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US-Iran ties will continue to be problematic

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | May 20, 2017

Hassan Rouhani’s magnificent victory in Iran’s presidential election, polling as much as 57% of the votes, has once again proved the resilience and vibrancy of the country’s political system. The Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stuck to his word by preparing a level field for the candidates and allowing a genuine test of popular support. The western prognosis was that Khamenei wouldn’t want Rouhani to be re-elected. That turned out to be a totally biased assessment. Khamenei’s only appeal was that there should be a high voter turnout, which he regarded to be a vindication of the Iranian political system. In the event, over 70% of the electorate exercised their franchise.

The world capitals will heave a sigh of relief at the election result. Rouhani’s victory guarantees that Iranian policies will remain predictable for the coming 4-year period. His openness toward the West earned for Iran much goodwill in Europe. In turn, the firm stance taken by EU by backing the Iran nuclear deal – coupled with the strong endorsement by Russia and China as well – has left the US with no option but to fall in line. Candidate Donald Trump had vowed to tear up the nuclear agreement.

Ironically, President Trump may have knowingly contributed to Rouhani’s re-election by the perfectly-timed announcement in Washington on Wednesday that the US’ sanctions relief for Iran will continue. It was a gentle reminder to the Iranian people that their country’s isolation has ended, thanks to Rouhani’s stewardship.

However, it is also important to remember that Rouhani succeeded in concluding the nuclear deal only because of the robust backing of Khamenei at crucial junctures of the negotiation process. The deal had many critics within the Iranian establishment, including some powerful people. But once it became clear that Rouhani enjoyed Khamenei’s confidence, they fell in line.

Suffice to say, caricaturing Rouhani as ‘pro-West’ or Khamenei as ‘anti-West’ completely misses the point. Indeed, Iran too has its fair share of ‘westernists’ – like, say, India or Russia or China would have. In fact, the ‘westernists’ were quite visible in Rouhani’s government. Many cabinet ministers were products of American universities. (Rouhani himself had studied in UK.) But it is inconceivable that Iran will jettison its ‘strategic autonomy’. The potency of Iranian nationalism is such that despite close relations, Indians have often found their Iranian counterparts to be tough as nails at the negotiating table despite being great friends at a personal level.

Rouhani’s main opponent Ebrahim Raisi is a hugely influential figure in the religious establishment. His defeat was only possible because of Rouhani’s success in cobbling together a broad coalition of supporters from the middle class and the youth. Without doubt, he holds a mandate for ‘change’. Expectations will be high. But it is doubtful that Rouhani will be able to meet these expectations. Much depends on the cooperation he gets from the other centres of power within the regime.

With Rouhani at the helm of affairs in Tehran, the Trump administration is unlikely to resort to a confrontationist policy toward Iran. The US knows fully well that Iran’s military build-up is defensive in character. The Iran spectre enables the US to sell massive quantities of weapons to the petrodollar states in the Gulf. Saudi Arabia is just finalising a $100 billion arms deal with the US. (Iran’s military budget stood at $12.3 billion as against Saudi Arabia’s $63.7 billion.)

It is unlikely that the Iranians will roll back their missile development program. Missile capability is Iran’s main deterrence against US or Israeli attack. Tehran will simply ignore the Trump administration’s rhetoric against Iran’s missile programme.

The Saudi and Israeli lobbies have pulled all the stops to prevent or slow down any US-Iranian normalization in the recent years. They have a far more receptive audience in the Trump administration. On the other hand, conflict resolution in the Middle East becomes difficult for the US without Iran’s cooperation. In Syria, there are signs that the US is testing the waters to see how far Iranian presence on the ground can be rolled back.

Rouhani’s image as a ‘moderate’ does not mean that he will cave in, or that there will be an Iranian retrenchment in Syria (or Iraq). The policy calculus has been set in terms of preserving Iran’s core interests, which are of course non-negotiable. Tehran will remain watchful that its adversaries – US, Israel or Saudi Arabia – will not hesitate to use the ISIS as proxy to destabilize Iran and undermine the regime. Therefore, the war against ISIS and the politics of ‘resistance’ will continue to be key templates of Iran’s national security agenda. Rouhani can be trusted to carry forward the agenda.

In sum, the ball is really in Trump’s court. But he is unlikely to exercise the option of adopting a pragmatic policy toward Iran. It is all too obvious by now that money can easily corrupt Trump’s team – and the Saudis know how to operate in the Washington Beltway. Besides, there is a contradiction insofar as the US is unused to having “equal” relationships with other countries. Iran will insist on an equal relationship. It is a fiercely independent country and its nationalistic moorings run very deep.

May 21, 2017 Posted by | Timeless or most popular | , , | Leave a comment

Iran’s presidential election takes predictable turn

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | April 22, 2017

The ‘known unknown’ in the fateful decision handed down on Thursday by Iran’s Guardian Council on the approved list of candidates for the forthcoming presidential election on May 19 was as regards the candidacy of former president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. That was for three main reasons. First, he is a colorful personality who occupies a unique spot in Iran’s political spectrum, which qualifies to be called ‘leftist’. Iran’s politics needs such a platform, given the nature of its problems of development.

A contestation between the Conservative Right and the Moderate Right detracts from the authenticity of the electoral arena. The paradox is that while there is a faction known as ‘reformists’ in Iran, it serves the same class interests as the conservative religious establishment. The 1978 revolution had leftist moorings, given its genesis as a popular democracy movement, but ended with the establishment of the world’s first Islamic state. And in a bitter struggle within the revolution, progressives got eliminated. It remains a hugely controversial chapter in Iran’s modern history and keeps popping up every now and then, reopening old wounds.

Second, Ahmedinejad was a rare ‘non-cleric’ president. Highly educated, intelligent, articulate and a self-confident intellectual credited with progressive outlook, he showed that a politician can have mass appeal in Iran sans the patronage of the religious establishment. Although deeply religious in his private beliefs and Spartan lifestyle, he lighted up a potential path in Iran’s evolution as a practising democracy that lay unexplored. Indeed, Iran’s progress as a modern state stands to gain if the religious establishment also becomes accountable to the people – not only to god. Did the religious establishment feel challenged by him? It seems so.

Third, in world politics today, we need a Bolivarian leader and therefore if there is no Ahmedinejad, it is a poorer world. Someone should speak up when a mother of all bombs is dropped on a hapless nation which is already at the end of its tether after years of occupation and ransacking and savagery, or when a color revolution is being insidiously fostered in faraway Venezuela. Multipolarity in world politics cannot be a fig-leaf for a concert of big powers to cover their back side.

Ahmedinejad was genuinely an internationalist who dared to punch above his weight and almost got away with it. The world needs him in the era of Donald Trump. The alternative is to settle for Kim Jong Un, which is of course bizarre.

However, in its wisdom, Iran’s Guardian Council has debarred Ahmedinejad from contesting next month’s election. Six candidates have been short-listed, but no official reason has been given. And there is no higher appeal, either.

What explains it? To be sure, there will be myriad conspiracy theories. To my mind, it is a highly political decision that the Guardian Council took. Some time back, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had reportedly asked Ahmadinejad not to put his name forward for this year’s election, so as to avoid “polarising” the country. But the latter displayed strategic defiance. If so, it was a hopeless act.

If an analogy is drawn from Indian politics, it was as if LK Advani had projected himself as the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP in the run-up to the 2014 poll, even after figuring out the RSS’s game plan. Advani showed prudence, while Ahmedinejad needed to be restrained. But then, that is also what makes Ahmedinejad adorable – to fight and lose rather than to shy away.

Ahmedinejad’s exit improves the chances of re-election for President Hassan Rouhani, whose performance on the economic front has been dismal with high unemployment (12.5%) despite the impressive 6.6% growth rate. Rouhani’s main opponent is likely to be the conservative cleric with a background in the judiciary (and Iran’s alleged extra-judicial killings) who heads the prestigious and powerful (and incredibly wealthy) religious foundation known as Astan Quds Razavi with responsibility for overseeing the country’s holiest Shia shrine in the city of Mashhad — Ebrahim Raisi.

It is an “in-house” affair, with a level playing field available for two conformist figures of the religious establishment – one far-right and the other moderate-reformist – testing their popularity. For neither, of course, this is the end of the road in their career. Ahmedinejad would have given an existential dimension to the election, and elevated it as the occasion for a great battle of ideas and roads taken and not taken. Put differently, Iran’s establishment is opting for cautious policies.

April 22, 2017 Posted by | Timeless or most popular | , , | Leave a comment

“It’s US Turn to Show Political Resolve”

Interview with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif | August 17, 2013

The new Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is taking over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran from his predecessor, Ali Akbar Salehi, at a time that the entire Middle East and North Africa from Syria to Egypt, from Tunisia to Libya, and also from Bahrain to Iraq and Lebanon, are grappling with various political and security crises. Iran’s nuclear case has been also relatively stagnant. In the meantime, the radical politicians in the United States as well as pro-Israeli lobbies in the US Congress and Senate are keeping up their loud cries for the intensification of sanctions against the Islamic Republic. On the verge of his official inauguration as the new Iranian foreign minister, in the following interview we have discussed with Mohammad Javad Zarif such important issues as the true meaning of moderation in Iran’s foreign policy, the new administration’s plans for the continuation of the nuclear negotiations, the possibility of transferring management of the nuclear case from the Supreme National Security Council to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Iran’s possible positions on radical moves taken by the United States and the pro-Israeli lobby, and the possibility of future direct talks between Tehran and Washington in the light of the existing political equations in the region.

Q: The issue of “moderation” was one of the main mottos of the “Administration of Foresight and Hope.” How do you define moderation in the area of foreign policy?

A: I personally believe that moderation means realism and creation of balance among various needs of a country for the advancement of the foreign policy and pursuit of the foreign policy goals through plausible and rational methods and a suitable discourse. Moderation does not mean to forget about the values or discard the principles. Moderation neither means to fall short of materializing the country’s rights. In other words, as I said in my address to the Majlis (Iranian parliament), moderation has its roots in self-confidence. The people who confide in their own ability, power, possibilities and capacities will tread the path of moderation. But those who are afraid and feel weak mostly go for radicalism. Radicals in the world are cowardly people and although their slogans may be different from one another, there are close and good relations among them. The world of today needs moderation more than anything else and the Islamic Republic of Iran, as a powerful country, can push ahead with a suitable foreign policy approach through moderation.

Q: In his first press conference after the inauguration ceremony, President [Hassan Rouhani] said resumption of the nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 group will be one of his priorities. Do you have any new plan or proposal for the resumption of these talks?

A: There have been discussions inside the administration with Mr. President about how to follow up on the country’s nuclear rights and reduce unjust sanctions which have been imposed against the Islamic Republic of Iran. The basis for our work is to insist on the rights of Iran and do away with logical concerns of the international community. As the Supreme Leader and the President have emphasized, it would be easy to achieve this goal provided that the main goal of all involved parties is to find a solution to the nuclear issue. We believe that finding a solution to the nuclear issue needs political will. On the side of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the election of Dr. Rouhani – in view of his past track records with regard to this case – proves that the Iranian people are willing for the nuclear issue to reach a final solution with power and strength and within a reasonable time frame. We wish the opposite side will also have the necessary political resolve for the resolution of the nuclear issue. In that case, we would have no concern with respect to assuring the world about the peaceful nature of our nuclear energy program because according to the fatwa [religious decree] issued by the Supreme Leader and based on the strategic needs of Iran, nuclear weapons have no place in our national security doctrine and are even detrimental to our national security.

Q: There have been rumors about the possibility of transferring the management of the nuclear case from the Supreme National Security Council to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Do you confirm such speculations or deny them and, basically, are there any specific plans for the transfer of this case?

A: I have not heard such a thing. This is a decision for the President to make. At any rate, in view of the experience I have in this regard, I will do my utmost to be of service for the advancement of the nuclear case in any position I am and to any degree possible. However, it is for the highest ranks of the Islamic Establishment to make the final decision about how to pursue the nuclear case, the form and framework of negotiations, and the best methods to be used in this regard.

The main issue is whether the necessary political resolve [among member states of the P5+1 group] will be present and whether the US government is ready to stand in the face of the interest groups and prevent the whole case to be steered by radical groups?

Q: We have witnessed the emergence of anti-Iran currents at both the US Congress and Senate concurrent with the election and inauguration of President Hassan Rouhani’s administration. On the other hand, Israelis claim in their propaganda campaigns that the administration in Iran has changed, but policies are the same as before. What is your plan to offset such radical moves?

A: The warmongering elements are apparently concerned about reduction of problems and are clearly doing their utmost to resort to any pretext in order to intensify the crisis with Iran. The important point is that decision-makers in Europe and the United States should come to grips with the real nature and goals of warmongers. On this basis, they should not allow a warmongering and tension-seeking agenda – which aims to put unjust pressures which have no place in international law on the Iranian nation – to prevent them from taking advantage of opportunities which can be used to find solutions to existing problems. The political agenda of radicalism clearly proves that radicals are cowards and are afraid of negotiations and dialogue. Therefore, such groups make recourse to hasty and ineffective methods in order to bar the progress of moderation. Such cowardly people usually fail to achieve their political goals as well.

Q: Will you agree to engage in bilateral direct talks with the United States if such a thing is proposed to you on the sidelines of such international meetings as the United Nations General Assembly sessions or negotiations with the P5+1 group?

A: The Supreme Leader has made his opinion about [direct] talks [with the United States] public time and time again. Negotiations, per se, is not an issue here, but the main issue is what topics are going to be discussed in such negotiations and how much political determination exists in the opposite side for the settlement of the existing problems. The main issue is will such a political resolve take shape and whether the US administration is actually ready to stand up to radical groups and prevent such radical groups from setting the course of the whole issue? This will be in fact a litmus test for the government of the United States to show its readiness to play a more serious role and pave the way for the achievement of a final solution.

Q: Don’t you think that bilateral talks between Tehran and Washington constitute the secret precondition for the improvement of relations between Iran and Europe?

A: In my opinion, political will is the precondition for the improvement of relations. The methods [to do this] can be discussed, but what is necessary is the emergence of such a political will and its manifestation in practice. In that case, various methods can be used to achieve goals. At a time that it is not still clear whether such a political will exists or not, the efficiency of using new methods cannot be clearly decided. In Iran, the election of Mr. Rouhani shows that people have made up their mind to engage in constructive interaction with the world. Mr. Rouhani, on the other hand, has shown through his words and deeds that he has the necessary political will to do this. Now, the important requisite is for such a political will to take shape on the other side of the equation.

Q: You are taking charge of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at a time that the Middle East is going through a hectic period of its history. We are witnessing different crises from Syria to Egypt, and from Bahrain to Lebanon and Iraq. What are your priorities among these regional cases?

A: Conditions in the region have become hectic and inflammatory as a result of shortsightedness of certain political players – most of them coming from outside the region – during the past few years, and we need a collective effort to curb in the crisis. On the one hand, we are faced with fundamentalism while, on the other hand, we see how people’s votes are forgotten and downtrodden. And of course, we can see the clear hands of foreign interventionist powers that foment unrest in the region the result of which is the loss of thousands of innocent lives. Unfortunately, we have been witnessing a severe escalation of domestic conflicts in Egypt during the past few days in which hundreds of innocent people have lost their lives. As a result, it is not only incumbent on us to find a way to put an end to the ongoing crisis in Egypt, but a more serious need of the region and the world is to prevent further spread of radicalism by taking advantage of the indigenous models of democracy. I believe that the Islamic Republic of Iran will be able to play a crucial role in this regard, especially after the political epic that took place during the current [Iranian calendar] year [through the presidential election in the country].

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

August 20, 2013 Posted by | Progressive Hypocrite, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on “It’s US Turn to Show Political Resolve”