Friday, May 19, 2006

Waiting for the Golden Goal

Mehrdad Sheibani, Rooz Online:
Last week marked the first time in two decades that the international film festival in Cannes did not have any Iranian film or guest and major foreign companies did not sign any major contracts. Also during the week, the whispers to disqualify the Iranian football team from the World Cup series became louder and the hardline religious zealots in Iran and the US are fishing for the opportunity to score the golden goal – to take the initiative – in the negotiations between the two states.

The focal point of the events of last week was of course the letter President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent to President George Bush. The letter was expressly said to reflect the view point of the Iranian regime and was called by its dispatcher “a historic opportunity for Bush”, while ultra-conservative ayatollah Ahmad Janati called it “a divine call”. Friday prayer clerics around the country jumped on the bandwagon too and in words similar to Janati’s portrayed the epistle a god sent event. But the commotion the letter has caused has varied.

Dr Emad Afrough, the chairman of the cultural committee of the Majlis (Iran's Parliament), called the letter the groundwork for starting direct talks with the US. Mohammad Salamati of Sazemane Mojahedin Engelab Eslami, which is the most traditional group of the reformers within the ruling elite, said that the taboo for relations or holding talks with the US has been broken. On the other side of the world, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former US national security advisor during the Carter administration, and Henry Kissinger Secretary of State during the Nixon period both looked at the letter within the context of direct talks between the two states. Kissinger even went further and said, “Its demagoguery may be a way to get the radical part of the Iranian public used to dialogue with the United States.”

The different interpretations of the letter have in fact reflected the two aspects of the letter. But what is clear after Ahmadinejad’s accession to power is that in the power struggle that follows every revolution and finally ends with a winner, the core of the Iranian hardliners who in the words of former president Khatami constitute the Iranian Taliban and in the words of Abdol Karim Soroush are the fascists, have finally after about 3 decades taken full control of all power in Iran.

Safai Farahani, a well-known reformist, portrays the current situation in Iran in these words: The specter of an unrecorded political party is haunting over Iran. Things are moving in the direction of complete domination of these conditions over the whole country.”

By “these conditions” he means nothing other than the step-by-step policy which has existed in the Islamic Republic from day one but turned into final operational mode last year. A policy which has been directed by the nucleus of a secret political party and which is being implemented by an organization that enjoys monetary, military, security, propaganda and operational resources. The right-wing faction of the regime has continuously attributed this “camouflaged advance” to others and called it the “gradual coup d’etat.”

The policies of this secret party for Iran have no response other than an “iron fist.” The direction of events is such that no voices other than those of the ruling hardliners be heard. Mohammad Reza Khatami, the secretary general of the Jebhe Mosharekat – the largest pro-reform organization of the regime – officially announced this week that they have been told not to express their views on the country’s nuclear policy or exchange views on the subject with other groups and personalities. One of the groups comprising this assembly, Hezbe Motalefe Eslami which is the oldest, the most rooted and the most traditional group on the right, has been practically set aside, according to Safayi Farahani, and is called in for its views only sporadically.

As the political climate in the country is getting tighter by the day, the secret party is very carefully advancing to completely take over every avenue of political power. The plan to hold the Majles Khobregan (Experts Assembly for Leadership) elections and the provincial council elections simultaneously and the forthcoming changes to the latter, shall pave the way for the secret party to fully take control of all the social structures and at the same time the institution that selects the leader.

This week was special in this regard as the first soundings of ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi’s candidacy for the leadership of the Majles Khobregan assembly were heard. The soundings were launched and later rejected. As we know, in Iran many rumors and even more so their denials, are more reliable than official news broadcasts. READ MORE

There are those observers in Iran who sees these events as the groundwork for the final emergence of a Parviz Mosharaf who will send the clerics home and put Iran on a political course similar to that of Pakistan. This week’s removal of a military commander in the Passdaran Revolutionary Guards counter-intelligence center after 27 years and his replacement with a cleric may be the reaction to such concerns.

This week’s response of Iranian hardliners to the growing unrest in the provinces which has now shifted from Khuzestan to Sistan and Baluchistan was the iron fist measures and the closure of the country’s Eastern borders, without addressing the social causes of the unrest which provide the US with the opportunity to carry out its plans. The large contract to complete Tehran’s new international contract was cancelled last week, prompting Etemad Melli newspaper to headline: “Foreign investors are pulling out,” confirming again that the activities taking place in Iran are being growingly directed from outside the country.

And in that light, it appears that once again the destiny of Iran is tied to global events. And hardliners in the US and in Iran are trying to determine this fate. The basic foreign policy goals of the secret party – in which it has invested its survival – is to show an iron fist to find a suitable place in the talks with the US, whenever those take place. Observers have attributed this goal to lie behind Ahmadinejad’s letter to his US counterpart.

Calling the letter a “divine call (by Janati) and the “letter of Islam to Bush” (by Ahmadinejad’s advisor) is aimed at creating an atmosphere among Muslims in Iran and outside in which its they would come to believe that a “divine atmosphere, in the words of Hamid Reza Asefi, has come about for such talks. The letter has also been said by the Majlis (Iran's Parliament) chief Haddad Adel to have the full blessing of all the officials of the Islamic regime and according to Sharg newspaper turns Ahmadinejad into a God-selected person for the task, aims to shape the opinion of the Muslim masses.

In short, the masses must come to believe that talks with the US are for the promotion of Islam and a possible attack is to confront it.

It is under these circumstances and acrobatics that the game came to its end this week and called for an extension in time. The UN Security Council provided Iran with yet another two weeks to freeze its nuclear activities, and thus threw the ball once again into the European field, thus negating the need for the Islamic Republic to respond to the Council’s call. And that event took place right then. Now the US is striving to return Europe, China and Russia back to the Security Council, but this time with a softer position, while the Islamic rulers continue to push the issue out of the Council into the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria.

On the last day of the week, Newsweek magazine lifted the curtain just a bit and revealed a bit of the ultimate goal of each side. It wrote that Mohammad Nahavandian’s secret trip to the US – which was exposed en route – was to inform US officials of Tehran’s desire to talk to the Washington. To which US Deputy Secretary of State Nicholas Burns responded by saying that the US was waiting for the right moment to hold such talks. A moment in which US instruments would have the most likelihood of success.

Mehrdad Sheibani is a seasoned journalist and commentator living in exile.