Iran executions: Brutal signal to opponents

Iranian Workers: “we don’t want nuclear energy”

Iran’s Islamic government might be taking a more ‘moderate’ approach regarding nuclear negotiations, but as far as internal repression is concerned its stance is as bad as ever before – as bad as the worst periods of the rule of the last president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In the last week of October alone, Iran’s judicial system ordered the execution by hanging of at least 20 political opponents, all from national minorities (16 Baluchis and four Kurds), and the regime banned the ‘reformist’ daily, Bahar, for publishing an article questioning the historical veracity of events involving the first Shia imam.

The Baluchi separatists were executed in retaliation for an attack by a group of armed men on a border post that took the lives of 14 government soldiers in the south-eastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan. Meanwhile, in West Azerbaijan province two Kurds who had been sentenced to death following brief trials were executed. But two other Kurdish political prisoners, both serving 30-year prison sentences for opposition to the regime and membership of an illegal organisation, suffered the same fate. The family of one, summoned to collect his body, were told he was executed in the prison’s visitors area.

The brutal hanging of those prisoners carried a deliberate message for all the regime’s opponents. Supreme leader Ali Khamenei might have ‘drunk the poison’ when he made his U-turn as far as international negotiations on Iran’s nuclear facilities are concerned, but he has no intention of tolerating any opposition or dissent. On the contrary, it appears that political prisoners and the opposition in general will be made to pay the price for the failure of the regime’s foreign policy.

Opposition groups have warned that last week’s terror reprisals have all the signs of the type of repression the regime imposed immediately after the end of Iran-Iraq war in 1987. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s version of ‘drinking the poison’ (peace with Iraq) was followed by the execution of tens of thousands of political prisoners, some nearing the end of their jail sentences. Such measures are intended to demonstrate that, just because the Islamic republic has been forced to make foreign policy concessions, that does not mean it is weakening in its attitude to its internal opponents.

A number of leftwing political prisoners in Evin prison have started a hunger strike in protest at this new wave of terror. In September, just before president Hassan Rowhani’s trip to New York, the supreme leader ordered the release of more than 80 ‘prisoners of conscience’. However, only 42, many of them approaching the completion of their prison terms, were freed. Hundreds remain behind bars.

The ‘moderate’ Rowhani has said nothing. It is clear that the new president does not want to jeopardise his relationship with the conservative factions of the regime, and the security forces they control. Of course, we should not forget that while in New York Rowhani spent a considerable amount of time discussing Iran’s economy with the International Monetary Fund and, as the latest ‘economic restructuring programme’ takes shape, control of the working class and the population at large remains high on the government’s agenda.

In another attack on freedom of expression, the authorities shut down Bahar on October 28, five days after the publication of a controversial article that cast doubts on whether the prophet Mohammed had appointed a successor. The newspaper’s punishment was predictable, since the article contradicted one of the fundamental beliefs of Shia Muslims. The head of the judiciary, Sadeq Larijani, warned that any publication taking up an “unacceptable stance” would face suspension or a ban.

This venture into theological history was something of an exception for the ‘reformist’ media, which has been mainly concentrating on the continuing house arrest of the leaders of the green movement. However, the victims of the worst aspects of the regime’s repression are not under house arrest and their families are not allowed regular prison visits. Although no-one can justify the continued house arrest of the ‘reformist’ leaders Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi (especially when you consider that Rowhani was supposed to be their ally), for us in Hands Off the People of Iran the urgent task is to save political prisoners whose life is in danger – incarcerated labour activists whose only crime is defending their fellow workers; national and religious minority activists, whose only crime is not to be Shia.

We also need to publicise and support the struggles of thousands of workers who have had the courage to protest outside their factories, outside the Islamic majles (parliament) or in front of provincial offices, demanding payment of their withheld wages; workers at the Qazvin car manufacturing plant, workers in the petro-chemical industries, workers who have demonstrated in their tens of thousands against the drying up of the river Karoun in Khuzestan province.

Not surprisingly Iran’s new-found allies within the ‘international community’ are not condemning this wave of repression and the Iranian organisations tied to (at times dependent on) US and European money are not in a position to do much. As we have said time and time again, UN institutions, and imperialist-funded ‘human rights’ NGOs do not campaign for these imprisoned Iranian workers. If last year they were queuing up to support women’s rights, and to try leaders of the Islamic regime for crimes committed in the past, they are showing no interest in the recent executions up and down the country. That is why we need a different kind of solidarity: workers’ solidarity from trade unionists and labour activists independent of US-sponsored labour organisations and free of any associations with Zionism, Sunni fundamentalists or other reactionary religious or nationalist forces. In this respect we also need to point to the illusions of large sections of the Iranian left in ‘international law’, the United Nations and its institutions.

Our solidarity

All in all, not a good week for Iran’s new government both internally and internationally. However, the question many comrades ask is, what can we in Hopi do?

The answers are neither simple nor straightforward. Our numbers are few and our resources limited. However, we have been able to give a comprehensive analysis of the current nuclear negotiations, explaining the obstacles and the loopholes of the process, and we have continued our adherence to revolutionary principles when it comes to building solidarity with the Iranian working class. As uncertainty and political change have provoked increased protests against the regime, as state repression is stepped up, we need to do a lot more in building support from trade unionists and workers’ organisations, keeping in mind the damage already done by those who have failed to take a clear line on imperialism and indeed global capitalism.

More than ever before, supporters of the Iranian working class must take a principled stance in opposition to imperialist intervention. But campaigns in solidarity with Iranian workers should not be tarnished by association with pro-imperialists, such as the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, the American Federation of Labor/Congress of Industrial Organizations, which have a history of collaboration with successive US administrations.

In the last few weeks during various discussions with labour activists inside and outside Iran, these comrades have expressed their continued concerns about irresponsible attitudes regarding solidarity with Iranian workers. On the one hand, we must do all we can to help incarcerated comrades. On the other hand, at no time can we afford to lower our guard vis-à-vis institutions and organisations associated with US and European powers. It is not an easy task, but we must be aware that anything else endangers the very lives we want to save. So let us concentrate on finding allies amongst activists and organisations that share our concerns about imperialist intervention, who like us understand Iran’s complicated politician landscape.

Support for the Iranian working class must include a call for the immediate, unconditional release of labour activists held in prison. In the current climate their lives are in danger.

These include:

  •   Behnam Ebrahimzadeh, a member of the Committee for the Establishment of Workers’ Organisations in Iran (CEWO), who has served three years of a six-year sentence.
  •   Reza Shahabi, member of the coordinating committee of Vahed bus workers, still in jail for his part in the 2006 strike and for organising workers in this sector. Shahabi is very ill and his condition is deteriorating daily.
  •   Shahrokh Zamani, a Painters Union militant and another CEWO member. He is currently serving an 11-year sentence and has been tortured on a number of occasions. Zamani is held in Rajaei Shahr prison, one of the worst detention centres in Iran, because he is accused of “insulting the leader”, a charge that was added six months into his sentence.
  •   CEWO member Mohammad Jarahi, who was arrested in January 2012. He, like fellow-prisoners, has had a number of serious health issues, but has been refused release on health grounds.
  •   Worker activists Pedram Nasrollahi, Mohammad Mohammadi and Abdolreza Ghanbari are also in prison and their lives are in danger.
  •   In Kurdistan province, in addition to nationalist prisoners, worker activists Vafa Ghaderi, Khaled Hosseini and Ghader Hosseini all face jail sentences and on November 4, hours after the execution of the Kurdish prisoners, Vafa Ghaderi was arrested.

Solidarity with the Iranian working class

The political landscape of the Middle East is an increasingly complicated place.  In this video, Yassamine Mather of Hands Off the People of Iran looks at the conflicting interests that have driven the United States and Iranian governments to seek some form of modus vivendi with each other and the implications this may have both for the wider politics of the region and the respective domestic balance of class forces in these countries.



Iran: Step up solidarity

11After weeks of speculation about Iran-US relations and the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme, Iran’s foreign minister and his deputy finally made their initial proposals clear on October 15-16 in closed talks with the ‘P5+1’ countries in Geneva. Those proposals will come in stages, coinciding with a gradual reduction of western sanctions. Despite Iran’s denials it is clear that at some stage during this process Iran will reduce the level of uranium enrichment and may “allow unannounced visits to its nuclear sites as a ‘last step’”.1

Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Iranian parliament who is close to supreme leader Ali Khamenei, had hinted in an interview with CNN that Iran might concede to P5+1 demands for stopping the enrichment of uranium, or at least that Iran is willing to discuss the thorny issue of its ‘surplus’ enriched uranium. However, he seemed to contradict this a few days later with a statement “clarifying that current achievements in the nuclear programme cannot be reversed”, but it looks like Khamenei has swallowed the poison and a variation of the above is part of Iran’s proposal. Larijani was also quoted by Associated Press as saying that Iran has ample enriched uranium to use as a bargaining chip with the west. Later the quote was labelled “false”, “fundamentally inaccurate” and “baseless” by his official office in the majles (parliament).

In early October there were reports that Iran might volunteer to close its Fordo plant. However, the head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, strongly rejected “western media reports”, adding that the underground uranium enrichment facility is essential to the country’s nuclear programme: “The closure of the Fordo site is a sheer lie.”

Never mind Iranian officials speaking with one voice – it is clear that each voice has two or three opinions! But this apparent disarray is in fact part of the supreme leader’s strategy to claim victory if the talks achieve any reduction in the current level of sanctions, while remaining deeply pessimistic about the discussions. The regime has put all its hopes in an immediate relaxation, at least in terms of the country’s banking and finance systems, as well as the lifting of insurance and shipping restrictions that would allow an increase in the country’s oil exports.

However, given the fact that sanctions have clearly brought about a U-turn in Tehran, it is unlikely that they will be lifted shortly. Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US hawks are clearly warning against any relaxation. On October 10, in calls to David Cameron and French president François Hollande, Netanyahu is supposed to have warned that “Only our pressure brought Iran to this point, and only the continuation of that pressure and its strengthening can bring them to dismantle their nuclear programme.”2

The Israeli premier was given a unique opportunity to speak directly to the Iranian people in a long interview with the BBC Persian service on October 3. And he managed to do something that former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad never achieved: unite Iranians against the Zionist government. In condescending, arrogant comments that were supposed to mobilise young Iranians in support of the Zionist regime, the Israeli premier told Iranians they “deserve better” than their current government adding the now infamous statement: “I think if the Iranian people had their way, they’d be wearing blue jeans, they’d have western music, they’d have free elections.”3

The response was unprecedented. Social media and the blogosphere was inundated with pictures of Iranians wearing jeans. Thousands of Iranians took to social media to publish photographs of prominent Iranians, including some of the supreme leaders’ closest allies, so attired. In fact it would be no exaggeration to say that poking fun at the Israeli prime minister has become a favourite online pastime for Iranians over the last couple of weeks. One presumes his advisers must be eating humble pie.

However, all this has not stopped Netanyahu, nor has it lead to any moderation in his utterances. By October 13, as the prospects of some progress in the Geneva talks loomed, he was comparing himself to Winston Churchill and presenting himself as virtually the sole opponent of ‘appeasement’ of the Iranian ‘fascists’.


One has to ask, what brought about Iran’s U-turn? And what happened to the US policy that Iran must be punished?

The Iranian retreat is easier to explain – although, contrary to all the claims of the US and its allies, sanctions have not affected the private fortunes of Iran’s clerical leaders or their immediate relatives. However, it is clear that the country is facing a major economic crisis, leaving its rulers powerless, and the current situation is unsustainable. This week, the central bank announced that the rate of inflation had exceeded 40%: According to its figures, “The cost of food and drink rose by 51%, shoes by 60%, and utilities, water and fuel by 21%. Healthcare was 43% more expensive and transport 45%.”4

Manufacturing is at a standstill. Whereas in the heyday of its growth many had commented that the rise in car output was stunning, today the collapse of the industry is just as marked. This year alone car production is down by 40% and production is 10% of what it was before the latest round of sanctions. Workers in this industry say they go to work even if they are not paid – in the hope that the industry will pick up once sanctions are lifted. The car industry, like aerospace, has been deprived of many essential engineering software packages, which are listed as computing software capable of having ‘dual use’. For example, a package called Abaqus, used extensively in the car and aerospace industries for mesh analysis, allows testing for cracks. But because it could also be used for the same tests to nuclear reactors it cannot be exported to Iran. The same is true of many other industries.

Meanwhile, thousands of workers are not being paid. Last week there were dozens of workers’ protests up and down the country, including at the Kian tyre factory near Tehran, where the slogan was: “Our families are hungry”. In Boroujerd in western Iran more than 1,000 public-service workers in municipal services have not been paid for two months. But, as I have said time and time again, why is a country that claims it has no money to pay its public-sector workers paying billions of dollars for black-market nuclear devices?

If Iran’s apparent agreement to scale down its nuclear programme was predictable, there is a lot of speculation about the reasons for what looks like a softening of the US position. A comrade in Hands Off the People of Iran has offered a possible explanation. Having traditionally relied on Saudi Arabia, Qatar and their Sunni allies, the US might be concerned that these countries have no control over Islamic military groups they finance in the region, Libya and Syria being obvious example of this phenomenon. So the US might be pursuing a twin-track policy of establishing better relations with Shia Iran (a country that has firm control of the Islamist groups associated with it), while maintaining its links with the Sunni states.

In Iran speculation about US inconsistencies dominate sections of the media. The state TV network, Jaam-e-Jam, has gone so far as to quote this writer on its website, when it reproduced part of what I had said on the weekly news/analysis programme of the BBC Persian service.5 (Incidentally it describes the Persian service as a den of spies, part of a Zionist conspiracy and paid for by MI5 on other pages of its website). Inevitably only those sections of the programme where I referred to the US and the effect of sanctions are reported: the rest of the discussion, when I talked about Iran’s ambitions in the region and the regime’s need for crises in order to survive, did not make it onto Jaam-e-Jam’s web pages. This in itself shows the desperation of the Iranian regime – it is not as though it is unaware of my life-long opposition.

And the battle between conservatives and ‘reformists’ has moved up a gear, with foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claiming that false reporting of his comments about president Hassan Rowhani’s visit to New York has caused him so much stress that he was almost paralysed on the eve of the Geneva talks. To prove it, Zarif tweeted a picture of himself lying in bed with backache. But our Twitter-using foreign minister is a firm believer in secrecy. No details of Iran’s presentation in Geneva have been made available to the Iranian people.

The other contentious issue inside Iran is the debate around the slogan, ‘Death to America’. In line with the needs of Rowhani, former president Hashemi Rafsanjani revealed that Iran’s first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini once commented – in private – that people should abandon the slogan. ‘Death to America’ became popular with both Islamists and their reformist apologists, the ‘official communist’ Tudeh party and the Majority Fedayeen, in 1979 and the early 1980s. In fact the radical left always opposed it, because it is non-political and was deliberately chosen to undermine the left’s anti-imperialist slogans.

According to Rafsanjani, Khomeini had confessed: “I did not agree with the call for anyone’s death during public meetings. For example, in our meetings, ‘Death to Banisadr’ was a popular chant and I told people not to chant it after Friday prayers. There was ‘Death to Bazargan’ and I told them not to say that … As for ‘Death to America’, I said the same thing. I personally am opposed to strong and offensive rhetoric – I do not find it constructive.”6

It was inevitable that Rafsanjani’s comments would raise fierce opposition inside Iran. Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said that the Iranian people just would not believe that Khomeini did not approve of the slogan. In fact after a week of attacks on him, Rafsanjani decided to backtrack. He said that the republication of one of his interviews in which he had recalled Khomeini’s comments had been a “mistake”.7 Rafsanjani did not, however, deny the truth of what he had said.


What does all this mean for solidarity work? Clearly there is a possibility that some sanctions will be lifted in the next few weeks. This will not change the economic situation much for the majority of Iranians. However, if workers can get back to their jobs, if some of the money owed in salaries is paid, we might see an upsurge in the class struggle. Similarly, if the threat of foreign attack is lifted, we might see student demonstrations against the religious dictatorship once more – in fact we saw a glimpse of such protests this week as Rowhani was addressing students in one of Iran’s main campuses.

Now more than ever Iranian workers, students, women and minority nationalities need international working class solidarity. At a time when all eyes are on Iranian government officials and the prisoners of the green movement, we must redouble our efforts to secure the unconditional, immediate release of all labour activists, for the right of workers to set up their own organisations, and in support of workers’ struggles for the payment of the wages they are owed.

In other words, Hopi’s work has only just started.






5. Iranian state TV:

6. Abolhassan Banisadr was the first president of the Islamic Republic, while Mehdi Bazargan was the regime’s first prime minister.


Telephone diplomacy riles Israeli hawks and Iranian conservatives

Last week’s phone conversation between the presidents of the United States and Iran, the first direct talks between the two heads of state in more than 30 years, has been the cause of major controversy amongst conservatives both in the US and the Islamic Republic.

Although both countries have declared a willingness to work together to “break the deadlock” over Iran’s nuclear programme, in hindsight it is easy to understand why Hassan Rowhani avoided a handshake or a ‘casual meeting’ in the corridors of the UN with Barack Obama. He did not have permission for a face-to-face meeting and there is some dispute as to whether or not he had the supreme leader’s blessing even for the now (in)famous phone call. According to Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, supreme leader Ali Khamenei approved of everything he and Rowhani did, and Hossein Naghavi, a ‘reformist’ spokesperson on foreign policy in the majles (parliament), claimed the president had received “the necessary permission from the system” for his telephone diplomacy with Obama. “System” is considered by most commentators to be code for ‘supreme leader’.

Khamenei’s foreign affairs representative was at the airport to welcome back Rowhani – another sign that overall the supreme leader was happy with the outcome. State TV only showed pro-Rowhani demonstrators at the airport, so the Iranian people only found out about the eggs and shoes thrown at the presidential vehicle from the western press and media. Having said that, Khamenei is a complicated character and it is possible that those voicing opposition to Rowhani might also have been prompted by the supreme leader’s office.

Khamenei is making sure that, whatever happens, he will not be blamed if things go wrong. That is why general Mohammad Ali Jafarione, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and a close ally of Khamenei, said on September 30 that the telephone diplomacy was “a tactical mistake”. Probably the same can be said about Hossein Shariatmadari, a notorious rightwinger and editor of the Tehran daily Kayhan. He was derisive: “Mr Rowhani has not achieved anything in New York … the telephone conversation with Mr Obama was the most regretful part and the biggest advantage Iran … gave to the rival.”1

Obama was clearly delighted, calling the week’s negotiations between representatives of the two countries a “unique opportunity” to seal a deal: “I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution.”

But that was before the visit of Binyamin Netanyahu. During a meeting with the Israeli premier the US president assured Israel that a military option on Iran remains on the table. A week is long time in politics, but in terms of US foreign policy it seems to be getting longer by the hour. The reaction from Tehran was swift. Foreign minister Zarif wrote on Twitter: “President Obama should avert contradiction in order to win the confidence of the Iranian people. Flip-flop and contradictory positions will destroy trust and discredit the United States. President Obama’s presumption that Iran has entered negotiations due to his threats and illegal sanctions is an insult to a nation, bullying and wrong.”2 Reacting to Netanyahu’s claims that Iran was building a nuclear bomb, Zarif was quoted as saying: “For 22 years Israel has claimed that Iran’s nuclear programme will reach military capability in six months and they keep repeating the same lie. How many six months is that?”

Of course, Rowhani and Zarif have every reason to be concerned. The conservative factions of the Islamic Republic regime have been very active in the last few days – not just seeing to it that shoes were thrown at the presidential convoy, but preparing a more serious challenge, referred to by former ‘reformist’ president Mohammad Khatami as “threats of the return of terror”. The protests were not spontaneous, said Khatami, but staged. “Their number was few, but their power is plenty” (I assume this is a reference to the serial political murders during his presidency, when secular writers, translators and political activists were assassinated by ‘rogue’ elements of the ministry of intelligence).3


Clearly both states are keen to press ahead with nuclear negotiations as soon as possible and if Islamic conservatives and hawks in the US are both kept at bay we can expect some progress in that area. However, before anyone gets too excited, let me point to some of the current misconceptions being propagated by both sides:


  • The Iran-US conflict is all down to Iran’s nuclear programme. Not true: US sanctions predate the nuclear issue. Iran has long been a US enemy. After all, the country dared rid itself of the shah’s regime, the main ally of the US in the region. Just as bad from a US point of view was the taking of American hostages and support offered by the Islamic Republic to Hezbollah and Syria. The nuclear programme was always an excuse which would allow the US to bring this ‘rogue state’ to heel.
  • US-Iran negotiations have only become possible because Iran persevered with its nuclear programme. This is what supporters of the Islamic Republic, including pro-Rowhani forces, have claimed, but it is completely false. The comparison that comes to mind is that of a customer who takes a hand grenade to a bank in order to discuss his overdraft. It might draw attention in the short term, but it is hardly likely to resolve the problem with the account.
  • Nuclear negotiations will pave the way for better Iran-US relations. Another myth. The US’s Arab allies, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, are already raising further demands: for example, curtailing Iran’s role in the region, starting with Syria, then Iraq and Lebanon.

There is even renewed talk about the islands in the Gulf whose sovereignty is disputed. The United Arab Emirates has called on the UN general assembly to pressure Iran into settling the dispute over Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs. A spokesman denounced the “continued Iranian occupation”. This is in line with the position of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which has declared that the UAE owns the islands (although they are uninhabited, they are strategically important because of their position close to the Strait of Hormuz).


Both the Iranian and the international left have in the past shown considerable confusion regarding the nuclear issue. Deluded western and Middle Eastern ‘anti-imperialist’ supporters of the last Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his crude anti-western rhetoric, went as far as defending the ‘Iranian bomb’.

While others have stopped short of that, there seems to be growing support among sections of the reformist left deluded by nationalist sentiments for “Iran’s right to nuclear technology”. They ask, why shouldn’t Iran want to become a regional power? After all, it is the most important country of the Gulf. Such classless analysis is beyond disdain. I have said before, it is criminal for a country that claims it cannot pay its employees (even before recent sanctions), where many public-sector workers have not been paid for months, where 60% of the population live below the poverty line, to spend billions of dollars every year on dodgy, unreliable, black-market technology to keep its nuclear programme progressing for the sake of ‘national pride’.

The Iranian left’s illusions about the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty should also be confronted. As Iranian socialist Reza Fiyouzat has written, “This treaty – the biggest international lobby on behalf of the operators of nuclear power plants and military contractors – seems to have completely gone over the heads of those among the western left who, through their positioning vis-à-vis Iran’s regime, support and venerate the NNPT.”4

For the talks to succeed, the US will have to distance itself from Netanyahu’s demands and take a position similar to that of the European Union. The EU is keen to see the back of international sanctions mainly due to its own economic interests. However, Catherine Ashton, the EU’s ‘high representative’ for foreign affairs and security, is taking a conciliatory position regarding talks with Iran planned for October: “I would like to get to Geneva with the best possible atmosphere … and that means, in all sorts of ways, we need to show willingness and good faith to sit down and talk and expect the same in return.”

But the two sides are still a long way apart. The Iranian regime has no intention of closing down any of its plants. It is adamant it will continue to mine, process and enrich uranium up to 20% (a figure that allows a jump to weapons-grade material within a few months).

Israel and American hawks want Iran to: stop all uranium enrichment; remove existing enriched uranium from the country; close the Fordo enrichment plant near Qom; and halt the development of its reactor at Arak, Iran’s plutonium plant. The EU would accept Fordo if Iran allowed regular inspections (so far it has not mentioned the removal of existing nuclear material) and is taking a softer line on Arak.

The Fordo plant is buried deep underground and so cannot be destroyed by conventional means. But for ordinary Iranians it represents a serious danger. Fordo is located on a notorious geological fault line and, of course, is a prime target for bunker-buster air attacks. The possibility of attack or earthquake keep many awake at night. There is no doubt that revolutionaries should call for the immediate closure of this facility – not because of US and Israel demands, but because of the risk it poses to the population.

What about the plant at Arak, again close to Tehran, where an estimated 14 million people live? Arak is a heavy water production and reactor plant. Iran claims it is undertaking research there involving the development of radioisotopes for medical and agricultural purposes. However, the US insists that the plant is used for producing weapons-grade plutonium. The demand for Asrak’s closure or even inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency will be another source of conflict.

Why is 20% enrichment of highly enriched uranium (HEU) important? The fissile uranium used in nuclear weapons usually contains 85% or more of uranium235. However a crude, inefficient weapon can be produced with uranium enriched to just 20%, the minimum for weapons-grade. In that sense Iran’s boasting about 20% enriched uranium contradicts its repeated statement that it would never develop nuclear weapons, as they are anti-Islamic. This will also become a difficult point in any negotiations, as the Islamic Republic is unlikely to agree to reduce either current levels of uranium enrichment or its stockpile of HEU.

The one question that goes unmentioned by all sides is the disposal of nuclear waste – a major problem in highly developed countries, let alone somewhere like Iran. All indications are that the authorities are taking major risks. The Bushehr plant, one of its largest nuclear power plants, uses Russian-made fuel and its radioactive waste is allegedly returned to Russia, travelling thousands of kilometres. There are, however, persistent rumours about it being buried in the central Iranian desert. That would be par for the course. The Islamic regime has proved both unable and unwilling to pay serious attention to basic health and safety issues, whether in the workplace or society at large. Add to this the secrecy and corruption, and no-one in their right mind should trust Tehran to follow the basic safety precautions necessary when it comes to nuclear waste and radiation.


The demonstrators who welcomed Rowhani were not interested in international relations. They were concerned with the economy. What they want to know is how quickly sanctions can be removed, how soon prices will go back down.

Most of the severe sanctions, including those directed against financial institutions, have taken years to be fully implemented. Contrary to what the majority of Iranians believe – and indeed contrary to what the Rowhani government promises – the removal of sanctions will not come about overnight. Some of the UN embargoes imposed on Saddam Hussein following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait are still in place, 22 years after the first Gulf war and 10 years after US occupation of Iraq and the coming to power of another government! This is partly because all the conditions set in the original sanctions, including compensation to Kuwait, have not been met. So you can see why no-one should expect the reduction (never mind the removal) of sanctions against Iran to happen overnight. In addition, the passing of any US legislation to implement such a move would inevitably be hindered, if not prevented, by both Republican and Democrat hawks.

However, European Union institutions have begun to move over a number of new sanctions on Iranian banks and corporations. On September 16 the Luxembourg-based General Court ruled that embargoes against the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) cannot be justified, as there is no evidence of its alleged involvement in nuclear proliferation. The court’s ruling means the removal of “restrictive measures” on all Iranian shipping firms connected to IRISL.

Moreover, the psychological effects of better Iran-US relations are already improving aspects of the economy. Following his own experience of a long trip to the US, Rowhani is promoting the idea of direct flights between Tehran and major US cities. For its part, the US has returned to Tehran a historic treasure, a silver griffin rhyton, which had been seized by customs a decade ago. And after a lot of discussions in Tehran it is very likely that Ayatollah Khamenei’s website will be toned down. Any easing of sanctions will certainly reduce the power of rightwing Mafia-type groups associated with the Revolutionary Guards, who profit enormously from the black market.

None of this is likely to change the daily lives of ordinary Iranians in the near future, however. Manufacturing will take years just to reach pre-sanctions levels – Iran’s car and petrochemical industries have now lost most of their outlets and it will be very difficult to find replacements in the current economic climate.

Having said that, the alternative – continued sanctions and the threat of a military attack – is even worse. Contrary to what ‘left’ supporters of regime change from above keep saying, this level of hardship does not lead to revolutionary opposition. Far from it: poverty saps the energy of workers and deprives them of the ability to engage in class struggles.






Supporters of moderate cleric Hassan Rohani hold a picture of him as they celebrate his victory in Iran's presidential election on a pedestrian bridge in Tehran

Edging towards a settlement: US sanctions appear to have produced results for imperialism


As Iranian president Hassan Rowhani addressed the UN general assembly on September 25, there seemed to be no end to the charm offensive unleashed by the new government in Tehran. Following a number of conciliatory articles in US papers1 and a TV interview during which he emphasised Iran’s commitment to “peaceful nuclear development”, the Iranian president arrived in New York, accompanied by Iran’s only Jewish MP – apparently a supporter of the new government.

Two days into the UN’s 68th general assembly, Iran’s foreign minister had already met William Hague, Rowhani had shaken hands with French president François Hollande and it was announced that Iran will take part in negotiations with the ‘five plus one’ countries on September 26, along with US foreign secretary John Kerry. The proposed meeting between Kerry and Iran’s new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, will be the highest-level US-Iran contact for more than 30 years and, according to media reports,2 the UN was buzzing with rumours that there might be a Rowhani-Obama handshake in the corridors of the United Nations.

The ‘accidental’ meeting would not have been the first time the US administration had used the general assembly for communicating with moderate Iranians. According to Bruce Riedel, who was a senior director at the National Security Council and adviser to Bill Clinton on Iran, in September 2000 Clinton instructed aides to arrange a face-to-face encounter with Iran’s president, Mohammad Khatami. At the secretary general’s lunch, the two presidents were supposed to be seated not too far from each other so that an ‘accidental’ meeting could be arranged. Thirteen years later, the Americans apparently made very similar efforts.

However, there was no handshake. According to the New York Times, “After two days of discussions between American and Iranian officials about a potential meeting of the leaders, a senior administration official said the Iranian delegation indicated that it would be ‘too complicated’ for Mr Rowhani and Mr Obama to bump into each other.” Rowhani decided he could not attend the lunch organised for heads of states “because alcohol was being served”. The truth is Rowhani can only test supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s tolerance of his ‘diplomacy’ so far and clearly a handshake with Obama would have been too much. However Rowhani did manage a meeting that was just as important – with an unveiled woman, International Monetary Fund director Christine Lagarde, to discuss “how the partnership with the IMF might be deepened”. At the end of the day, after all the hype, Obama and Rowhani both spoke of improved relations and backed the resumption of nuclear talks.

Of course, we have been here before during the Khatami presidency, when similar gestures were hailed as signs of a thaw in US-Iran relations, yet little came out of it. In fact in an editorial The Guardian drew attention to this, warning that this time the west must not turn its back on diplomacy: “Failure now to create an atmosphere of trust and meaningful dialogue will only boost extremist forces on all sides. The consequences of such a failure will be not only regional, but global.”3

As I wrote last week, Rowhani has less than six months to bring about a resolution of the nuclear issue and an end to sanctions.4 After that he will surely lose the supreme leader’s support for negotiations. Before Rowhani left Tehran, Khamenei gave his blessing to his president’s efforts, speaking of Iran’s “heroic flexibility” and “tactical diplomacy”. Revolutionary Guard leaders echoed the supreme leader’s message.

Clearly sanctions are taking their toll and forcing the Iranian regime to compromise. Ironically, the super-rich clerics who run the country, as well as their immediate families and allies, have been relatively immune from the disastrous consequences of sanctions. However, the majority of Iranians are facing severe hardship caused by food and medical shortages, spiralling prices and the destruction of Iran’s economy – no wonder the country’s religious leaders fear losing power. So Khamenei and his obedient servants in the Revolutionary Guards have been forced to make a U-turn, be it for a limited period – in the words of former supreme leader Ruhollah Khomeini, they have accepted that they must “drink the poison” of negotiations.5


No-one should be under any illusion: the reality is that a superpower, the US, has defeated a ‘third world’ religious dictatorship by using its economic power. It has stopped Iran’s oil exports, paralysed its banking and financial systems, destroyed an important part of its manufacturing and petrochemical industries. Indeed Iran’s economy is in a worse situation now than during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. So, before anyone starts celebrating the prospects of peace, let me remind you that these negotiations, like the conflict that preceded them, are part of a reactionary process. If war is the continuation of politics by other means, the current hype about a rapprochement in US-Iran relations should be recognised for what it is: tortuous negotiations on the nuclear issue while long-term tensions persist.

In their respective speeches to the UN both Obama and Rowhani made clear references to the history of the last three decades. Obama spoke of Iran’s hostage-taking, of its labelling of the US as the main enemy and of its threats against Israel. Rowhani gave what could be described as a ‘third-worldist nationalist’ speech, complaining about inequality amongst states, and the misconceptions about the ‘civilised’ west and ‘uncivilised’ countries like Iran. So even if nuclear negotiations progress – and that is a big ‘if’ – the conflict will continue.

Throughout the last three decades both sides have fuelled this confrontation: in the case of Iran for internal reasons; and in the case of the US for global reasons – to prove the power of the hegemon. Now, in desperation, a wrecked Iran and a weakened US are looking for a settlement. It will not lead to ‘peace’ in the region. Far from it – it might fuel further conflicts between an enraged Israel and an empowered Iran; or between a Sunni alliance and the Shia/Alawi axis of Iran, Syria and Lebanon.

Of course, all this also shows a level of incoherence in the US approach to the Middle East in general. The ousting of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime and the coming to power of a Shia government in Baghdad had the inevitable consequence of increasing Iran’s influence in the region. The US’s immediate reaction was to strengthen its allies, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, supporting their interventions in Syria, where Iranian Revolutionary Guards were taking part in the civil war on the side of the Assad regime.

But the Israeli lobby and hawks amongst US Republicans, as well as some Democrats, are very concerned. The joke in Tehran is that Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is the only person on earth who wishes Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was still Iranian president. According to Benny Avni, writing in the New York Post, “Iranian president Hassan Rowhani will undoubtedly play the well-dressed matinee idol in this year’s UN annual gabfest, which begins Tuesday. But will Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu be the only one to note that this emperor has no clothes?”6 Only hours after Rowhani’s UN appearance, Netanyahu described him as making “a cynical speech full of hypocrisy”.7

Some have argued that the current situation proves ‘sanctions’ have forced Iran to ‘engage in nuclear negotiations’. Nothing could be further from the truth. For all the talk of peace and moderation, Iran’s Islamic regime maintains a commitment to pursue nuclear development – so as far as the nuclear issue is concerned, not much has changed. What is different is the new government’s willingness to negotiate with the US.

Sanctions against Iran date back to 1979 and, contrary to Obama’s claims, they have always been about regime change. In this respect the US has succeeded, in that sanctions forced all candidates in this year’s presidential elections in Iran to take a ‘moderate’ line vis-à-vis US relations. This was as true of the more conservative candidates as it was of the centrist, Rowhani. No wonder Iranian royalists, the Mujahedin and others who hoped to be the main beneficiaries of US regime-change policy are furious with the Obama administration. However, as we in Hands Off the People of Iran have said, the US plan A was always about regime change – and that meant a change in policy, not necessarily a change in personnel.

Clearly Iran hopes that improved relations with the US will result in the lifting of some of the harshest sanctions, allowing the sale of Iranian oil, a gradual reacceptance of Iran’s banks and financial institutions into the world economy, and that in turn these measures will improve the rate of exchange for the Iranian currency. Will this improve life for the Iranian working class? Not very likely.

Working class

As the world media pontificates about the significance of this week’s events in New York, it is worthwhile listening to the words of Labour activist Ali Nejati, a member of the Haft Tapeh sugar workers’ union: “Workers should not be under any illusion that change in the management of the state, within the confines of the existing order and for the purpose of maintaining this order in power, will bring about any change in the economic, political and social situation of the working class, nor does this change represent any move in that direction. It is no secret that our class, despite encompassing the overwhelming majority of the population, plays no role in the country’s politics – as far as the government is concerned, our only role is to produce more, accept lower wages and become cannon fodder.”8

By contrast, Iranian reformists, even when the most radical among them address working class issues (and that in itself is a rare event), consider the class as a minority and they talk of “the necessity of raising the demands of all minorities: women, national minorities and workers”.9

What they fail to realise is that:

  • the majority of the population of Iran are workers of one kind or another;
  • this majority, the working class, remains the only force capable not only of freeing itself, but of winning the emancipation of other oppressed sections of the population;
  • woman and national minorities are themselves divided into antagonistic classes.

So what can the working class do under difficult economic conditions at a time when repression remains as bad as it was in the worst years of the Ahmadinejad period? The reformist left is telling everyone that now is the time for ‘national reconciliation’, to give peace a chance, and the nation has to be united!

Labour activists such as Ali Nejati are absolutely right to combat such ideas. On the contrary, this is precisely the time for workers’ protests – not just over economic demands, but for political freedom and the end of the dictatorship. In Hopi we will do our utmost to support such demands – as long as the forces putting them forward are not tainted by western or Arab funds for regime change from above.


1. See, for example,



4. ‘More than Syria in its sights’, September 19.





9. Interview with exiled reformist activist Mostfa Khosravi:

Rowhani’s visit to US


The events we are now witnessing in the Middle East, the “United States’ accidental diplomacy” regarding Syria1 and renewed talk of the resolution of Iran’s nuclear programme were unexpected a few weeks ago. Having declared that the use of chemical weapons was the “red line” the Syrian leadership should not cross, the US has now accepted Russian proposals for a ‘diplomatic solution’.

If the original decision to launch a ‘limited military strike’ was unpopular, retreating from it has proved as unpopular and, both in the US and beyond, critics claim that the climbdown is an expression of indecision, of weakness. Of course, there are no guarantees that the agreement between the US and Russian foreign ministers struck on September 14 will lead to any kind of the resolution. Disarmament is a conflicted process at the best of times, but in the midst of a civil war, with both sides accusing the other of unleashing chemical weapons, with the state and sections of the opposition unleashing gratuitous violence against civilians, it is unlikely that the current deal will be the end of the affair.

A series of unexpected events left the US administration with little choice. First, there was (and is) some cynicism in most western countries regarding claims of justifying war on the basis of ‘weapons of mass destruction’. The Iraq war created distrust even amongst the most die-hard supporters of imperialism. Austerity and the continuing effects of the financial crisis have also played a part in generating a mood of opposition to a Syrian war. The result is that parliamentarians in the UK voted down Cameron’s attempt to join a rapid US attack and all the signs were that Congress was unlikely to endorse Obama either. In many ways the Russian proposal for a compromise, a few days after the US had tried to gain the support of allies at the G20 conference, saved the administration from further humiliation. Probably that is why it was accepted, even though no-one can be under any illusion that it will end the Syrian conflict.

Against this, and irrespective of the specifics of the Syrian conflict, US backtracking will have international repercussions. According to the Washington Times, Obama’s “red line” vow turned a lighter shade of pink, with secretary of state John Kerry saying a US military strike “might” be necessary if talks led by Russia fail to compel Syria to turn over its chemical weapons.2

In the Middle East, mainly amongst America’s Sunni allies, the Gulf emirates, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, as well as the jihadists in the Syrian opposition, there is anger. Meanwhile at home, Republicans who had given their support for military action are not pleased with the retreat. Some have argued that, by attempting to deal with too many issues, ranging from humanitarian intervention to restraining ‘Iranian aggression’ and ending its nuclear programme, the administration lost its way.

There is no doubt that many Republicans were sold the idea of supporting the attack on the basis that it would send the right warning to Iran. According to senator John McCain, “This is really about Iran and their continued development of nuclear weapons. If we stand by and watch chemical weapons being used, what signal do you think that sends to Iran and North Korea?”3

Doubtless, Obama, in advocating a limited military strike on Syria, was also thinking about Iranian nuclear capabilities: “Failure to act would embolden Assad’s ally, Iran.” He later added that recent negotiations over Syria could still deter Tehran from building nuclear weapons, even though the US had not used force to address the chemical weapons crisis in Syria.

So could it be that the threat of limited military action against Syria was a warning to Iran all along? Certainly over the last few weeks Iran’s tone regarding its nuclear programme and the possible resumption of talks with the US has changed considerably.

Since late August, the new government in Iran has embarked on a major diplomatic offensive. In the last couple of weeks alone we have had, for example, president Hasan Rowhani’s Jewish New Year message. A twitter account in the name of the Iranian president (by all accounts with his permission) was used to state, in English: “As the sun is about to set here in Tehran, I wish all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashanah.” Contrary to Israeli reports, there has been no denial by the presidential office that this was a genuine tweet. Clearly an aide sent the message, but there seems little doubt that Rowhani was aware of it and approved. Later Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in a twitter exchange with the daughter of Nancy Pelosi, the US congress minority leader, distanced himself from Iran’s last president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had called the holocaust a “myth”.

Change of heart

So why the change of heart in Tehran? What has made Iran’s clerical dictators keen to compromise? First of all, the effects of sanctions. The country is on its knees. For years Iran’s rulers deluded themselves that oil exports and the banking system would go unaffected.4 They were mistaken and the US has won the cold war against the Islamic Republic. Sanctions have indeed brought the country’s economy to a virtual standstill. There is a shortage of basic food and medication, Iranians drive dangerous cars, because spare parts are unavailable, and they fly in aeroplanes using inadequate, faulty, old components. Premature babies die because incubators can have ‘dual use’ (apparently the technology can be also used in nuclear plants) and so it is difficult to repair them. Children also die from out-of-date, dangerous vaccines, again because the correct vaccines cannot be imported. Iranian patients die because of shortages of surgical equipments and drugs.

The car industry, petrochemicals and a large part of manufacturing have come to a standstill and as a result more than a third of the population is unemployed. The rate of ‘growth’ is -5.4% and the population is understandably angry both with western powers which have imposed sanctions and their own rulers whose nuclear policies and adventurism have provided imperialism with the excuse. The election of Rowhani was an expression of the desire for change in foreign policy. The new government is now desperately trying to make the right noises. However, before anyone gets too excited, it should be noted that last week Iran’s supreme leader warned the new government not to trust “foreign powers”. Iran “should not be duped,” declared ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And at the end of the day he is the man who will make the decision about nuclear negotiations. Khamenei later added that he is “not against diplomacy”, but he remains unconvinced that the US wants a resolution of the nuclear issue.

Khamenei and the more conservative factions in the Iranian majles (parliament) are also reminding Rowhani that previous overtures to the US did not yield results. In 2003, when Iranian and US interests over Iraq converged, president Mohammad Khatami (like Rowhani a ‘reformist’), managed to convince the supreme leader to accept a series of proposals for better relations with US. The package included acceptance of tighter controls by the International Atomic Energy Agency in exchange for “full access to peaceful nuclear technology”, and a policy change to Israel in return for a withdrawal to 1967 borders. According to a number of political memoirs written by high-ranking US officials, Washington flatly rejected the overture.

So the last attempt at diplomacy, far from bringing about a rapprochement, left Iran as part of the ‘axis of evil’. Apparently this incident had a deep psychological impact on Iran’s supreme leader.

So, while the presidential office in Tehran has launched a diplomatic offensive, US officials point to an intercepted message urging attacks on the US embassy in Iraq along with other targets if a military strike on Syria occurred. According to the Wall Street Journal, Qasem Soleimani, head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Qods force, pulls the strings of the Iranian-supported Shiite militias in Iraq.

Rowhani, however, insists that in the event of a military strike against Syria, Iran will only send medical aid: “If something happens to the Syrian people, the Islamic Republic of Iran will do its religious and humanitarian duties to send them food and medicine.” For his part, the supreme leader has warned that the US would be making a big mistake if it attacked and would “definitely suffer” as a result. But the reality is that, for all the talk of retaliation, Iran is in no position to make the US “suffer.” Everyone knows that the supreme leader’s comments amount to no more than the threat of a minor action by Hezbollah or a limited militia operation in Iraq.

The Israeli government is keen to pour cold water on any rapprochement between the US and Iran. Netanyahu’s response to the tweeted peace messages was clear: “I am not impressed by the blessings uttered by a regime that just last week threatened to destroy the state of Israel.” He warned the ‘international community’ not to be “deceived” and called on it to focus instead on Tehran’s ‘continued pursuit’ of nuclear weapons. That is why the pro-Israeli press in the US and elsewhere has concentrated on the more antagonistic messages coming out of Iran regarding the possible implication of US intervention in Syria.

In the midst of all the threats of war and promises of peace, it is quite clear that, as far the US and its allies are concerned, negotiations will have nothing to do with the suffering of either ordinary Syrians or Iranians. It is all about furthering imperialism’s strategic interests in the region.





4. l39_salehi_nuclear_file.shtml.

Vazir Fathi ( Rahyaab)

A Brief Personal History and poem

Translated from Farsi by: Ali Atash.


 Vazir Fathi ( Rahyaab) was born in April 1963. He was a political prisoner during “the Decade of Sixties”- 1980’s- and is a survivor of the massacre of “sixty seven”. He was arrested in February of 1983 and was formally released in July of 1992.Vazir started writing poetry in the “Eveen ” prison in 1986 and he wrote his first poem in the solitary cell.

 The experience of the struggles, imprisonments, tortures, hangings, executions and resistance of those years and specially the experience of the horrible massacre of his comrades in the year of 67 left an indelible and lasting effect on his poetry. the manifestations of this are visibly demonstrated in all his work. Vazir, even after his release from prison, maintained a direct presence in the industrial areas populated by workers. He worked along side of workers, technicians and engineers. By participating in their struggles, he shared in their successes and defeats, happiness and misery and was able to experience true workers poetry and literature in their authentic format. He has integrated and reflected this experience in his poems.

Rahyaab’s  poems were not published before 2008, with one or two exceptions that got him in trouble with the Ministry of Information. During this period, some of his poems were ,occasionally, circulated in closed circles. In 2008, he adopted the pen name “Rahyaab” on the recommendation of some friends and to facilitate wide access to his work. Consequently, he began publishing some of his poems on the internet abroad and received broad notice and acceptance.

Vazir Fathi, after 16 years of dealing with the tight control of the Islamic Republic and bearing the difficulties of recurrent arrests and interrogations and living under the Sword of Damocles, finally in August 2010 opted to enter on the path of immigration and sough political asylum in Turkey. His family, being  placed on the list of those restricted from leaving the country and undergoing a lot of legal harassment by the Ministries of Information and Investigation for 9 months, was finally able to join him there.

Rahyaab’s poetry was regularly and on related occasions published in various places and received wide attention from various readers; as their comments and emails reflected.  Moreover, an extensive review on the poem ” darafsh ma” by M. Hejri  was published on some Internet sites. This review represents a valuable attempt to appreciate this poem: as well, it is an analysis of the contents and concepts contained in it which reveals the literary orientation and viewpoint of the poet.

Aside from his literary work, Vazir Fathi has published numerous political writings about the conditions and massacre of political prisoners in Iran.

“Camomile in the Desert” is his collection of poems that is now available in print under his name. It contains some of his newest poems, as well as new-style and old forms of poetry such as Lyrics, Couplets and Quatrains.  As well, he conducted a radio interview with Mr. Michael Slate from Radio KPfK, in September 2012, reviewing the infamous massacre of political prisoners of 1988 in Iran. The link for this interview is attached below:


Link to poem :                                            

Rowhani and Sanctions

rowhaniHow long after the inauguration of the new president before disillusionment sets in? Yassamine Mather discusses the limitations of Hassan Rowhani

Iran’s new president, Hassan Rowhani, will take office on August 3. He faces major internal as well as international problems. It will be interesting to see how a man who describes himself as a ‘centrist’ will try to reconcile the warring factions of the Islamic Republic, but also the increasing divide between ordinary Iranians – victims of sanctions, poor economic management, as well political repression – with an increasingly paranoid religious dictatorship.

However, the new president’s biggest and most immediate problem will be the nuclear issue. He was, after all, elected on the basis of promises to ‘resolve’ it and thus remove sanctions. In the month and a half since his election he has already faced some serious setbacks, particularly over sanctions.

Iran is now facing more sanctions than the day he was elected – including the academic boycott of research by Iranian scientists and engineers. They have only just begun to take effect, even though they were passed by the US Congress and approved by the Senate in early 2013.

In what is an unprecedented move against Iranian academics, major publishers are instructing journal editors that, in accordance with US department of the treasury regulations, they should not be involved in the management and processing of any manuscript through peer review with any author or co-author who is acting directly (as an employee) or indirectly on behalf of the government of Iran – which includes “any political subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, [including] the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran”.

There are also additional new sanctions. Only a few days before the presidential inauguration in Tehran, the Republican-led Congress will vote on yet another set of sanctions, this time reducing Iran’s oil exports by a further one million barrels per day by the summer of 2014. The aim is clear: to stop Iran’s oil exports altogether. However, coming less than a week after the treasury department relaxed controls on the export of certain drugs and medical devices, such as dialysis machines and electrocardiographs, to Iran without special permission, it shows that, when it comes to negotiations between the two countries, Washington is as divided as Tehran.

Since the election of a ‘moderate’ president, sections of the US administration have been advocating conciliation (“The house must not snuff out hopes for Iranian moderation before Rowhani even gets a chance”), while the pro-Israeli lobby is more in tune with Binyamin Netanyahu’s latest comments on this subject. Speaking to CBS in mid-July, the Israeli premier called Rowhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”: Iran is “getting closer and closer to the bomb” and Tehran “must be told in no uncertain terms that that will not be allowed to happen”.1

On July 1, the Obama administration authorised sanctions targeting the already troubled Iranian currency, imposing penalties on financial institutions involved in rial transactions outside Iran. This measure was included in the ninth set of sanctions imposed during Obama’s presidency. According to Robert McNally, former White House energy advisor, Washington is following a twin-track strategy: “For diplomacy to have any chance of succeeding, it must be coupled with the threat of increased sanctions.”2

In Europe, Iranian banks and financial institutions are challenging their inclusion in the sanctions list and winning some court cases – ironically because EU governments are refusing to disclose legally acceptable evidence that the targeted banks or institutions are linked to Iran’s nuclear programme. These governments claim that if they were to provide such proof in a court of law this might reveal ‘intelligence’ sources.

The supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has made it abundantly clear he sees no hope of any deal with the US: “I said at the beginning of the [Iranian] year that I am not optimistic about negotiations with the US, though in past years I have not forbidden negotiations over certain issues like Iraq … the Americans are not trustworthy.”3

Khamenei might have a point here, given what I described above. And, of course, at a time of economic crises, the US might have strong political and economic reasons for wanting the state of conflict with Iran to continue.
Internal challenges

The Iranian press and media is full of speculation about Rowhani’s cabinet to be unveiled on August 4. However, none of the current nominees are much of a surprise – all are supporters of the centrist/reformist coalition that saw him elected.

The new president’s much talked about ‘economy team’, mainly drawn from politicians of the Rafsanjani era, represents a continuation of the theme he expounded during the elections: changes in foreign policy will bring stability and therefore economic prosperity! To be fair, Rowhani’s election has had some positive affect on the Iranian economy – but mainly for capital rather than labour. Rent and house prices have gone up! The Tehran stock exchange has been rising daily and hit a record high of 54042 on July 26 – up by 1554 points from Thursday, with shares in major industries increasing in value.

Shares have risen by 30% since the beginning of the current Iranian year in March. The rial’s rate of exchange has improved against the dollar for two reasons: the currency appreciated by 8.5% following the presidential elections and the central bank has officially adopted a single-rate policy. Until early July the government applied two separate exchange rates: one for importers of essential goods, such as medicine (this also applied to senior ayatollahs, government officials and their cronies), while importers of less essential products and ordinary Iranians purchased the dollar at much higher rates on the unregulated market.

So, while Iranian capitalism is doing well, for the majority of Iranians sanctions mean continued hardship, with prices spiralling out of control. In the last three weeks importers have refused to unload ships carrying staple food and basic goods. They claim these goods were purchased at the higher rate compared to the dollar and that this should be taken into account. But the central bank is adamant that the new rate applies.

In the meantime, food prices are out of control – according to the government’s own figures, Iran’s inflation rate surged to 45% in June. According to the semi-official students news agency, ISNA, food prices have gone up sevenfold in the last 10 years – overall inflation has more than doubled in the same period. The Mehr news agency confirms this. At the same time, wages are going down – and this is for the lucky minority who have kept their jobs. On average workers’ real income has been halved in the past year: a combination of low wages and soaring inflation.
Rowhani ministers

In addition to his own limitations as a centrist Islamist, in proposing his new cabinet Rowhani faces two major hurdles:

1. Appointments to some ‘sensitive’ ministries, including foreign affairs, intelligence and internal affairs, need the approval of the supreme leader and his office.

2. He needs to get his nominations approved by a hostile majles (Islamic parliament) dominated by conservatives.

So far two major posts seem to have been decided. Ahmad Jannati, the son of the notorious hard-line ayatollah of the same name, is very likely to become minister for culture and Islamic guidance. This is an important post, as it deals with issues such as freedom of speech, arts, culture, publishing and also the women wearing the hijab. Jannati senior has presided over the operation of sharia law in Iran. However, as Jannati junior keeps telling everyone, political thought is not “genetically inherited” and indeed he is a close ally of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and will make an effort to moderate the harsh attitude of the Islamic authorities regarding art, culture and women’s attire. The ministry of religious guidance is responsible for policing the streets of Iran’s’ major cities, arresting any woman not adhering to its strict dress code. In recent weeks, buoyed by Rowhani’s election, many Iranian women have felt confident enough not to cover all their hair.

Another Rowhani possible nominee is Ali Younessi, who says he has been asked to take over the ministry of intelligence. He was the director of the ministry and a member of the Supreme National Security Council during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), but before anyone starts celebrating let me remind them that Younessi was in charge when allegedly ‘rogue elements’ in his ministry embarked on what became known as the ‘serial political murders’ of leftwing intellectuals and nationalist politicians in the late 1990s.4


The day after Rowhani’s election and in the ensuing celebrations, the crowds in Tehran were calling for the release of all political prisoners and an end to the house arrest of ‘reformist’ leaders Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi as signs of change. But Rowhani will find it almost impossible to deliver on either of these two accounts. The supreme leader has made it clear there will be no release of any political prisoners unless they apologise and ‘repent’!5

Amidst all this, what is getting little coverage is the plight of Iranian workers. Last week alone there were dozens of major workers’ protests. Workers from the Zagros Steel Factory in Kurdistan embarked on days of demonstrations, but when they were ignored by the company they moved their protests to Tehran and demonstrated outside the presidential offices. Zagros has recently closed down, claiming losses in the last two years. According to MP Kamal Alipour Khonakdari, the 82,000 workers are owed three months’ pay.6 The situation in the Iran Tractor Manufacturing Company is no better. Thousands of workers have not been paid for May and June and hundreds have gathered outside their factory in protest.

So, as the inauguration of Hassan Rowhani begins, we can expect the usual hype about the possibility of an improvement in the relations between Iran and the west and no doubt with the departure of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the language will change when it comes to discussions about areas of mutual interest, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. (It is interesting that Khamenei openly admitted that these talks were occurring last week7). There might even be some relaxation vis-àvis the most severe forms of sanctions. However, conflict between Iran and the US has a history longer than the nuclear issue.

No US administration can forget the humiliation that accompanied the loss of the island of stability that was Iran under the shah and, although the 1979-81 holding of hostages at the US embassy in Tehran was not an anti-imperialist act, it left a bruising as far as successive US administrations are concerned. For its part the Iranian government cannot forget US and western support for Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war or the deliberate destruction of the Iranian economy’s infrastructure after decades of sanctions. So, as far as Iran-US relations are concerned, we are likely to see more of the same in the coming months.

Internally Rowhani is likely to cause even more disillusionment than his reformist/centrist predecessors. There might be a little more toleration of a ‘bad hijab’ during approved celebrations. But wait until there are radical protests and see how our ‘diplomatic cleric’ reacts then!

On the economy, Iran will remain proof of the absurdity of the claim that Islam provides social justice (adl eslami). The Rafsanjani presidency is remembered by Iranian capitalists as the start of the ‘good times’, including the accumulation of major wealth. But for the Iranian working class it was the beginning of deregulation, employment contracts, the loss of job security … and Rowhani’ s economy team were all part of the strategists of that era.

What will be different is that this time they will have to work under difficult global economic conditions – they might not be able to deliver even as far as capitalists are concerned.


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7. st/2013/07/201372122714912527.html.

Iran election: Not a victory for progressives

rowhaniOn Friday June 14, Iranians voted in large numbers for ayatollah Hassan Rowhani, a regime insider who was elected as Iran’s president with 50.71% of the vote. A centrist, not a ‘reformist’, he became the candidate of an unofficial coalition between ‘reformists’ and ‘centrists’ forged three days before the vote, after green leader and former president Mohammad Khatami asked the ‘reformist’ candidate, Mohammad Reza Aref, to withdraw from the elections.

Rowhani won not because of who he is, but as a result of a massive protest vote against the candidates associated with various ‘principlist’ factions of Iran’s Islamic regime. Iranians opted once more to use the electoral system to show their hatred for the conservatives and principlists who have been in power for the last eight years. These groups promised ‘social justice’ and a clampdown on corruption in 2005 and 2009, yet the gap between the rich and the poor is far wider than when they took office and corruption now engulfs every institution of the state. Nor is it surprising that the people blame them for the sanctions and Iran’s disastrous economic position.

This was a vote for the least worst candidate. And in desperation the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, is now ready to compromise with the centrist factions of the Islamic regime. Last week former ‘reformist’ president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was not accepted as a candidate this time round, warned that Khamenei must wake up to the realities of Iran’s current situation. Whether because of this, or out of a concern that after a lacklustre electoral campaign turnout would be low, Khamenei intervened forcefully to encourage people to vote. Even those who “do not support the Islamic system” should come out and vote for the sake of the country, he said. That was an historic first – Iran’s top religious leader has never previously addressed opponents of the Islamic Republic in this manner.

In the last week of the campaign Khamenei went out of his way to emphasise that no-one around him knew his personal choice and, as far as he was concerned, all six candidates on the ballot paper were acceptable. Saeed Jalili, and to a certain extent Ali Akbar Velayati, had been touted as the leader’s favourites by their respective campaign offices. Khamenei’s statement meant that no cleric could whisper at a religious meeting or in a mosque that, although this was a ‘free vote’, the supreme leader had a particular candidate in mind. On election day itself, at many voting stations outside Iran in consulates or offices set up by the government, women were allowed to vote without wearing the compulsory headscarf. Even inside the country some women wearing only symbolic head cover rather than a proper hijab were allowed into voting stations.

However, the question on everyone’s mind is if the supreme leader and his close advisors were going to allow a centrist president, why was Rafsanjani barred from standing? One explanation is that he would have presented more of a challenge to the supreme leader, while Rowhani is less of a threat.

Then there is the issue of the vote itself. One thing is clear: the conservatives were so confident that at least one conservative would get into the second round that they refused to rally around a single candidate. Iranians have taught them a lesson and the recriminations have only just started.


Having said that, the way the results were announced by the ministry of interior raised questions. A psephologist or polling statistician would have been seriously concerned. The share of the vote for each candidate remained more or less static from the announcement of the first result in the morning through to the final declaration in the evening. Rowhani was standing at between 50.01% and 50.9%, while the tally for Mohammad Qalibaf in second place hovered between 15.77% and 15.9%. There was a similar standard deviation for the other five candidates.1 Yet the results were declared region by region, some from rural areas, others from cities. It was highly suspicious that there was so little variation – surely the percentage after each announcement should have vacillated far more, especially following the early results. I am sure that if any of the conservatives had won the ‘reformists’ would have accused the ministry of interior of cheating on the basis of these virtually unchanging percentages. That is what they did after the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.

I asked a reputed mathematician what he thought. “You don’t need to be an expert”, he told me, “to see that such stable figures stink. I have never seen anything like this in real elections. This is very unlikely, since I am pretty certain that the later sample is from a different part of the country, with a different political profile, than the earlier sample. If all the samples, early and late, came from areas with a similar profile, then the figures would be more believable.”

Let me emphasise that I am not saying Rowhani would not have won and that he would not have finished well above the runner-up, Qalibaf, who lost a lot of support after the final pre-election debate. However, a fraction over 50% is very convenient for the supreme leader. This way the country is seen as divided 50-50 between principlists and centrists/‘reformists’, the authorities are happy and the people are ecstatic – indeed there were major celebrations, under the slogan, “We have taken back our vote”. This is a reference to the disputed 2009 elections, when ‘reformist’ Mir-Hossein Moussavi was thought to be well ahead, yet Ahmadinejad was declared the winner.

If this was referendum on the state’s intransigence regarding the nuclear issue and the economic consequences that followed, then there is little doubt that the conservatives lost. Most significantly, demonstrators celebrating in the streets of Tehran and other major cities saw this as a victory against the supreme leader. Slogans ranged from “Death to the dictator” and “Free all political prisoners” to “Bye bye, Ahmadi” and “Martyred brother, martyred sister, we got back your vote”. This was a reference not just to disputed elections of 2009, but to the repression that followed, when hundreds were killed in the streets or in prison.2

These slogans demonstrated a level of maturity. For example, the chant, “Rowhani, we will guide you”, spoke volumes. Large sections of the population do not trust the centrists or ‘reformists’ and, given the little breathing space they have gained, they are expressing the widely held view that factions of the regime are only pro-reform because the population, in its opposition to the entire regime, pushes them in that direction.

This election was a major setback for exile groups of the left and the right who had not expected the regime to be able to assert itself in such a skilful way. Many had pinned their hopes on western funds for regime change, and ‘Marxists’ have been among those who have accepted financial support from the US as well as rightwing governments in Canada and the Netherlands. Clearly, for all their efforts in organising the Iran Tribunal, ‘human rights’ commissions and so on, they seem to have been outmanoeuvred, thanks to a small concession from the supreme leader. Ironically the jubilation following the election of a centrist lacking the imprimatur of the supreme leader is being used to demonstrate the regime’s adaptability.

As I have said time and time again to former comrades deluded by western contributions to their NGOs, for all its talk of ‘human rights’, ‘women’s rights’ and latterly even ‘workers’ rights’, imperialism’s first choice in Iran will always be to reach a solution with the existing regime. If this election has one consequence, it will be a period of renewed ‘negotiations’ and a substantial reduction in regime change funds at least for the next few years, and that in itself is not a bad outcome. On the negative side it is easy to predict how, like Khatami and Rafsanjani, Rowhani will act like the grand old Duke of York, failing to live up to any of his promises, while buying time for the Islamic regime.

Who is Rowhani?

Unlike Khatami, Iran’s last ‘reformist’ president, Rowhani is very much an insider of the regime who has held crucial posts since 1979, including membership of the Assembly of Experts (the body which selects and oversees the role of the supreme leader) since 1999, the Expediency Council (the administrative assembly appointed by the supreme leader) since 1991, and the Supreme National Security Council since 1989. Throughout the last 21 years he has also held a semi-academic post as head of the Centre for Strategic Research.

After attending a religious seminary, he studied law at the University of Tehran, continuing his studies later in Glasgow Caledonian University where in 1995 he gained an MPhil (his thesis was entitled ‘The Islamic legislative power with reference to the Iranian experience’), and in 1999 a PhD. In Tehran there are rumours that he speaks English with a Scottish accent – one young blogger has been ending his posts with the phrase, “Beam me up, Scotty”.

Rowhani’s alleged involvement in Irangate during the Iran-Iraq war came about because he was a member of the Supreme Defence Council (1982-88) and deputy commander of the war (1983-85), a close ally of Rafsanjani and already part of a faction later labelled ‘moderates’. During the second term of Khatami’s presidency, Rowhani was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, so it was no surprise that in an election campaign dominated by foreign policy, sanctions and their effect on the economy, he boasted about his skills as a negotiator. In one TV debate he said: “In my time we held talks with presidents and ministers” – it was Rowhani who invited Jack Straw to visit Iran, for instance. By comparison, his rival, Jalili, was reduced to talking to ‘managers’ and low-ranking officials.

Other candidates pointed out that, for all his desire for accommodation with the US, soon after he and Khatami supported western efforts in the Afghan war the Bush administration labelled Iran one of the axes of evil. During this time he was given the nickname, ‘diplomatic sheikh’, and he wrote his memoirs of the period in a book entitled National security and nuclear diplomacy. He will need all his diplomatic training to deal with the conservative-dominated majles (Islamic parliament) and the supreme leader.


The presidential elections started badly. Iran’s supreme leader had fallen out with his chosen president, Ahmadinejad, in the first months of his second term and had considered abolishing the post of president altogether. However, he was advised against this, as such a move would produce constitutional complications, so Khamenei’s initial reaction was to reduce the importance of the post.

Those who watched with dismay the TV quiz show style of the first round of presidential debates could not help thinking this was a deliberate act to make a mockery of the elections. The first debate between the eight vetted candidates who had been given the nod by the Guardian Council was compared to a kindergarten game. The presidential hopefuls were asked to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to complicated questions about the economy and foreign policy. Many refused, and the whole thing descended into farce. The second debate was no better and it was only in the last debate, just days before the vote, that candidates were allowed to challenge their opponents directly. Clearly by that time the regime was trying to inject some life into the process and by all accounts Rowhani was the winner of that third TV debate. He opposed the regime’s intransigent stance on its nuclear industry and advocated negotiations to lift sanctions and improve the economy.

At a time of economic hardship and political isolation, slogans such as “Save Iran’s economy” and “Reconciliation with the world” made him a popular figure. Then there was: “I have always been against radicalism. I have always followed moderation”; and “I have never acted as if in a garrison”; and the slightly more obscure: “Centrifuges should spin, but so should industries and people’s livelihoods.”

He was not the only one mocking the approach of Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Jalili, to the 5+1 talks. Velayati, Qalibaf and Rezaii expressed similar views. Following the elections, Rowhani said that the nuclear enrichment programme would continue. However, there were “many ways to build trust” with the west, and it was important for Iran to show that “its activities fall within the framework of international rules”.

International reaction

Rowhani’s election has been cautiously welcomed by European countries, by the G8 and by most Middle Eastern countries with the exception of Israel. US president Barack Obama summed up the US position on June 18: “We may be able to move forward on a dialogue that allows us to resolve the problems with Iran’s nuclear programme.”

Having said that, any serious negotiation will face major obstacles. To start with, the current US-Iran conflict has two parties, so conciliatory noises from Iran alone will not lead to a resolution. At a time of economic crisis, the continuation of conflict with Iran has political as well as economic benefits for any US administration. Powerful voices in Washington, as well as in the pro-Israeli lobby, still want complete regime change, even a partition of Iran.

In addition there is the issue of Syria. Hours after the results were announced, the Syrian National Coalition called on Rowhani to review Iran’s support for the Assad regime. The “Coalition believes that it is its duty to call on the new president of Iran to rectify the mistakes made by the Iranian leadership.”

Rowhani is unlikely to oblige. Like the rest of the Shia clergy, he considers defending the current Syrian regime and Hezbollah an integral part of Iran’s foreign policy. While warning western powers against intervention, Iran has, of course intervened. Rowhani will face popular opposition over this, however. During Saturday’s celebrations crowds in Tehran and Kermanshah were shouting: “Leave Syria alone – deal with our problems”.

Coincidentally, on June 18, four days after the elections, Iran’s national football team defeated South Korea to qualify for the World Cup in 2014. This prompted further celebrations which quickly turned political in major cities. One of the main slogans was a call for the release of all political prisoners and an end to the house arrest of Moussavi and Karroubi. However, even if we accept claims made by some that Iran’s football win was linked to Rowhani’s victory, he will need to perform bigger miracles to get all Iran’s politician prisoners released.

On hearing the results of Iran’s elections, comrade Mike Macnair commented that after decades of repression and the terrible situation of the last few years, this could have the effect of a “crack in the dam”: ie, a trickle of concessions could lead to a flood. Revolutionary forces in Iran will certainly hope he is right, but the fear is that once more false hope generated by the promises of the centrist-‘reformist’ coalition will actually lengthen the life of the Islamic dictatorship. While there might be some relaxation in the interference of the religious state in the private lives of Iranians, poverty, unemployment, exploitation, the absence of basic workers’ rights, political repression – all look set to continue for the foreseeable future.

We are still a very long way from a resolution of the nuclear conflict and sanctions look likely to continue. Even if they were lifted tomorrow, it would take months, if not years, for the economy to return to some sort of normality. In the meantime, prices remain high and there is a serious shortage of basic foodstuffs and medicines.

The Iranian workers’ and democratic movement will continue to need international working class solidarity and we in Hands Off the People of Iran will do our utmost to show how this can be achieved.


1. All data from Iran’s ministry of information, reported at

2. 18 June 2013.