Debating the deal: How a nuclear deal with Iran could change the Middle East

Dark clouds are seen over Palais Coburg, the venue for nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria, July 9, 2015.

Earlier today, as the world waited in suspense to see if a nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 would emerge from the talks in Vienna, I testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on what a nuclear deal with Iran could mean for a Middle East engulfed by chaos, sectarian tensions, and civil war. It is by no means certain whether the negotiators will be able to overcome the remaining obstacles and reach a final deal, but even if they do, we simply do not know how they will handle critical issues such as the lifting of sanctions, the access rights of inspectors, and the process of reapplying sanctions in the event that Iran is caught cheating.

This naturally makes me very wary of commenting on the advantages or disadvantages of a deal where so many key uncertainties remain. But what I can (and did) comment on is whether a nuclear deal with Iran is likely to lead to greater stability or greater instability in the Middle East and thus whether it will ultimately benefit or undermine American national security.

Watch the testimony:

Part I: Opening statements


Portrait: Ken Pollack

Kenneth M. Pollack is an expert on Middle Eastern political-military affairs, with particular emphasis on Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the other nations of the Persian Gulf region. He is currently a senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. He served as the director of the Center from 2009 to 2012, and its director of research from 2002 to 2009. His most recent book is Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy.

AL Monitor| Does Iran really want all sanctions removed immediately?

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif talks to members of the media while walking through a courtyard at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel during an extended round of talks in Lausanne, April 1, 2015.  (photo by REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski)

As nuclear negotiations between Iran and six world powers in Lausanne continue past the soft deadline of March 31, Iranian officials have made statements regarding sanctions removal that may show more flexibility than previously assumed.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader who has final say on the nuclear program, has previously said that all sanctions on Iran must be removed and that the deal will not be a multistep deal. Members of parliament and other officials have also stated this. Presumably, this means that once a deal is signed, all nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be removed.

As with all other comments made by the supreme leader, competing sides attempt to interpret Ayatollah Khamenei’s statements through a bias that is beneficial to their own talking points. However, comments by Abbas Araghchi, one of Iran’s top negotiators, and Mehdi Mohammadi, a prominent conservative analyst whose views reflect the previous more hard-line nuclear negotiators in Iran, there appears to be a public consensus that not all sanctions will be removed at once but rather the removal of sanctions must be clearly stated.

Speaking from Lausanne to Iranian reporters April 1, Araghchi said: “We cannot have an agreement thatdoes not contain the removal of sanctions. Certainly all the sanctions must be removed but the sanctions have a wide range, both quantitatively and qualitatively. The topics and issues of sanctions are very diverse. The types of sanctions and the issuer of sanctions are diverse: the Security Council, the European Union and America. These have to be separated and it has to become clear in what order it will take place.”

Araghchi continued: “We insist that in the first step of the agreement all the financial, banking and oil sanctions be removed and find a clear framework for the removal of sanctions that are possibly associated with other parts. Either way, without a completely clear and precise outlook for the removal of sanctions, certainly we will not have an agreement.”

In a column titled “Dos and Don’ts of a Political Agreement,” Mohammadi also addressed the issue of sanctions, clarifying his views on how they should be removed. “All the sanctions have to be immediately removed after Iran implements its commitments within the framework of the final step,” he wrote. Second, “all the timing has to be in an fixed, clear and unconditional text.”

The article also referred to other instances of “final rounds” and “final steps,” implying that Iranian negotiators and analysts understand that, given the complex nature of how sanctions were applied, a very complex procedure would be required to remove them. This nuance may not be enough for some members of the six world powers, but it’s a clearer picture of what the Iranians are thinking regarding the removal of sanctions.

The official deadline for these nuclear talks is the end of June, though by the end of March there was supposed to be an announcement of a political framework agreement. There have been reports that as negotiators work around the clock there may be a press announcement rather than an announcement of a deal. Though given the confidential nature of the talks, and the conflicting information released by the various sides, this too may change.

Source: AL-Monitor

AL-Monitor| Kerry, Zarif hold all-night Iran negotiations

A late night view of the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel during an extended round of Iran nuclear talks in Lausanne, April 1, 2015. Major powers and Iran negotiated into the early hours of April 2 on Tehran’s nuclear program, two days past the deadline. (photo by REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski)

Lausanne, Switzerland — US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held marathon negotiations through the night that ended after 6 a.m. on the morning of April 2, as they tried to overcome final gaps for a political accord on an Iran nuclear deal. But Iran said the issues had not been totally resolved and what was likely to be issued later today or on April 3 is a press statement.

„We have examined all the solutions, which should provide the axis of a final accord between now and the end of June,” Zarif told Iranian journalists here on the morning of April 2. “The P5+1 [the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany] is studying them.“

Zarif added, „There will be a statement to the press that should be announced but the text still has to be worked on.“

Negotiators and ministers from the six world powers that comprise the P5+1 held a meeting among themselves after breakfast April 2, ahead of a meeting between Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Zarif, speaking ahead of those meetings, said the members of the P5+1 “have to examine among themselves the results of the negotiations” that were held overnight between him, Kerry and EU deputy negotiator Helga Schmid. “We don’t know yet the result of those discussions. … If these solutions are approved, it is expected that there will be a joint declaration made by me and Mrs. Mogherini and then we will start drawing up the text of a final agreement by the end of June.”

The White House said on April 1 that progress was being made at the talks here, but that as of yet there had not been sufficient movement from Iran on some issues to finalize the preliminary political agreement.

“The talks continue to be productive and progress is being made,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told journalists at the White House press briefing on April 1. “While the talks have been productive, we have not yet received the specific tangible commitment that the international community seeks,” he said.

“As long as we are in a position of convening serious talks that are making progress, … we would not arbitrarily or abruptly end them,” he added. “This is a very complicated situation and we want to be sure that … we’re clear about the details. The details in the situation matter significantly.”

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, announcing he was staying overnight in Lausanne on April 1 to continue the negotiations, said the onus was on Iran to offer ideas to close remaining gaps for an accord.

“Tonight there will be new proposals, new recommendations. I can’t predict whether that will be sufficient to enable an agreement to be reached,” Steinmeier, speaking in German, said according to a translation from Reuters. “I will remain here tonight and then tomorrow morning we will see how the situation develops.”

A collapse of the talks is possible, but so is the possibility of reaching an agreement, Steinmeier said.“Whoever negotiates has to accept the risk of collapse. But I say that in light of the convergence [of views] that we have achieved here in Switzerland, in Lausanne, it would be irresponsible to ignore possibility of reaching an agreement.”

France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius returned to the Lausanne negotiations late April 1.

US and Iranian officials said the situation was still fluid, and they were not sure if the talks would end later on April 2 or possibly continue into April 3.

Source: Laura Rozen – AL-Monitor

Mixed signals from Tehran

mixed signals2

Negotiating with Tehran is never an easy job due to the deluge of mixed signals of good will, promises, threats, evasions, insults etc… from all the leader/players (moderates and hardliners) as well as from each leader.

This is crucial and best exemplified in the person of Iran’s Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – not only is he the final decision maker for life, he is also a master at sending mixed messages regarding his intentions on, well, pretty much everything.

Does Khamenei Want a Nuclear Deal?


Take the most burning issue concerning Iran right now, the nuclear talks: earlier this week, Reuters published a news piece saying that“Khamenei hints he’s ready to accept fair nuclear deal”, while on the same day, the BBC ran its own interpretation to the supreme leader’s  speech, choosing to headline their article with “Ayatollah Khamenei says ‘no deal better than bad deal‘. Same speech, different meanings.

Here’s a snippet of his speech that shows just how hard it is to read Khamenei:

  • “I would go along with any agreement that could be made” – YES.
  • “Of course, I am not for a bad deal” – MAYBE.
  • “No agreement is better than an agreement which runs contrary to our nation’s interests” – MAYBE NOT.
  • “The Iranian nation will not accept any excessive demands and illogical behavior” –NO.

Khamenei’s “nuclear fatwa” is a great example of his communicated ambivalence: The nuclear fatwa categorally denies the development and use of a nuclear arsenal (YES) but the fatwa is not written nor is it approved by parliament (MAYBE NOT).

Khamenei promises the world that Iran is peaceful by nature (YES) while at the same time he takes care to mention in nearly every speech his hatred for Israel and his plans to destroy it (NO).

So, he supports a nuclear deal (YES) but is ready to blow up negotiations (NO). He supports Rouhani (YES) but supports hardliners (no) as well. He can be optimistic (YES) and pessimistic  (NO) in the same sentence.


Freestyle Interpretations of Khamenei


Not only are the P5+1 leaders and negotiators baffled by Khamenei’s double talk: his leaders at home scramble constantly to interpret his intentions. Following his last speech on the issue of a nuclear deal, the Kayhan newspapers, which is traditionally viewed as Khamenei’s mouth piece supported by hardliners, ran an article that highlighted Khamenei’s comment regarding the wish for a “one-time comprehensive deal” while omitting his further comments regarding Iran’s current concessions following the interim deal. Khamenei did not shed any light on the newspapers’ interpretation.

The Iran newspaper, run by Rouhani’s administration ran  an article that not only focused on Khamenei’s support for a nuclear deal but also criticized the articles backed by the hardliner media stating “their economic and political interests are not [aligned] with the negotiations and an agreement” – and once again, Khamenei remains silent.

In the end of the day, despite the fact that he will retain his position for life, Khamenei is the ultimate politician who is acutely aware of his base of power. Every word is calculated so he can retain his political power with hardliners (his traditional base of power) as well as with the people of Iran by backing Rouhani’s (his ever-changing base of power) plans for change.

Source: Iran2407

Khamenei’s message to the West

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks live on television after casting his ballot in the Iranian presidential election in Tehran, June 12, 2009.  (photo by REUTERS/Caren Firouz)

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Jan. 21 posted an open letter to Western youth on his website, asking them to “gain direct and firsthand knowledge” about Islam instead of information based on “resentments and prejudices.” It might be the first time a senior Islamic cleric has directly addressed the youth of the West about his religion. The timing appears to have been an important factor in issuing the letter just two weeks after the Jan. 7 attack by Islamist extremists on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that set off a new wave of Islamophobia in the West, with anti-Islamization movements already gaining momentum, particularly in Germany and France.

The letter from Iran’s supreme leader arrived as a surprise, reflecting a new approach by the Islamic republic, whose first leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, had issued a fatwa calling for the death of the British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie for “The Satanic Verses,” a book regarded by Muslims worldwide as a provocation and blasphemous against Islam.

A Tehran source close to the supreme leader’s house told Al-Monitor, “This letter, which was written by Imam Khamenei himself, is aimed at reaching the youth of the West to tell them to read and understand Islam directly.” He also said, “It’s as important as the Salman Rushdie fatwa in the late ’80s. Imam Khamenei wants to build bridges with the future, with the youth, those who are going to be the leaders of the future.”

The source said Khamenei had insisted that the letter be circulated via social media, but that there had also been negotiations with several international newspapers to publish it. In the end, according to the source, “Talks failed because the letter had been circulating on social media before it could be published.”

The letter, published in six languages, appears to emerge from an envelope brimming with flowers and with rose petals scattered about. Of added interest, it is headed by the hashtag #letter4u, giving it the appearance of being from an ordinary social media user.

Sheikh Najaf Ali Mirzai, a professor and a lecturer in Qum at the clerical university, told Al-Monitor, “Hatred between West and East has reached its peak. It is the same between Islam and Christianity, between the Muslim world and the West.”

“It’s not all about Islamophobia. We also have ‚Westophobia.’ The letter was sent to present a logical solution, for a new approach and understanding,” Mirzai said. “It’s not an attempt to preach ideology, but an invitation to think, to rely on logic in building thoughts. That’s why he said he doesn’t assume his understanding is correct, but asks [readers] to understand the religion from its main sources.”

Khamenei’s letter might represent a new tack in relations with the West, but it can also be seen as a milestone in the Iranian approach inaugurated by the ascent of Hassan Rouhani, the first Iranian president since the 1979 revolution to talk to an American president, and the unfolding series of meetings around the world between Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry. The letter is a clear indication that Iran is changing its thinking and wants to engage with those whom it considers to be middle of the road.

Mirzai believes this new direction might help in smoothing the path of dialogue and intellectual exchange between Muslims and the West. “Ayatollah Khamenei is initiating a dialogue with [members of] a younger generation from a different religion and who are on the opposite side. Some of them view Islam as an evil, therefore I believe this is a step forward that will help reform the religious rhetoric toward the West,” he said.

“Before this letter, we were used to a different rhetoric. The Islamic approach was incompetent, poor, which helped in inciting Islamophobia. The old, classical, Eastern approach is one of the reasons why Daesh [the Islamic State] has succeeded in attracting Europeans and recruiting them,” he said.

Of course, Khamenei’s letter caught the attention of the Western media, with outlets discussing and analyzing its content. Iranians and Westerners on social media expressed mixed feelings toward it, with members from both camps supporting the message while others did not. There were also acknowledgments of surprise and astonishment, both positive and negative, at the letter’s direct tone. Some among the Westerners used the ayatollah’s hashtag to highlight allegations of human rights violations against the Islamic republic.

It is important to remember that this step by the supreme leader of Iran will not be left to stand alone. A decision has been made in Tehran to combat Islamophobia, and presenting the Iranian version of Islam as moderate is part of this orchestrated effort. The true test of the experiment will be how the leadership deals with the part involving “Westophobia.”

Source: image-from-the-document-manager

Tehran’s Choice: Live in House Arrest or Die in Court

choiceIn 2009, Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi campaigned against President Ahmadinejad as reformists.  The election ended with Ahmadinejad winning the presidency again and accusations of vote rigging by Ahmadinejad’s friend and Minister of Interior Sadegh Mahsouli. The results were upheld by Iran’s Guardian Council and within days, a nationwide protest was born and later “killed” in a severe crackdown by Supreme Leader Khamenei.

The two continued to campaign for reform but two years later, following their support of the Arab Spring, both were put under house arrest without a trial. Under house arrest, they have less rights and healthcare than even ordinary prisoners and have no access to news, telephone or internet. They are isolated even from their loved ones and have left their homes only for medical treatment.

To Trial or Not To Trial

questionThey remain accused unofficially of sedition, “corrupting the earth” and an “unforgivable sin”. These accusations might not sound like much to a Western court but the punishment for these crimes in Iran is death. That’s why a lot of hardliners, including Khamenei himself, believe thatthe house arrests without a trial is an act of kindness and were Khomeini alive, they would both be dead. The crucial issue is that officially, they have not been accused officially of any crime since they are not to be tried in court.

Although it is widely believed that Mousavi and Karroubi are under arrest because of their accusations of rigged elections, some insiders point to their “seditious” behavior during the Arab Spring of 2011.

Judiciary Chief Sadeq Larijani makes no excuses and claims that not only are the house arrests 100% legal, the crimes of Mousavi and Karroubi “the 2009 Sedition was a move against national interests and 100% against our national security“. Larijani has no qualms about putting the two on trial. In fact he believes that there is enough evidence to find both guilty but they cannot be tried because of a mysterious “decree of national security”. And yet, in true Iranian style, his deputy, Mohseni Ejei announced that “if conditions permit”, both would stand trial.

Devil’s Choice

rock hard placeKhamenei seems personally piqued by the fact that both have not “apologized” but insiders believe that even if an apology was issued, “their repentance would not be accepted”. The main issue they are expected to repent on remains their questioning of the election results, an issue which hurt Iran inn Khamenei’s eyes.

Calls to release Mousavi and Karroubi have echoed around the world since then. Even Rouhani called for their release during his election campaign but nothing is simple in Iran: it seems that releasing the two or putting them on trial is not under the jurisdiction of Rouhani. Once again, only Khamenei can make a definitive move here.

Now, calls for a fair and open trial are being heard from moderates and hardliners alike and their trial could turn into a real test for Khamenei, Rouhani and Iran. But more so, it is a test for Mousavi and Karroubi who have to choose between losing their freedom or losing their lives: either they continue to accept their house arrest and live or they go to trial and most probably face the gallows.

Source: iran2407

Is Iran’s supreme leader subject to oversight?

Clerics attend the biannual meeting of Iran’s Assembly of Experts in Tehran, March 6, 2012. (photo by REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi)

Ali Motahari, an outspoken member of the Iranian parliament and son of the noted Islamic scholar Ayatollah Morteza Motahari (1920-79), openly accused the Assembly of Experts of negligence. Motahari argued that the body, consisting of 86 elected Islamic scholars, is responsible for overseeing the actions of Iran’s supreme leader.

“We do not have individuals above criticism in the country,” he said. “The responsibility of the Assembly of Experts is to supervise theperformance of the supreme leader and his subordinates, but we haven’t seen them approaching this subject.”

Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, Mashhad’s Friday prayer leader and a member of the assembly, fiercely countered Motahari’s assertions, saying, “The Assembly of Leadership Experts cannot supervise the leader’s performance because the leader [the guardian jurist] is the guardian of all [of us], and experts cannot supervise the performance of their own guardian … The leader is the guardian, and the experts are subjects of the authority … How can I supervise his actions when he is my guardian?”

Ayatollah Khamenei’s view

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has expressed two positions on this issue of supervision. In a 2000 gathering of university professors and students, he remarked, “No one is above supervision. Even the leader is not above supervision, let alone the organizations linked to the leader … Government by its very nature entails the accumulation of power and wealth. … As a result, they must be supervised. It is necessary to supervise government officials to make sure they resist their temptations and avoid corruption and misuse of public funds.”

In a 2006 interview, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of the powerful Guardians Council and a member of the Assembly of Experts, explained that the assembly had decided to establish a number of committees to supervise the supreme leader’s subordinates. These committees covered various categories, including the judiciary and defense establishment in addition to national radio and television, among others. Jannati said the committees were necessary to determine whether the organizational conditions required of the leader, including administrative capabilities, were sufficient. The assembly took its findings to Ayatollah Khamenei.

Jannati said, “We had several meetings with the leader and discussed the issue, [and] he was not agreeable [to the idea].” According to him, Khamenei said, “You have to examine my performance, not my subsidiaries‘. “[If you conclude that] I have lost prudence … then you can take action.”

Then, in February 2012, Abbas Nabavi, a cleric with close ties to the influential and hard-line Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, revealed additional comments by Khamenei regarding supervision. In a letter to the Assembly of Experts, Khamenei said, “Supervision must begin from the point of the presence of the conditions required for leadership. First you should examine to see whether the leader continues to have the requirements [as stipulated in Article 109 of the constitution] or not. If the answer is yes, then I do not accept that you should go into the minute details. If the answer is no, then you must provide the reasons, and, for example, say that a specific condition is not fulfilled.”

Based on this statement, Khamenei in general accepts the idea of supervision of the leader by the assembly. He limits it, however, to whether the requirements of the leader are being maintained. According to Article 109, the essential qualifications of the supreme leader are justice and piety, political and social discernment, prudence, courage and administrative capability.

Legal and religious arguments

Chapter 8, Article 111, of the Iranian Constitution reads: “Whenever the leader becomes incapable of fulfilling his constitutional duties, or lobs one of the qualifications mentioned in articles 5 and 109, or it becomes known that he did not possess some of the qualifications initially, he will be dismissed. The authority of determination in this matter is vested with the experts specified in Article 108.”

Many clerics support Ayatollah Khamenei’s argument that Article 111 does not imply micro-supervision. Rather, they maintain that the text only authorizes macro-level examination of the supreme leader’s capabilities in general.

The oversight issue had been raised and discussed in 1989 during meetings of the Assembly for Revising the Constitution, a panel of 25 members tasked by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini with preparing the draft of amendments to the constitution for a general referendum. Many on the panel, including Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini, were against the idea of the supreme leader being left to rule unsupervised. “No, really, how can the experts not supervise the performance of the leader and all of a sudden decide to dismiss him?”

According to the internal regulations of the Assembly of Experts, the seven-member Committee for Investigating and Supervising the Leader is tasked with providing advice to the supreme leader and with supervising the conditions and comportment of the leader on a continual basis. The committee reports to the assembly’s presiding board and, if two-thirds of the board and committee members agree, the assembly members are called for an extraordinary session to discuss whether it should take action with respect to the leader.

Despite this oversight mechanism, the supreme leader can, based on his understanding of the reality of day-to-day politics, potentially nullify decisions by the assembly, as Khamenei did in the case of the subcommittees. Some may argue that Iran’s leader uses his authority to influence the assembly’s decisions because the constitution’s Article 57 places all three branches of the government — the executive, legislative and judiciary — “under the purview of the absolute rule and leadership” of the supreme leader. One could counter, however, that the Assembly of Experts is not under the jurisdiction of any branch and is, therefore, not subject to his oversight.

According to Iran’s official religion, Twelver Shiism, no one, excluding the Prophet Muhammad, his daughter and the twelve Imams, is divinely free from error and sin. This principle, with the recognition that the leader himself is not immune from sin and error, is said to justify oversight by the Assembly of Experts. The effect of this principle also appears in Article 107, which states: „The leader is equal with the rest of the people of the country in the eyes of law.”

Ayatollah Khamenei, however, speaking on the extent of the authority of the guardian jurist in a fatwa, said, “According to Shiism, all Muslims have to obey the order of the guardian jurist and submit to his commands. This edict even applies to other grand ayatollahs, let alone their followers.” The vision outlined in this fatwa potentially neutralizes religious arguments supporting the leader’s supervision.


Against those who assert that the leader cannot be supervised because subjects cannot supervise their guardian, one could argue that Ayatollah Khamenei has stated that he does not reject supervision. In addition, oversight is, under Article 111’s description of the Assembly of Experts‘ role, constitutionally enshrined. Also, given the widely held religious principle that no individual escapes sin and error, no religious obstacle remains in justifying the leader’s supervision. Nevertheless, Ayatollah Khamenei’s interpretation of the role of the guardian jurist may supersede arguments supporting supervision.

Source: AI-Monitor

The two faces of modernity in Iran – analysis

How the 1979 revolution and eight-year war with Iraq modernised the country

Women in Tehran protest against the hijab in March 1979.
Women in Tehran protest against the hijab in March 1979. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis

It is often thought that what is currently taking place in Iran, the continuation of what has unfolded there over the past three decades – violation of human rights, systematic discrimination against women, and belligerence toward the west – constitutes a rejection of modernity and its fruits. There are many reasons to find this view plausible. Soon after the victory of the Islamists in the revolution of 1979, most of the modernising efforts and institutions of the 55-year-old Pahlavi dynasty were either abandoned or completely reversed. Some of the most visible of these institutions pertained to women. During the rule of Mohammad Reza Shah, the state had taken some positive steps regarding the status and welfare of women. Some of the most flagrant institutionalised forms of discrimination and abuse were curbed, if not abolished, through the curtailing of arbitrary divorce by men, the institution of more women-friendly custody laws, and the restriction of polygyny.

With the establishment of the Islamic republic, most of the provisions of the Pahlavi era’s Family Protection Law were abandoned. Personal freedoms, which before the revolution were more or less tolerated, came under severe attack by the revolutionaries. Women were forced to don the hijab, and any form of resistance to the closely monitored dress codes for both men and women was met with harsh punishment, including public flogging. Ancient retribution laws that entailed the cutting off of thieves’ hands and the stoning of adulterers – which, in fact, had rarely been performed in medieval Iran – were enforced in many parts of the country.

Human rights, including freedom of belief, among the fundamental features of the modern world, received a fatal blow under the Islamic republic. Adherents of the Baha’i faith, for example, came under savage attack by the government and zealots soon after the revolution. Some 200 to 300 Baha’is were killed merely because they were not willing to recant their faith. Many more received long prison sentences. The property of thousands of Baha’is was confiscated and their children were deprived of education, especially of access to higher education. Even today many members of the Baha’i Faith face gross discrimination and many of their leaders are serving long prison sentences. After the brutal repression of the Green Movement, many more journalists, lawyers and civil society activists are in jail or under house arrest.

Iran's Dizin ski resort in March 2002.
Iran’s Dizin ski resort in March 2002. Photograph: Reuters

There is no doubt that the revolution and the Islamic republic that was established in its wake militated against and negated some of what we take to be the most important aspects of modernity. Yet, modernity is complex. Under closer analysis, it could become evident that what has been taking place in Iran over the past three decades might very well be the initial phases of modernity, whose emergence has often been Janus-faced in other parts of the world. The notion of modernity is a contentious one, surrounded by conflicting methods of analysis, value judgments, and sentiments.

Of particular relevance to Iran’s situation, there are some intellectual traditions that tend to view modernity in terms of transformations in the human psyche that empower individuals so that they are no longer passive, inactive, docile, compliant, idle, suffering, and resigned. From this point of view – shared in varying ways by philosophers such as Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, and Jürgen Habermas – modernity begins when a critical mass in a society abandons the life of passivity and acquires a sense of assertiveness, vigor, volition, resolve, and action. In a nutshell, modern people are not passive. They possess agency and power. They act upon the world. Moderns’ intervention in and acting upon nature constitutes the foundation of technology, which has liberated humans to some extent from the whims of nature and at the same time brought us close to thedestruction of both nature and ourselves.

Modern people also act upon society and politics as they assert their individual and collective power. This aspect of human agency and empowerment underlies the democratic institutions of modern societies. Democracy in the modern world is not possible without these fundamental transformations in the psyches of the people in a given society. We can install all the institutions of modern democracy, but without a critical mass in the society that has a sense of agency and empowerment these institutions will not survive. This happened in Iran (not to mention other countries) in the early 20th century. The Constitutional Revolution of 1906 laid the foundations of a restricted, constitutional monarchy, a parliament, a more or less free press, and free elections. But because a sense of agency and empowerment had not developed among the bulk of the Iranian people, none of these institutions could preserve their democratic character.. The Pahlavi period (1925-1979) witnessed some important degrees of development in the economy and education, as well as expansion of a centralised bureaucracy, military and urbanization. All of these promoted the sense of empowerment and agency among a growing number of Iranians, especially in the large cities and among the middle and the upper middle classes. Nevertheless, this sense of agency and thereby possessing human and citizenship rights was for the most part confined to the upper echelons of society and even among them it was experienced as a gift bestowed by the monarch and therefore not deeply internalized.

The observation may at first seem very counterintuitive, but the experience of Iran in the past three decades has brought a significant sense of agency and empowerment to average Iranians, especially those of the lower and lower middle classes. Ironically, this development may ultimately challenge the very existence of the Islamic republic as we know it. The revolution of 1979 galvanized and mobilized the “masses” of Iran like no other event in the country’s recent history. The participation of Iranians from all walks of life, especially the lower and lower middle classes, in political rallies, consciousness raising (as well as ideological indoctrination), formation of protest groups, and many other forms of social and political struggle toppled the Pahlavi dynasty. This collective action jolted ordinary Iranians and catapulted them into a form of agency, albeit rudimentary and contradictory.

The eight years of war with Iraq in the 1980s further promoted the sense of agency among Iran’s men, and to some extent its women (female participation in the war effort behind the front was significant). The conflict was inarguably devastating: it took a massive human toll, with between a quarter of million and one million Iranians killed or injured. It also further devastated what remained of the country’s physical infrastructure after the revolution. Yet, despite the massive human and physical damage that the war inflicted on Iran, it served to increase the sense of boldness and agency among its people.


Analyse: Die Angst der Saudis vor einem Erstarken des Iran

Bild: (c) REUTERS (POOL) 

Die Golfstaaten plagt die Horrorvision einer iranischen A-Bombe. Doch auch ein Frieden Teherans mit den USA ist nicht in ihrem Interesse.

24.11.2014 | 18:10 |   (Die Presse)

Mit Argusaugen verfolgte man in den arabischen Golfstaaten die Verhandlungen in Wien. Der saudiarabische Außenminister, Prinz Saud al-Faisal, reiste extra an, um auf dem Flughafen Schwechat direkt von US-Außenminister John Kerry über den Fortgang der Atomgespräche mit dem Iran unterrichtet zu werden. Und Kerry hielt auch die anderen Außenminister der Golfmonarchien auf dem Laufenden. Die Strategen am Golf plagt nämlich eine Horrorvision, die sie mit Israel teilen: Der Iran könnte zu einer nuklear bewaffneten Regionalmacht aufsteigen.

Laut geheimen Dokumenten, die die Online-Aufdeckerplattform WikiLeaks veröffentlicht hat, soll das saudische Königshaus schon vor Jahren die USA zu Luftschlägen gegen das iranische Atomprogramm gedrängt haben. Denn die Golfmonarchien, allen voran Saudiarabien, Kuwait und die Vereinigten Arabischen Emirate, sehen im Nachbarn Iran den großen Konkurrenten im Spiel um Einfluss in der Region. Sie haben nicht nur Angst vor einer iranischen Atombombe. Ihnen ist alles, was Teherans Position stärken könnte, ein Dorn im Auge.

Ärger über Atomgespräche

So stellte etwa der kuwaitische Stratege und Regierungsberater Sami al-Faraj in einem „Presse“-Interview unumwunden klar, jedes Abkommen abzulehnen, das dem Iran die Weiterführung eines Atomprogramms erlaubt: „Heute gibt es noch eine Balance der Kräfte zwischen Teheran und den arabischen Golfstaaten: Der Iran hat eine große Zahl an Menschen, wir haben die bessere Technologie“, meinte al-Faraj. Sollte aber der Iran – zusätzlich zu seiner größeren Bevölkerungszahl – auch moderne Atomtechnologie in die Hände bekommen, würde das eine drastische Verschiebung der Kräfteverhältnisse bedeuten. „Das bedroht die Balance am Golf, das ist inakzeptabel.“ Die Golfmonarchien zeigten sich erbost darüber, dass, ohne auf ihre Interessen Rücksicht zu nehmen – wie al-Faraj sagte – , überhaupt die jüngsten Nukleargespräche mit Teheran begonnen worden waren.

Dabei geht es um mehr als die Sorge, ein „schlechter Deal“ könnte dem Iran zu große Freiheiten in der Atomfrage zugestehen. Die Golfmonarchien fürchten auch, eine Annäherung Washingtons an Teheran würde ihre privilegierte Stellung als US-Verbündete in der Region unterminieren. Dann könnte der Westen nämlich auch auf die Ölreserven des Iran zurückgreifen. Und Teheran könnte als Partner in den Kampf gegen die Extremisten des Islamischen Staats (IS) und bei einer Lösung des Syrien-Konflikts miteinbezogen werden. Das widerspricht den strategischen Interessen der Saudis und Kuwaitis.

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Elf Jahre Anlaufzeit hätten für einen Iran-Atomdeal reichen müssen

Besser gar kein Abkommen als ein schlechtes, besser weiterverhandeln als eine Krise: So reden sich Zarif, Kerry und Co. ihren Wiener Atomflop schön.

 (Die Presse)

Die Bühne war vorbereitet, die vom elfjährigen Gefeilsche schon etwas ermattete Weltöffentlichkeit sehnte nur noch den letzten Akt und den erlösenden Schlussvorhang herbei: Alle Außenminister der fünf UN-Vetomächte waren nach Wien gepilgert, 500 internationale Journalisten warteten vor dem Palais Coburg auf die frohe Botschaft. Doch aus dem erhofften historischen Durchbruch wurde wieder nichts. Die Unterhändler der ständigen Sicherheitsratsmitglieder (USA, Russland, China, Frankreich, Großbritannien) und Deutschlands, im Diplomatenjargon P5+1 genannt, brachten neuerlich kein umfassendes Atomabkommen mit dem Iran zustande.

Und so verlängerten sie die Frist, die sie bereits im Sommer bis 24.November gestreckt hatten, abermals, diesmal bis zum 1.Juli des kommenden Jahres. Der Iran und die Weltgemeinschaft prolongierten ihr Provisorium, ihr Zwischenabkommen, das sie vor genau einem Jahr in Genf geschlossen hatten. Das erschien allen Beteiligten noch als die sinnvollste gesichtswahrende Variante nach all den mühseligen Verhandlungen. Denn was wäre die Alternative gewesen? Ein Abbruch der Gespräche hätte die Tür für eine Krise geöffnet, deren Dynamik dann möglicherweise nicht mehr zu beherrschen gewesen wäre. Und mit einem halb garen Kompromiss wollte sich auch keiner zufriedengeben. Besser vorläufig gar kein Abkommen als ein schlechtes. Das war am Ende der Konsens.

Die Frage ist nur, warum in sieben Monaten gelingen soll, was jetzt nicht zu schaffen war: Im sogenannten Atomstreit liegen seit Jahren alle Karten auf dem Tisch; sie müssten nur endlich in der richtigen Reihenfolge abgelegt werden, damit das Patience-Spiel endlich aufgeht. An der Abfolge dürfte es auch diesmal gehakt haben: Die Iraner wollten in Wien eine möglichst rasche Aufhebung der Sanktionen erzielen und machten davon alle Zugeständnisse bei der Anzahl der Zentrifugen und der Anreicherung von Uran abhängig; die westlichen Staaten gestanden lediglich eine Suspendierung für die kommenden acht bis zehn Jahre zu, um die Strafmaßnahmen jederzeit wieder in Kraft setzen zu können, falls der Iran sich nicht an Abmachungen hält. Es ist nach wie vor der Mangel an Vertrauen, der den Iran und die P5+1 davon abhält, den Atomkonflikt zu lösen. Wundern muss das keinen: Der Iran hat die Welt mit seinem Atomprogramm in der Vergangenheit mehrmals und systematisch hinters Licht geführt.

Die Konstellation für einen Deal war diesmal so günstig wie nie zuvor. Warum die Iraner nicht zugegriffen haben, weiß vermutlich nur der Oberste Führer in Teheran. Vielleicht hoffen sie auf ein noch billigeres Angebot, vielleicht geht ihre Hinhaltetaktik auf, vielleicht haben sie aber auch einfach nur eine gute Gelegenheit verpasst. Die iranische Führung wird jedenfalls ihrer Bevölkerung erklären müssen, weshalb die drückenden Wirtschaftssanktionen auch noch in den kommenden sieben Monaten aufrecht sein werden. Und zwar wegen eines Atomprogramms, das die Welt den Iranern auf kontrollierter Flamme und unter bestimmten Auflagen mittlerweile ohnedies erlauben würde.

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