Iran and the 5 +1 group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany) began talks on 15 April in Istanbul with a plenary session of all parties. The White House has welcomed Iran-5+1 group talks as a ‘positive first step’.
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Western officials have signalled that Iran and the 5 +1 group will meet for another round of talks in late May, possibly in Baghdad, as Iran has suggested.

“I hope what we will see today is the beginning of a sustained process,” said Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief who is chairing the meeting on behalf of the major powers. All of the indicators point to a decisive round in this recent game called the “Iran nuclear programme” between militarized capitalism in Iran – which is the nature of the current regime – and ‘the West’. The stakes were high for all concerned. Before the start of the talks, Iran signalled that it would take these negotiations more seriously than most: it was prepared to take extra steps to ensure their success.

To coincide with this, former Iranian president Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, gave a recent interview in a security studies journal. It might be important to share some of its key passages. They were translated from the Fars News Agency by the USG Open Source Center. Rafsanjani is head of the Expediency Council which resolves conflicts between the civil parliament and the clergy-dominated Guardianship Council. It also advises Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Rafsanjani leaned toward support for the so called ‘Green Movement’ of 2009, which protested against alleged election fraud in the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The religious reformists claimed that the election was fraudulent and that in fact an election coup had been perpetrated. When that movement was largely defeated, Rafsanjani was left weakened.

The semi-official Fars News, which reported on the Rafsanjani interview, is clearly outraged at what Rafsanjani says about the need to reach out to the US. Rafsanjani reveals that he wrote to Ayatollah Ruhullah Khomaini late in the latter’s life urging some sort of compromise with the United States of America.

There has been an ongoing power struggle between Rafsanjani and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and each of the main candidates for the last controversial election were supported by one or other of these powers. Their bargaining positions must be the starting point for any understanding of current events. It seems that both are drawing nearer to the moment when all will be decided. So, this is really different.  A glance at the articles appearing some days ago by a couple of representatives of the Islamic republic’s officialdom might help us to get a more lucid picture of what is going on.

Ali Akbar Salehi , the foreign minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who graduated in the US like many other high-ranking officials in the Islamic republic, takes the hopeful view in the Washington Post that in the upcoming talks all sides will be committed to comprehensive, long-term dialogue, aimed at resolving all the parties’ outstanding concerns; and, most importantly, that all sides will make genuine efforts to reestablish confidence and trust.  His tone of compromise is ecchoed by that of a former top Iranian diplomat who also began his academic career at one of the America’s most prestigious universities: Seyed Hossein Mousavian. Mousavian was the regime’s former ambassador to Germany during the period of the Mykonos operation in which Kurdish leaders were massacred in Berlin in 1992. He is now a leading nuclear negotiator, living in the US and working as a research fellow at Princeton University. Addressing an American audience recently in Foreign Policy he said: “Constructive cooperation between Tehran and Washington is crucial for a regional security structure” He advises Washington to fashion a patient foreign policy toward Iran, understanding that progress in improving US-Iran relations will take years rather than months, and adding: “Regime change is not part of Iran’s outlook in the near future, and Iran is not in a pre-revolutionary state.”

For outsiders it may be hard to understand why ordinary Iranians cannot get a US visa, and their elderly parents have to go through several months of background security checks before being admitted to the US on a simple family visit, while at the same time, known Iranian terrorists are granted visas and invited to work in Princeton, where they are offered the height of luxury. In a more recent somewhat flirtatious interview on CNN Mousavian referred to Khamenei’s Fatwa against Nuclear Weapons when responding to a bunch of propagandistic prompts from one of CNN ’s Iranian American journalists – he emphasized that despite all the slogans, his government has never posed any kind of real threat to the Israeli government.

The Barack Obama administration’s new interest in the 2004 religious verdict, or fatwa, by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banning the possession of nuclear weapons, long dismissed by national security officials, has prompted the New York Times to review the significance of the fatwa for the first time in several years:

”Recognizing that mistrust is mutual is the first step toward confidence building. A second step is to acknowledge that the international community’s “dual track” policy of pressure and diplomacy toward Iran has in fact been mostly a single track of coercion, sanctions, covert war, and isolation – with no clear, coherent, strategic vision of the kind of relationship the United States can ultimately accept with the Islamic Republic. There has not been a meaningful agenda of specific proposals for practical ways to build confidence through diplomacy.”

While these commentators playact for a while and reiterate some bogus old anti-US claims, we are fast approaching a new episode in this drama which has a profound impact on the Iranian people. On the one hand the pressure of Islamic ideology sustained throughout these thirty three years will continue to decline in significance. A glimpse of the streets in Iran today , despite obedience to Islamic rules (including the wearing of the Hijab or Islamic dress-code), is enough to get the whole picture. There are of course ups and downs as you might gather from this sad little bizarre scene of “Dog prison” made by people seeking to regain their violated basic rights. The right to choose outfits, life style etc. are among the most basic human rights and it is calculated that 70% of Iranian society find these rights denied them in one way or another.

The economics of it all

Meanwhile, it seems that any economic recovery depends ultimately on the deal that can be made between the US and the Islamic Republic. The change that seems to be in the pipeline takes time and we should not expect any sudden overnight galvanic transformation. It has in fact already begun but you can barely find a mention of it in the mainstream media. Any kind of unexpected event like the death of the supreme leader and so forth could help this process. The continuing war of words between the current regime in Iran and the US and its allies will go on, but at a different level – and there are still many accounts to settle. Brinkmanship between the IRI and the so- called ‘International community’ will continue to the very last. We are talking about a process.

Another implication of recent developments is that the neoliberal  opponents (even the green people within Iran have nothing in common with the those of the western mainstream media) will be even more marginalized. After the last presidential election in Iran “The Green Movement” became a business for some parts of the opposition abroad  in Washington and London and Paris and Berlin and etc where some claimed to be the representatives of the religious reformists. Some demanded their own share and some denied the essence of the movement and dreamed of their imaginary revolutions. All of this was going on outside of Iran more than inside Iran, and among various political activists.

You would have thought that Iranian conflict would worsen a bad economic situation but the fact is that the IMF is happy with Iran. The Ahmadinejad regime has been busy implementing privatizations and neoliberal structural-adjustment programs. In fact, the twenty-year-long process concluded under Ahamdinejad who has dutifully signed up to the so-called Amendment to the Article 44 of the Constitution. This Amendment envisions a wholesale dismantling of the public sector and paves the way for its handover to the capitalists. A review of all the events of recent months in Iran, and the economic plans of this government in pursuit of the prescriptions of the World Bank and the IMF  -which are against the interests of the people and especially the working class – indicate the real orientation and nature of the Islamic regime. Militarised capitalism has its own needs and necessities, one of which is the elimination of subsidies. The ultimate goal of neo-liberal and  neo-conservative capitalism (which finally revealed itself to be the economic model of the Ahmadinejad government) is to eliminate the subsidies, because it wants to convert labour into a commodity and release it on the market, not taking any responsibility meanwhile for protecting wages and the standard of living of people.

These responsibilities are considered barriers to foreign investment – which the government is seeking with a staggering hunger. We clearly see that with regard to development plans and economic studies they are constantly recommending getting the approval of a foreign consultant in any way possible, even by paying extra money. In many cases they know that a foreign consultant does not even have ten percent of the information or analytical knowledge of a domestic consultant, but they insist on getting its approval. This is because they want to open the doors for foreign capital. Foreign capitalism does not like unions and syndicates; does not like subsidies. It just wants to take advantage of cheap labour and run its business. It wants to take advantage of unemployment, and reduce wages.

In recent months, some of the so-called opposition in the diaspora initiated a last-ditch stand at posing as a fake opposition. Along similar lines, some conferences took place in European capitals such as London and Stockholm and more recently, in Washington. The participants ranged from the special adviser of the son of the late Shah of Iran to reformists and former member of the Iranian Parliament and right-wing student activists at the service of the most right-wing think tanks in the States to some former leftists and contrite activists who are unashamedly neoliberal today. It seems as if they will leave no stone unturned to create an Iranian version of Ahmed Chalabi . Faced with the criticism and exposées of democratic forces within Iran and the diaspora, they are nevertheless all queuing up for an appropriate opportunity to exploit the situation for the future. However these fortune-seekers complicit with their neoliberal counterparts within the Islamic republic stand little chance, especially in the diaspora.

The way the current situation is reflected in the mainstream media, particularly the Persian mainstream, is another long story, and unfortunately the media plays an important role in forming and mobilizing a large part of public opinion in Iran, especially the middle classes who make up the audience for satellite TV, and for gaining accurate information from outside the Islamic republic and its propaganda. Despite this, it seems the interpenetration of one section of these religious and semi-religious neoliberal reformists within Iran with the coming process is likely.

But surely they will not have the upper hand. It seems the shoo-in is Iranian militarized capitalism which is little surprise for those cognizant observers who realize the nature of this regime and also that of the so-called “international community” and its interests. I don’t know how far militarised capital will go in entering into a dispute with other parts of the regime.  Will the regime give concessions to the west and the US in order to secure its survival?!

Even though it is incontrovertibly too early for any final judgment on the ongoing process, we can nevertheless discern a trend. Right after this retreat  by the Islamic republic, and the wheeler dealing between the Iranian regime and so called “International community”, we were witness to    Ahmadinejad’s visit to the UAE, designed to stimulate public opinion and play into the nationalist emotions of the Iranian people within Iran and the diaspora. Meanwhile, the UAE warned that the dispute with Iran threatens “international security” . This was aimed at diverting public opinion – and all the evidence suggests that this was at least partially effective since, for example, in recent days  we are been accosted with the spectacle of dozens of Iranians who have altered the place of their birth to “Abu Musa, Hormozgan, Iran” on Facebook. This too is no surprise for political observers since this old chestnut has always offered a great potential for manoeuvre  on the part of those willing to exploit it.

I am not a prophet and there are many factors on the table to consider. But contrary to the opinion of the New York Times writer, I am in some doubt that Iran’s mullahs can rest easy. Because the hard core of developments in Iran today is not just about “Mullahs” anymore. We are talking about a bunch of military people that monopolise capital and power and keep it in their hands.  Although it is true that there is no such thing as a systematic structure in the current regime, and that makes it so difficult to venture a cut-and-dried opinion, we can nevertheless talk about the strains based on facts which are neglected by the mainstream media.

Soheil Asefi is an Iranian journalist in Berlin. He left Iran three years ago after a ten- year professional experience in major Iranian media outlets.

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Soheil Asefi is an Iranian journalist in Berlin. He left Iran some years ago after  ten years professional experience in major Iranian media outlets. He had been in prison and was released on bail.   He came to Germany as the guest of the City of Nuremberg under the project ‘Writers in Exile’ funded by the German Pen Center. He is the recipient of the Hermann Kasten award in Nuremberg.