Charles Dudley Warner’s oft-quoted suggestion that “politics makes strange bedfellows” is never better illustrated than the prospect of a rapprochement between Iran and the United States. Stimulated by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) rapid military advances in Iraq, both sides find themselves on the same side – albeit for vastly different reasons.
Tag Archives | Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
On Nov. 24, 2013, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1 reached a historical agreement known as the ‘Joint Plan of Action’ in Geneva. After numerous dead ends during intense diplomatic negotiations with the previous government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the interim agreement signed with the newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani, relieved many countries. The United Arab Emirates was the first Gulf state to welcome the Iranian nuclear deal by sending their minister of foreign affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, to Tehran on Nov. 28, just a few days after the signing of the nuclear deal.
Positive remarks on the agreement were also issued by India, Japan, Spain and Austria. On Nov. 24, Japan’s foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, welcomed the agreement as the “first significant step.” Spain’s government praised the deal as an important milestone towards achieving a general agreement that fosters stability and security in the region. German media, while appreciating the significance of the nuclear deal, emphasized that the bulk of sanctions on Iran must remain in place. However, several nations such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, along with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), continued to express concerns and scepticism towards a final agreement.
Hassan Rouhani has been Iran’s president since June of last year and it is useful to examine the legacy of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
For those who have come to believe that Iran is the country dominated by anti-Semites or Holocaust-deniers, I think the most categorical response is what Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, told the daughter of Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, Christine Pelosi, in a Twitter exchange on September 5, 2013: “Iran never denied it [the Holocaust]. The man who did is now gone. happy new year.”
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected as Iran’s president in June of 2005, neither I nor any journalist or political expert in Iran had a clear idea of what his foreign policy would be. Domestic and economic policies are not the subject of our discussions here. As time went by, it became clear that Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy was based on no single principle, but adventurism, ultra-idealism and frantic decisions that would render him a publicity stunt rather than a chief executive.
In early December, Israeli President Shimon Peres stated that he was willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
The Israeli and Iranian media have not paid much attention to this statement so far, probably assuming that such a meeting is unlikely to happen and that the individuals lack the power to cut a deal. Peres’ position as Israeli President is largely ceremonial and the real power is vested in Bibi Netanyahu as Prime Minister. For Iran, although President Rouhani runs the government, ultimate power is vested in Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei. Logic might suggest - therefore - that there is little in Peres’ offer. A deeper look into the issue, however, reveals a very different story.
Peres has been a major figure in Middle Eastern politics for over six decades. He understands that reducing tension with Tehran would serve Israeli interests in many arenas. Iran has its fingers in almost all the region’s pies. Several of Iran’s allies pose real threats to Israeli national security, most notably Hezbollah in Lebanon.
President Barack Obama speaking on Saturday at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution to an influential audience of Israeli supporters and journalists offered his best defense, so far, of the Iranian nuclear agreement reached in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1.
As part of the six-month agreement, the United States would allow Iran some enrichment capabilities. While critics of the agreement and any agreement for that matter argue that Iran should not have any enrichment capabilities, the president accurately pointed out that that’s not feasible given the technology behind enrichment. “Theoretically, they (Iran) will always have some, because, as I said, the technology here is available to any good physics student at pretty much any university around the world.”
While Obama gave the agreement a fifty percent chance of success he nonetheless insisted that the diplomatic effort is worth it. If a long-term agreement isn’t reached, the international community is “no worse off” then when it started. “If at the end of six months it turns out that we can’t make a deal, we’re no worse off, and in fact we have greater leverage with the international community to continue to apply sanctions and even strengthen them,” Obama said.
Supreme Iranian leader Khameini spent much of last week lambasting the U.S. and Israel, as the Iranian negotiating team worked their magic in Geneva.
Given the rhetoric spewing from Tehran, it was hard to tell that Ahmadinejad was no longer president. The P5+1 negotiating team didn’t seem too concerned, however, being hell bent on sealing a deal with Tehran — even one that required only cosmetic concessions from Tehran.
It is hard to understand what all the celebrating in the West is about. Simply that there is an agreement where there had been none? The Iranians should be doing the celebrating — and they are.
Centrist Hassan Rouhani won Iran’s presidential election in June of this year running on a platform of “hope and prudence.” The new President framed his victory as a sharp departure from Ahmadinejad’s administration during his swearing-in ceremony by declaring that Iranians “have voted for moderation” as he condemned “extremism and ill tempers.” He made it clear that his foreign policy agenda “will try to establish mutual respect and confidence with other nations.” Referring to Iran’s nuclear program during a press conference on August 6th, President Rouhani said that “Provided that our national interests are met, we have no problems with negotiations with anyone with good intentions, including the US.”
Despite Rouhani’s call for mutual respect, the U.S. House of Representatives responded to his promise of reform with efforts to impose even harsher economic sanctions on Tehran. In a 400-20 landslide vote, the House passed H.R. 850 the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013. According to Representative Elliot Engel, one of the two congressmen who introduced the bill, H.R. 850 “will cut Iran’s oil exports by another million barrels a day, a reduction of two-thirds from Iran’s current exports.” A more disturbing part of the bill allows the U.S. Secretary of State to designate the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corp as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. If the bill becomes law, it allows the U.S. to designate a sector of a sovereign government an FTO – a dangerous development that may serve to either authorize or justify military action.
Some members of Congress are even calling for pre-emptive military action. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) promised to introduce a resolution authorizing war with Iran if the new Iranian President maintains the status quo. Speaking at a conference organized by the group, Christians United for Israel, Graham said, “If nothing changes in Iran, come September, October, I will present a resolution that will authorize the use of military force to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.” He continued, “The only way to convince Iran to halt their nuclear program is to make it clear that we will take it out.”
The news of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s death understandably made headlines across the world. Hugo Chávez died on Tuesday after a long fight against cancer. In his place, Vice President Nicolas Maduro will assume the presidency until new national elections are held.
To Chávez’s credit or detriment, he stirred opinion across the political spectrum. Following Chávez’s death, Venezuela has announced a week of mourning. Chávez died at the age of 58 after 14 years serving as Venezuela’s president. Thousands of Venezuelans poured onto the streets to grieve his passing. As Chávez’s body was being transported to the Military Academy, thousands came out to greet the procession. As expected, his fellow leaders began arriving in the country’s capital, Caracas, to pay their respects. Among them, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Jose Mujica of Uruguay and Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
There were no spectacular implosions, no remarkable points of stumbling.
The third and last debate between President Barack Obama and contender Governor Mitt Romney was not the most exciting affair, though it showed Obama to be far more accomplished, and the result for Romney acceptable. Sitting down, Obama could assume the role of academic in viva mode, searchingly probing Romney on vulnerable points.
The theme of the debate was foreign policy, a suggestion that irked some commentators. Ezra Klein, writing for The Washington Post, put it starkly: we shouldn’t be having a foreign policy debate at all. “Gas prices are set on a global market. Flu pandemics with the possibility to kill thousands or even millions of Americans begin on farms in Asia. Food safety is no longer a domestic question when you’re importing your grapes from Chile.”
While previous sanctions were no more than a hindrance to economic activity, the latest actions have all but eradicated the state’s ability to manage the Iranian rial, which has implications beyond just a devaluation of the currency. The Iranian rial is tightly controlled by the Central Bank, and it is not traded on the international foreign exchange market. As such, the Central Bank has until now been able to price the rial within a desired range by using foreign exchange reserves to manipulate supply and demand. Given that the US dollar is integral to international trade – especially sanctions-dodging cash transactions – demand for the currency in Iran is very high, putting upward pressure on its price. Luckily for Iran, the country is endowed with abundant reserves of dollar-denominated oil. This has allowed the state to flood the economy with dollar oil revenues and relieve the upward pressure on the dollar, keeping the rial strong.
The problem with the latest sanctions and oil embargo is that Iran is suddenly starved of roughly $133 million of oil revenues a day, leading to a scarcity of dollars and a rapid increase in its price. In other words, the proverbial rug has been pulled from under the rial’s feet, as the increase in the dollar’s price corresponds to a loss of over 80 percent of the rial’s value in less than one year. This has grave consequences for an Iranian economy accustomed to international trade. In the world of Iran’s factional political system, the currency crisis has led to a nationwide game of hot potato. A disillusioned merchant class that is heavily represented in parliament has put the blame squarely on President Ahmadinejad’s economic policies. Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani was more cautious, putting only 80 percent of the blame on him.
During his address at the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held up a diagram of a bomb to urge international action against Iran’s nuclear program.
He emphasized that soon Iran will have enough enriched uranium to become a threat to the existence of Israel, and said the world has until next summer at the latest to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. The debate on Iran’s nuclear facilities has been going on for several years now, with arguments both for and against letting Iran enrich uranium. Not so long ago Kenneth Waltz wrote an article for Foreign Affairs in which he expressed his view that a nuclear-armed Iran could even be beneficial by providing stability in the Middle East, Netanyahu however argued that one cannot expect rational acts from the Islamic Republic and urged for the threat (or use) of force.
To shed light on the issue, we turned to Richard K. Betts of Columbia University, Sadegh Zibakalam of the University of Tehran, Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Insitute, Gary G. Sick of Columbia University, Ze’ev Maghen of Bar Ilan University, M.J. Rosenberg a foreign policy commentator, David Menashri of the Academic Center of Law and Business in Israel, renowned author Robert Jervis of Columbia University, Gerald M. Steinberg of Bar Ilan University, Austin Long of Columbia University, Ran Rovner of Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Keenan Mahoney of Columbia University to ask: Can a nuclear Iran be contained?
On Thursday September 27th, while most of his colleagues were across town taking part in the opening of the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was at Manhattan’s opulent Waldorf Astoria Hotel accepting an award for “World’s Statesman of the Year” from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation.
The award was presented by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who characterized Harper as a leader who has not only his own views but also “the courage to affirm them even when they are not shared by all of the consensuses that exist.” Another supporter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, characterized Harper as “a great champion of freedom,” and a “real statesman.” According to the foundation, Harper was honoured for his unwavering support of Israel, tough stance on Iran, and creation of an Office of Religious Freedom (which will be housed in the Department of Foreign Affairs, but has yet to take any tangible form). Past recipients of the award include former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
Strong support for Israel, and criticism of Iran have come to be characteristic features of Canadian foreign policy in the Harper era. A few weeks ago Canada severed diplomatic ties with Iran, a regime Harper has characterized as being possessed by a “fanatically religious worldview.” As Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the opening of the General Assembly Canadian diplomats walked out, in what’s become an annual tradition. The justification, according to Foreign Minister John Baird, because Canada doesn’t “want to be associated in any way, shape or form with the ramblings of an anti-Semitic hate monger.”
For the Iranian people, the 2012 Olympic Games in London which wrapped up earlier on August 12 was thoroughly different from the previous editions of the summer Olympics. This year’s games came on the heels of a set of biting sanctions by the United States and European Union against Iran’s banking, insurance, transportation and oil sector which have dramatically crippled Iran’s economy and severely affected innocent civilians. While Israel, Iran’s traditional arch foe, has been intensively lobbying to convince the U.S. Congress to adopt more backbreaking economic sanctions on Iran and further isolate it over its nuclear program, the successful and unprecedented performance of Iranian athletes in London effectively appeased the country’s innumerable excruciating wounds.
The Iranian delegation to the 2012 Olympics snatched medals in weightlifting, wrestling and taekwondo and ranked 17th at the medal table among some 204 participating nations, recording Iran’s best performance in any Olympic Games. For Iranians, every medal in such an important and defining event like the Olympics means a hoisting of the country’s flag before the eyes of millions of international viewers and most importantly, every gold medal means that the people around the world will respectfully listen to your national anthem. At a time when Western diplomats avoid hosting their Iranian counterparts and shun them in meetings and spare no efforts to make sure that Iran is an isolated nation, it was the Iranian athletes who bear the burden of promoting the name of their country, and making their people proud and cheerful.
In a recent interview, the eminent geo-strategist Ian Bremmer suggested that a “nuclear-armed Iran” is inevitable.
In Bremmer’s opinion, in an emerging “G-Zero World” where no single bloc of countries can dominate international affairs, the emerging powers can frustrate the West’s efforts to thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. There are basically two underlying assumptions to his argument: first, that the rising powers have the will and the capacity to ameliorate Iran’s growing isolation; and second, that Iran is willing to push its nuclear frontiers at any cost.
However, recent years give lie to these assumptions. Not only are many emerging powers beginning to distance themselves from Iran, but also Tehran itself — facing the prospect of an economic meltdown — is beginning to reexamine its nuclear calculus. Clearly, emerging powers are explicitly prioritizing their ties with the West at the expense of Tehran, while the moderates and pragmatists within the Iranian leadership are pushing for a diplomatic compromise to diffuse rising tensions.
The latest P5+1 talks in Istanbul rejuvenated the diplomatic track between Iran and the West, paving the way for a new chapter in Iranian nuclear negotiations. Yet if the recently concluded talks were a test of intentions, the upcoming negotiations in Baghdad are going to be a real test of wills.
Both sides will have to overcome huge obstacles if they want to establish a “sustained process of serious dialogue” to resolve the Iranian nuclear impasse. The only way the Baghdad nuclear talks can work is if both sides confine their demands to a mutually acceptable deal. This means that the Iranians need to concretely demonstrate their openness to greater transparency — subjecting not only their (increasing) stockpile of highly enriched uranium to real-time, verifiable, and comprehensive inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but also opening up their more controversial facilities in Fordo and Parchin.
Simultaneously, the West should refrain from imposing further sanctions, conditionally reverse unilateral sanctions on Iran’s oil exports and central bank, and patiently lay down the groundwork for a nuclear swap deal, whereby Iran will cap its enrichment levels at around 3.5-5 percent and exchange its 20-percent enriched uranium stockpile for guaranteed amounts of medical isotopes from the West.