Iran-US: Paper tigers and false victories

The deal with Iran represents a partial, but important success for imperialism, writes Yassamine Mather

Deal agreed ... for how long?
Deal agreed … for how long?

The deal signed between Iran and the P5+1 countries in the early hours of November 24 was welcomed by most Iranians for obvious reasons:

  •  A military attack against Iran’s nuclear installations is now far less likely to happen;
  •  There is hope that alleviation of sanctions, even in the limited format proposed by the P5+1, will improve the dire economic situation;
  •  The fact that the Israeli prime minister, Republican and Democrat warmongers in the US, Saudi Arabia as well as the more rightwing factions of Iran’s Islamic Republic are not happy should also be welcomed.

However, before any one starts celebrating a victory for the anti-war movement, let us review the details. This is a limited, partial deal and a lot will depend on how much real progress can be made in the next six months.

The message of congratulations from Iran’s supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to his negotiating team was far cooler than those received by former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s team when they returned from ‘non-negotiations’ with nothing but threats of more sanctions to show. In those days the supreme leader used to congratulate his team warmly for their steadfast positions.

Of course, times have changed and Iran’s economy is in ruins, the population are tired of queuing up, and spiralling prices and mass unemployment are taking their toll. So, in contrast to the past, the letters exchanged between Khamenei and president Hassan Rowhani were positive, but subdued: “The nuclear negotiating team should be thanked and appreciated for this achievement.”1 Previously he had made it clear that Iran’s right to enrich uranium was non-negotiable, so we can assume he is not very happy with lack of clarity on this issue. This would explain his additional comment, when he stressed that “resistance against excessive demands should be the criteria for nuclear negotiations”.

After weeks of negotiations leading up to this particular deal, and what appears to be months of secret US-Iran talks (starting in January 2013, via the Sultan of Oman and during the presidency of Ahmadinejad), both sides are claiming victory.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking on his return from Geneva, told a press conference at Tehran airport that no nuclear facility will close down, that Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme is on track and the world has recognised Iran’s right to enrich uranium, provided it follows Non-Proliferation Treaty guidelines and allows inspections. Not quite what John Kerry was telling US and, indirectly, Israeli audiences: the P5+1 have not recognised Iran’s right to enrich uranium; that might come at the end of the current negotiations, but it will depend on many factors. The headlines of most international news agencies seemed to reflect Kerry’s’ view, to the effect that Iran has agreed to curb its nuclear activity.

The actual text of the agreement clarifies things:

  •  Iran will halt the enrichment of uranium above 5% purity.
  •  It will ‘neutralise’ its stockpile of near-20%-enriched uranium, either by diluting it to less than 5% or oxidising and converting it to a form which cannot be further enriched.
  •  It will refrain from installing of any more centrifuges used to enrich uranium.
  •  It will ensure that half to three-quarters of centrifuges installed at the Natanz and Fordo enrichment facilities are inoperable and will halt any further development of enrichment facilities.
  •  Iran has agreed not to increase its stockpile of 3.5% low-enriched uranium and halt work on the construction of its heavy-water reactor at Arak, ending attempts to produce plutonium there.
  •  Iran will allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors daily access to heavy water plants in Natanz and Arak, as well as to all nuclear facilities, mines and mills. It will provide detailed information on the Arak reactor.

In summary, a complete reversal of the nuclear policy it has pursued over the last 10 years.

Yet even these drastic measures were not sufficient for the Israeli government. Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu referred to the agreement as “a historic mistake, not a historic agreement”, adding: “Israel is not bound by this agreement . The Iranian government is committed to the destruction of Israel” and therefore Israel had a right to defend itself “by itself”. The minister for strategic affairs, Yuval Steinitz, said that Israel refused to take part in “international celebrations”, which were based on “Iranian duplicity” and “self-deception”.

In Iran the rightwing paper Kayhan (which is close to ayatollah Khamenei) was not celebrating either, although for different reasons. Its headline claimed the deal had been broken an hour after it was signed. Referring to John Kerry’s press conference soon after the talks finished, the paper quoted him denying that the P5+1 have accepted Iran’s right to enrich uranium. Readers were reminded that the supreme leader’s ‘red line’ (Iran’s right to enrich uranium) has already been crossed. A point also picked up by Ahmadinejad.


Before reviewing what Iran will get in return for this dramatic U-turn, it is worth remembering a few points about the current sanctions. Recent revelations about the severity of sanctions, some made over the last two weeks, confirm what we in Hands Off the People of Iran have said time and time again: ie, claims that sanctions against the Islamic Republic were ‘targeted’ were completely false.

First came the admission by foreign minister Zarif, speaking in Geneva during the negotiations, that sanctions had little effect on the progress of Iran’s nuclear programme and the country had managed to produce 35,000 centrifuges during this period. We also know through a Reuters investigation that many Iranian institutions associated with senior clerics, including the supreme leader, were not affected by sanctions. The $95 billion empire of the Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam, a foundation controlled by Khamenei, was exempt from sanctions.2

Then on Sunday November 24, president Barack Obama virtually confirmed in a broadcast that the real targets had indeed been the Iranian people. According to the US president, “My administration worked with congress, the United Nations and governments throughout the world to impose unprecedented sanctions on the Iranian government. These sanctions have had a substantial impact on the Iranian economy and, with the election of a new Iranian president earlier this year, an opening emerged.”3 In other words, the pressure was on ordinary Iranians to vote for a different approach to the nuclear issue. This is quite an admission. In other words, despite all the denials, sanctions were aimed at regime change, be it within the parameters of the current order.

This statement has implications not only for the Iranian people, but for the whole third world. Now I am no supporter of Iran’s nuclear programme (military or otherwise). However, there can be no doubt that when polled by Gallup and other agencies, 85% of Iranians say they support it – although, of course, this support primarily reflects an opposition to foreign intervention. The Iranian people cannot debate the pros and cons of nuclear technology under current circumstances, when there is so much external imperialist pressure and the dictatorship uses the threat of war and sanctions to prolong its own life. It is therefore inevitable that that large sections of the population support nuclear development.

Had they been informed of the dangers of building nuclear plants in a country prone to earthquakes, had they known about the serious environmental risks posed by nuclear waste, an issue that remains a problem in the most advanced capitalist countries, had they been aware of the high risk of decades of contamination in the event of a nuclear accident, they might express more doubts. Few Iranians are aware of reports of the long-term effects of incidents such as the 1957 Windscale nuclear fire; they do not know that that particular incident resulted in unprecedented levels of leukaemia in the surrounding area, miles away from the plant, which is still feeling the effects today. They have not seen Greenpeace’s report on the effects of the devastating incident in Japan in March 2011. According to Greenpeace, “The lives of hundreds of thousands of people continue to be affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, especially the 160,000 who fled their homes because of radioactive contamination, and continue to live in limbo without fair, just and timely compensation.”4

No victory

Since Sunday we have heard endlessly from Iranian nationalists, some claiming to be on the left, who have compared this deal with the nationalisation of Iranian oil in the 1950s. Abbas Edalat of the Campaign Against Military Intervention and Sanctions made this point during an analysis programme of the Islam TV channel where we were both guests. Others, such as novelist Ali Alizadeh, have hailed the diplomatic success of the Rowhani presidency. So let me clarify a few points.

1. Reducing enrichment from 20% to 5% and oxidising all existing stockpiles is a U-turn. It is not a major ‘national victory’ and no amount of spin can change that fact. So the Iranian people have paid a very heavy price, in the shape of 10 years of sanctions, to return to enrichment levels of 3.5%-5%. And for what?

2. The nuclear industry has proved very costly for the Iranian people. The resulting sanctions destroyed thousands of jobs, ruined the economy and inflicted high inflation on the ordinary people of Iran, many of whom are not paid wages for the work they do, month in, month out. Thousands have lost relatives because of the shortage of medication and surgical equipment.

3. Oil was and remains Iran’s major export and its nationalisation should not be compared with the ‘right’ to nuclear development.

The Islamic republic pursued the nuclear programme started during the shah’s era for two reasons: to maintain its position as a regional power (in pursuance of a foreign policy not much different from that of the previous regime); and because it is a government that constantly relies on crises in order to survive. This week it gave up most of its ambitions because the price the national economy was paying was too high and the rulers became aware that they cannot continue to rule as before.

Hassan Rowhani’s comments on November 26 left little doubt about this. Using a nationwide broadcast (in the form of an interview with three sycophantic reporters), the Iranian president was candid about the reasons why there is no alternative but to accept the conditions set by the current deal. He admitted that, contrary to previous official denials, the rate of inflation has been around 30%-40 % for most of the last few years. In one year, a 40% rate of inflation coincided with a 9% fall in output. A disastrous economic scenario. Referring to the effect of sanctions on the economy, he ridiculed the previous president’s claims that these were ‘paper sanctions’, adding that Iran’s foreign debt had increased to record levels, Iran’s dependence on foreign capital had increased during this period and state coffers were empty when his ministers took office in August.5

So Rowhani is no Mosaddegh, and Javad Zarif is not the hero of our time. They are making a desperate attempt to recover pull away from the economic abyss, caused partly by their predecessor, a president from the same party as Rowhani and Zarif, the Islamic Republic Party, albeit a different faction. Rowhani’s priority is improving relations with the west in order to support Iranian capitalists’ exploitation of the working class. That is why in New York his priority was to meet with representatives of the International Monetary Fund (even at the expense of missing lunch with Obama). That is why he says nothing about the continuing severe repression. This can only have one interpretation: approval and complicity. No doubt the repression is aimed at making a show of force internally – no-one should have any illusions that the international relaxation will be paralleled in terms of internal policies.

Those who claim this to be a national victory have a duty to explain the merits of the regime’s nuclear adventure to ordinary Iranians. As John Kerry and Obama keep telling their Israeli friends, 95 % of sanctions will remain. Of course, there will be some short-term alleviation of the situation, and the Iranian currency has picked up a little over the last two days. However, as long as banking sanctions are in place, the economy will remain in a terrible state. Oil sanctions and a lack of insurance for tankers picking up oil from Iranian ports have created a big hole in the country’s finances. Add to this the unprecedented multi-billion-dollar corruption scandals, showing how senior ayatollahs and government officials (from all factions of the regime) are accumulating astronomical wealth; not to mention the expensive adventurist interventions in Syria, Lebanon and Africa. No wonder the Iranian people were saying they could no longer tolerate this situation.


Having said all that, while any reduction of sanctions will allow a breathing space, the situation will deteriorate once more if the current deal fails. Its future will depend very much on a number of factors. Mainly Republicans, but also Democratic representatives in the US congress will find ways of jeopardising the deal, while Israel will do its utmost to provoke an Iranian reaction, in order to increase tension in the region and prove what a ‘mistake’ it has all been.

Of course the deal also has lessons in respect of the idiocy of apologists for Zionism. Israel remains the major source of conflict and instability in the region. Its continued existence has no doubt played a part in the survival of reactionary Arab states as well as the survival of Iran’s Islamic Republic. As much as the enemy of our enemy (Islamic fundamentalism) is not our friend, the friend of our enemy (Israel) also fails to qualify as an ally of the working class. In recent years, Zionist apologists in the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and among ‘anti-German’ Germans have implied in tones only a little softer than Tel Aviv’s that Iran’s leaders are the new Nazis.

Others have gone further, comparing the negotiations with the 1938 appeasement of Hitler. The November 24 deal shows how mistaken they were. A third-world rentier state, Iran’s Islamic Republic, has been brought to its knees by the US, supported by the P5+1 – clearly this was no ‘Hitler of our time’: more of a paper tiger. I have no hesitation in maintaining that such forces – the social-imperialist apologists for Israel – should play no part in the future of the radical left in the Middle East or elsewhere. Their presence should be considered a source of embarrassment to their allies, and those with any principle will distance themselves from such dubious politics.

What does all this mean for Hopi? We should take up new tasks, while continuing to campaign for an end to threats of war and remaining sanctions – not just for six months, but for ever. The conscious aim of the west, through the strategy of sanctions, was to impoverish and drive to desperation the ordinary people in order to facilitate regime change from above.

We have seen, therefore, a partial, but important success for imperialism. This fluid new situation now poses fresh tasks for the anti-war and solidarity movement. It is a situation that is full of both dangers and possibilities for the working class and its allies. We must prioritise support for political prisoners, for labour activists inside Iran. We must build genuine solidarity with the Iranian working class.


1. Kayhan newspaper November 24.




5. iran_rouhani_first_100_days_tv_report.shtml.

Originally published in the Weekly Worker.

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