Monday, November 24, 2014
7

A Glimmer of Hope in Iran

BERLIN – No one could have reckoned with Hassan Rowhani’s victory in Iran’s presidential election. Even Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was probably more than a little surprised by Rowhani’s first-round victory, following a campaign that began with eight candidates. As a result, the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, as well as the civil war in Syria, may well take on a new dynamic. But that is how it is in the Middle East: you never know what lies around the corner.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the launch, at the foreign-minister level, of negotiations between Iran and the European triumvirate of Germany, France, and the United Kingdom on Iran’s nuclear program. I was there, representing Germany; so was Rowhani, who led the Iranian delegation.

The talks have continued until today – in an expanded format that includes Germany and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the P5+1) – without any tangible results. Now Rowhani returns to the risky business of Iran’s nuclear program, though this time as President. What can we – and he – expect?

Based on my personal experience, Rowhani is a polite and open character. Unlike outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he surrounds himself with very skillful and experienced diplomats. But there should be no doubt that he is a man of the regime – a realist and moderate member of the Islamic Republic’s political elite – not a representative of the opposition. And, of course, he backs Iran’s nuclear program.

If Rowhani wants to succeed in office, he will have to keep his promise to improve Iranians’ living conditions without endangering the Islamic Republic in the process. That will not be easy; in fact, it could amount to trying to square a circle.

The economic improvement that voters demanded in electing Rowhani can almost certainly be achieved only if Western and international sanctions are lifted. But an end to international sanctions presupposes a breakthrough in the nuclear negotiations.

It may also presuppose at least a temporary settlement of the main regional conflicts. The Middle East has changed dramatically in the last ten years. America has reduced its involvement, having withdrawn its troops from Iraq and winding down its engagement in Afghanistan by next year. At the same time, we are witnessing the dissolution of the old Middle East created by France and Britain after World War I, when Europe’s two great colonial powers created territorial mandates in Palestine, Syria (including present-day Lebanon), Transjordan, and Iraq.

A new regional order is not yet discernible, which points to a future fraught with risk and possible chaos. As Iran seeks to assert its influence and interests, as well as those of its Shia allies, its dispute with the Security Council over its nuclear program has become closely tied to its regional ambitions. After all, the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran would most likely exacerbate violent conflict and a nuclear arms race in the region. As a result, both issues may well have to be addressed successfully prior to any move to lift the sanctions.

Iran and its international interlocutors should learn from the past and manage expectations accordingly. There will not be any quick solutions (if, indeed, there are any solutions at all), given the parties’ diametrically opposed interests, their respective domestic and alliance-related obstacles, and a profound lack of trust on all sides.

Moreover, aside from negotiating with the P5+1, Iran would be well advised to launch direct negotiations with the United States. It will also most likely have to improve its relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and change its behavior toward Israel, if a positive result is to be achieved.

Similarly, the West will have to understand that the Islamic Republic is not a monolithic dictatorship. The regime has multiple coexisting power centers, which influence and limit each other’s decisions. The office of the president is just one power center. The same applies to the Supreme Leader, who, despite his title, is not an absolute ruler.

Iran has tried two political approaches in the last ten years: a reformist model, under President Mohamed Khatami, and hardline radicalism, under Ahmadinejad. Both approaches failed. The reformers could not overcome conservative opposition, while the radicals could not defeat the domestic economic realities wrought by their foreign and nuclear policies.

Rowhani must seek a path that does not cost him the support of the majority of the regime’s power centers, yet that also allows him to fulfill the mandate he received from voters. At home, too, massive distrust will further complicate an inherently difficult task.

In America and the West, many will probably regard Rowhani as the friendly face of the Islamic Republic, whereas Ahmadinejad was its true – because more radical – embodiment. Many Iranians, in turn, regard Obama as the friendly face of a US that still seeks regime change in their country, whereas his predecessor, George W. Bush, was America’s more honest – because more radical – representative. Both perceptions distort reality, though both contain a kernel of truth.

Despite these perceptions – or perhaps precisely because of them – Rowhani’s presidency offers an unexpected opportunity for both the nuclear negotiations and a political solution in Syria. Iran’s participation in an international peace conference is an absolute necessity, if only to test Rowhani’s seriousness. During the Afghanistan conference in Bonn in 2001, Iran behaved in a pragmatic, results-oriented way – an approach that went completely unrewarded by the US.

As for the nuclear negotiations, the P5+1 will focus on objective guarantees that leave Iran no path toward military use of its nuclear capabilities. For Iran, the focal point of its efforts will be recognition of its right to civilian use of nuclear energy, in keeping with the provisions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its protocols. Both issues sound simpler than they are: the devil is in the details, and the details leave ample scope for disagreement over the definition, monitoring, and enforcement of terms.

Again, maintaining realistic expectations must be paramount. A successful outcome in the nuclear negotiations and resolution or even containment of the main regional conflicts will be difficult to achieve. But it would be the height of irresponsibility not to seize the unexpected opportunity created by Rowhani’s election with all the strength, good faith, and creativity we can muster.

Read more from our "Iran’s New Man" Focal Point.

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    1. CommentedMichelle Williams

      but, still, sanctions are already being followed by trade diversion
      here is some evidence
      http://www.voxeu.org/article/iran-sanctions-and-diverted-trade-exporter-level-evidence

    2. CommentedHenrik Ørsted

      Even though Iran might seem to be a single Nation, in fact it is not. Iran is a Tapestry of different people (tribes or clans) with different preferences. Rowhani is a statist and nothing more. He might not be as flamboyant as Ahmadinajad, but he is close to Rafzandjani, and thus to the ruling classes. Iran isn't Darband or Tajrish, where Teherans affluent people life, and which attracts the Western Press more than other parts of Iran. There journalist can talk to people without having to learn farsi. But who wants to get an accurate picture of todays Iran, should travel to Masshad. There in the shadow of the Kopet-Dag Range, live is very different from that in Teheran. And this city is the key to Iran, not only from a religious perspective.

      And Rowhani has not a great leverage there. The people in Masshad are pious--exception that proves the rule--and do not like interference from the West, no matter who is in power in Iran.

      I also know Rouhani, but from his earlier times in the U.K.
      The challenges Rouhani is up against, dwarf his very personality. There is first of all the economic well being of the Iranians, who see their income and savings dwindle, living in a more and more unstable Iran, where powerful Militia Overlords run a region, without very much input from the central government, per se. And as in Russia, the governors, these Pāsdārān/Basij warlords largely run the country. Western principles and the talk of nuclear arms control are an anathema to them. They do not tick like a western diplomat, and they have a good laugh at Catharine Ashdown. Essentially they do not care, because they do not need to. And because of them being so corrupt they drive out the poor and others into Teheran, which is faced with a swell of new arrivals from the provinces everywhere in Iran. This is a very precarious development, because that way the provincial overlords cement their power and the ordinary people are crunched between their own aspirations, and the rigid ruling classes.

      For the average Iranian, there is no hope, but to keep their head down, and the Nuclear Issue is not an issue for them.

      Rowhani, would have a mission impossible to attain his goals.

      Next, Iran is de facto at war with Israel! But everyone in Iran knows far too well, that Israel is just the placeholder for its Sunni neighbours, most notably, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. They think if such unstable nations as Pakistan are allowed to harbour an nuclear arsenal, which in the past year has increased by 10 new warheads, why should Iran not have a nuclear deterrent. Mind you that Iran now where borders Israel, and its times as infant terrible for Israel have gone since the Egyptian troubles have seen Mursi and his Muslim Brothers rising to power.
      The conflict in Syria has even highlighted the differences between Iran and its Sunni neighbours even more.

      I would say that Iran, today is far more concerned for Turkey. It does not take insider knowledge to sense that Turkey has strong ambitions in Central Asia. And Iran is for certain circles in Turkey only a interfering factor, when it comes to consolidating its grip on the Central Asian nations. The Iranian rulers are all to aware of this, but maintain for now a low profile. The Iranian Turks are Shiites and treasured for their involvement in the iranian society, as opposed to the majority of the Kurds, and Balochistanis. That also counts for its co-religious Arabs in the South West of Iran and Iraq, as well as the Azerbaijanis in Azerbaijan.

      There is a great worry that come Afghanistan be a Taliban ruled nation again, that the Northeast of the country, Masshad is being targeted again by Sunni radicals.

      Iran has thus no other option, in view to, both the militarily quite superior--largely German equipped--forces of Turkey and the US presence in the Golf to go nuclear.

      And pertaining that there would be a conflict in the Golf, which is not yet imminent, because a huge community of Iranian Expats still live in the Golf states, Iran would have military have no other chance to defend itself but to go nuclear.

      How can Iran secure its survival in another way, having been rules throughout its recent history by foreign powers or foreign tribes? Leaving the religious nature of Iran aside, it can seek allegiances. The most obvious candidate might be China. But given its tight economic involvement with the USA, China treads carefully. Hence, Irans only ally can be the USA. But how this would work is a riddle, which is written in the stars, although I am deeply convinced, that might there be any upheavals in Saudi-Arabia, that Iran and the USA, will sooner or later be sitting in the same boat.

    3. CommentedHenrik Ørsted

      Even though Iran might seem to be a single Nation, in fact it is not. Iran is a Tapestry of different people (tribes or clans) with different preferences. Rowhani is a statist and nothing more. He might not be as flamboyant as Ahmadinajad, but he is close to Rafzandjani, and thus to the ruling classes. Iran isn't Darband or Tajrish, where Teherans affluent people life, and which attracts the Western Press more than other parts of Iran. There journalist can talk to people without having to learn farsi. But who wants to get an accurate picture of todays Iran, should travel to Masshad. There in the shadow of the Kopet-Dag Range, live is very different from that in Teheran. And this city is the key to Iran, not only from a religious perspective.

      And Rowhani has not a great leverage there. The people in Masshad are pious--exception that proves the rule--and do not like interference from the West, no matter who is in power in Iran.

      I also know Rouhani, but from his earlier times in the U.K.
      The challenges Rouhani is up against, dwarf his very personality. There is first of all the economic well being of the Iranians, who see there income and savings dwindle, living in a more and more unstable Iran, where powerful Militia Overlords run a region, without very much input from the central government, per se. And as in Russia, the governors, these Pāsdārān/Basij warlords largely run the country. Western principles and the talk of nuclear arms control are an anathema to them. They do not tick like a western diplomat, and they have a good laugh at Catharine Ashdown. Essentially they do not care, because they do not need to. And because of them being so corrupt they drive out the poor and others into Teheran, which is faced with a swell of new arrivals from the provinces everywhere in Iran. This is a very precarious development, because that way the provincial overlords cement their power and the ordinary people are crunched between their own aspirations, and the rigid ruling classes.

      For the average Iranian, there is no hope, but to keep their head down, and the Nuclear Issue is not an issue for them.

      Rowhani, would have a mission impossible to attain his goals.

      Next, Iran is de facto at war with Israel! But everyone in Iran knows far too well, that Israel is just the placeholder for its Sunni neighbours, most notably, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. They think if such unstable nations as Pakistan are allowed to harbour an nuclear arsenal, which in the past year has increased by 10 new warheads, why should Iran not have a nuclear deterrent. Mind you that Iran now where borders Israel, and its times as infant terrible for Israel have gone since the Egyptian troubles have seen Mursi and his Muslim Brothers rising to power.
      The conflict in Syria has even highlighted the differences between Iran and its Sunni neighbours even more.

      I would say that Iran, today is far more concerned for Turkey. It does not take insider knowledge to sense that Turkey has strong ambitions in Central Asia. And Iran is for certain circles in Turkey only a interfering factor, when it comes to consolidating its grip on the Central Asian nations. The Iranian rulers are all to aware of this, but maintain for now a low profile. The Iranian turks are Shiites and treasured for their involvement in the iranian society, as opposed to the majority of the Kurds, and Balochistanis. That also counts for its co-religious Arabs in the South West of Iran and Iraq, as well as the Azerbaijanis in Azerbaijan.

      There is a great worry that come Afghanistan be a Taliban ruled nation again, that the Northeast of the country, Masshad is being targeted again by Sunni radicals.

      Iran has thus no other option, in view to, both the militarily quite superior--largely German equipped--forces of Turkey and the US presence in the Golf to go nuclear.

      And pertaining that there would be a conflict in the Golf, which is not yet imminent, because a huge community of Iranian Expats still live in the Golf states, Iran would have military have no other chance to defend itself but to go nuclear.

      How can Iran secure its survival in another way, having been rules throughout its recent history by foreign powers or foreign tribes? Leaving the religious nature of Iran aside, it can seek allegiances. The most obvious candidate might be China. But given its tight economic involvement with the USA, China treads carefully. Hence, Irans only ally can be the USA. But how this would work is a riddle, which is written in the stars, although I am deeply convinced, that might there be any upheavals in Saudi-Arabia, that Iran and the USA, will sooner or later be sitting in the same boat.

    4. CommentedHenrik Ørsted

      Even though Iran might seem to be a single Nation, in fact it is not. Iran is a Tapestry of different people (tribes or clans) with different preferences. Rowhani is a statist and nothing more. He might not be as flamboyant as Ahmadinajad, but he is close to Rafzandjani, and thus to the ruling classes. Iran isn't Darband or Tajrish, where Teherans affluent people live, and which attracts the Western Press more than other parts of Iran. There journalist can talk to people without having to learn farsi. But who wants to get an accurate picture of todays Iran, should travel to Masshad. There in the shadow of the Kopet-Dag Range, live is very different from that in Teheran. And this city is the key to Iran, not only from a religious perspective.

      And Rowhani has not a great leverage there. The people in Masshad are pious--exception that proves the rule--and do not like interference from the West, no matter who is in power in Iran.

      I also know Rouhani, but from his earlier times in the U.K.
      The challenges Rouhani is up against, dwarf his very personality. There is first of all the economic well being of the Iranians, who see there income and savings dwindle, living in a more and more unstable Iran, where powerful Militia Overlords run a region, without very much input from the central government, per se. And as in Russia, the governors, these Pāsdārān/Basij warlords largely run the country. Western principles and the talk of nuclear arms control are an anathema to them. They do not tick like a western diplomat, and they have a good laugh at Catharine Ashdown. Essentially they do not care, because they do not need to. And because of them being so corrupt they drive out the poor and others into Teheran, which is faced with a swell of new arrivals from the provinces everywhere in Iran. This is a very precarious development, because that way the provincial overlords cement their power and the ordinary people are crunched between their own aspirations, and the rigid ruling classes.

      For the average Iranian, there is no hope, but to keep their head down, and the Nuclear Issue is not an issue for them.

      Rowhani, would have a mission impossible to attain his goals.

      Next, Iran is de facto at war with Israel! But everyone in Iran knows far too well, that Israel is just the placeholder for its Sunni neighbours, most notably, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. They think if such unstable nations as Pakistan are allowed to harbour an nuclear arsenal, which in the past year has increased by 10 new warheads, why should Iran not have a nuclear deterrent. Mind you that Iran now where borders Israel, and its times as infant terrible for Israel have gone since the Egyptian troubles have seen Mursi and his Muslim Brothers rising to power.
      The conflict in Syria has even highlighted the differences between Iran and its Sunni neighbours even more.

      I would say that Iran, today is far more concerned for Turkey. It does not take insider knowledge to sense that Turkey has strong ambitions in Central Asia. And Iran is for certain circles in Turkey only a interfering factor, when it comes to consolidating its grip on the Central Asian nations. The Iranian rulers are all to aware of this, but maintain for now a low profile. The Iranian turks are Shiites and treasured for their involvement in the iranian society, as opposed to the majority of the Kurds, and Balochistanis. That also counts for its co-religious Arabs in the South West of Iran and Iraq, as well as the Azerbaijanis in Azerbaijan.

      There is a great worry that come Afghanistan be a Taliban ruled nation again, that the Northeast of the country, Masshad is being targeted again by Sunni radicals.

      Iran has thus no other option, in view to, both the militarily quite superior--largely German equipped--forces of Turkey and the US presence in the Golf to go nuclear.

      And pertaining that there would be a conflict in the Golf, which is not yet imminent, because a huge community of Iranian Expats still live in the Golf states, Iran would have military have no other chance to defend itself but to go nuclear.

      How can Iran secure its survival in another way, having been rules throughout its recent history by foreign powers or foreign tribes? Leaving the religious nature of Iran aside, it can seek allegiances. The most obvious candidate might be China. But given its tight economic involvement with the USA, China treads carefully. Hence, Irans only ally can be the USA. But how this would work is a riddle, which is written in the stars, although I am deeply convinced, that might there be any upheavals in Saudi-Arabia, that Iran and the USA, will sooner or later be sitting in the same boat.

        CommentedHenrik Ørsted

        Even though Iran might seem to be a single Nation, in fact it is not. Iran is a Tapestry of different people (tribes or clans) with different preferences. Rowhani is a statist and nothing more. He might not be as flamboyant as Ahmadinajad, but he is close to Rafzandjani, and thus to the ruling classes. Iran isn't Darband or Tajrish, where Teherans affluent people life, and which attracts the Western Press more than other parts of Iran. There journalist can talk to people without having to learn farsi. But who wants to get an accurate picture of todays Iran, should travel to Masshad. There in the shadow of the Kopet-Dag Range, live is very different from that in Teheran. And this city is the key to Iran, not only from a religious perspective.

        And Rowhani has not a great leverage there. The people in Masshad are pious--exception that proves the rule--and do not like interference from the West, no matter who is in power in Iran.

        I also know Rouhani, but from his earlier times in the U.K.
        The challenges Rouhani is up against, dwarf his very personality. There is first of all the economic well being of the Iranians, who see there income and savings dwindle, living in a more and more unstable Iran, where powerful Militia Overlords run a region, without very much input from the central government, per se. And as in Russia, the governors, these Pāsdārān/Basij warlords largely run the country. Western principles and the talk of nuclear arms control are an anathema to them. They do not tick like a western diplomat, and they have a good laugh at Catharine Ashdown. Essentially they do not care, because they do not need to. And because of them being so corrupt they drive out the poor and others into Teheran, which is faced with a swell of new arrivals from the provinces everywhere in Iran. This is a very precarious development, because that way the provincial overlords cement their power and the ordinary people are crunched between their own aspirations, and the rigid ruling classes.

        For the average Iranian, there is no hope, but to keep their head down, and the Nuclear Issue is not an issue for them.

        Rowhani, would have a mission impossible to attain his goals.

        Next, Iran is de facto at war with Israel! But everyone in Iran knows far too well, that Israel is just the placeholder for its Sunni neighbours, most notably, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. They think if such unstable nations as Pakistan are allowed to harbour an nuclear arsenal, which in the past year has increased by 10 new warheads, why should Iran not have a nuclear deterrent. Mind you that Iran nowhere borders Israel, and its times as infant terrible for Israel have gone since the Egyptian troubles have seen Mursi and his Muslim Brothers rising to power.
        The conflict in Syria has even highlighted the differences between Iran and its Sunni neighbours even more.

        I would say that Iran, today is far more concerned for Turkey. It does not take insider knowledge to sense that Turkey has strong ambitions in Central Asia. And Iran is for certain circles in Turkey only a interfering factor, when it comes to consolidating its grip on the Central Asian nations. The Iranian rulers are all to aware of this, but maintain for now a low profile. The Iranian turks are Shiites and treasured for their involvement in the iranian society, as opposed to the majority of the Kurds, and Balochistanis. That also counts for its co-religious Arabs in the South West of Iran and Iraq, as well as the Azerbaijanis in Azerbaijan.

        There is a great worry that come Afghanistan be a Taliban ruled nation again, that the Northeast of the country, Masshad is being targeted again by Sunni radicals.

        Iran has thus no other option, in view to, both the militarily quite superior--largely German equipped--forces of Turkey and the US presence in the Golf to go nuclear.

        And pertaining that there would be a conflict in the Golf, which is not yet imminent, because a huge community of Iranian Expats still live in the Golf states, Iran would have military have no other chance to defend itself but to go nuclear.

        How can Iran secure its survival in another way, having been rules throughout its recent history by foreign powers or foreign tribes? Leaving the religious nature of Iran aside, it can seek allegiances. The most obvious candidate might be China. But given its tight economic involvement with the USA, China treads carefully. Hence, Irans only ally can be the USA. But how this would work is a riddle, which is written in the stars, although I am deeply convinced, that might there be any upheavals in Saudi-Arabia, that Iran and the USA, will sooner or later be sitting in the same boat.

    5. CommentedEdward Ponderer

      The world and its leadership still do not accept the realities of the nonlinear system of ever greater interconnection and interdependence that we are ever falling into. Instead of focusing on basic human relationships, we seem to prefer endlessly being played the fool of by politics as usual.

      It was all glitter, and never a moment of glimmer -- just ever grimmer.

      Reality: Iranian state media has already reported statements made by Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi rejecting compromise. Naqdik was appointed to his position by Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei in 2009.

      By by law, and certainly by politics as usual, Iran's foreign policy is determined by Khamenei, who has banned concessions to the West. Last week during a speech, Rouhani personally thanked Khamenei and the Iranian clergy.

      Reuters reported that Rouhani has spoken with approval about clandestinely expansion of Iran's nuclear program, noting that "the world started to work with" Pakistan after it acquired nuclear weapons.

      Below the surface nonsense, the mathematical understanding of all this is all too clear. Globalization is not some sweet 20th century high school social studies course. It is literally the biophysics of the body Humanity -- nay, its very soul. And that is why I would recommend that we get some good secular "enlightened self-interest," nay some religion -- "Love your fellow as yourself." These can no longer be the sweet aphorisms of lip service, but it is the key to stability, survival, and prosperity as compared with the opposite.

      It is global homeostasis or Murphy's law. Take your pick, because that is all the system gives us. But we can choose.

      It is like John Conway's classic cellular simulation, the game of life -- but here literally. And here we cannot control the boundary conditions, the number of presently live cells -- none of it, except: we can use integral education, the mass media, and the will of Mankind to save itself, in order to change the rules of interaction between cells.

      Mutual responsibility or everyone for himself, the golden rule or he who owns the gold makes the rules, life or death--who by the fire of Iranian nuclear weapons perhaps, or who by freezing in the night of economic shutdown.

      Politician, economists, and everybody else -- know that its in our hands.

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