It feels practically like déjà vu. Once more President Obama has reached an agreement with one of the proclaimed threats to the United States – first it was Cuba, now Iran. So it is that following on the heels of a shaky rapprochement with Cuba, we see that the United States has reached a tentative agreement – in conjunction with the P5+1 group – with Iran regarding that country’s nuclear program.
The question is what this agreement has done, if anything, and what it may lead to in the future. As we know with the United States’ realpolitik as regards Cuba, there is always more than meets the eye and there is never a simple agreement made. What, then, is the story behind the story with the Lausanne Agreement regarding Iran?
First we need to step back a moment and see where things have been in the recent past. By recent, we must think a bit beyond the Rouhani administration and start at least with the leadership of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. We cannot divorce the current situation in Iran and the world without first briefly recalling the event of the recent past. In the case of the democratically-elected Mossadegh, the CIA refused to accept his independent policies especially as related to nationalized industry, and his toppling led to the ascension of the dictatorship of the Shah.
Moving from the Western-backed Shah, Iran experienced the Islamic Revolution and since that period we have seen nothing but tension between the United States and Iran punctuated by the US support for Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran and the continuous diplomatic attacks by the United States as well as pervasive and damaging sanctions. For the United States, an independent Iran – one that counters United States-Saudi-Israeli regional domination – is a threat.
Lost within the Western rhetoric of the present discussion regarding the Lausanne Agreement is the fact that the nuclear program of Iran in its current form poses no threat to the United States or even to the security of the nuclear-armed Israel. The discussion presupposes that Iran has a nuclear program that is a threat in some form. While it occasionally breaks through – and indeed is recognized by those better briefed in intelligence matters – the reality of Iran’s fatwas against nuclear weaponry and the fact that at no time has Iran done anything more with its nuclear program than mere civilian use is hidden. Rather, the Western populace is bombarded with talk of the so-called breakout time of Iran’s nuclear program and amateurish and utterly mendacious charts paraded by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The whole debate has been strategically positioned to view Iran’s nuclear program as an imminent threat that must be countered. Thus, the discussion, and indeed the negotiations between P5+1 and Iran, has been prejudiced from the outset. Iran, which it must be repeated has not threatened to develop nuclear weapons, is the threat while countries such as Israel – which has nuclear arms – and the United States – which has used nuclear weapons – are somehow the innocent lambs being threatened by the angry Islamist Iran wolf.
The threat is not nuclear. Please repeat this. The threat is not nuclear. Let us be clear about this and repeat it once more. The threat is not nuclear. When Israel felt threatened by Saddam Hussein, it did what any self-respecting Zionist state would do – it bombed Iraq. When Israel felt threatened by Hamas rockets, it did what any self-respecting colonial government would do – it bombed innocent children. But with Iran, Israel realizes there is no threat from nuclear weapons. And thus? It sits back, yells about a threat and pushes a game of trying to chip away at Iranian independence with its imperial ally in Washington. The threat is not nuclear.
The threat is not nuclear but rather the threat is one of non-nuclear influence in the region and one of solidarity with the resistance groups of Palestine, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. The simplistic canard is that Iran is pushing arms to everyone and plotting for the Second Holocaust versus World Jewry based on a falsely translated quote of former President Ahmadinejad who was paraphrasing a quote from Iran’s Supreme Leader. Clearly, the canard has credence for those who have no interest in reality however.
Iran simply wishes to live peaceably – please ask yourself which country Iran has invaded – and free from foreign attacks on its economic and cultural sovereignty.
But the threat is real – the threat of influence and independence. As is the case with Cuba, Venezuela, Russia and any other country that does not simply kowtow to US demands, Iran must understand that its independence cannot be fully accepted. They are just a brown country that must allow the benefits of white freedom to shine down on it. Yet Iran has not accepted that and for this reason the phantom threat of nuclear weapons was needed.
In a roundabout way, we return to Lausanne and the prejudiced basis on which the talks began.
First of all, the Lausanne Agreement is merely an agreement. It is not a binding document or treaty or final plan for Iran’s nuclear program. It is the end of a beginning of a part of a multifaceted conflict between Iran and the United States and its allies. Of course, all problems are solved with first steps but before anyone gets too excited it’s important to remember that the two sides agreed to continue talking and working towards a summer date to have a written legal agreement and to have Iranian ink on the same page as US ink.
To digress again, the dispute is created by the United States and perpetuated by it with the other P5+1 nations and Iran being dragged along for the ride of United States imperialism. Do not imagine that Russia, China, England, France or Germany want a continued sanction-ridden Iran.
So the Lausanne Agreement is perhaps nothing more than a trial balloon that was sent up by Iran and the United States to see how it plays in their respective countries before the real work of a final settlement commences. And this is really all the Lausanne Agreement is for now – a trial balloon, but one that is relevant for the purposes of what both sides are purportedly willing to offer in negotiations and also for the reactions to the agreement from various global sectors. Additionally, the Agreement raises several questions as to what will happen if the final negotiations and settlement will be close to a compilation of the various points that the two sides have spoken of in their respective comments in the wake of the Agreement.
In the immediate aftermath of the Agreement, the United States released a Fact Sheet detailing what it stated were the relevant portions of the Agreement. In a world where everything is scrutinized immediately and in real time, the Fact Sheet was hailed by all as a success for diplomacy. On careful inspection however, some analysts quietly noted that based on the information provided in the Fact Sheet, it was a rather resounding success for the United States. Indeed, I myself viewed it in this light as well and was critical of the alleged terms of the deal.
The media was declaring a fair deal that would limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities while providing needed sanctions relief. The Western media showed pictures of a hero’s welcome for Iranian officials returning to Tehran and announced that the people of Iran had spontaneously celebrated in the streets of Iran in support of the “success”. In reality, the celebrations appeared rather on the small side, looking much less populated than Friday Prayers. Noticeably absent from the reports was any information as to what segment of the Iranian population was celebrating – was this urban liberals who have been pushing for warm relations with the West or was it the majority working class population?
Israeli and United States conservatives led harsh criticism of the apparent deal spearheaded by the denunciations by Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet. The Western media lumped these war criminals in the same sentence as Iranian “hardliners” who began to criticize the deal as well based upon the terms noted in the United States’ Fact Sheet. To the imperial pragmatism of the Western media, Iranian national concern over potentially damaging terms was on par with the fascist ravings of Netanyahu.
Inspection of the fact sheet did however give credence to the concerns of the Iranian “hardliners”. According to the Fact Sheet, Iran will be required to significantly roll back its nuclear program – again, recall, it is one that has historically been peaceful – while agreeing to what analysts noted were unprecedentedly stringent and intrusive inspection by the IAEA. Its nuclear research sites would lose the majority of its centrifuges, nuclear material would be shipped outside the country, while nuclear technology that had been previously developed would be ended and nuclear technology would only be allowed at a basic level that Iran had a decade prior. Research and development would be severely constrained. So-called breakout time to a nuclear weapon would be increased to at least a 1-year period. Inspections would apparently be allowed at any site and talk was that any Iranian military site would be inspectable even if no probable cause existed that the site was producing nuclear weapons; a simple desire to spy would allow for inspection.
And what would Iran receive in return? The hope for sanctions relief. Sanctions relief would not come immediately and it would be relief solely from nuclear-related sanctions. Indeed, sanctions related to ballistic weapons and support for regional resistance groups would remain fully in place. This was according to the Fact Sheet. In some degree of contradiction, the joint statement between EU Representative Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif noted:
The EU will terminate the implementation of all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions and the US will cease the application of all nuclear-related secondary economic and financial sanctions, simultaneously with the IAEA-verified implementation by Iran of its key nuclear commitments.
A new UN Security Council Resolution will endorse the JCPOA, terminate all previous nuclear-related resolutions and incorporate certain restrictive measures for a mutually agreed period of time.
According to the above statement, it appears as if UNSC sanctions would terminate upon final agreement (JCPOA), while EU and US sanctions would cease when the IAEA verified that Iran had implemented nuclear commitments. In essence, from the Mogherini-Zarif statement, there would be no immediate end to sanctions by all parties – this would create a situation similar to Cuba where UNSC sanctions are not present but United States (and in this case, EU) sanctions would be present.
Following the Agreement, Iran’s Foreign Ministry continuously claimed – rather incongruously – that all sanctions would terminate immediately. One can see this to be an incorrect reading even of the above statement co-issued by Iran’s Foreign Minister himself. The United States Fact Sheet cannot be trusted – something that Iran’s government has repeatedly stated – but it not possible to recognize the statements from Iran as being fully accurate either. One is led to the conclusion that either Javad Zarif was duped into co-approving the Mogherini Statement and did not understand what was being said or he had near-immediate buyers’ remorse and had to spin the statement to a more domestically palatable, if not completely truthful, manner.
Whichever the case – something history may later tell us – the issue remains that sanctions would not end immediately by all forces and neither would all sanctions end. In essence, Iran would trade the vast majority of its nuclear program in return for the hope of partial sanction relief.
Several points need to be clarified. First, the only sanctions that would be “terminated” would be UNSC sanctions and even this would be predicated on the UNSC voting to terminate sanctions and none of the permanent members vetoing the new resolution. Of course, this would include the United States and this is something that is far from guaranteed despite the United States being behind the deal in the first place.
Secondly, should the UNSC terminate nuclear-related sanctions, US and EU sanctions would remain and create a confused sanctions regime in which the US could decide to isolate and take punitive measures against countries that dealt with Iran as US sanctions remained despite UN sanctions being terminated.
Third, only nuclear-related sanctions will be lifted. Non-nuclear related sanctions will remain and this is a critical point to note but one that has been lost in the discussion of the agreement. The sanction stick will remain and will lead to Western powers – primarily the United States – in tailoring sanctions against Iran to various other reasons dealing with non-nuclear reasons such as support for Palestinian resistance groups, Houthi rebels, Hezbollah, development of ballistic weapons or any other concocted rationale to pressure Iran’s policies.
To repeat, this is not about nuclear weapons. Rather, the West is pretextually using the threat of nuclear weapons to leverage concessions from Iran on non-nuclear issues. Before this is dismissed as conspiracy theory – “But Iran really is a threat and this is an actual issue and your conspiracy is just nonsense because we wouldn’t hype a nuclear threat to get to some bigger goal” – one needs only to see the wheels spinning in the minds of top policymakers and realpolitik extraordinaires. As referenced in “Iran Nuclear Deal Likely to Increase US Regional Leverage” by geopolitical analyst Jim Lobe, the report, “Iran and Its Neighbors: Regional Implications for US Policy of a Nuclear Agreement”, such luminaries as Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft among others laid out the case as to how a nuclear agreement will lead to movement in other regional issues that they see Iran as having their hand in.
To quote the report: “If the leaders of the United States and Iran are prepared to take on their domestic political opponents’ opposition to the agreement now taking shape, then their governments can turn to the broader agenda of regional issues.”
Indeed, the West sees an opportunity in President Rouhani after the tenure of President Ahmadinejad. In President Rouhani, they see someone who is willing to take on the establishment, his “domestic political opponents’ opposition”, to not merely nuclear issues but, long-term, regional issues which the report sees to include Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq. Additionally, they see President Rouhani as someone who has been very receptive to establishing privatization policies for Iran’s economy and opening the country to significant foreign investment. Unlike his predecessors, President Rouhani has stated a desire to end subsidies to the poor and reduce state influence in major national industries. Strategically located, Iran is a prize that the United States will not sit idly by and watch, as it would ally with a Russia-China axis. Lucrative indeed is trade with Iran and the West recognizes this clearly but will need to guarantee that a lifting of sanctions is not done haphazardly and uncontrolled by Western guardians. A sudden lifting of sanctions, unguided by procedures and a guarantee of bona fides towards Western interests would merely backfire in the face of the West. Thus it is that a slow lifting of sanctions – tied to geopolitical shifts in Iran’s policies – is required. And again, pragmatists in the West recognize that the first step in this process is pulling President Rouhani to their side and isolating the traditionalists and principalists within Iran that would continue an ideological policy regarding national interests – both on nuclear policy, domestic economic issues and regional alliances.
Looking at domestic economics and concurrent international economics, the salivation has already begun in an obvious alliance between urban Iranian neoliberals and foreign capital investors. The title of an April 6 report from the BBC – “Iran nuclear deal has hungry investors circling” – sums up the climate clearly. As the article notes:
Sanctions by the United States and the European Union on Iran’s financial, energy and trade sectors have held back the country once described as “the biggest untapped market before Mars and the Moon” by Martin Sorrel of advertising giant WPP.
Some anticipate a “gold rush” once Iran’s 77-million-strong, highly educated, consumption-savvy market opens up.
Regionally as well there are significant questions that will arise if a nuclear deal would lead to a shift in Iran’s relations with the United States and general Western interests. A gradual sidelining of the traditionalists’ power and looking several years out to a possible US-induced color revolution leading to an urban elite neoliberal technocratic government, one can see the possibility of a weakened influence of the Gulf States’ current status as the United States’ favored mistress in the region. A potential shift in influence away from the Gulf States while still ruled by takfiri-supporting dictators, one can envision the unleashing of mercenary takfiri forces in the region with them now starring as putatively anti-Western forces as they fight for the spurned Gulf dictators.
And in Iran itself, will a potential nuclear deal temporarily sideline the reported interest of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad making a return to the political arena? Will a “solved” nuclear issue shove him to the side, as a hard line on the nuclear issue becomes “yesterday’s method”? One could see a temporary sidelining of his return, yet a later return fueled less by nuclear resistance to the West and rather by economics when the masses of Iranian people see in him the populist leader they need to save their families from neoliberal privatizations.
But again, the Lausanne Agreement is not binding. It was a framework agreement that we have already seen is being contested by both sides regarding what was agreed to. Perhaps it is merely a trial balloon. Already signs are being raised that Iran’s traditionalists and those in favor of sovereignty are questioning not only the interpretation of the Lausanne Agreement but the Agreement itself. In the days that followed the Agreement, the influential nationalist newspaper Kayhan blasted the Agreement itself and in the past day, President Rouhani has shifted his rhetoric in recognition of the fact that the United States will be taking a hard line as to what sanctions will be lifted. One can only wonder whether Supreme Leader Khamenei – who refused to definitively support or oppose the Agreement in a public fashion – and the Revolutionary Guard – which has publically opposed potential concessions -provided a swift kick to the President and let him now that they know he is being courted by the West but he needs to realize that a principled stand is still the rule for Iran. One can hope this is the case. On the other side of the coin President Obama has stepped up his lobbying of the United States Congress and Senate to fall in line and accept the Agreement. For as we know, the Agreement was one in which Iran stood to lose significantly in return for dubious hopes of partial sanctions relief.
The only option for Iran at this point is to stand firm and set clear red lines for any future final agreement. Already, Iran seems to stepping back from potential concessions and this is necessary. The future lies not in ceding national sovereignty and dignity to a bloated, overstretched American behemoth. No longer does Iran need to see itself as caught between the United States and a cliff. Global alliances divorced from Western hegemony are developing. Iran must stand firm against what Lenin correctly termed as: imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism.
For an independent, sovereign Iran!
Andrew Kahn writes the Voice of America blog.