[Marxism] Iran, 1990s and 2000s

Marvin Gandall marvgandall at videotron.ca
Mon Aug 21 05:51:30 MDT 2006

Nestor G. wrote:

But what I know, and that is for sure, is that at the very moment
when we are debating these issues there are people seriously thinking
of launching an attack (even a nuclear attack?) on Iran ASAP, ASAP
meaning real soon.
Below, another article in today's Guardian reporting on general economic
disatisfaction and a longing for more social freedom offset by unity across
the political spectrum in defence of Iran's right to nuclear technology. A
harsh view of Ahmandinejad, but Tindall's street interviews seemed to have
been mainly with the Tehran young. The Iranians appear to regard the
threatened US strikes at the country's nuclear and military facilities as
mostly a bluff for negotiating purposes, but Tindall, like others in the
West, also thinks this may turn out to be a "dangerous illusion"

*    *    *
Power and the people

Iran says it wants nuclear energy to fuel its economy. The US says it wants
to build an 'Islamic bomb'. But what do Iranians think about the deepening
crisis? Given rare access, Simon Tisdall spoke to people on the streets of
Tehran - and to the men in charge of the country's nuclear programme

Monday August 21, 2006
The Guardian

Tensions between Iran and the west have rarely been greater than they are
today. On the one side, President George Bush has accused Iran of being
behind the attack by Hizbullah on Israel that sparked the Lebanon war; and
both the US and Britain say that Iran is bent on developing nuclear weapons.
On the other, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has claimed that the Bush
administration is trampling on the rights of Muslims throughout the world;
the US is the "Global Arrogance" (the term which has replaced the "Great
Satan" in the Iranian lexicon) in which Washington's plan for a "new Middle
East" is simply a scheme to subjugate the region to US and commercial

Just last week, an article by Seymour Hersh, the respected US investigative
reporter, which claimed that the war against Iran's proxy Hizbullah was a
premeditated US-directed warm-up for an attack on Iran itself, stoked fears
in Tehran that a US air assault on its nuclear facilities, even regime
change, are moving to the top of the agenda. Officials in Tehran worry that,
after Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran is seen by Bush as "unfinished business" -
and that, urged on by Israel, he is determined to destroy what both
countries see as the looming threat of an "Islamic bomb". They hear Bush's
talk of "Islamic fascists" - and wonder whether he will soon be gunning for

There is a way out. Tomorrow the Iranian government will present its
long-awaited response to the west's last-ditch compromise offer on nuclear
power. This package, belatedly backed by the US, offers Iran a range of
incentives from implicit security, territorial guarantees and an end to
sanctions, to new commercial and technological collaborations. But first,
Bush insists, Iran must suspend all uranium enrichment operations, which
Washington believes are connected to its attempts to acquire bomb-making

So far, Iran has insisted that it will not accept any such pre-conditions.
Officials say they are willing to resume negotiations with the west - but on
equal terms. So when Ahmadinejad delivers Iran's formal reply at a Tehran
press conference, the stage will be set for an epic clash that could
reverberate across the Middle East and far beyond. So far, the story has
mostly been reported from the outside, and from a western perspective. But
what are the prospects for war and peace as seen from inside Iran? For the
past two weeks the Guardian has been given unprecedented access to explore
what ordinary Iranians think about the most pressing issue facing their
country - and what some of the country's most powerful men believe will
happen next.

'Diplomatic chess'

In a high-ceilinged, thick-carpeted inner sanctum of Iran's fortress-like
Supreme National Security Council building in central Tehran, Ali Larijani
patiently spells out the factors that will play a part in Iran's decision.
The CIA would dearly love to penetrate inside these walls. Perhaps it
already has; visitors' mobile phones and other electronic devices are

Larijani is an important man in Iran. As secretary of the security council
and chief nuclear negotiator, it is he, and his predecessor, Hassan Rowhani,
who have by turns tantalised, teased and infuriated the west during three
years of discussions on the nuclear dossier. Iran plays a long and astute
negotiating game, which Larijani likens to "diplomatic chess". Officials say
they learned at the feet of masters: the European powers who exploited
Persia during the 19th century "Great Game". Britain is still referred to as
the "Old Fox".

Larijani has a daunting reputation as the dour former head of state
television whose programme schedules were both morally edifying and utterly
tedious. His appointment by Ahmadinejad was seen in the west as representing
an ominous shift towards recalcitrance. But in person he is charming and

"There are many reasons why Iran is seeking nuclear power," he says. "The
history of our nuclear activity dates back 45 years to the time of the
ex-shah's regime. But after the Islamic revolution, some western countries
condemned Iran and cancelled their nuclear agreements with us. For example,
the Americans had concluded an agreement for a research reactor in Tehran
and also to provide the fuel. But they cancelled the agreement and did not
give back the money. The Germans did the same. So the lesson was: we have to
be self-sufficient, to provide fuel for ourselves."

He continues: "We don't see why we should stop the scientific research of
our country. We understand why this is very sensitive. But they (the west)
are categorising countries. Some countries can have access to high nuclear
technology. The others are told they can produce fruit juice and pears! They
say: 'Don't seek a nuclear bomb.' We don't have any objection to that. But
unfortunately officials of some countries such as the UK say, 'We don't want
you to have the knowledge for nuclear technology'. This is not logical. And
we don't pay attention to this."

The Americans' contradictory impulses are to blame for the standoff, he
says. "After September 11 2001, they faced a problem in Afghanistan. They
requested assistance from Iran and we gave it. But after the problem ended
in Afghanistan, they called us the 'axis of evil'. This paradox has always
been their way. They want to kiss one side of our face, but at the same time
they also want to slap the other side."

Iran is still willing to negotiate, Larijani concludes, but it will not give
up its nuclear power programme. Nor will it yield to preconditions such as
Bush's demand for an immediate suspension of uranium enrichment. "If they
are going to seek an imposed agreement by putting pressure on us, we will
not accept it. If the atmosphere is not proper, we may delay our reply. If
you try to cultivate a flower in salty land, it does not grow."

For Larijani, the bottom line is respect. And the evident lack of it in
Washington, magnified by loose talk of enforced regime change, is one of
many reasons why Iran is going nuclear.

A changing society

Tehran is a city of elegant parks. And none is more serene than Saee Park,
off Vali Asr Avenue, one of the capital's main thoroughfares. Known as the
"lovers' park", it is where young and not-so-young couples sit at dusk
beneath a canopy of fragrant chinar, cypress and pine trees, exchanging
gossip and intimacies, sharing ice creams and swapping phone numbers.

According to Reza, 27, and his girlfriend, things are more easy-going
socially than they were 10 years ago. They attribute the change to the
presidency of Mohammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad's reformist predecessor. Despite
Ahmadinejad's conservative instincts, the new government has been unable to
put the street culture genie back in the bottle, Reza says.

"There's more personal freedom. You don't get harassed like you used to. The
young people are changing the older people's attitude. They have to accept
it - they have no choice, so they go with the flow." And in a country of
70m, where two-thirds of the population is under 30, the trend appears

The present hardline government is not popular among many inhabitants of
Saee Park. They complain about its failure to expand and diversify an
economy that is roughly 80% state-controlled. Younger people worry about
careers and jobs, about the difficulties of foreign travel and internet
censorship, about the lack of things to do and places to meet. Leila, 27,
says she would like to go to parties, to clubs; she would like to sing. "But
they won't allow female singers, did you know that? Female vocalists are
banned. They say they are too alluring to men. Poor men! They have weak

Yussuf, 63, has a different perspective. "I was a metallurgist until I
retired. I trained in the US during the Shah's time. I worked all my life.
But now I have to take part-time jobs because my pension isn't enough. This
government is no good, they're all no good." Yussuf has another complaint:
the government is sending money to Hizbullah in Lebanon that would be better
spent at home, he says. "First you must look after your own people."

His friend, Ali, agrees. He wants to know into whose pockets Iran's record
oil revenue is going. "Some of them [the governing elite] are buying cars
for $100,000. Think of that! Did they get that money by working?"

All the same, Ahmadinejad's personal brand of nationalist populism, typified
by his defiant handling of the nuclear issue, has many admirers in Saee Park
and beyond. "Why don't they just leave us alone and let us live under our
own rules?" asks a 32-year-old engineer.

"Iran has the right to nuclear power," chanted a crowd in Ardabil, in
northern Iran, last week. During a series of nine rallies addressed by
Ahmadinejad, the sentiments expressed by ordinary people are the same.
Western attempts to deny Iran nuclear technology are "an obvious attempt to
keep us down, like they want to keep all the developing countries down,"
says Majid, a 30-year-old teacher in Tehran. "We don't want nuclear weapons.
But we want to build our country. What's wrong with that?"

Iranians may be cut off from the modern western world in many ways, but they
are well versed in the long history of western intervention in Persia. From
the Treaty of Golestan in 1813, by which Russia took control of Iran's
Caucasus territories, to the 1953 CIA-led coup that toppled Iran's
democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddeq, from the US
embassy hostage siege to the Iran-Contra scandal, a tale of national
subjugation and degradation forms the context in which Iran looks at the
west. And Iranians hear, in derogatory western talk of "mad mullahs", an
echo of a 19th-century British diplomat's sneering reference to
"incomprehensible orientals". It smacks of disrespect.

And now, with Washington's neo-conservatives on one side and Ahmadinejad's
neo-conservatives on the other, this mutual antagonism and misunderstanding
is coming to a head. In some analyses, it has brought the two countries to
the brink of military conflict. If the US attacks, experts say it is likely
to take the form of "precision strikes" on the four main nuclear facilities
and possibly Iranian armed forces and Revolutionary Guard bases, too. But
Pentagon planners know Iran has the potential to retaliate, as the
unexpected success of Hizbullah in Lebanon has shown. This week the US
ambassador to Iraq highlighted what he said were Iranian attempts to push
Shia militants into attacks on coalition forces in Iraq. And Baghdad is only
one possible theatre for Iranian reprisals should the US pull the trigger.

Mohammad Saeidi is a practical man. Sidestepping the political, ideological
and historical aspects of the nuclear dispute with the west, the
vice-president of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation is focused on a set of
problems that must be solved logically if the country and its people are to
develop to their full potential. "The country's oil and gas reserves will
last a maximum of another 25 or 30 years," he says. "Therefore we have to
provide other resources."

About 7,000 people work in Iran's atomic establishment - principally in
Tehran and at the Bushehr, Arak, Isfahan and Natanz complexes. Saeidi says
there are plans to build 20 nuclear power stations in all, at a cost of
$24-$25bn. The first, at Bushehr, built with Russian help, is expected to
come on stream next year. Saeidi says that in going nuclear Iran is only
following the example of other countries with growing populations and rising
energy demand. Nuclear power is cheaper, and its raw component, naturally
occurring uranium, is in plentiful supply in Iran's central deserts.

It is the cascade of 164 centrifuges constructed at Natanz that has drawn
most international attention since Ahmadinejad announced last April that
Iran had mastered the processes for uranium enrichment. It was Natanz that
finally prompted the US to join with European negotiators in offering the
compromise incentives package that is now on the table. But like Larijani,
Saeidi stresses the research stage nature of this work - and the ongoing
inspections of Natanz and other plants by the International Atomic Energy

To try to divert nuclear material for bomb-making purposes without the UN
knowing would be "impossible", he says, and if a deal is struck, Tehran
would be ready to reintroduce spot checks. But, in any case, bomb-making is
not Iran's aim, Saeidi says - even if it had the capacity, which it does
not. Overall, independent experts tend to agree that, at present, Iran does
not have the wherewithal to build a nuclear weapon. But that does not mean
it will not in future.

Saeidi denies that Iran kept its facilities at Natanz secret, as claimed in
2003 by the Bush administration. He says there was no legal necessity to
notify the IAEA before nuclear material had entered the plant. "Natanz is a
very large factory. You cannot hide it. It wasn't secret."

He also denies receiving help from Pakistan, now or in the past, despite a
spate of disclosures concerning the proliferation network run by the
Pakistani scientist, AQ Khan. "We don't have any relation to Pakistan on the
nuclear issue. All the equipment and components we are using are made by
Iranian companies and factories."

Needless to say, such statements are disputed by the US and other western
governments who suspect that Iran may be running a hidden, parallel uranium
enrichment programme using more advanced centrifuges. They worry it is also
experimenting with plutonium reprocessing. But all such claims are met with
a flat denial.

"We don't have any secret programme. We don't have any secrets," Saeidi
says. Iran does not want the bomb, he and other officials insist; and it has
no plans to build one. What it does want is a plentiful future supply of
nuclear energy to fuel the rise of a new, more powerful nation - and in this
ambition, it will brook no obstacles.

Ahmadinejad's vision

The man who could make all the difference is Ahmadinejad himself. He insists
that Iran's intentions were not to make a bomb - "Iranians have mastered the
complete cycle of uranium enrichment by themselves. But we will use it for
peaceful purposes, for nuclear power. This is our right and no one can take
this right away from us." But the man best known in the west for his desire
to "wipe Israel off the map" and his questioning of the Holocaust, this
blacksmith's son who rose to be mayor of Tehran before unexpectedly winning
the presidency a year ago this month, is a controversial figure inside Iran,
too. Many people, largely among the working class and in rural areas, adore
him. Others, particularly among the intellectual elite of Tehran, fear his
devout Islamic beliefs and his conservative political instincts will further
isolate the country.

For Iran's president is a true believer. He maintains that the 1979
revolution that overthrew the shah was besmirched and betrayed after the
death of its leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, by pragmatists and corrupt
mercantilists, by pro-western compromisers and reformists. Ahmadinejad's
famously humble lifestyle, emphasised by his rumpled jackets and unkempt
beard, offers but one clue to the fundamentalist spirit that moves him.
Tehranis say his vision is a return to the ideals of 1979, including a
reinvigorated social conservatism, a revived popular piety, and a principled
rejection of the Christian and Zionist "crusader" west.

Many political moderates, western diplomats and ordinary citizens say
Ahmadinejad's vision is to turn the clock back to a more honest and more
dutiful time. And what better way to demonstrate the uplifting virtues and
potency of this religious retrenchment than defiance of the west over the
nuclear issue? Here is a golden opportunity to re-affirm Iran's compromised
independence and dignity - and restore both the international respect and
the religious values that Ahjmadinejad believes the revolution has
squandered since 1989. This is Ahmadinejad's chance.

It may be naive to believe that Iran's government, surrounded by
nuclear-armed neighbours and directly threatened by the US, is not seeking
to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. "The Americans have been seeking
regime change in Iran ever since the victory of the revolution," say
Larijani. Given such widespread convictions, and the example of several
other countries that have built atomic weapons without facing serious
penalties, Iran's leaders might be thought remiss in not seeking to arm

But more naive, perhaps, and potentially even more destabilising, is
Ahmadinejad's apparent belief that by confronting the west over the nuclear
issue, he can revive the purist, Khomeini-era ideal of fundamentalist
Islamic revolution in a country that is changing rapidly. Most Iranians
support the government's pursuit of nuclear power. But most oppose the
intolerant theocracy that is Khomeini's legacy.

In his brilliant new book, Confronting Iran, Ali Ansari portrays the growing
"secularisation" of Iranian society as an unstoppable force. "Fewer and
fewer people show an interest in organised religion," he writes. And in
Tehran the evidence of that is everywhere. Iran is a rich country, poorly
run. Slowly but surely its people are demanding and obtaining change. Iran
does seem destined once again to be a great regional power, but that destiny
is likely to be attained despite its religious leadership - and despite the
Bush administration's counter-productive bullying.

Ahmadinejad, the articulate champion of Iran's national rights, is a potent
figure. But Ahmadinejad, the would-be visionary leader of a resurgent
revolution awaiting the coming of the Hidden Imam, is living a dangerous
illusion. And it is Iranians, not the US air force, who should be allowed to
shatter his dream.

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