Election in Iran

Iran’s power structure


Monday 5 August 2013
Iran’s new president? I see only an old and vicious regime
Hopes that Iran will get sweeter with Rouhani in power are naive, to say the least

Since his election in June, I’ve been asked a number of times what I think of Hassan Rouhani, the new Iranian president.

As an Iranian exile, I don’t think much – or I’d be on the first plane home (for a visit, anyway).

For what it’s worth, I think he’s atrocious, and I was surprised when Iranians voted him in; by all accounts they were petrified at the prospect of four years under one of his even more reactionary rivals.

I say even more reactionary because there should be no doubt the man is one of ‘Them’ – an unabashed Islamist: if he is a moderate or a reformer, I’m the Jolly Green Giant.

You can’t be a moderate in Iran. Protecting the sanctity of the Islamic Republic’s founding Khomeini-ist principles, and its resulting injustices, is your raison d’etre and if you’re not up to the task, you’re dead.

It’s all very Cosa Nostra – you can’t stray; you can’t pull the wool over anyone’s eyes and thuggish credentials are a must: it’s a gangster regime, pure and simple.

For years this guy was the Secretary of Iran’s feared Supreme National Security Council.

Countless killings occurred under his watch; not least during the student uprising of 1999 which Rouhani vowed to “crush mercilessly and monumentally”.

Gunning down students is par for the course in the Islamic Republic. A few dead young people who sought democracy are no big deal to Iranian Islamists.

July 1999 was the precursor to the protests of June 2009. Then, the original smiling mullah – the Colonel Sanders of the Islamic Republic, Mohammad Khatami, stood by as government forces attacked his supporters who were protesting the closure of a reformist newspaper. There is no reason to expect any more integrity from Rouhani.

Iran has to be viewed in terms of bloodshed. You can understand more about how the Iranian regime operates by watching the 2008 Italian mafia film Gomorrah than by watching Newsnight or reading the reportage of some Western newspapers, whose journalists seem to believe Rouhani is about to unveil Scandinavian-style social democracy in Iran.

So the fact that Rouhani promises to be a bit friendlier to the West doesn’t mean much, because human rights in Iran are not a concern of Western governments any more than they are in Bahrain or in Saudi Arabia. (The last thing we want to do is upset such allies.)

From politicians such as Jack Straw, who has visited Iran a number of times, and George Galloway, who had his own show on the Islamist regime’s broadcaster, to the arms dealers who make a packet selling weapons to Tehran – no one cares to remember the victims of Iran’s mullahs when they chomp on chelo kebab with them.

Have no doubt, as the Supereme Leader’s PR machine offers up a cutesy, smiling cleric keen to work with the West, inviting us to see him as no more harmful than the Cookie Monster, deals will be done; oil, gas, and guns will be sold; but not much will change on the ground for Iranians.

Four years ago, people were being shot in the street. Now they are effectively washed from public consciousness in the West as the press focuses on Washington’s preoccupation with nuclear weapons – and yes, by the way: regardless of the charade being played out about whether Rouhani has referred to Israel as a sore, or a wound, or other chronic medical condition, it’s in the interests of both sides to speak to each other – and it won’t be their first time.

When Israelis were selling arms to Iran in the early 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war, Rouhani was the protégé of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who at that time was head of the Iranian military. So the president may just need to dust down his old contacts book to overcome the nuclear impasse.

“Just how will Iran’s new ruler keep his people’s spirits up?” Newsnight presenter Anita Anand asked chirpily the other night, outlining the concerns of the electorate as if she were talking about Belgium and not an Islamist dictatorship. (People’s desire for freedom of speech, women’s rights and the freeing of political prisoners were not put to this particular henchman of Mr Rouhani, and no member of Iran’s opposition party was invited to contribute an alternative perspective).

Ms Anand’s use of the word ‘ruler’ here was interesting – the president in Iran is known as ‘the President’, not ‘the ruler’. The ruler is ‘the Supreme Leader’. So it was wrong for Newsnight, in the run-up Rouhani’s inauguration, to say that “eight years of Ahmadinejad’s rule is coming to a close” and worse still, to consider what the “new regime” will bring.

What new regime? Indeed, what new president?


Talk to Iran’s New President. Warily.
Published: June 25, 2013

THE election of Hassan Rowhani as Iran’s new president has created a sense that there are new possibilities of progress on the nuclear issue; we need to respond, but warily. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, allowed Mr. Rowhani to win the election recognizing that he had run against current Iranian policies that have isolated the country and invited economically disastrous sanctions. But it isn’t clear why Mr. Khamenei allowed such an outcome, and here are some theories that have been proposed:

He believes that Mr. Rowhani’s election could provide a safety valve for the great discontent within Iran.

He believes that Mr. Rowhani, a president with a moderate face, might be able to seek an open-ended agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that would reduce tensions and ease sanctions now, while leaving Iran room for development of nuclear weapons at some point in the future.

He believes that Mr. Rowhani might be able to start talks that would simply serve as a cover while Iran continued its nuclear program.

He wants to rebalance the power relationship among Iran’s leading factions, reconciling their fissures while restoring the relative weight of the clerics vis-à-vis the Revolutionary Guard. Mr. Rowhani is himself a cleric, but also a likely conciliator who might be a bridge between the harder-line clerics and more pragmatic forces.

None of this means there will be a nuclear deal. Even if he were given the power to negotiate, Mr. Rowhani would have to produce a deal the supreme leader would accept. So it is far too early to consider backing off sanctions as a gesture to Mr. Rowhani.

We should, instead, keep in mind that the outside world’s pressure on Iran to change course on its nuclear program may well have produced his election. So it would be foolish to think that lifting the pressure now would improve the chances that he would be allowed to offer us what we need: an agreement, or credible Iranian steps toward one, under which Iran would comply with its international obligations on the nuclear issue. Our bottom line here is that Iran must be prepared to change its program so that it does not have a breakout capability to develop nuclear weapons.

The real question for ourselves is whether we should change our approach to diplomacy with Iran, now that a new Iranian president has advertised his desires to end Iran’s isolation and the sanctions imposed on it, and to repair the “wound” that he has said exists between the United States and the Islamic Republic.

Until now, we have taken an incremental, confidence-building approach within multilateral negotiations with Iran, but they have probably already run their course. Indeed, while our side (the United States, China, Russia, Germany, Britain and France) negotiated with Iran on and off for the last several years with no results, the Iranians were dramatically expanding the numbers of centrifuges they had installed to enrich uranium. They now have roughly 17,000 and have succeeded in upgrading to a new generation of far more efficient centrifuges.

Those developments have shrunk the time we have available to ensure that the Iranians cannot break out and present the world with the fait accompli of a nuclear weapons capability. So we may have time for diplomacy, but not a lot.

We should move now to presenting an endgame proposal — one that focuses on the outcome that we, the United States, can accept on the nuclear issue. And we should do so even if our negotiating partners — particularly the Russians — aren’t prepared to accept such a move, since the clock is ticking. We should give Mr. Rowhani a chance to produce, but the calendar cannot be open-ended.

Diplomacy often boils down to two simple elements: taking away excuses for inaction and providing explanations for a deal that could be struck. On the first point, the Iranians say they don’t know what we will accept in the end. The answer should be that we can accept Iran’s having civil nuclear power but with restrictions that would make the steps to producing nuclear weapons difficult, as well as quickly detectable. Our offer should be credible internationally; if Iran was not prepared to agree to it, the Iranians would be exposed for not being ready to accept what they say they want. Indeed, if we make a credible proposal that would permit the Iranians to have civil nuclear power with restrictions, it would allow them to save face for themselves: they could say the proposal was what they had always sought and that their rights had been recognized.

This is not to say that such an endgame proposal can be made without risk. The Russians, in particular, may not want the situation clarified. They may fear it will mean an end to the diplomacy because the Iranians, in turning down such a proposal, will have signaled that their real aim is to obtain nuclear weapons and not just civil nuclear power. That would leave the use of force as the only alternative. The Russians may prefer the step-by-step approach that keeps the diplomacy going — even without results.

To be sure, if the Iranians were prepared to suspend the further development of their nuclear infrastructure while diplomacy were under way, that would be an acceptable approach and time would not be of the essence. But Mr. Rowhani has already publicly dismissed the possibility of such a suspension, saying it was tried before, but in a different era. So this time, it is the Iranians who are forcing the window for diplomacy to close.

Mr. Rowhani may well create an opening. But we should be on our guard: It must be an opening to clarify what is possible and to test outcomes, not to engage in unending talks for their own sake. Preserving a multilateral step-by-step approach that has outlived its usefulness, or allowing the Russians at this point to determine how we proceed — particularly at a time when the Russians appear more competitive with the United States than cooperative — is not a prescription that permits us to see if there is an opening and to act on it.

If we want diplomacy to succeed, the United States must find out now whether it can, and it must do so on its own initiative.


Iran’s new president more cautious than reformist


Hassan Rowhani, centre, glasses, casts his vote in Tehran Friday.Photo: ATTA KENARE/AFP

The mistake that many in the West make about Iran is to write it off as a one-man show, a dictatorship of the Supreme Leader. Power and governance in Iran is highly complex. The leader is supreme, but even he has to take account of the competing forces that make up the Iranian establishment, from the Revolutionary Guards and the rest of the security apparatus, the clerics (of whom Rowhani is one), the parliament and the elected president. Surviving unscathed in this environment, especially during the ugly parts of Ahmadinejad’s tenure, has required the skills of a medieval courtier, with a care to avoid the block. As Sir Richard Dalton, British ambassador in Tehran from 2003 to 2006, has commented, Rowhani has “connections across all points of the political compass in Iran”.


Rowhani Is a Tool of Iran’s Rulers

…He didn’t protest the crackdown on the Green Movement in 2009, and praised the crackdown on pro-democracy students in 1999.

Unlike former president Mohammad Khatami, whose election in 1997 convulsed the ruling elite, Rowhani has shown no intellectual signs that he’s reflected on the collision of Islam and the West, the legitimacy of popular sovereignty, or theocracy in the Shi’ite tradition — and this from a cleric who supposedly has a Ph.D. in constitutional law from some university in Scotland (exactly where isn’t clear).


From Inner Circle of Iran, a Pragmatic Victor

Maryam Rahmania

Even his nickname, “the diplomat sheik,” is testament to his role as a pragmatist seeking conciliation for the Islamic leadership

Published: June 16, 2013

TEHRAN — As Iranians responded to the victory of the cleric Hassan Rowhani in the country’s presidential race over the weekend by erupting into street parties not seen in many years, it almost seemed as if some sort of reformist revolution could be under way.

Across the country, drivers honked horns, men danced to pop music and women clapped, celebrating Mr. Rowhani’s campaign pledges to bring more freedom and better relations with the outside world.

But Mr. Rowhani, 64, is no renegade reformist, voted in while Iran’s leaders were not paying attention. Instead, his political life has been spent at the center of Iran’s conservative establishment, from well before Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini led the Islamic Revolution in the 1970s. And analysts say that Mr. Rowhani’s first priority will be mediating the disturbed relationship between that leadership and Iran’s citizens, not carrying out major change.

Even his nickname — “the diplomat sheik” — is testament to his role as a pragmatist seeking conciliation for the Islamic leadership. Whether in dealing with protesting students, the aftermath of devastating earthquakes or, in his stint as nuclear negotiator, working to ease international pressure as Iran moved forward with its nuclear program, Mr. Rowhani has worked to find practical ways to help advance the leadership’s goals.

Though he is widely seen as a cautious realist, his first leap into Iran’s inner circle as a young man was rooted in risk. In one of his memoirs, Mr. Rowhani describes a perilous journey he took as an 18-year-old seminary student, sneaking across the border into Iraq to meet Ayatollah Khomeini in exile.

At one point, he recounts, a smuggler told him to immediately take off his turban, in order to be less visible inside their car. More dogmatic Shiite Muslim clerics would have ignored such a request, but the young Mr. Rowhani did not hesitate and quickly removed his white turban.

“We arrived safely, and that is what mattered,” Mr. Rowhani wrote.

In the memoir, he argues that ideology must never stand in the way of advancement. In 1979, during the last months of Ayatollah Khomeini’s exile, Mr. Rowhani was part of his entourage in France. “There some people spread leaflets saying Iran must stop buying weapons from the United States, in order not to support their weapons industry,” he wrote. “But I argued that we must not deprive ourselves of modern weapon technology just because it is American.”

While the Iranian leadership considers Islam the basis for all policy, Mr. Rowhani comes from a wing of the clerical establishment that finds Islam to be a more dynamic than rigid code. The thesis he wrote to obtain his doctorate in constitutional law in 1997 from Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland, according to his personal Web site, was on “the flexibility of Shariah; Islamic law.”

His own pragmatic flexibility in the face of ideology was on display in 2003, when Mr. Rowhani visited the earthquake struck-region of Bam while serving as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. Despite the tensions with the United States, Iran had allowed Americans to set up an emergency hospital, and Mr. Rowhani made it a point to visit it and take photographs with American doctors.

His memoirs and several other books describe a life as an integral part of the fabric of Iran’s political establishment, forming friendships at an early age with other clerics bound for positions of power and influence within the Islamic republic.

Mr. Rowhani has described a train journey in 1967 that only in hindsight would seem momentous. Along that trip, he befriended a fellow Shiite cleric who is now the influential head of the office of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Also on that train was a cleric who would turn out to become the national prosecutor. Another influential friend from the pre-revolution years was Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president whose endorsement helped ease Mr. Rowhani’s road to the presidency.

It is a snapshot in the life of a man set to become an insider in Iran’s small circle of power.

Because of his dedication to political Islam and influential connections, Mr. Rowhani’s star rose quickly. He was the deputy leader of the Iran-Iraq war effort in the 1980s, served in Iran’s Parliament for 20 years, and for 16 years was in charge of the daily management of the security council, one of the country’s most influential agencies. He is currently the head of the Center for Strategic Research in Tehran, which advises both Mr. Rafsanjani and Ayatollah Khamenei.

“His lifelong career shows he has been at the heart of Iranian politics and his goal is to serve the Islamic republic of Iran,” said Ali Shakouri-Rad, a reformist politician. “The very fact he is elected shows that he is very much accepted by our establishment.”

On Sunday, in Mr. Rowhani’s first major speech since becoming president-elect, that focus was already on display. He warned that the country’s many problems would not be solved overnight, and said he would enter talks with the governing establishment of clerics and commanders for advice.

“He is the right man for the job,” said Soroush Farhadian, 31, a political editor at the reformist newspaper Bahar. “He is a modern cleric, and a diplomat, which is useful in foreign and domestic politics.”

The diplomat sheik played a key role in Iran’s voluntary suspension of uranium enrichment in 2004, which Western powers responded to by asking for more concessions from Iran.

In Iran, the move is now regarded as a failure, and in the years since, the Iranian leadership has taken a much harder negotiating line.

In his book “National Security and Nuclear Diplomacy,” on his position as the chief nuclear negotiator from 2003 until 2005, Mr. Rowhani defended himself, arguing that all critical advances in the nuclear program were made during the suspension. “We dealt both with increasing outside pressures and the need to make consensus within the country,” he wrote.

During the recent election, Mr. Rowhani argued that it was again time to change tactics in the nuclear program and reduce international pressure on Iran.

The nuclear case, he wrote in his book, has turned into the most complicated negotiations Iran has ever held.

“It is good for centrifuges to operate,” he said in a campaign video, “but it is also important that the country operates as well, and that the wheels of industry are turning.”

On Sunday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters that there would be no change in nuclear policy. But reformists led by former President Mohammad Khatami, who backed Mr. Rowhani in the election, say it is time for a new approach.

“The election result shows that people want a change in the nuclear policy,” Mr. Shakouri-Rad said. “Now we will wait and see what Mr. Rowhani will do.”


Iran’s new president says U.S. outreach possible if ‘our nuclear rights’ are respected


Iran President-Elect Wants to Ease Strains With U.S., but Sees No Direct Talks

Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press

President-elect Hassan Rowhani of Iran after speaking at a press conference in Teheran on Monday for the first time since his election victory.

Published: June 17, 2013

TEHRAN — President-elect Hassan Rowhani of Iran, speaking Monday for the first time since his election victory, said he wanted to reduce tensions with the United States but ruled out direct talks between the two estranged nations.

In his first news conference after winning Friday’s presidential election promising more freedoms and better relations with the outside world, Mr. Rowhani called the issue of nonexistent relations between Iran and the United States “an old wound, which must be healed.”

Iran, he said, wants to reduce tensions between the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations and are at odds over the nature of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. Echoing similar statements from the departing administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mr. Rowhani said there would be no direct talks until the United States stopped “interfering in Iran’s domestic politics,” respected what he called Iran’s nuclear rights and lifted economic sanctions.

“All should know that the next government will not budge from defending our inalienable rights,” Mr. Rowhani told reporters. He emphasized that, like those of his predecessors, his government would not be prepared to suspend uranium enrichment, something he had done as a nuclear negotiator in 2004 as a trust-building measure in discussions with European countries.

“We have passed that period,” he said of that time. “We are now in a different situation.”

Instead, Mr. Rowhani, who will take office on Aug. 3, offered more openness concerning Iran’s nuclear program, saying that was his way of working to end the sanctions that have severely damaged the Iranian economy.

Mr. Rowhani’s victory has been received with cautious optimism at the White House, which issued a statement on Saturday congratulating Iranians on “making their voices heard” and reaffirming an American willingness to “engage the Iranian government directly” to resolve the nuclear dispute.

President Obama appeared to go further in an interview with Charlie Rose on Sunday before the president left for a summit meeting in Northern Ireland.

“Clearly you have a hunger within Iran to engage with the international community in a more positive way,” Mr. Obama said in the interview, broadcast Monday night on PBS. “I do think that there’s a possibility that they decide, the Iranians decide to take us up on our offer to engage in a more serious, substantive way.”

Iran has always contended that its uranium enrichment is for peaceful purposes, rejecting Western suspicions that the country is seeking the ability to build weapons. “First, we are ready to increase transparency and clarify our measures within the international framework,” Mr. Rowhani said.

“Of course our activities are already transparent, but still we increase it,” Mr. Rowhani said. “Second, we will increase the trust between Iran and the world.”

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency have repeatedly sought access to the military site of Parchin, near Tehran. But Iran has denied such a visit by saying that military sites are not part of its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which Iranian diplomats often refer to as the “international framework.”

But indirectly underlining the effects of the sanctions, Mr. Rowhani said he was already working with the departing government to prevent food shortages. “People are in instant need of basic staples,” he said. The government would increase domestic production to stabilize prices and rising unemployment, he said without elaborating.

Mr. Rowhani, who is nicknamed the “diplomat sheik” in Iran for his white turban and pragmatic streak, said his victory and the high turnout in Friday’s election had altered the view that other countries had of Iran.

“On a global level, our image has changed,” he said. “The atmosphere in the global opinion has changed, and this provides new opportunities for us.” Interaction with the rest of the world — except for Israel, which Iran does not recognize — is important, he emphasized.

He paid special attention to neighboring countries, especially the Persian Gulf kingdoms that reduced relations with Iran under Mr. Ahmadinejad’s presidency. “The priority of my government’s foreign policy will be to have excellent relations with all neighboring countries,” he said. He singled out Iran’s biggest regional rival, the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which supports rebels in Syria while Iran supports the government of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.

“We are not only neighbors but also brothers,” he said. “Every year hundreds of thousands of Iranian pilgrims visit Mecca. We have many common points with Saudi Arabia.”

On Syria, he made the same points offered by Iranian diplomats over the last two years, that the Syrian people should decide their own fate in the presidential election in 2014. “It’s up to them to decide,” Mr. Rowhani said, without commenting on the military support to Mr. Assad provided by Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite organization that is financed by Iran. “We hope that peace will return to this country with the help of all countries,” he said. “Until the next election in Syria in 2014, the current government must be officially recognized by the world countries.”

He noted the street parties that erupted Saturday after his official victory, saying the “time of sadness for Iranians” was finished. But he did not offer any clear examples of the measures he would take to lift the security atmosphere that has pervaded the country during Mr. Ahmadinejad’s presidency.

Mr. Rowhani said he would never forget the promises he made during his campaign. “But we need to set our priorities first,” he said. “We need time.”

Toward the end of the news conference, a spectator yelled for the release of Mir Hussein Moussavi, the opposition leader who is under house arrest. Mr. Rowhani made no comment.


17, 2013, 7:27 p.m. ET
New Iranian Leader Offers Opening to U.S.
President-Elect Says New Era Has Begun, While Broad Policies Aren’t His to Decide

Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani said that with his election his country had entered an era of cooperation and would take concrete steps to resolve its nuclear standoff with the West—promises that would require a shift by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Mr. Rohani, in first news conference since his landslide victory in Friday’s election, called for Iranian relations with the U.S., which he referred to as an “old wound,” to be healed.

The U.S. and allied European and Arab governments responded cautiously to Mr. Rohani’s election and statements, saying it was too early to tell whether he could chart an independent policy from the hard-line approach championed by Mr. Khamenei over the past decade.

Although Mr. Rohani isn’t a radical reformer, Iranian voters saw him as a break from eight years of conservatism and defiance by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Foreign policy and the economy, linked because of international sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program, were top campaign issues.

President Barack Obama, after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Northern Ireland, said Monday that “we both expressed cautious optimism that with a new election there we may be able to move forward on a dialogue that allows us to resolve the problems with Iran’s nuclear program.”

The Islamic Republic’s overarching policies on matters such as its nuclear program, relations with the U.S. and its support of Syria’s regime are decided above the president’s level. Mr. Khamenei and his close circle of advisers typically decide the direction of these policies, and the president executes them.

Mr. Khamenei has said over the past year that Iran would gain nothing by normalizing relations with the U.S.

Mr. Rohani, a 64-year-old cleric and lawyer, is viewed as a pragmatic and moderate politician who is trusted by Mr. Khamenei and his conservative circles as well as by Iran’s reformist factions.

After serving on Mr. Khamenei’s policy team for over two decades, Mr. Rohani has some influence with the supreme leader and is likely to have a freer hand than his predecessors to shape Iran’s policies, many Iranian analysts said.

Conservative and hard-line factions that fought and blocked changes by President Mohamad Khatami, Iran’s last reformist president, will likely be more accommodating to Mr. Rohani because of his close relationship to the supreme leader.

“Mr. Khamenei fully trusts him and once even said to him that he mentions him by name in his nightly prayers,” said Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former member of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team who served as Mr. Rohani’s spokesman when he served as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator in 2003-05.

But Mr. Rohani’s close relationship to Mr. Khamenei could prevent him from pursuing the overhauls that Iran’s opposition seeks, and make him less likely to challenge the supreme leader.

During the campaign, Mr. Rohani said the U.S. was like the world’s “village elder,” to whom Iran should be talking; on Monday, in the live, televised news conference, he said “Iran is not seeking to increase or expand tensions with the U.S.”

Mr. Rohani said his administration would pursue productive talks with the P5+1 group—the United Nations Security Council permanent members and Germany—and would use his experience at the negotiating table as a guideline.

Iran “will take two initiatives to remove sanctions step by step. First we will be more transparent in our nuclear program…and second we will build trust between Iran and other countries,” he said. He also reiterated Iran’s position that it wouldn’t suspend uranium enrichment or “compromise on the rights of Iranian people.”

However, he said if Iran feels as if the other side—mainly the U.S.—has “good intentions,” there would be opportunity for change.
American and European officials said they were hopeful that negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program would resume by August.

U.S. and European officials said they were looking to see who would replace the current lead negotiator, hard-liner Saeed Jalili, as an indicator of potential change.

When Mr. Rohani served as Tehran’s nuclear negotiator, he oversaw a team of diplomats and technocrats who generally favored engaging the U.S. and Europe. Many of these officials were, subsequently, purged from the Iranian diplomatic corps after the election of Mr. Ahmadinejad in 2005. U.S. and European diplomats are waiting to see if some of these officials will be brought back.

U.S. and European officials said there were no plans to loosen or delay economic sanctions on Iran as a result of Mr. Rohani’s election. The U.S. is set to impose new financial penalties aimed at essentially banning the use of Iran’s currency, the rial, on July 1.

Still, these officials said on Monday that the countries negotiating with Iran are discussing whether to pursue a more aggressive diplomacy in the coming months.

Iran and the U.S. broke off diplomatic relations in 1979 after the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran. The Islamic Republic has since used anti-American rhetoric as a way to show its defiance to the West and appeal to masses in the Muslim world.

Iran’s core nuclear policy has centered on the Islamic Republic’s insistence that it has the right to peaceful nuclear energy and enriching uranium within the framework of the Non Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is signatory. Western countries and the International Atomic Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, claim that Iran’s nuclear program hasn’t been transparent and that Iran could eventually obtain nuclear-weapon technology.

Mr. Rohani was vague when it came to domestic policies such as his campaign pledges to free political prisoners and open up the society, appearing cautious about upsetting the regime.

He said his administration would include technocrats from all political factions in Iran, including reformists and conservatives.

His sweeping victory over conservative rivals was largely the result of a last-minute mobilization of reformist political parties and opposition supporters.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, its volunteer million-man paramilitary unit known as Basij, and parliament have issued statements pledging their unconditional support to Mr. Rohani, suggesting conservatives are closing ranks behind him as a way to unify Iran’s divided factions.

At one point during the news conference, when asked about Syria’s civil war, Mr. Rohani said it was the Syrians who should choose the fate of their nation. The suggestion that citizens should determine their destiny drew applause and cheers from some members of the press corps.

When asked about political prisoners, Mr. Rohani didn’t mention the names of the opposition leaders under house arrest, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, whose release has been the top demand of many supporters as well as reformist leaders who rallied behind him.

In a disruption that is unusual for a televised news conference in Iran, as the session came to an end, someone called out for the release of Mr. Mousavi. As an uproar erupted, the national broadcast channels airing the conference cut the sound and Mr. Rohani ended the conference and left the room.


Iranian expats in L.A. skeptical about Iran presidential election

Hassan Rowhani, right, shows his inked finger after casting his ballot in Iran’s presidential election. He won. (Abedin Taherkenareh / EPA / June 14, 2013)

By Robert Faturechi
June 15, 2013, 7:36 p.m

For decades, Iranian expatriates in Los Angeles have complained that their government back home is too conservative, too restrictive of its people and too combative with the rest of the world.

Now, a centrist promising more freedoms at home and more dialogue with the West has been elected president.

Some Iranians in Tehran are dancing in the streets. But here in Los Angeles, home to the largest community of Persians outside Iran, the reaction has been muted.

Most of the thousands of Iranians here fled after a revolution that ushered in a rigid Islamic theocracy. In the years since, they’ve been disappointed time and again by the regime back home, so the skepticism about the latest election results is not such a surprise.

Siamak Kalhor, a popular host on the local Iranian-language radio station, KIRN-AM (670), voted absentee for Hassan Rowhani. Kalhor initially called his candidate’s victory a “good thing.” But his suspicions quickly emerged.

“It’s really sad that we’re hoping a Shia cleric is going to lead us out of the religious system,” he said. “We’re hoping a mullah is going to save us out of the mullahs’ hands…. It just shows, in hell there are certain dragons that are so scary that you find shelter among lions.”

Kalhor still has relatives in Iran and visits regularly. He said that even modest improvements — to the flailing economy and the nation’s international stature — would be better than nothing.

Homa Sarshar, an Iranian activist and media personality who moved to Los Angeles three decades ago, took a more hard-line approach. She has not voted in a single Iranian election since coming to the United States.

“He is more liberal, quote unquote, than the others, but he’s not a reformist,” she said of Rowhani. “For me, they’re all the same.”

Rowhani’s reputation as a centrist, the fact that he was not favored by Iran’s supreme leader, the strong voter turnout — all these things, she said, simply go to legitimizing the regime.

“He is going to prolong the life of the Islamic Republic,” she said.

That concern has fueled speculation among some expats in L.A. that Rowhani’s victory was predetermined, the grand plan of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“One of the theories now going on in the Iranian mind is that this was planned,” said Bijan Khalili, owner of the Ketab Persian Bookstore in Westwood.

The hard-line clerics, the theory goes, allowed a more moderate candidate to win so Iranians would feel as though their voices had been heard.

Asked why so many Iranians here are skeptical — even after what appears to be a modest victory — Khalili explained that many times before, the community has gotten its hopes up, only to be disappointed.

“In the last 34 years, they didn’t see anything being better,” he said.

During the last Iranian election season, in 2009, expats here were much more vocal, organizing regular protests and sporting green to show support for the reformist movement back home. But at that time, protesters in Iran had been filling the streets, and there was hope for something much larger: regime change.


Robert Fisk

Sunday 9 June 2013

Robert Fisk: Ahmadinejad’s successor is supposed to be chosen by the people, not guardians
This is not a real election for Iran but a competition between clerical favourites

Hand-picked to a man. That’s what you can say about the “candidates” for Iran’s presidential election this week. The Guardian Council have ensured that the eight men – all are indeed men, of course – have the approval of the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Power remains with the clique of clergymen, which was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s intention. Supreme Leader. I’ve always been troubled by that word. The supreme leader is a guide. And the German for guide is “führer”.

No, the Islamic Republic of Iran is not a Nazi state. Most Iranians appear to believe that they have the right to nuclear facilities. Saeed Jalili, the country’s nuclear negotiator, may well be elected president. Or possibly his predecessor Hassan Rowhani. But how can Iranians call this an election when Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has been disqualified. The people are supposed to choose their candidates – not “guardians”.

I called up an old Iranian friend at the weekend to ask him what he felt. He is an academic – and a very wise one – and his first words were simple. “I will not be voting in the election because none of the candidates could be representative of those values which are important to me. They know they are not following democracy.”

Professor Mohammad Marandi of Tehran University said more or less the same thing. But he added that many people in Spain, Italy and Greece (or the Gaza Palestinians who voted for Hamas and were put under siege by us for it) didn’t think they lived in much of a democracy. Good point.

Yes, there is a kind of “ghost” democracy in this election. It’s not difficult, for example, to see why the ex-mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, might be a favourite. He comes from that familiar lineage, a “humble” background, and many will admire the fact that his father is a baker. Ghalibaf rose through the senior ranks of the military during the titanic Iran-Iraq war. And unlike the awful Ahmadinejad, Ghalibaf fought in some of the most ferocious battles – and thus today has considerable influence within the Revolutionary Guards. If the US-EU-Israeli threats against Iran over its nuclear plans continue, then Ghalibaf might be the man to stand up to this Western campaign – and avoid the crackpot rhetoric of Ahmadinejad who spent his time enraging Iran’s enemies for the sake of enraging them.

The Iranian election remains not an election but a competition between clerical favourites. And there is a wider question here. Let us remember the 1979 Iranian revolution. Wasn’t there supposed to have been “democracy” then? And didn’t we then watch Khomeini turn Iran into a theocracy – or rather a necrocracy, government for the dead, by the dead? Doesn’t that say something very important about this vast swathe of mountains and rivers and sand called the Middle East? There are revolutions – out goes King Farouk, King Idris, the Iraqi monarchy, the Shah, and then in come more dictators; the Nassers and the Sadats and the Mubaraks and the Ben Alis and the Gaddafis. And the clergy. Or you have a “corrective revolution” like Hafez al-Assad’s in Syria.

Then you have another revolution and out go the Mubaraks and the Ben Alis and the Gaddafis and – well, Syria may turn out to be very different and Bahrain is safe for the moment (thanks to us) and Qatar and the Emirates and the Saudis are too busy cooking up the Syrian revolution to worry about their own revolutions. And so it goes on. We sneak some military hardware into Syria and worry that chemical weapons will get into “the wrong hands”. We express outrage when Hezbollah crosses into Syria to help Assad, but blithely talk about how the rebellion against Assad is now “the centre of world jihadism”.

History suggests that democracy is not a word that rings happily in the ears of Middle Eastern people. After all, for them, the “democracies” were the Western nations which supported the Sadats and the Mubaraks and the Ben Alis, and the Shahs, and the revolving-door fortunes of the Blair-kissed nincompoop Gaddafi – all of whom came from their countries’ security apparatus. As for the Shah, he was Iran’s “security apparatus”!

Freedom and dignity is what the people asked for. And human rights. Not democracy. Are they going to get these vital commodities? Yet under the elected dullard Morsi, Cairo is now going through a series of mini-revolutions. Police go on strike, there are revolts in the agriculture ministry, the education ministry, the judiciary, the press – even the Cairo Opera House management. No Aida this year, folks. No ballet either.

Little Tunisia has one of the best chances of survival. Libya is divided up by the mafia who staged the revolution – including one pro-government militia which didn’t mind slaughtering more than 20 largely unarmed protesters this weekend. Do not speak of Syria, where the government is accused by the French of using sarin gas and where a rebel – and we are supporting the “rebels” are we not? – is seen eating part of an Alawite body while others execute captured Syrian soldiers on video.

But there was an intriguing clue to the future in a rare statement from the Syrian army after they captured Qusayr last week. The Syrian military command – not Bashar or the Baath Party – said that “we will not hesitate to crush with an iron fist those who attack us… Their fate is surrender or death.” The Egyptian army rattles its swords (American-made). The army remains supreme in Algeria (with full support from us). The Revolutionary Guard Corps will continue to run Iran for the ayatollahs. Are the men in khaki coming back?


Reading Marx in Tehran

Published: June 13, 2013

IRAN’S presidential election on June 14 will be neither free nor fair. The candidates on the ballot have been preselected in a politically motivated vetting process that has little purpose other than ensuring the election of a compliant president who will be loyal to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Regardless of the outcome of the vote, the most urgent challenge for both the next president and Ayatollah Khamenei will be to confront a rising tide of discontent resulting from a rapidly deteriorating economic situation.

The outside world is primarily focused on whether the election will signal a shift in the Iranian regime’s stand on the nuclear issue. But for the average Iranian the most important issue is the impact of this election on her pocketbook — especially for the hardworking masses, whose purchasing power has drastically decreased as they struggle to provide the most basic necessities for their families.

Iran’s industrial workers, teachers, nurses, government and service-sector employees have been hit hard. The profound mismanagement of the economy by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government, coupled with stringent international sanctions, has made these workers’ plight the most important aspect of Iran’s domestic politics.

The situation inside Iran may appear calm, because of the government’s harsh repression, but there are widespread workers’ protests. Dissidents from all walks of life, including educated but unemployed young people and women, are searching for any opportunity to express their grievances peacefully. Just last week in Isfahan, during the funeral of the prominent dissident cleric Ayatollah Jalaledin Taheri, thousands chanted “Death to the dictator” and “Political prisoners must be set free.”

The authorities in Iran are aware of the time bomb that the impoverishment of large segments of the population is creating. During a recent meeting of Iran’s National Security Council, high-ranking officials expressed their concern about possible uprisings of “the hungry.”

I know how far the authorities will go. I spent more than five years in prison for my labor-organizing activities. I was physically and psychologically tortured and threatened with rape. My interrogators also often threatened to detain, torture and rape my wife and children.

My son Puyesh was imprisoned and severely tortured. The authorities expelled my other son, Sahesh, from his university. Intelligence agents kidnapped Sahesh’s wife, Zoya, three times. She was beaten and threatened, and during one of these episodes, she miscarried. Tehran’s notorious prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, threatened my wife many times simply because she was pursuing my case with the judiciary. And my interrogators constantly harassed her with threatening calls and vulgar text messages.

For the slightest protest against my treatment, I was held in solitary confinement — once for 7 months and 23 days. Interrogators often threatened to kill me, telling me, “No one knows you are here, we can easily kill you with impunity.” They would remind me of the massacres of political prisoners during the 1980s and the many killed in detention since then.

But I was fortunate enough to have widespread international support, especially from international labor unions and human rights organizations. News about my case had an effect on my relationship with the prison guards. They were exposed to the news about my activism and reasons behind my imprisonment through satellite television channels and the Internet. As a result, their attitude toward me changed over time. I even forged friendships with some of my prison guards, themselves from working-class backgrounds, advising them on how to pursue work-related grievances against their employer.

I recently left the country because of death threats. But Iranian workers in many sectors are still organizing; some are publicly known, others remain under the radar to avoid the sharp sword of repression. Intimidation, prosecution and imprisonment of labor activists are rampant, but unions in Iran haven’t been fully silenced, and some have even had some limited success. My colleagues in the Tehran Bus Drivers Union managed to win an 18 percent wage increase, despite the imprisonment and firing of several of its members. Widespread unemployment, runaway inflation, shortages of essential goods and a precipitous decline in the value of Iran’s currency have had such a debilitating impact on workers and wage earners that they can’t afford to remain silent and indifferent.

In the face of this economic crisis, none of the current candidates on the ballot has put forward a tangible economic plan that addresses workers’ concerns. They have made references to difficulties and criticized the Ahmadinejad administration’s mismanagement and corruption, but they have not proposed or discussed any solutions to the workers’ plight.

We welcome international support from all those who care for our struggle. The American left has rightly opposed military adventurism against Iran, but it should also oppose sanctions that hurt ordinary Iranians and back our struggle to gain the freedom of speech and association, as well as the right to bargain collectively and advocate for workplace improvements. Those basic liberties are essential for our dignity — and for the future of genuine democracy in Iran.

Mansour Osanloo, a former president of the Tehran Bus Drivers Union, was imprisoned by the Iranian government from 2006 to 2011. This essay was translated by Hadi Ghaemi from the Persian.


About Jerry Frey

Born 1953. Vietnam Veteran. Graduated Ohio State 1980. Have 5 published books. In the Woods Before Dawn; Grandpa's Gone; Longstreet's Assault; Pioneer of Salvation; Three Quarter Cadillac
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