Two articles from the 15th October issue of the Weekly Worker:
Yassamine Mather surveys the mess that imperialism has created
Dariush Zand, communist medic
With Yassamine Mather on BBC Persian (in Farsi)
On September 24, the Saudi authorities told the world that 769 pilgrims had been killed and 863 injured during what was described as a “stampede” in Mecca, as Muslim pilgrims were beginning the Hajj ritual. A few days later, however, it was claimed that Saudi officials had given Indian and Pakistani diplomats 1,100 photographs of different corpses, and it was only after these revelations that Riyadh admitted the death toll was even higher.
According to Tehran, at least 246 of the dead and 630 of those injured were Iranians. Amongst those missing and presumed dead at the time of writing was Iran’s former ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Roknabadi. Saudi administrators denied he was in Mecca, but Tehran produced a short film of him addressing Shia crowds during this year’s Hajj. Official figures released by Saudi authorities had the number of Iranian deaths at 131 – the largest national contingent (the second largest being Moroccans, of whom 88 are believed to have died).
Later the Iranian broadcaster, Press TV, quoted Saeed Ohadi, the head of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage organisation, who predicted there would be “3,000 to 3,200 bodies” in the 21 containers where the dead had been placed – clearly an exaggerated figure.1 The Iranian official claimed that “imprudence, irresponsibility and the mismanagement of the Saudi authorities are the main factors behind the tragic incident”.2 Iran’s Islamic republic has done its utmost to place the entire blame on the Saudi authorities, challenging the kingdom’s competence to run this “important event in the Islamic calendar”.
Iran’s supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for an investigation, and his demand was echoed by every Friday prayer leader in the country, prompting religious zealots to pour to the streets. Instructions from mosques were sent by text, urging Shias to demonstrate, in what was labelled “spontaneous protests”. Supporters of the regime, carrying black flags, shouted: “The Saudi regime is a friend of Satan” (part of the Hajj ritual consists of pilgrims throwing stones at ‘Satan’). One paper, Tasnim, carried a cartoon showing king Salman of Saudi Arabia as a camel riding over pilgrims and ayatollah Mohammad Kashani, addressing Friday prayers in Tehran, called on the Organisation of Islamic Countries to take over responsibility for Hajj, since the Saudi authorities were “incapable” of running it.
The war of words between the two regional powers rapidly escalated, with Saudi Arabia categorically denying “misleading and distorted allegations” about inappropriate road closures that it alleged had been started by Iranian state-controlled media. Iran’s allies were repeating the same claims, with Iraq’s discredited former prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, stating that the disaster was “proof of the incompetence of the organisers of the pilgrimage season” – a bit rich, coming from a leader who lost two of his country’s major cities, Mosul and Tikrit, to Islamic State in 2014, through incompetence and corruption. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah added his voice to the Shia chorus, saying the Hajj tragedy reflected a “malfunction in the administration”.3
Originally the Saudi authorities had claimed that African pilgrims had disobeyed instructions given by the Hajj authorities blocking the route of the procession. However, Press TV (not the most reliable source of information) countered that “the convoy of prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, the son of Saudi king Salman bin Abdulaziz, had arrived at the site, forcing the pilgrims to change their original directions”.4Whereupon the Saudi media changed its story and Sabq News quoted unnamed “eyewitnesses”, who claimed that the “stampede” was actually caused by Iranian pilgrims. This was followed by a comment from Dr Khalid al-Saud, a member of the Saudi royal family, who used his Twitter account to claim that “the time has come to think – in a serious way – about banning ‘Iranians’ from coming to Mecca, for the safety of the pilgrims”.5
The official Saudi response was more measured, with prince Mohammed bin Naff Al Saudi, the country’s ambassador to the United Kingdom and Ireland, stating: “Claims that the stampede occurred following road closures because of a ministerial event or a dignitaries’ convoy are false.”6 However, Iran is not the only source claiming road closures played a part in the tragedy. On September 29 The Daily Telegraph quoted Libyan pilgrim Ahead Abu Barr as saying: “The police had closed all entrances and exits to the pilgrims’ camp, leaving only one.”7
To add insult to injury, Saudi Arabia’s highest-ranking cleric, Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, implied that nothing could have been done to prevent the tragedy. He told Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef: “As for the things that humans cannot control, you are not blamed for them. Fate and destiny are inevitable.”8 Unsurprisingly, Iranian president Hassan Rowhani disagreed and demanded an international enquiry.
As I have said, the Islamic republic’s allegations about Saudi culpability are exaggerated, but there is no doubt that Riyadh’s incompetence in running the only major annual event they host should be exposed and condemned. This is not the first time that hundreds of Hajj pilgrims have died. In 1990 in a stampede in a pedestrian tunnel, 1,426 pilgrims lost their lives – most of them Malaysians, Indonesians and Pakistanis (the Saudi authorities encourage groups of each nationality to walk together). On top of that, incidents in May 1994, April 1998, March 2001, February 2003, February 2004 and January 2006 cost the lives of pilgrims – around 3,000 have perished in the last 20 years.
Given the Saudi royal family’s pride in hosting the event, the direct responsibility falls on the crown prince himself, who just happens to be minister of the interior. It is truly incomprehensible why even such a bureaucratic dictatorship cannot organise a better process, ensuring the safety of the pilgrims as they progress through the various stages of Hajj.
Hajj is the fifth ‘pillar’ of Islam – the other four being Shahadah (testimony to a single god and acceptance of Muhammad as his prophet), Salat (physical and spiritual worship), Zakat (obligatory religious tax), and Sawm (fasting during daylight hours in the month of Ramadan). According to Islamic belief, every Muslim man or woman should undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca, should they be healthy and financially able to do so. The ceremony involves wearing a simple white cloth (hiram) – the idea being to strip away all distinctions of wealth, class, status and culture. Not quite true: in the first place, the cost of travel only allows the wealthy to attend Hajj, especially when it comes to believers from east Asia or Africa.
According to Basharat Peer, an Indian journalist who has written on Mecca,
You could be an Arab prince, you could be a south Asian construction worker, you could be an Afghan warlord … you are all wearing the same clothes and you just walk through this barren landscape and it is miserably hot. But when you look a little more carefully what you see is that even during the Hajj the distinctions of wealth and class do not disappear.9
The Saudi authorities have helped ensure such class distinction by overseeing the building of luxury hotels, where wealthy Muslims pay astronomical sums for rooms with a view of the Kaaba – the black stone structure in the middle of the Grand Mosque. The experience of the wealthy pilgrims is very different from that of the poorer ones, who suffer in the often sweltering heat in camp sites or hostels with no air conditioning.
As with everything else relating to Islamic economics, the ownership of land and capital are key factors. The cost of Hajj might be paid by the pilgrims, but the real price is obtained from the surplus value of workers, whose exploitation allows the Muslim shopkeeper or workshop owner to undertake the pilgrimage.
Hajjis from Iran are often representatives of the upper layers of the petty bourgeoisie and small capital, on whose support the regime relies. Traditionally, the aristocracy and the nouveaux riches (who have accumulated huge fortunes under the Islamic republic) prefer to spend their wealth in holiday resorts in Europe or North America, while the less well-off middle classes and those who cannot afford to travel far would escape up Turkey, Dubai or anywhere near Iran’s border, where they can take a break free from strict Islamic regulation regarding dress, alcohol consumption, etc.
After over 36 years of unpopular rule, then, Iran’s Shia clerics can only rely a petty-bourgeois minority – primarily the bazaaris and shopkeepers, the section of the population that tends to be obsessed by Hajj. Hence the regime’s overzealous response to the Mecca tragedy, which can be blamed in its entirety on Iran’s arch-enemy, Saudi Arabia.
However, it is a bit like the pot calling the kettle black. After all, Iran’s Islamic government cannot guarantee the health and safety of Iranian workers or flight passengers – let alone its political prisoners (many of whom ‘accidentally’ die in the regime’s many prisons).
Hands Off the People of Iran congratulates Labour’s John McDonnell on his appointment as shadow chancellor. The MP for Hayes and Harlington was a founding member of HOPI and is honorary president of the organisation. He has consistently opposed imperialist intervention in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East, as well as supporting movements for democracy from below.
We feature below a video of John addressing a day school held by HOPI in 2008.
Long before Tony Blair took the country into a disastrous war with Iraq, the foreign policy implemented by the Labour Party, in government and in opposition, had been virtually indistinguishable from that pursued by the Conservative Party, especially in relation to former colonies and the Middle East. There were Labour members of the war cabinet back in 1916-18, not to mention World War II. Sympathy for the new Zionist state, and the wish to remain a close ally of the United States, led the government of Harold Wilson to support Israel in the 1967 six days war and, although, under pressure from the party grassroots and the left, Labour took a more critical position to the Nixon administration’s alignment with Israel in 1973, the party’s foreign policy remained on the whole in alignment with that of the US.
It is clear that aspects of this foreign policy will change with Jeremy Corbyn as leader, which is why it is hardly surprising that almost every day the rightwing press comes out with another scare story about Corbyn’s international outlook and his current or past statements. His parliamentary record, his press and media interviews, on international issues have come under such intense and hostile scrutiny. The mainstream media have one aim: to demonise the new Labour leader.
The most recent ‘revelations’ were those in the Daily Mail and The Guardian about Corbyn’s interview with Press TV in 2011, during which he called the assassination of Osama bin Laden a “tragedy”, adding it would have been better if bin Laden had been tried in a court.
The readers of the Daily Mail and Rambo fans might be shocked by such a statement. However, many ‘moderate’ academics, lawyers and politicians have expressed similar opinions. In fact immediately after the execution of bin Laden, Dr Robert Lambert, a lecturer in terrorism studies at the University of St Andrews, wrote an article in the very same Guardian, making a very similar point: “By choosing to execute the al Qa’eda leader, the US has denied justice to the victims of 9/11 and perpetuated the ‘war on terror’.”1 Similarly, in an article on the BBC website, entitled ‘Should Osama bin Laden have been caught and tried?’, Jon Silverman, professor of media and criminal justice at the University of Bedfordshire, made similar points,2 while Paddy Ashdown, former Liberal Democrat leader, speaking on the BBC’s Question time in 2011, described the al Qa’eda leader’s “execution” without a trial as “wholly, wholly, wholly wrong”.3
The problem with the Corbyn statement is not that he called for a trial of Osama bin Laden, but the illusions this seems to demonstrate about bourgeois ‘international law’ and the judicial system under the capitalist order. In fact there can be no doubt that the United States would have never allowed such a trial. This would have opened up a whole can of worms about the origins of al Qa’eda and the CIA’s role in financing and arming it in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Saudi relations with the group would have been exposed too. And these are not allegations made only by the left. If you are in doubt about this, I recommend you view the video of Hillary Clinton and her statement to the US Senate.4
Corbyn’sillusions about ‘international law’ and the United Nations is also apparent in his comments about the Iraq war. There can be no doubt we should admire his consistency in opposing that war, and in opposing all military intervention and sanctions (itself a form of war) against Iran and air attacks on Syria. Corbyn’s anti-war record is excellent and he should be praised for it. But it is essential to establish whether the politics of the new Labour leader are different from those of the Marxist left. For us, war is the continuation of politics by other means and we have no illusions about international organisations such as the UN, which was set up to maintain the rule of capital and in practice acts to crown the supremacy of the US world hegemon.
In a statement to The Guardian, Corbyn said he would apologise to the British people for the “deception” in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and to the people of that country for their subsequent suffering. There is no doubt that the Labour government’s role in helping to drive the invasion was totally abhorrent and merits a clear and strongly stated apology. But Corbyn adds:
Let us say we will never again unnecessarily put our troops under fire and our country’s standing in the world at risk … Let us make it clear that Labour will never make the same mistake again, will never flout the United Nations and international law.
Leaving aside the question of “our troops” and whether they should “unnecessarily” be put under fire, it could be said that, given the current situation in the Middle East, in the civil wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen – most of them direct or indirect consequences of the invasion of Iraq – what is at stake is more serious than the UK’s “standing in the world”. When it comes to war, the definition of ‘legality’ is not as clear-cut or straightforward as Corbyn implies. The UN sanctions imposed on Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and more recently on Iran’s Islamic Republic were forms of war, aimed at weakening a ‘rogue state’, a dissident former ally, and paving the way for regime change from above. In the case of Iraq, the subsequent military invasion and occupation came after years of UN-approved ‘legal’ sanctions, but there can be no doubt about the damage they caused to the ordinary citizens of the country. The destruction of the Iraq’s infrastructure was also undertaken through the use of punitive sanctions justified by ‘international law’. They paved the way for both the invasion and regime change Rumsfeld-style.
In the case of Iran’s Islamic Republic, Corbyn rightly opposed sanctions and campaigned for their lifting. However, there can be no doubt that those sanctions were imposed under “international law”. They were ‘legal’ right up to July 2015, when the United States and other P5+1 countries signed a deal with Iran regarding its nuclear development programme. In fact the UN played an active role in the implementation and policing of sanctions that cost the lives of hundreds of Iranians, including hospital patients, the poor and the vulnerable.
Until we accept that these wars are international crimes, that they are not mistakes, whether or not they are ‘illegal’, we will not be able to deal with the massive problems they have caused. Unless the international left takes on the issue of ‘legality’ when it comes to imperialist war, we will see further alienation of the peoples of the region, as they fall into despair, anger and frustration, helping the jihadists to recruit volunteers, and eventually causing hundreds of thousands to flee the region.
Of course, at the time of the Iraq war, the Stop the War Coalition (including Corbyn as one of its leading members) argued that the coalition’s stress on ‘illegality’ helped attract large numbers to the anti-war cause. That might have been true in the case of the Liberal Democrats, for instance. However, it did not stop the warmongers in the US and elsewhere – and it certainly did not help the left recruit from amongst the radicalised youth opposed to the war. It did not help win people to oppose the imperialist pillage of the ‘third world’ or US world hegemony.
Whether or not the invasion of Iraq was ‘illegal’, its occupation was swiftly approved by the UN security council. On day one of the occupation, the question became irrelevant. Having been given a platform from which to speak at the February 15 2003 demonstration, the Lib Dems returned to type. Once British soldiers were on the ground, the Lib Dems went patriotic and severed themselves completely from the anti-war movement.
As Mike Macnair wrote at the time,
By arguing against this invasion on the grounds of its illegality, we hand a weapon to the warmongers, which has been and will be used in other invasions. If – in whatever way – the US-led ‘war against terrorism’ is driven by the economic interests of US capital, the strategic problem of stopping the war drive becomes united with the problems addressed by the anti-capitalist/anti-globalisation movement: the problem of world order in the 21st century. And it is here that international law comes back into the picture, as the symbol of a certain sort of strategy for dealing with these problems.5
To sum up this section of the article, Jeremy Corbyn’s plans to issue a public apology over the Iraq war on behalf of the party should be welcomed and attempts to undermine the importance of such a gesture should be exposed. However, we should have no illusions in the new leader’s analysis of legality, war and imperialism in the 21st century.
Speaking at a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament commemorative event in London in August, Corbyn reminded the audience that if he were prime minister he would not replace the Trident nuclear weapons system and would initiate a transition away from nuclear weapons entirely.
While he was criticised for jeopardising some 19,000 Scottish jobs, the strategy seems well planned and clearly defined in a document entitled ‘Plan for defence diversification’. This explains how the skills of those who work on Trident, as well as in other defence-related industries, will be protected and how “socially productive”, hi-tech industry and infrastructure projects will be able to use such skills. The document includes in its aims and objectives “making the case for a defence diversification agency, because we have a moral duty, and strategic defence and international commitments, to make Britain and the world a safer place.”6 It states:
As a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, Britain should therefore give a lead in discharging its obligations by not seeking a replacement for Trident, as we are committed to accelerate concrete progress towards nuclear disarmament.
Corbyn’s anti-nuclear policy has attracted a lot of attention, with the rightwing press doing its best to ridicule it. However, there is nothing ultra-left about such proposals. In fact, as some journalists have admitted in the last few weeks, senior military figures have argued that the UK’s nuclear weapons are ‘militarily useless’ and its possession of such weapons encourages other countries to seek a similar arsenal, so undermining efforts being made to advance the cause of international nuclear disarmament. In 2009, field marshal Lord Bramall and generals Lord Ramsbotham and Sir Hugh Beach labelled Trident “irrelevant”.7
In my experience the majority of nuclear scientists and engineers would agree with such an approach, so the proposal is indeed fairly mainstream – it should, of course, be supported. The Scottish National Party campaigned on similar lines in this year’s general election campaign and the party’s defence spokesperson, Angus Robertson, pledged that an SNP group of MPs holding the balance of power in the House of Commons after May’s general election would make halting the renewal of Trident an “absolute priority” – and health and education would be the SNP’s “first call” on the billions of pounds freed up.8
Under such circumstances, it is extremely worrying that, according to The Daily Telegraph, Corbyn’s advisors have suggested that “scrapping Trident and leaving Nato” should be placed on the back-burner.9 On this I agree entirely with CND chair and Left Unity national secretary Kate Hudson, when she writes: “Now is the time to stick to principles.”
Trident cannot be put on the ‘back burner’ because a decision on whether or not Trident is to be replaced is expected in parliament in early 2016. Labour will have to vote on it, and Labour needs a policy which represents the majority view of the population – which happens to be the view of Jeremy Corbyn: Trident should not be replaced. This is not something that can be deferred. This is without doubt a question for the first 100 days and it should not be fudged because a relatively small number of powerful Labour figures are attached to a cold war system of weapons of mass destruction.
If Jeremy’s advisors are trying to sanitise Jeremy, push him into the middle ground and drop policies that will challenge the Labour establishment, then they are doing him a grave disservice. Nothing is to be gained from ‘triangulating’ with the right. Maybe they want to keep Andy Burnham on side, but dropping a fundamental issue because he threatens to leave a shadow cabinet over it is just plain ludicrous. If anyone thinks that the party establishment will be satisfied with a few policy concessions – like Trident, for example – then they are seriously mistaken. They will come back and back for more, and eventually nothing will be left but a few gestures to those at the bottom of the pile.10
At the start of the leadership campaign Corbyn made it clear that he was calling for a withdrawal of the UK from Nato. However, by late August this was in doubt. According to reports that appeared on August 27, he appeared to water down his position by claiming that there is no “appetite” among the public to oppose Nato. When challenged by Andy Burnham on whether he would pull out, Corbyn said he would have a “serious debate about the powers of Nato”, but was silent on withdrawal. Instead it appears he will argue for Nato to “restrict its role”.
Admittedly, “I have criticisms of Nato – it’s a cold war organisation and it should have been wound up in 1990, along with the Warsaw Pact.” However, “I think there has to be a debate about the powers of Nato, the democratic accountability of Nato and why it’s given itself a global role.”
It is regrettable that so early in the process we are witnessing a compromise on this issue. You do not need to be on the radical left to be concerned about the international role played by Nato in maintaining the imperialist world order.
First of all, we should point out that Hamas and Hezbollah are very different organisations. Hamas is currently an ally of Saudi Arabia and in fact is in the process of considering a peace proposal put forward by Tony Blair. According to The Daily Telegraph (August 19), Blair is “holding secret talks with Hamas”, which “are apparently aimed at securing a deal that would guarantee Israel an eight- or 10-year truce in exchange for the Gaza Strip blockade, that has been in place since 2007, being lifted”.11
Corbyn has always made it clear he does not agree with Hamas or Hezbollah, but has said: “I think to bring about a peace process you have to talk to people with whom you may profoundly disagree.”12 It isn’t clear how the Blairites justify attacks on Corbyn for commenting that any peace deal must involve discussions with Hamas. True, on this Corbyn was years ahead of Blair! The same could be said of Hezbollah. And, as far as I know, unlike sections of the British radical left Corbyn never used the dreadful slogan, “We are all Hezbollah”.13
Since 2008, Hezbollah has been part of the Lebanese government, elected by the Shia population in the south as well as parts of Beirut. In other words, a call for talks with elected members of the Lebanese parliament and government is not exactly an extremist position. However, the fact that the press is paying so much attention to these statements shows how far Zionist propaganda and a pro-US international agenda has dominated the British political scene for the last few decades.
When it comes to Palestine or Lebanon, we cannot and should not expect left Labourites to propose radical solutions. It will be up to the Marxist left to argue for revolutionary positions in support of the Palestinian Arab cause, while at the same time opposing the anti-Corbyn, pro-imperialist positions of the rightwing press.
Jeremy Corbyn has consistently called for the immediate scrapping of sanctions on Iran, and for many years he had called for an end to the “demonisation” of that country by the west. Now that is more or less the mainstream US/European position – once more it could be said that Corbyn was ahead of his time on this issue. Following the signing of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 powers, European foreign ministers, including Philip Hammond, and prime ministers and heads of states are now queuing up to visit the country. Angela Merkel is about to go there, and president Barack Obama is likely to meet his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rowhani, when he visits New York later this year.
Having said that, it probably was not a good idea for Corbyn to do a trailer for a chat show on Press TV in July.Corbyn’s aids later made the claim that he was not aware of the connection between Press TV and the Iranian government.
But in general Corbyn’s anti-war position on Iran has to be lauded. As I have written before, he was also one of only two MPs (the other being John McDonnell) who have consistently defended Iranian workers against the attacks of the Tehran regime. It is a shame that in order to maintain peace with the rest of the STWC leadership he failed to take a principled position regarding the ban imposed on Hands Off the People of Iran. At the time his silence on the subject was taken as support for STWC’s apologist position regarding Iran’s Islamic Republic. Presumably, the conciliatory Corbyn did not want to confront others on the STWC leadership.
At this time, the radical left must combine robust defence of Corbyn’s progressive international statements with a commitment to move the arguments beyond the rightwing, Eurocentric colonial approach of mainstream press and media, and so open up a genuine debate about war, the world order and both the legal and illegal means. Some of these arguments will be beyond the comprehension of many who traditionally lead a bourgeois workers’ party, yet they remain vital if we want to change the dominant discourse about the ‘third world’, about current conflicts in Africa and the Middle East and about jihadist political Islam and ways of disarming and defeating it.
13. The slogan, used in pro-Lebanon demonstrations, ignores the fact that Hezbollah is associated with the Iranian organisation of the same name: ie, club-wielding government militia used to attack workers’ protests.
Stanley Heller interviews Yassamine Mather, Iranian exile, about the Iranian-US nuclear deal. 8/9/2015 : what the U.S. government was trying to do, the false hope that Iran after an “Islamic Revolution” would be free from imperial pressure, the frequent use of the death penalty in Iran and what the Iranian regime is doing in Syria.
After 18 days of negotiations, and 20 months after the initial talks regarding Iran’s nuclear programme started in New York, Iran and the P5+1 powers finally signed a deal on July 14.
Not everyone was happy. Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu had already declared that “some of the negotiating countries” (a clear reference to the Americans) were “willing to make a deal at any price”,1 and afterwards he described it as “a mistake of historic dimensions”. His allies in the US Republican Party echoed these sentiments.
As details of the 159-page document became known, it was clear it was neither the “win-win” claimed by Iranian president Hassan Rowhani and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, nor the disaster that conservative Islamist opponents inside Iran said would result from any deal with the ‘Great Satan’. While Iran’s nuclear programme was not “heroic resistance”, as supporters of the regime claimed, giving up major aspects, it was not “heroic softening” either, as supreme leader Ali Khamenei had claimed earlier this year. The Financial Timessummary is accurate: “Iran has accepted unprecedented international control and surveillance over its nuclear programme, as well as cuts in its uranium stocks and in the number of centrifuges.”2
At the end the day Iran’s neoliberal, dependent capitalist economy was brought to its knees by punitive sanctions imposed by successive US administrations. They had little to do with the country’s nuclear programme: they were about regime change from above. But for the time being that threat, along with the possibility of a military attack, is lifted – at least until the US presidential elections of 2017.
Rowhani, speaking immediately after the deal was signed, claimed Iran had actually won the right to pursue its nuclear programme and, strictly speaking, this is true: low-enriched uranium can now be used to produce fuel for nuclear-power plants.
In exchange, Iran’s Islamic republic has to remove or destroy two-thirds of its existing centrifuges, used for enriching uranium, as well as getting rid of 98% of its stockpile of enriched uranium, leaving just 300kg for the next 15 years. The heavy-water reactor in Arak will be converted, so that it cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium and Iran will not start building any new reactors for the next 15 years. It will be limited to installing no more than 5,060 of the oldest and least efficient centrifuges for 10 years. In fact the restrictions accepted by Iran are far more severe than any regulation stipulated by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
We are back to where we were 13 years ago, when the nuclear conflict started. However, in the meantime, Iran has spent billions buying dodgy nuclear equipment, often on the black market, while, as I have said, sanctions have destroyed its economy.
A compromise was reached over Khamenei’s ‘red line’: the inspection of the country’s military sites. Iran has agreed to allow United Nations inspectors to access any site they consider to be suspicious. However, Iran will be able to challenge such requests and a meeting with the P5+1 will make the final decision on its legitimacy. One could argue over to what extent this is a face-saving solution. After all, Khamenei had categorically stated: “I will not allow inspection of Iran’s military installations.”
However, sanctions (another of his ‘red lines’) will be removed at once, when the International Atomic Energy Agency confirms that its ‘Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’ has been followed through, which the IAEA declared should be completed by the end of the year. Iran has accepted that if it violates the deal sanctions could be restored within 65 days.
While a UN arms embargo will remain in place for five years, this could end earlier if the IAEA is satisfied that Iran is pursuing an entirely peaceful nuclear programme. A UN ban on the import of ballistic missile technology could remain in place for up to eight years. Although by all accounts the Russians, keen to sell such missiles, were opposed to this, the Iranian delegation gave in.
On July 11, as Iranians awaited the conclusion of the negotiations, ayatollah Khamenei addressed the issue of Iran’s relations with the US after the deal. Khamenei called the US the “ultimate embodiment of arrogance” and warned that Iran’s opposition to America would continue: “Get ready to continue combating the arrogant power.”
In fact Tehran’s pursuance of a neoliberal economic agenda has long since demonstrated that it has to succumb to the wishes of this “arrogant power” and the system over which it is the global hegemon. Iran is now one of the most unequal societies in the region, where “a new class of untouchable one-percenters hoards money, profiting from sanctions and influential relations, leaving Iran’s middle classes to face the full force of the country’s deepening economic woes”.3
This week news came of billions of dollars of personal wealth accumulated by ministers of the former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as a result of both privatisation and sanction busting. Ahmadinejad – Khamenei’s favourite president, the man who claimed to be the defender of the poor and the disinherited, who claimed he would stamp out corruption – was by all accounts heading one of the most corrupt governments of recent times. In June his vice-president, Hamid Baghaei, was charged with embezzlement, while in January, another of Ahmadinejad’s vice-presidents, Mohammad Reza Rahimi, was jailed for five years and ordered to pay 38.5 billion rials ($1.3 million) in connection with a money-laundering scheme worth billions of dollars.
But Khamenei’s reaction to the seemingly endless revelations of corruption, alongside the continued abject poverty for the majority, has been to call for such matters to be played down. According to him, there is no need to exaggerate things – think of the demoralisation that will cause!
In other words, our ‘third worldist’ supreme leader, who is presiding over one of the most unequal and corrupt capitalist countries anywhere in the world, where the neoliberal economic agenda imposed by the IMF, World Bank and indeed the US has created conditions of mass unemployment, ‘white contracts’ and wholesale privatisation, every now and then comes out with slogans about fighting US arrogance (he consciously avoids using the term ‘imperialism’ because of its Marxist connotations).
Our supreme leader’s politics are indeed frozen in the 1970s. He fails to acknowledge that, for all the slogans of the Islamic revolution about economic independence, full employment and a comfortable standard of living for all, by the end of the 20th century, things remained pretty desperate. Iran’s population more than doubled between 1980 and 2000 and its median age declined. Although many Iranians are farmers, agricultural production has consistently fallen since the 1960s. By the late 1990s, Iran imported much of its food. At that time, economic hardship in the countryside resulted in many people moving to the cities.
Iran might seem to be a regional power because of its influence in Lebanon, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, but it is very much economically dependent on international capital. Conditions imposed by the IMF and the World Bank in exchange for loans made a mockery of claims of independence. Khamenei chooses to ignore the fact that, long before sanctions, Iran was totally dependent on the sale of oil.
In February 2015, an inspection team from the International Monetary Fund visited Tehran. It was led by Martin Cerisola, assistant director for the Middle East and central Asia. In their discussions with Iranian authorities, the IMF team discussed developments in the Iranian economy, short-term programmes and the Rowhani government’s macroeconomic policies and reform agenda.
Cerisola’s statement at the end of this visit was typical of such inspections by IMF:
The discussions focused on the policies needed for preserving disinflation gains and for supporting the economy in its adjustment to lower oil prices. For this, the IMF team recommended that fiscal policy should aim at limiting the budget deficit in the next fiscal year to around 2.5% of GDP … The discussions also focused on the need for pressing ahead with reforms and the authorities’ plans in the banking sector to address nonperforming loans and strengthen the efficiency of financial intermediation.4
We all know what IMF “reforms” have done so far – Khamenei does not need to look very hard to see signs of imperialist “arrogance”. However, as the negotiations progressed, foreign firms – in particular European-based transnationals – started queuing up to invest in Iran, with its cheap labour, stringent restrictions on workers’ rights and a workforce that has been disciplined by years of unemployment.
No wonder France, Germany and the United Kingdom were so keen to find a solution to the remaining points of contention. The German industrial group, BDI, is already trading with Iran to the tune of $2.4 billion, and it now hopes to increase this to $10 billion. According to Jean-Christophe Quémard, one of the directors of French car maker PSA Peugeot Citroën, plans are being discussed to resume car assembly in Iran (Peugeot had closed its plant in Tehran in 2012). Of course, this will mean jobs for hundreds of workers, but it will also yield major profits for the French car manufacturer.
And, according to the Wall Street Journal,
American firms have already been exploring the market potential. Apple Inc has been in touch with potential Iranian distributors … Boeing Co started selling aircraft manuals and charts to an Iranian airline last year, its first Iranian sales in more than three decades …
General Electric Co already has limited exposure. Under the current sanctions’ humanitarian exemptions, the company distributes medical equipment like MRI machines and CT scanners in Iran … a spokeswoman said … “We look forward to reviewing the details of the agreement reached and will watch the regulatory landscape that may unfold.”5
Someone should tell the supreme leader that Iran’s corrupt Islamic Republic is part and parcel of the capitalist order and its “world arrogance”, into which it will be now much more closely integrated.
For all the hysteria expressed by Israel and to a certain extent Saudi Arabia in opposition to the deal, it is very clear from statements by both president Barack Obama and Khamenei that the political situation in the region will not change dramatically.
The US is determined to support Turkish and Saudi efforts for regime change in Syria. The fact that arms embargoes remain in place for the foreseeable future show that, contrary to what Robert Fisk has written, the US has not changed track. According to Fisk,
Goodbye, therefore, to the overwhelming influence of the Sunni Muslim nations, which gave their sons to the 9/11 crimes against humanity and provided the world with Osama bin Laden, which supported the Taliban and then the Sunni Islamists of Iraq and Syria and – finally – goodbye to those emirs and princes who support Isis. Washington is sick and tired of the decrepit princes of the Gulf, their puritanical lectures, their tiresome wealth (unless it’s paying for US weaponry) and their grotty civil war in Yemen. Shia Iran is now the good guy on the block.6
Not true. The twin-track policy of containing Islamic State, while promoting failed states in Iraq and Syria, is now supplemented by a policy of controlling Iran. There will be no sanctions against the main backers of IS – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the other Gulf states. On the contrary, arms sales to all these countries will continue and by all accounts the Saudi kingdom is seeking to develop its own nuclear programme. Let us hope that this aspect of Saudi military expenditure is not shared with IS.
What about the situation inside Iran following the deal? The Iranian people celebrated it in their thousands and there are reasons to do so. Hopefully the lifting of sanctions will mean better access to medication and essential supplies. The country will be able to import spare parts for production and for transport vehicles and undoubtedly this will save lives. The lifting of banking sanctions means Iranians can enter into personal and commercial international transactions and this has already seen an improvement in the rate of exchange for the rial, Iran’s currency.
Iranian students will be able to continue their studies outside the country, and there will be work for some of the millions of workers who have lost their jobs over the last few years, courtesy of the ‘targeted sanctions’. Those sanctions impoverished the majority of the population, while bringing windfalls of billions of dollars to the select few, including within the Islamic government. The regime will no longer be able to cite sanctions as its excuse for economic mismanagement, unemployment and poverty.
But do not expect improvements in democratic rights. On the contrary, having made the decision to reverse the nuclear programme for the sake of remaining in power, the regime (all its factions, ‘reformist’ and conservative) will remain opposed to basic political freedoms, and those fighting for the rights of workers, women and national/religious minorities will continue to face an uphill struggle. They will now find fewer allies and supporters outside Iran, as funds for regime change dry up.
Having said that, we in Hands off the People of Iran will continue to extend our principled solidarity to those struggling against oppression.
In the weeks leading up to June 30 2015, it was clear that the real deadline for Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 powers was July 9. For the Obama administration, the potential resolution of the conflict with Iran will play a significant part in the president’s legacy, and from this point of view, the less time opponents of the deal in Congress have to mobilise, the better. If a deal is reached by July 9, they will only have 30 days. After that, they would have 60 days, taking into account the summer recess. That would give a better chance to Republican and Democrat allies of Israel and Saudi Arabia to derail the agreement.
From the first days of this round of negotiations it was clear that, for all the claims of unity, each of the 5+1 powers were following their own agenda. The European countries – Germany and Britain, and to a lesser extent France – are keen to resume economic relations with Iran, while Russia and China, hoping for arms deals, seem to support the Islamic Republic’s additional demands for an end to the arms embargo. For its part, the US administration is under pressure to take a hard line – or at least appear to take a hard line – and achieve, in the words of secretary of state John Kerry, a “good deal”.
Of course, what is a “good deal” for the United States, and by extension Saudi Arabia and Israel, will be a bad deal for Iran, which is why there appeared to be deadlock in the last hours of the negotiations. Earlier this week Iran and the P5+1 had drafted a document addressing the contentious issue of how the pace and timing of sanctions relief would proceed, though US officials claimed that there was still more work to be done. But on July 6, western foreign ministers gave ‘unofficial briefings’ to the media, claiming that Iran’s demand for the lifting of all UN sanctions on weapons sales had become a major sticking point. If these rumours are true, foreign minister JavadZarif (and president Hassan Rowhani) had taken an even harder position than that of the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. His maximum demands, declared more than a week before the start of the latest negotiations, only mentioned economic and banking sanctions. It is assumed that this new, harder position was taken during Zarif’s unexpected return to Tehran last week.
Russia has already sold advanced anti-aircraft S-300 missiles to Iran, following the Geneva agreement in April 2015. The original $800 million deal signed in 2007 was suspended because the US and Israel objected, and then in 2010 the UN security council imposed more sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear programme, and delivery of the missiles was frozen. By the evening of July 7 senior Iranian negotiator Abbas Araghchi was claiming that 95% of the agreement had been finalised. However, there was one issue remaining – that of the arms embargo.1
For the US this is one red line it cannot cross. Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf states and Israel are all vehemently opposed to the sale of ground-to-air and ground-to-ground missiles, especially as it is likely that some of these missiles will end up in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.
Inside Iran, the continuation of the sanctions is causing frustration and despair. In May 2015, the centre for international and security studies at Maryland University conducted a poll of the Iranian people, in collaboration with the University of Tehran and IranPoll.com. Although opinion polls are often subjective – they depend on the question being asked and the timing – this particular study shows that two thirds of Iranians are opposed to nuclear weapons, that eight in 10 approve of the goal of eliminating them and establishing a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. In addition a substantial majority agreed with what was known at the time of the western conditions for an agreement – only one in six opposed. The study also found that nearly three in four were optimistic that Iran and the P5+1 would arrive at a deal and hoped sanctions would be lifted soon.2
According to another study, conducted by the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland, “61% of Americans support an agreement that would limit Iran’s enrichment capacity and impose additional intrusive inspections in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. Only 36% support ending the current negotiations and increasing sanctions in an effort to get Iran to stop all uranium enrichment.”
So why is there so much opposition to the proposed deal both from within Iran’s Islamic Republic and legislators in the Senate and Congress? In Iran the opposition comes from some of the most corrupt sections of the regime – mainly the conservative factions, who have profited from the black market resulting from sanctions. The billions of dollars of wealth accumulated by allies and officials of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad explain why they are amongst the harshest critics of these, and indeed any, negotiations. They have not been concerned about the details – their main worry is the protection of their business interests, many of which rely on the continuation of sanctions.
Then there are the exiles. Iranian opponents of the deal, some of whom were frequently present outside the hotel in Vienna where the negotiations were taking place, are often beneficiaries of various regime-change funds associated with the US, European and Arab countries. They and their groups, some claiming to be on the left, have flourished in the last few years. In fact their political positions have been very close to those of Israel and Saudi Arabia. These exiles fail to realise that the current sanctions against Iran have nothing to do with the country’s abuse of human rights, women’s rights or workers’ rights. If the US or its European partners were really concerned about such issues, their main regional allies would hardly be Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, some bizarre comments are coming from Iran’s apologists – reminiscent of the infamous statements defending the regime’s policy of forced transgender operations as a victory for homosexuals! Today ‘leftwing’ supporters of the Islamic Republic are claiming that the country’s stance on the nuclear issue should be considered ‘heroic resistance’.
In reality billions have been wasted on redundant, second-hand technology to maintain unsafe nuclear enrichment plants, while at the same time Iran has faced the most paralysing sanctions – exposing the disastrous effects of its complete economic dependence on the world capitalist order. Hundreds of thousands of workers have lost their jobs and tens of thousands of patients have died because of the shortage of proper medicines and equipment – all for 20%-enriched uranium, which the International Atomic Energy Agency then insisted had to be disposed of. A year ago the IAEA reported: “209.1kg of 20%-enriched UF6 held by Iran in January 2014 has now been either diluted or converted to uranium oxide.”3
What a waste of life, money and resources – proving once more that this third-world dictatorship’s ‘anti-western’ slogans are nothing but empty, dangerous rhetoric. After 36 and a half years of ‘anti-American’ slogans, the leaders of Iran’s Islamic republic are now dreaming of the day when the US embassy will reopen. As negotiations dragged on in Vienna, ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the Islamic republic’s former president, toldThe Guardian, “It was ‘not impossible’ that an American embassy could reopen in Tehran. But that depends on the behaviour of both sides.”4
One of the controversial issues in the current discussions is the inspection of Iran’s military bases by the IAEA. It is clear that the six world powers have made Iran an offer on this question.
Again according to unofficial briefings, the current proposal is that a commission would be set up to resolve disputes when the IAEA seeks access to certain sites. If Iran refuses access and the IAEA’s case is strong, then the commission would look into the issue and its decision based on a simple majority would be final in determining whether such an inspection was ‘legitimate’. In analysing this, sections of the press in Iran have pointed out the obvious: the kind of punitive sanctions Iran was facing had one raison d’être: regime change from above. If the Islamic republic accepts inspection of its military bases in exchange for the removal of sanctions, it would be ceding a major advantage to those contemplating such regime change.
According to deputy foreign minister Araghchi, previously “We never progressed as far as we have now; we never went so far in drafting. However, there are still differences.”5 When asked about the ‘red lines’ set by Khamenei and whether they made reaching a deal impossible, Zarif replied: “Nothing the supreme leader said is new; this is the consistent position of Iran from the day we started the negotiations.” On June 28, as negotiations were starting, a Twitter account allegedly belonging to Khamenei displayed a picture of Zarif and his team along with the text: “I recognise our negotiators as trustworthy, committed, brave and faithful.” In subsequent interviews with the international media Zarif has proudly referred to this.
However, Iranian conservatives see things differently: for example, ‘Shamisan’ has posted this message: “While the soldiers on the diplomatic front, with the backing of a nation, have taken on the enemy, some, instead of having sympathy with them, are playing another tune.” He said such people in their attitude to the US have tried “to depict an angel … instead of the great Satan”. And the problem is that “when you are sitting opposite an angel, you have no reason not to trust him or resist his aims.”6
If these talks result in a final agreement, European cities such as Vienna and Geneva will miss the ministerial gatherings around nuclear negotiations. They are good business for hotels, restaurants – and by all accounts brothels. According to the Reuters news agency, brothel owners in Vienna were looking forward to the extension of the talks. One brothel manager reportedly “declined to say who were his most frequent customers, but made clear that, as far as he was concerned, the longer the negotiations between Iran and six world powers drag on, the better”.7