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Hamid Dabashi: The Iranian nuclear program is a distraction from the larger issues which face P5+1 nations and Iran, as well as the anti-democratic interests of Saudi Arabia and Israel in the region

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. And welcome to part two of our conversation with Hamid Dabashi.

Now joining us is Hamid. Hamid is a professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University.

Thanks for being with us again, Hamid.


DESVARIEUX: So, Hamid, negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program will resume on February 18 and 19, and of course, you know, the usual players will be at the table–the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, and China, as well as Germany. Can you just give us your assessment of these negotiations? Do you really see that we’re going to be turning a corner here with the U.S. and Iran and their foreign policies?

DABASHI: I think we are, Jessica, at the point of turning a corner. But it’s not just the question of nuclear negotiations. To me the nuclear issue is always nonissue. Iran is part of NPT, is a signatory to NPT, and Iran was always open to inspection by International Atomic Energy.

However, there were additional protocols, as you recall, that the UN had imposed on the Iranian nuclear project, but under Ahmadinejad, but not just because of Ahmadinejad; because of varieties of other reasons. Iran was not willing to sit down and sort of go to the next step and make itself even more available for inspection.

But after the election, and particularly because of these back-breaking sanctions that the U.S. and its allies have been imposing on Iran, the regime was under huge pressure, and especially the pressure on ordinary people, so far as medicine–and even spare parts, for example, for airplanes were a scarcity. Under the Rouhani administration, they finally were willing to sit down with 5+1 for further negotiation.

Now, this negotiation essentially boils down to enrichment under 20 percent, which is enrichment only 5 percent, which is necessary for medicinal purposes; even more transparency, so far as inspection by International Atomic Energy and the UN and any other body is concerned; in exchange for the easing of the sanctions. This was initially agreed upon both by Obama administration and their European allies and, of course, Iran. And the initial easing of the sanction amounted to certain kinds of concessions that U.S. was willing to make without completely destroying the architecture of this sanction regime, which is international and is not just U.S. initiated, is global, and is quite damaging to the interests of Iran.

Now, why is it that Iran suddenly at this moment wants to engage in this in my opinion has to do with the geopolitics of the region, and needs to be connected to the Arab revolutions. We are witness to massive seismic changes in the region, and we should not be distracted by momentary sort of setbacks, whether it’s military coup in Egypt or the bloodshed in Syria. The fact is that Iran needs to reimagine, reconceptualize, and reconfigure itself in the region in a manner that makes itself indispensable to the post Arab revolutions interests of United States, particularly in trouble spots like Syria, continued in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

The fact is that Iran has tremendous amount of soft power in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Iraq, and in larger Arab world, and it has made itself indispensable particularly to the remaining years of President Obama’s administration. President Obama, in my opinion, as we saw in the case of Syria, is not in the mood of launching yet another war against even Syria, which is ruled by a mass murderer like Bashar al-Assad, let alone another military engagement with Iran.

So what we’re looking over the next two or three years, the remaining administration of President Obama, is more rapprochement with Iran, much to the chagrin of Israel and Saudi Arabia–strange bedfellows, but be that as it may. And also for Iran to reconceptualize itself in a manner that after Assad goes, Iran is not married to Bashar al-Assad, would be happy to throw Assad under the bus any minute, so far as its interests in Syria, its interests in Iraq are preserved.

DESVARIEUX: Hamid, you earlier mentioned those strange bedfellows, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Can you just describe for us their role in all of this?

DABASHI: You see, remember, they’re both threatened by these Arab revolutions. Saudi Arabia is threatened because it is a backward country. Freedom, even for women to drive, doesn’t exist. Shia minorities are in trouble. It is a family of ruling elites that’s sitting on the masses of billions of dollars of oil money. And these revolutions from across the Arab world are threatening–ipso facto threatening the medieval disposition of Saudi Arabia.

The same is true, paradoxically and strangely and ironically, for Israel that sees itself as the only democracy in the region. But it is the democracy, quote-unquote, that has painted itself into a corner, that can only deal with Arab potentates like Mubarak and /’zeI.lAg/, Gaddafi, and others. Even oppositional figures like Bashar al-Assad are better for Israel, rather than open-ended, messy democratic movement.

As a result, they have both come together to secure their own interests.

Now, here, paradoxically, you see Israel feels (rightly) threatened by these radical Islamist forces in Syria who are being actually financed by countries like Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or Qatar or other countries, degenerating the democratic aspirations that began the Syrian revolution into sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias. So their alliance is very [incompr.] and very strategic.

We have to keep our minds on the long term, which is a democratic uprising across the Arab and Muslim world, which cannot just be cheated out of those democratic aspirations by a backward regime like the one in Saudi Arabia, or unless and until Israel can begin to reimagine itself, reimagine the fate of 7 million human beings living within the boundaries of Israel in a larger context of these democratic revolutions in the Arab world and in conjunction with those democratic aspirations, rather than just working with these dictators.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Hamid Dabashi, always very informative. Thank you for that analysis.

DABASHI: My pleasure. Any time.

DESVARIEUX: And we are going to continue this conversation in part three. We’re going to talk about Iran and Syria. So please be sure to check out our next segment.

Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He received a dual Ph.D. in Sociology of Culture and Islamic Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 1984, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University. He wrote his dissertation on Max Weber's theory of charismatic authority with Philip Rieff (1922-2006), the most distinguished Freudian cultural critic of his time. Professor Dabashi has taught and delivered lectures in many North American, European, Arab, and Iranian universities.
Professor Dabashi has written twenty-five books, edited four, and contributed chapters to many more. He is also the author of over 100 essays, articles and book reviews on subjects ranging from Iranian Studies, medieval and modern Islam, and comparative literature to world cinema and the philosophy of art (trans-aesthetics). His books and articles have been translated into numerous languages, including Japanese, German, French, Spanish, Danish, Russian, Hebrew, Italian, Arabic, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Polish, Turkish, Urdu and Catalan.