Details of Iran’s proposals at the much heralded negotiations with the P5+1 powers that took place last weekend in Geneva were supposed to be secret. However, rumours about what has or has not been agreed have filled the Iranian and international press. The destiny of 75 million Iranians, if not the entire population of the Middle East, is at stake, yet they, like the rest of the world, have to rely on media leaks or unofficial briefings from one side or the other to know whether life-threatening sanctions will be reduced or the conflict will continue or even escalate.
In fact, for all the claims of secrecy we now know what the interim concessions made by Iran are:
- to stop the 20% enrichment of uranium for three months, until regular International Atomic Energy Agency inspections can resume, and in the long term reduce uranium enrichment to 3.5%;
- to reduce its stockpiles of 20% uranium through oxidisation;
- to halt the installation of new centrifuges at the Arak facility and allow full inspection there.
That amounts to a complete reversal of Iran’s nuclear policies for most of the last two decades. No wonder the five foreign ministers, including John Kerry and William Hague, changed their plans and hurried to Geneva. In return Iran will get access to government funds frozen in Asia, estimated at around $20 billion, plus the end of sanctions on the sale of gold, some petrochemical goods and aeroplane spare parts.
Not much to boast about in exchange for what are major concessions by the Islamic Republic – and definitely not the “sale of the century” for Iran, as Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was claiming even before the talks started. On November 9 supreme leader Ali Khamenei called on Iranians to pray for the delegation in Geneva and newspapers in Tehran were generally welcoming the deal that seemed to have been reached.
But by all accounts France withheld its signature at the 11th hour on November 10. The ‘socialist’ government in Paris was clearly acting as Israel’s representative – any deal requires the signatures of all the P5+1 powers or it cannot proceed. According to the Financial Times, “By blocking a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme, France has achieved the unusual feat of annoying the American and Iranian governments simultaneously.”1
The Times of Israel elaborates: “French members of parliament telephoned foreign minister Laurent Fabius in Geneva at the weekend to warn him that prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu would attack Iran’s nuclear facilities if the P5+1 nations did not stiffen their terms on a deal with Iran … Netanyahu’s angry public criticism of the emerging deal, and his phone conversations with world leaders … had played a crucial role in stalling the deal.”2
The next round of talks is due to start on November 20, but 10 days is a long time in politics and even longer in the Middle East. Israel started its campaign against any deal even before the last round had begun and is clearly using every minute of those 10 days to add to what John Kerry refers to as “fear tactics”. On the very day the talks broke down, Netanyahu was warning American Jewish leaders that “an Iranian nuclear weapon is coming to a theatre near you”. Of course, the elephant in the room amongst all this is Israel’s own semi-secret nuclear programme.
By November 12 Republican Senator Mark Kirk was echoing Israel’s position and proposing new sanctions: “The American people should not be forced to choose between military action and a bad deal that accepts a nuclear Iran.” This prompted the White House to warn the US Senate and Congress that tightening the sanctions on Iran could “box America into a march to war” and derail current negotiations.
So if France did raise objections in the last minutes before the signing of the agreement, what were the reasons?
The French economy has been adversely affected by sanctions on Iran – car makers Peugeot and Citroen have practically closed their respective plants in Iran as a result. But France still considers itself the colonial guardian of Lebanon and Syria (a French mandate following the demise of the Ottoman empire). It has a history of supporting the Maronite Christians in Lebanon and has very much resented Iran’s role in that country since the early 1980s. Paris also wants the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad removed and is unhappy that there has been no military intervention to achieve that. Last but not least, the French government is very unpopular at home and thinks it can regain popularity by acting as a major world power.
What about Israel? As Moshé Machover explained in a recent Weekly Worker article, “A war with Iran would present a golden opportunity for large-scale expulsion of Palestinians, precisely because (unlike the Iraq invasion of 2003) fighting would not be over too soon, and major protests and disturbances are likely to occur among the masses throughout the region, including the Palestinian Arabs under Israeli rule. What better way to pacify such disturbances than to ‘expel many people’?”3
Of course, the negotiations have shown a different image of the Iranian government. Its ‘moderate’ foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, gave an interview to the BBC, the very organisation accused of being an integral part of British intelligence by various factions of the regime until a couple of weeks ago. During this interview he denied that sanctions had played any role in moderating the nuclear stance of the Islamic Republic – after all, Iran has managed to produce 35,000 centrifuges.
Whatever the truth of this claim, it is certainly the case that some Iranian institutions seem to have been unaffected by sanctions. For example, a Reuters investigation has discovered that a major foundation controlled by ayatollah Khamenei, Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam (literally the Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam), despite running a $95 billion empire, has escaped scot free. The $95 billion refers to official holdings of real estate, corporate stakes and official assets, but in fact the recent revelations do not show all of Setad’s assets and it largely remains a clandestine financial organisation.
The foundation was created in the aftermath of 1979 revolution, selling the expropriated properties abandoned by allies of the ancien régime. However, its more recent wealth comes from the privatisations carried out under former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, making it one of the richest financial groups in the Middle East. It is amazing that Setad, with major interests in Iran’s industrial and financial sector, in petrochemicals, oil and telecommunications, has not been hit by sanctions.
Western governments clearly knew that Setad had gained control of large chunks of the Iranian economy and were aware that it was directly controlled by the supreme leader. Yet for some unknown reason Setad seemed to be exempt from sanctions. In July 2010, the European Union included Mohammad Mokhber, president of Setad, in a list of individuals and entities it was sanctioning for alleged involvement in “nuclear or ballistic missiles activities”. But two years later, it mysteriously removed him.
This summer, as another 37 companies were added to the list of companies facing sanctions, treasury officials reminded the US Senate committee overseeing them that Setad was under the direct control of the supreme leader, yet the US decided to exempt it from sanctions. During recent revelations, when Reuters asked officials to explain the rationale behind this decision, they replied that they did not want to be accused of “attempts to topple the government”.
The Reuters exposé confirms what we in Hands Off the People of Iran and other opponents of sanctions have always said: the Iranian people are the real victims. Sanctions, heralded as ‘targeted’ and ‘intelligent’, have had little effect on the nuclear programme – and certainly not on the accumulation of wealth by Islamic foundations controlled or owned by senior clerics.
Meanwhile millions of Iranians are suffering because of the unavailability of essential medication. Although drugs are not on the sanctions lists, restrictions on Iranian banks and financial institutions have produced such a drastic devaluation of the currency that Iranian pharmacies and hospitals have not been able to buy western medication for years. As stocks have run out, patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes, thyroid malfunction and asthma have developed major complications or even died, having been forced to reduce the dosage of the drugs they need or use cheaper equivalents made in Asia or Africa. Thousands of cancer patients have died in the absence of medication that saves patients’ lives daily in the rest of the world.
Operating theatres have been making do with faulty devices, because some types of surgical equipment have been deemed to be ‘dual use’ (ie, having a potentially military purpose), and this has caused fatalities, according to medics in Tehran and other major cities. Iranian babies have become ill as a result of the injection of out-of-date vaccines.
So next time we hear talk of ‘intelligent’ sanctions that will only affect the rulers of this or that country, let us remind them of the horrible consequences of the undeclared war between the west and the reactionary rulers of the Islamic Republic.
Even if the talks due to resume on November 20 end in the signing of an agreement, the three-stage negotiation will take at least another year to complete. In the meantime, most of the existing sanctions will remain in place. Iranians will still die as a result, but the multi-billion dollar institutions under the patronage of the supreme leader will continue to flourish.
3. ‘Netanyahu’s war wish’ Weekly Worker February 9 2012.