The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Posts Tagged ‘Khamenei

The new set of Sanctions against Iran

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Ahmadinejad's "Armpit of Evil", thanks Guardian for the pic

I’ve been facing a combination of writer’s block, laziness and slow news days cropping up precisely on the days that I do have time to blog, a dangerous cocktail that helps explain my general lack of postage on this blog. I realise that the new set of Iran sanctions has already been heavily discussed, for those that haven’t heard

I’m not going to say a great deal on this issue except that I don’t particularly like it. I don’t remember when sanctions have ever been effective in getting a Government to do what people want them to do, they usually only serve to isolate and entrench despotic governments further (Saddam). In addition, while the specific set of sanctions hasn’t been finalised yet, there already has been a reasonable amount of opposition to specific measures that have been mooted.

Talking about the political implications, as The Majlis has mentioned, it seems that the Iranian regime is ready for these sanctions and looking to confront them head on. The amount of baiting that has been going on has been ramped up a great deal, especially with the announcement of building a further ten nuclear plants by the regime. How they intend to finance this with the Iranian economy in the doldrums that it’s in is of no consequence, the rhetoric here is what seems to be important. The Majlis also discusses the effect on the current rift in the Iranian political establishment. It seems to me that the conservative wing of Khamenei/Ahmadinejad is further entrenching itself in a position where the nuclear program is its baby and its baby alone. Reformists like Rafsanjani will not oppose the program either because they realise it would be political suicide after how much pro-nuclear propaganda has been effected on the population.

It seems that Obama’s unclench-your-fist rhetoric has failed and he’s now erring on the side of sanctions to preserve his own political capital. This spells bad news. Even if Russia and China do support the sanctions, no good will come of them. Sanctions will further serve to entrench the regime’s position against the West as “the Great Satan” and further entrench the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad axis in power, helping it out of its current political quandry. I may not have any helpful suggestions on the matter, but I don’t like sanctions.

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Written by alexlobov

December 5, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Irani & Israeli representatives discuss Nuclear Weapons

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”]”]Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pictured in the Natanz plant [Photo credit: AP]According to several eyewitness accounts and confirmed on the Israeli side, Iran & Israel had a rare face-to-face meeting at diplomatic level, at an Australia-brokered (K-Rudd Win!) conference in Cairo last month. News broke as an Egyptian official who witnessed it said said that Israel had been represented by former foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami and Iran by its envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency Ali Asghar Soltanieh.

“During the first session Ben Ami and Soltanieh spoke,” he said, asking not to be named.
“We had round-table discussions … then there were cross-table discussions. It was rather polemical, with accusations.

“Soltanieh said the Iranians do not have a (nuclear) bomb and do not want the bomb but the Israelis said that was not true,” the official said, adding that he did not know if the Israelis and Iranians had also met bilaterally on the sidelines.

“This is not the first time (Israelis and Iranians have had contact) but I believe this is the first time they are present at this level of representation,” he said.

In one exchange, Mr Soltanieh asked Mr Zafary-Odiz: “Do you or do you not have nuclear weapons,” Haaretz said, citing unidentified participants in the meeting. The Israeli smiled but did not respond, the newspaper said.

Mr Soltanieh insisted Tehran did not hate Jews, although it opposed Zionism, the newspaper said. [The Australian]

So, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is the first time since the Revolution that Iran & Israel have had talks at this level, how very interesting. Seems Iran is under pressure indeed. There has also been a lot of reporting about the recent talks between Iran, the international community and the IAEA. There are rumours flying around that an agreement with the Obama Administration over a resumption of diplomatic ties and an easing of sanctions will be reached, along with a presumable curtailing of the nuclear programme. While details are still fuzzy as they are being ironed out, I will ask you to consider the following things:

1. Pressure on the Iranian Government:

Since the disputed election in June, there has been mounting domestic pressure, along with mounting international pressure, on the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad government. An agreement that saves face for Iran and eases sanctions would presumably be a major coup and help to add legitimacy for the pair. I believe commentators are underestimating just how complicated the ‘saving face’ element is going to be, considering how steadfast the rhetoric from Ahmadinejad has been about not giving an inch to the international community over Iran’s right to nuclear power and uranium enrichment. Moreover, if the Iranian public considers the development of nuclear weapons forthcoming, as much of the international community does, then an agreement not to do so would mean allowing Israel to remain the Middle East’s only nuclear power. Nevertheless, if this is ironed out, it could mean a shoring up of the Government and a severe blow to hopes of internal regime change still presumably carried by Washington. Though, just how realistic these hopes were to start with is, of course, also questionable.

2. How much trust can be put into this government

One would expect that, in the absence of rigorous and regular inspections, Iran could still continue to make progress on uranium enrichment, albeit at a slower pace. Considering that the current climate of relations between Iran and the international community is not exactly one of goodwill, and considering the regime’s burgeoning influence internationally (in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan for example), it wouldn’t take much to surmise a level of deceit in any agreement Iran makes to actually halt uranium enrichment.

3. What about an Israeli first strike?

While Iranian deceit can be expected, Israel would have its hands tied. Again, I suggest that chances of an Israeli strike on Iran have been exaggerated. A strike would require agreement from the Obama Administration, and considering how much pressure Obama is under over Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, such an agreement would be very unlikely. Equally, I have a feeling Obama is looking for an excuse for real leverage over Israel on the Palestinian question and the question of settlements. Frustrated already by stonewalling from Netanyahu, Israel would not want to anger its superpower backer any further by striking unilaterally. Also, considering the current unresolved controversy over the Goldstone Report, Israel is not exactly in unquestionable good graces with the international community. A unilateral strike on Iran, even without an agreement over nuclear capabilities, would always be a very risky venture for Israel given the shakiness of its current reputation.

Having said this, Israel is, at least publicly, not happy about this detail. Ehud Barak slammed the deal, and a high-level representative of the EU has stated in pretty strong words (snarky, even) that Israel has no part in these negotiations:

A senior European Union official told Israeli officials this week that Israel is not privy to the details of the exchanges between Iran and the Western countries regarding its nuclear program. “You do not understand the extent to which you are not in the picture. You do not know how much you do not know and what is happening in Iran,” he said.

Accordingly, a number of senior Israeli officials backed the European official’s statements by saying that the release of the draft of an agreement with Iran caught Israel by surprise. [Haaretz]

Ouch!

So all those things considered, I think an agreement is forthcoming and it will probably involve the shipping of nuclear fuel to France via Russia for enrichment, and then its return to Iran in the form of fuel rods. Let’s wait for the details and see what happens, a final deal is expected some time Friday.

Written by alexlobov

October 23, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Mehdi Karroubi to be put on trial

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Mehdi Karroubi - Image Credit: AP

Mehdi Karroubi - Image Credit: AP

So Mehdi Karroubi looks like he’s going to be the first prominent reformist and Presidential candidate against the wall in the Iranian regime’s search for reformist pariahs, it’s response to the massive protests after June’s disputed election.

“Mr Karroubi is a cleric and his comments should be dealt with by the special court of the clergy,” that is part of the Islamic republic’s overall judicial system, Jaffari Doulatabadi said. [Asharq Alawsat]

The charge levelled against him relates to his claims that prisoners were raped in prison, a claim that has since been supposedly discredited by a judiciary panel that found the charges to be baseless:

“These allegations have been made without any proof, and all the documents given by Karroubi are baseless. These allegations were aimed at distracting public opinion,” it said.

The report recommended that action be taken against Karroubi and those airing rape allegations.

“This commission proposes … sending its report to the judiciary so it can act with determination against those who are responsible for spreading such allegations which harm the regime,” the panel said. [Asharq Alawsat]

I’m wondering how far the regime is going to take this. If Karroubi is found guilty, as seems most likely, then they will have a pariah, but what sort of sentence is going to be handed down? The man is a prominent cleric within the reformist establishment. Khamenei will not want to take it too far, tensions are still inflamed between the reformist/conservative camp and Rafsanjani’s next move in Qom is not yet clear… Or will Khamenei punish Karroubi further, risk protests but show that his will is unquestionable and the reformist movement is dead?

Written by alexlobov

October 14, 2009 at 12:18 am

Posted in Iran

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So is all well for Ahmadinejad?

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As news comes in today that, after his formal inauguration as the President of Iran, Ahmadinejad has received congratulations from UN Security General Ban Ki Moon and Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, one has to wonder, what of the protest movement that created such waves in global press for weeks and that still dominates Twitter’s trending topics from time to time, two months after the initial protests ignited?

TehranBureau has an interesting piece on the matter, written by Farideh Farhi:

Challenges facing Ahmadinejad include open hostility from a large section of the Iranian elite which Ayatollah Khamenei characterised in Ahmadinejad’s confirmation speech as “angry and wounded”; highly charged criticisms of his appointments and policies from within the conservative ranks; continued civil disobedience; a public mood that has turned from mostly inattentive and apolitical to concerned and angry; general unhappiness among the clergy about the harsh crackdown; and a much more hostile international environment.

All this is on top of serious economic woes that he was unable to address during his first term — as he had promised to do in his 2005 campaign.

As the TehranBureau piece rightly points out, we are seeing an unprecedent challenge to the President and Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic. While Iranian politics has always been partly volatile and has never been the one-party show certain ignorant observers in some parts of the world like to see, what we’re seeing here is the combination of a squeeze from the top coming from several key and prominent reformist clerics and politicans, combined with burgeoning popular discontent. This twin pressure will prove difficult for Ahmadinejad to deal with during his tenure, and it will be a problem for his unswerving supporter, Ayatollah Khamenei, who has now become personally associated with the crushing of the protest movement. As Farhi points out:

Ahmadinejad’s options are limited. He can acknowledge his weakened presidency, over-see a cabinet whose individual members will contest his policies, and head an administration that is conflicted from within. Or he can try to try to act resolutely by picking fights with almost every political force in the country, in which case his behaviour will be the source of heartache for everyone who for ideological reasons or for fear of reformist resurgence ended up supporting him in the election.

The inauguration and the congratulatory messages have put an end to any immediate change as had been hoped by the protest movement, but Iran has changed dramatically over the last two months and things are no longer what they seem. It will remain an interesting political atmosphere to watch and keep track of in the coming months.

Written by alexlobov

August 12, 2009 at 5:01 pm