Monday, June 05, 2006

The Fist and Kisses

Mehrdad Sheibani, Rooz Online:
While the nuclear tsar Mohammad El-Baradei was climbing the stairs of an airline in Tehran to take the message of the desire of regime leaders in Tehran to talk to the United States, a few miles away the new Esteshhadiyun unit comprising volunteers dedicated to the obliteration of the “Great Satan” shouted slogans to that effect as they staged a show-of-force march. READ MORE

This is perhaps a good depiction of the two-pillar approach Iranian hardliners pursue, while they will be celebrating this week the first year of their complete take over of all power levels in Iran. This week also well-demonstrated that the ultimate goal of the hardliners is to protect their power position and the continuity of the regime, relegating everything else to second importance, if not even less.

About this time last year, the “hidden party, as hardliners have been called, presented two basic slogans in it’s push often called “moving invisibly” (or “moving with turned off lights”) to make Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the next president of the Islamic Republic of Iran: easing the daily economic pressures of the masses, and combating world arrogance lead by the US with the goal of establishing Islam throughout the world.

The first slogan was taken to streets and the second was used to organize and bring in the root forces of the hardliners.

Today a year after the presidential elections whose legitimacy has been questioned by such leading figures as former president Mohammad Khatami, head of the State Expediency Council Hashemi Rafsanjani and former Majlis (Iran's Parliament) leader Mehdi Karubi, the country is being “run 180 degrees from the direction that was promised, in the words of Mohsen Armin, a senior member of the Sazeman-e Mojaheddin Engelab Eslami party. The turn-about clearly demonstrates the reality that lay behind the election sloganeering and promises of the hardliners which is summed up in their ultimate goal of “protecting the regime.”

In the beginning, there was a reform government which hardliners explained through foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati’s words. They viewed Iran’s situation to be similar to that of the Soviet Union after the Bolshevik takeover. Iran’s president Mohammad Khatami was compared to Soviet Michael Gorbachev. In that paradigm, the continuation of Khatami’s policies would lead to the dissolution of the regime – as it did in the Soviet Union - and would find its American alternative. So confronting Khatami was not solely for the purpose of stopping it, but protect the regime as well. The “turned off lights” beamed on to Ahmadinejad’s face after 8 years.

This face was immediately given a religious and divine look so that it would be recognized in Iran as the successor to the Prophet and outside Iran as that of 12th century Muslim commander during the Crusades Salahuddin Ayyubi, with the intention of jihad against infidels and Israel.

This divine façade justifies every action that Ahmadinejad takes in the political realm. Hardliners pursued their strategy in two ways:

Slogans and the fist inside the country which aimed at the economy and the freedom. This has produced its intended results after one year. The election promise of putting “oil money directly on everybody’s table” has officially been rescinded and replaced with others. Hardline Keyhan government newspaper explained it as The economic situation is alarmingly disconcerting and presents a dark future for those who believe in the ideologue government.” Keyhan has also summed up the views of the remaining political and economic newspaper still in the hands of the reformers as preparation for their closure.

The iron fist policy however, has not softened during this one-year rule. The policy that began in 200 continued silently so that two relevant events last week were hardly noticed. The revolt of Azeri speaking Iranians in the northern provinces which led to fatalities in the town of Naghdeh was lost to the public. Except to Ahmadinejad who true to form called the protests a “foreign plot.” The same fate awaited the student unrest. And as the week came to its close, a member of the political right said something that was reminiscent of what the late shah had said about his political opponents: “Those who do not want to observe the hijab should leave the country, there is no place for them in Iran.”

Slogans and kisses too are now in a new phase in foreign policy. Last week, talks with the US which was a taboo topic, is now freely debated with references to the conditions of each party. And finally, the readiness to kiss the lips of the “Great Satan” has emerged after the stormy slogans of the hardliners.

The website that is run by former Passdaran Revolutionary Guards commander Mohsen Rezai and reflects the views of the intelligence leadership clearly exposed everything. When confronted with the question of “Did president Ahmadinejad make the decision to talk with the US?” replied, “If Iranian presidents had such a power, then Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani and Khatami would have had such talks before. The issue of talks with the US is decided by the leader. Mr. Khamenei will not provide cheap visas for visitors to Tehran. The US should be ready to reciprocate concessions to Iran.”

Fars news agency run by the political right quoted a French source clarifying what those concessions are.Washington should guarantee Iran that it would never attack Iran and not engage in destabilizing Iran.”

But the week also showed that the US is not ready to provide such a guarantee to Iran. Al-Hayat newspaper published words similar to those of Sadegh Kharrazi, former Iranian ambassador to France, whose sister is married to ayatollah Khamenei’s son and who in last year’s presidential race threw in his support for candidate Hashemi Rafsanjani. He said that talks with the US were not in Iran’s interest under the present circumstances. Al-Hayat wrote of fears of “imposing US conditions” has concerned a part of the Iranian leadership.

On Thursday (today), the last day of the week the 5+1 group will meet to send the latest European proposal to Iran. The contents of this proposal, better known as the incentives package, have already been published and contain two main points: ending nuclear enrichment in return for guarantees on territorial integrity and political sovereignty. EU’s Javier Solana even threatened that if Iran rejects the proposal, European punitive measures would be put into effect. Interpretation: the beginning of economic sanctions.

With rumors that the Islamic Republic has already quietly reduced its nuclear enrichment activities, Tehran welcomed the European proposal and foreign minister Mottaki called for a new and “immediate” round of talks with the Europeans. So after one year, the ball of negotiations has again returned to the European field.

As far as the US is concerned, while it has not yet officially recognized the Islamic Republic, is it waiting for a Pervez Musharraf to emerge from the Khobregan elections in Iran to negotiate with?