Iran Between Two Fantasies: More Mischief At Home And Abroad
05 August 2015
By Amir Taheri
What does a salesman do when he knows that the product he is pushing is not
what it is claimed to be? He tries to stress other advantages the buyer would
enjoy, for example winning a box of chocolates or a free holiday.
This is what US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian President Hassan
Rouhani are doing with the nuclear deal they say they have made in Vienna.
Rouhani knows that, if fully implemented, the "deal" could put Iran under
tutelage exercised by the six big powers involved in the talks, with the
blessings of a United Nations Security Council resolution.
And that would make a mockery of Iran's claims of being a "big power" seeking
a zone of influence in the Middle East, let alone claiming global leadership.
To hide that fact, Rouhani is promising milk and honey when Iran's frozen
assets pour into the national economy, creating "millions of jobs."
In other words, he says: forget the "deal" itself, think of all the goodies
it could bring!
For his part, Kerry is intelligent enough to know that the "deal" will in no
way block Iran's path to making a bomb if it so wished. So he too is trying
to sell his bad product by highlighting fringe benefits.
That became clear during the Senate hearings in Washington.
The first fringe benefit that Kerry dwelt upon was that the "deal" would
persuade Tehran to engage in negotiations regarding other problems such as
exporting terrorism, making mischief in Syria and Lebanon, and holding
Kerry claimed that Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and President
Rouhani informed him that they have no authority to negotiate on those topics
at present, but both have told him "very clearly" that, after the "deal,"
they are ready to discuss regional issues.
To illustrate Zarif's goodwill, Kerry related how he told the Khomeinist
foreign minister to stop a ship heading for Yemen last spring. According to
Kerry, Zarif acted immediately and the ship, launched with fanfare, quickly
returned to Iran.
The second fringe benefit that Kerry advertised was that the "deal" gives
control of Iran's frozen assets to the P5+1 powers in which the US has
leadership. For 15 years the US would have a big say on how Iran spends a
large part of its own money.
The most important fringe benefit that Kerry cited was the third.
He said that the "deal" was designed to weaken "extremists" within the regime
and help "moderates," led by former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, to
win power in the next elections for the Islamic Majlis and the Assembly of
Experts and, later, the presidency.
"If we turn our back to the [nuclear] agreement, no one knows what would
happen to Rouhani in the next elections," he said. He wants Rouhani to win a
Kerry's statements show that all along during the negotiations he, and
presumably other P5+1 representatives, were pursuing a parallel process aimed
at promoting change within the regime in Tehran.
In other words, the nuclear issue was a pretext for a bigger goal.
Of course, if Iran becomes a normal power it wouldn't really matter whether
or not it has the bomb.
History, however, shows that those who do something in the hope of gaining
something else almost always end up as losers.
The wisest political course is to remain focused on a clear objective. In
this case, Iran had violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and
needed to be taken to task in accordance with its provisions, nothing more
and nothing less.
Kerry and his colleagues, almost certainly guided by the rudderless Barack
Obama, tried to fudge the real issue with lengthy and often meaningless texts
in the hope of helping "moderates' win power in Tehran. They confused the
prey with its shadow.
Kerry's analysis is marketed by a network of pro-Tehran lobbyists in the US
and Europe that includes prominent members of the foreign policy and security
Over the past two weeks some of them, including a couple of prominent British
politicians and several US "think-tank" gurus, have bombarded me with advice
regarding the "importance of helping Iranian moderates" win power to isolate,
and, later, hopefully get rid of "Supreme Guide" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"Rouhani is a man we have known for 25 years," a former British cabinet
minister tells me. "He is a man we could work with to bring Iran back into
the international fold."
The phrase "the man we could work with" is borrowed from the late Mrs.
Thatcher, who used it to describe Mikhail Gorbachev, the man who presided
over the dissolution of the Soviet Empire.
At times, Obama talks of helping "elected organs" of the Khomeinist regime
against "un-elected" ones.
He forgets two things.
First, there has never been anything resembling a free election in the
Islamic Republic. Rouhani's election was as fair or as unfair as that of his
predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And the next elections will be conducted
within the same rules imposed by the mullahs.
The second point he forgets is that the "un-elected organ," by which he means
the "Supreme Guide," is also elected by the Assembly of Experts whose members
are in turn elected, supposedly by the people in the same way that Rouhani or
Even then, the assumption that the Rafsanjani faction, of which Rouhani is
the current public face, is interested in reforms is far-fetched to say the
Now in the third year of his four-year term, Rouhani has not even presented,
let alone implemented, a single reform in any domain.
The economy remains hamstrung by Soviet-style controls worsened as a result
of massive corruption.
Political parties and trade unions remain banned.
More publications have been shut than under Ahmadinejad.
The number of prisoners of conscience has almost doubled along with the
number of executions.
Rouhani has even published a draft bill to create a new category in Iranian
law: political crime.
Former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi and his wife Zahra Rahnavard and
former Majlis Speaker Mehdi Karroubi remain under house arrest without
charge. Their situation has worsened because of a ban on visits from their
Under Rouhani the Islamic Republic holds five US hostages, the largest number
since the 1980s.
Abroad, exporting terror has intensified with a 32-percent rise in the budget
of the Quds Force which controls Iranian networks such as Hezbollah in
Tehran has also increased its stipend for the group around Syrian despot
Bashar Al-Assad. Tehran is also trying to help Assad cope with his manpower
shortage by recruiting mercenaries in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and
Iraq. (Rouhani is afraid of sending more Iranians whose death in action could
trigger domestic problems.)
Kerry, I think rightly, has warned that forcing Iran to surrender is a
But he is chasing an even more dangerous fantasy: helping a regime in deep
crisis regain its bearings and do more mischief at home and abroad.
Amir Taheri was born in Ahvaz, southwest Iran, and educated in Tehran, London
and Paris. He was Executive Editor-in-Chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran
(1972-79). In 1980-84, he was Middle East Editor for the Sunday Times. In
1984-92, he served as member of the Executive Board of the International Press
Institute (IPI). Between 1980 and 2004, he was a contributor to the
International Herald Tribune. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, the
New York Post, the New York Times, the London Times, the French magazine
Politique Internationale, and the German weekly Focus. Between 1989 and 2005, he
was editorial writer for the German daily Die Welt. Taheri has published 11
books, some of which have been translated into 20 languages. He has been a
columnist for Asharq Alawsat since 1987. Taheri's latest book "The Persian
Night" is published by Encounter Books in London and New York.