Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Hello to the “Great Satan”

Mehrdad Sheibani, Rooz Online:
The second week of May 2006 began with the removal of the British foreign secretary Jack Straw and ended with a letter from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to US president George Bush. Between those two events, the UN Security Council failed to issue a decisive resolution on Iran, while Iran failed to get into the newly created UN Human Rights Council.

During the week, Iran remained in the headlines of world news. The British daily the Guardian attributed the sacking of Straw to Iran, and other commentators mostly agreed with it. The gist of the view is that he was removed because he was against the use of force against Iran. This could have influenced the outcome of the important Security Council meeting on Monday, which ended without a consensus. The European draft resolution which is supported by the US and which smells of war, continues to be opposed by China and Russia. But the Chinese foreign minister also said that it would not veto a UN Security Resolution, while his Russian counterpart told Iran’s foreign minister Manoutchehr Mottaki, “We have not promised to veto sanctions against Iran.” READ MORE

While this atmosphere dominated the diplomatic front, president Ahmadinejad’s letter to President Bush was published. The Iranian press, which finally obtained the full text of the letter from the French newspaper Le Monde, published it on Wednesday and under conditions that Mostafa Tajzadeh has defined as “closed political and media atmosphere” in the country, could do nothing but to praise and glorify it and its impact.

The world press however, discussed and debated it widely. International commentators attributed the letter to have been sent with the goal of effecting the outcome of the UN Security Council meeting which was about to meet on Iran.

Iranian observers, both inside and outside the country who believe that in Iran a letter that is signed by Ahmadinejad cannot be his personal opinion, presented two explanations for the letter. Those that stress its religious language and ideas, are reminded of ayatollah Khomeini’s famous letter to former Soviet president to Gorbachev, and conclude that this is an imitation of that gesture. And then there are those who say the letter resembles notes written 1400 years ago by Prophet Mohammad who sent them to other leaders. In the latter case, this is indicative of the self image that the president has of himself where he equates himself to the prophet. But those few outlets that still can write anything different from the proclamations of Ahmadinejad’s government interpreted the letter to be aimed at opening the door for diplomatic relations between the Islamic Republic and the US.

In the letter, the United States of America, which ayatollah Khomeini had called the Great Satan and, in the words of Mohammad Ali Abtahi, with whom any direct or even indirect talks were pronounced absolutely forbidden, is addressed differently from the past. Ahmadinejad addresses George Bush as “Excellency”, freedom-seeker”, believer in God, some one who opposes nuclear weapons, terrorism, and, who is a defender of human rights.

Ali Larijani, who is in charge of Iran’s nuclear talks and had succeeded in getting a visa to go to Turkey after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled there, said, “Perhaps the letter will open a new diplomatic chapter, but it needs time.” Abtahi on the other hand interpreted his comments to mean that what Larijani had said was that this is the introduction to diplomatic relations. But perhaps the most succinct explanation came from Iran’s UN representative Mohammad Javad Zarif, who had been recently informed of some important decisions through a senior emissary Mohammad Nahavandian. He told Sky News which is heard in the US, “Political wrangling will not help any one at this time. We must start a thoughtful process. This is a step towards compromise.”

By reviewing the events of the past year since the unity of the Islamic regime came about (after the executive branch too fell to the conservative hardliners), one can comfortably say that the view that Mohammad Javad Larijani had is now very close to fruition. On the even of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidential victory last year, Larijani had said that Iran should end talking to peripheral countries and speak directly with the main contender, i.e. the US. Larijani, who had reportedly held secret talks with UK’s Nicholas Brown, believes that “One can even talk to the Satan himself,” the name that has been attributed to the US for the past 3 decades in Iran.

To attain their goal, Iranian hardliners tried to display their “power” by enriching uranium to low levels, developing a few missiles, threatening to destroy Israel, and claiming to target US interests around the world, while at the same time openly and discreetly proposing talks with the US, which finalized with president Ahmadinejad’s letter to president Bush.

But the US which had earlier said no to Kofi Annan’s and Angela Merkel’s calls for direct US talks with Iran, against said no to Ahmadinejad’s letter. Immediately after receiving the letter, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the letter had nothing new, and that it did not solve the main issue.

During this week, UN’s Human Rights Council which can play a similar role as UN’s Security Council was finally created. But the Islamic Republic which had been a candidate to get on to the governing council, failed to get in. Reports have said that the first item on the agenda of the new watchdog is the status of human rights in the Islamic Republic. And human rights were again highlighted by the European commission last week over the arrest and detention of Ramin Jahanbegloo. His arrest and charges of espionage is widely interpreted to be part of a general step-by-step policy of the hardliners to completely close and control the political and media atmosphere of the country. This policy was mentioned by Tehran’s notorious prosecutor Saeed Mortezavi in these words: We shall cleanse society from the cultural invasion of the West.”

The signs of this cleansing were apparent in Iran: measures to take over the Khobregan Majles (State Assembly of Experts on Leadership) and provincial council whose elections are forthcoming, the rounding up of licensed books at Tehran’s international book fair, and the groundwork for shutting Daftare Tahkim Vahdat (Office of Student Solidarity, which is the largest and most powerful student organization in the country) and its replacement with an official state body.

By the end of the week, the leader of Jondollah killed another of its hostages in the manner killings are carried out in Iraq, large multi-national corporations almost completely shut down Oslovie, and Dr Ibrahim Yazdi, the leader of Iran Freedom Movement warned that the snooze around Iran was getting tighter by the day.