending dangers, I believe that it would be wiser for Iran to observe all the requirements of the JCPOA and not to exceed the limits set in it, so that it does not give the Trump administration an excuse to increase pressure on Iran. However, the real responsibility for the breakdown of the agreement and for a possible disastrous war in the region lies entirely with Trump.

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

TRT World: “US, EU fail to protect Iran nuclear deal – analyst”

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