Flood Response Highlights Political Feuds

Week of April 1, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

 

Flood Relief Efforts Highlight Differences between Rouhani and Revolutionary Guards

Ahmad Shojaee, the head of Iran’s Legal Medicine Organization, has said the death toll from two weeks of flooding across Iran has reached 62. The floods’ devastating impact comes as President Rouhani and other Iranian officials have said that U.S. sanctions have led to the closure of Iranian Red Crescent bank accounts and have “obstructed the provision of aid from Iranians abroad.”

Flood relief efforts in Iran have been marked by Rouhani administration officials and military officials trading accusations of failing to adequately provide relief. Many Iranians on social media also criticized the government response, underscoring a lack of preparedness for such a crisis and a failure to address underlying causes for the damage done by the floods.

A video went viral on Iranian social media of IRGC General Mohammad Pakpour lambasting the Rouhani administration for its response to the floods. A journalist recorded Pakpour talking on the phone to Mohammad Bagheri, the chief of staff of Iran’s Armed Forces, as saying that Rouhani administration officials “don’t have the courage to get close to the affected regions and that the situation has become unruly.” He added that the situation of the flood victims was “wretched.”

The Rouhani administration’s Interior Ministry issued a statement in response: “Such comments in the media make the affected people and people across society disappointed and hopeless. Unintentionally, these comments make the revolution’s enemies happy and target the entire system.”

Earlier, President Rouhani had criticized an IRGC effort to divert floodwater in the northeastern Golestan province. Rouhani stated that the IRGC exploding roads and railways to divert floodwater had “no effect” and “moved the water from one direction to another.” In response, IRGC Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said he hoped that the Rouhani administration would stop “insults of moving water from one direction to another.”

On April 2nd, Ayatollah Khamenei met with Rouhani administration officials and military officials to discuss the flood crisis, with President Rouhani notably absent from the meeting. Khamenei stated that one “important outcome” from the flood crisis was “collaboration between different institutions and the presence of high-level officials and military commanders in the affected regions.” However, Khamenei also stated the “more important issue is preventing such damage, which should have been predicted before.”

Amid speculation that Rouhani sulked from the meeting, senior Rouhani advisor Hesamodin Ashna, said the meeting was originally planned to only be with Rouhani’s chief deputies and relief officials and military commanders. Rouhani’s first vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri, who was has helped lead relief efforts in flood-affected regions, was present in the meeting.

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Foreign Minister Zarif Says Iran Focusing Foreign Relations on Neighbors, not Europe

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif gave an interview wherein he stated that Iran was not relying on Europe in the face of America’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and instead is seeking to deepen ties with neighboring countries. He stated: “For this reason in recent years, even in the immediate aftermath of the JCPOA, most of our trips—the trips of the president and I—were to neighboring countries. It was to countries which are our old partners, such as Russia, China, Turkey, Iraq. Our focus for our future foreign relations is in this direction.” Zarif’s comments come several weeks after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei issued a stern call to not trust Europe [as covered in a previous Iran Unfiltered].

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Prominent Political Scientist Zibakalam Discusses Domestic Politics & Upcoming Elections

Prominent Iranian political scientist and reformist thinker Sadegh Zibakalam gave an interview during which he discussed Iran’s upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections and electoral prospects for Iran’s reformist and conservative factions. Zibakalam told the reformist Fararu that the Iranian year 1397 (March 21, 2018 – March 21, 2019) was the “worst year for the reformist movement” since its creation over two decades ago.

Zibakalam said reformists should adopt an electoral strategy centered on distancing themselves from the increasingly unpopular President Rouhani and explicitly declaring a strategic aim of “wanting democracy.” He stated: “I believe that if reformists don’t make their position clear on Rouhani and don’t declare that freedom and democracy are their strategic aims, they will quickly decline.”

Zibakalam said that unlike the reformists, Iran’s conservative “principlist” factions are not facing major challenges. He stated: “I believe that Ebrahim Raisi’s 17 million votes in the May 2017 [presidential] elections, if it hasn’t increased it certainly hasn’t decreased due to Rouhani’s performance. As a result, the principlists have preserved their base in society.”

Zibakalam contended that the biggest threats to principlists were former President Ahmadinejad and principlist hardliners. He stated that if Ahmadinejad is allowed to run, he would take votes from the traditional principlists. He also said that hardline principlists have consistently diminished the number of votes for principlists.

Zibakalam stated that traditional principlists cannot collaborate with Ahmadinejad supporters or hardline principlists. He opined that the only way for principlists to unite is if reformists regain their popularity, which he said was unlikely.

Zibakalam further stated that Ahmadinejad and other prominent conservatives, such as former state TV and radio chief Ezzatollah Zarghami, were pursuing a “third way” electoral strategy. He stated: “Because everyone is aware of the unpopularity of principlists among more educated segments of society and also the diminishing popularity of reformists and hears slogans such as “reformists, principlists, it’s over,” they [Ahmadinejad, Zarghami] want to make themselves the representatives of the people who have lost hope in both factions.”

Zibakalam said that President Rouhani and his allies in the Development and Justice Party have no chance in the upcoming election on their own. He asserted that Rouhani’s electoral victories in 2013 and 2017 were due to his alliance with reformists. He said it was unlikely that reformists would form a coalition again with Rouhani and that the Development and Justice Party was now seeking an alliance with moderate principlists such as parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani.

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Iran Welcomes Luxembourg Court Ruling on $1.6 Billion in Iranian Assets

Iran welcomed the decision by a Luxembourg court opposing a U.S. ruling that families of the 9/11 terrorist attacks can claim $1.6 billion in frozen Iranian assets in Luxembourg. U.S. sanctions have prevented Iran from repatriating the assets, while a U.S. court ruled in 2012 that the money can be claimed by the families of the 9/11 victims. Mohsen Mohebi, a senior legal official in the Rouhani administration, said that the decision was a “success” but urged “patience” for the money to be returned to Iran.

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Iraqi PM to Make First Trip to Iran

Iraq’s Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi is making his first trip to Iran on April 6th. According to an Iraqi official, Abdul-Mahdi’s trip will last two days and will focus on “issues related to trade between the two countries outside the framework of sanctions” and “on the convergent and neighborly views of Arab countries with Tehran.” Abdul-Mahdi will also travel to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE, and the United States.

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Devastating Floods Sweep Large Swathes of Iran

Week of March 25, 2019 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council | Subscribe Here

Floods Devastate Parts of Iran

Beginning on March 17th, parts of northeastern Iran experienced massive rainfall and devastating flooding. The impacted regions included the Golestan, Mazandaran, and North Khorasan provinces, which border the Caspian Sea. (Please see NIAC’s statement on the floods for information on how to safely donate to relief efforts.)

Heavy rainfall subsequently hit southern Iran, especially the Fars province, resulting in widespread flooding, damage, and loss of life. Videos on social media from Shiraz showed entire streets submerged and people and cars swept away by flash floods.

Two dams overflowed in Golestan province, leading to overflowing rivers that flooded the city of Gonbad-e Kavus and its surrounding areas. According to the deputy governor of the Golestan Province, between 25-30 percent of Gonbad-e Kavus has been damaged by floodwater. Roughly 1,000 homes in the surrounding villages have also been damaged according to initial estimates. Aqqala, another town in Golestan Province, is reportedly 70 percent flooded. According to deputy interior minister Esmail Najar, 6,000 homes in Mazandaran province have been damaged. Roughly 6,000 hectares of agricultural land has also been destroyed in Mazandaran Province according to a local member of parliament.

On March 28th, Hamid Reza Khanekeh, the deputy head of Iran’s Emergency Organization, said that 44 people died across the country due to the floods. According to Khanehkeh, 21 of the fatalities were in Shiraz province, 7 in Golestan, 5 in Mazandaran, 3 in North Khorasan, 2 in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad, one in Kermanshah, one in Khuzestan, two in Lorestan, one in Hamedan, and one in Semnan.

The widespread flooding resulted in public criticism of inadequate government response and hardline attacks on the Rouhani administration. On Iranian social media, many initially criticized Golestan’s governor, who was on a trip abroad when the flooding occurred. The governor was subsequently fired by Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri.

President Rouhani also faced criticism for remaining on vacation in Qeshm Island in the Persian Gulf in the days after the flooding first hit the Golestan province. However, on March 27th, Rouhani visited Mazandaran Province to oversee relief efforts. At a meeting of the Council for Coordinating the Management of Crises, Rouhani said the floods demonstrated the “unity of the nation.”

Rouhani said the U.S. sought to use the floods to create divisions in Iranian society. He stated: “The enemies, after they were discouraged by the oppressive sanctions imposed in November, are now using the floods and are trying to ride the flood issue to create division.”

Rouhani also acknowledged that that one factor behind the devastation caused by the floods was “decades of mistakes and misconduct made with respect to nature.” Rouhani said the people were also responsible for “misconduct with respect to nature.”

Rouhani stated: “The recent floods were nature’s warning of the consequences for the people’s misconduct towards nature. For this crisis, all the country’s officials and people should acknowledge their responsibility. Blaming others or seeking to exonerate oneself will solve nothing for the people.”  

The Iranian army and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) also participated in the flood relief efforts. Both IRGC Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari and Mohammad Bagheri, Iran’s Chief of Staff for the Armed Forces, traveled to affected areas and presented themselves as the front and center of relief efforts.

Bagheri stated while in Golestan Province: “I have come to directly oversee the work of our friends. I want to see what is lacking and see reports of how much progress has been made in relief work.”

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Nuclear Chief Says New “Nuclear Achievements” to be Announced

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), has said that Iran will announce new “nuclear achievements” on April 9th.  In announcing the April 9th date, Salehi said that the previous Iranian year 1397 (March 2018-March 2019) was “full of challenges for the people, but the good thing about these challenges is that they make us more resilient, mature, and experienced so that we can better stand against the enemy’s trickery.”

Salehi also stated that Iran’s experience with the JCPOA has made clear for Iranians that America is an enemy.  He stated: “It took awhile for many to believe that America is our enemy. But now everyone believes that America is our enemy. From supporters to opponents, from revolutionaries to anti-revolutionaries, everyone agrees that the American government is oppressive. From the beginning the Leader [Ayatollah Khamenei] stressed that this government and American officials could not be trusted. Now this can be seen clearly and this itself is a huge achievement.”

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Conservative Newspaper Says Democrats & Republicans the Same on Iran

On March 18th, conservative newspaper Kayhan published a piece stating that a future 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential administration would not return to the JCPOA and that Democrats and Republicans were the same on Iran policy.  The piece highlights recent quotes from two former Obama officials, Robert Einhorn and Richard Nephew, to make its case. It states that “even if a Democratic president comes to power in 2020, it is possible they won’t return to the JCPOA.” It also criticizes Rouhani for abiding by the deal “at any cost.”

The article asserts that the Obama administration had already violated the JCPOA. It criticizes former President Obama’s policies after the deal was reached and states that the Obama administration violated the deal with changes in America’s visa waiver law, the renewal of ISA sanctions, and a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on $2 billion in Iranian assets. It also states that the Obama administration made an “unprecedented decision” in refusing the appointment of Hamid Aboutalebi as Iran’s UN ambassador in 2014.

The piece goes on to criticize a “specific movement” in Iran for claiming there are differences between Republicans and Democrats on Iran. It then cites a May 2016 quote from former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry saying that negotiations had successfully “reined in” Iran’s nuclear program and that the next U.S. administration should impose pressure to “rein in Iran’s missile program.”

The article concludes by censuring Rouhani for continuing to adhere to the JCPOA, stating: “Democrats, Republicans, the U.S. administration, and the Europeans have through different tests concluded that regardless of whatever they do against the JCPOA and whatever acts of enmity against Iran they commit, they won’t get any practical reaction from Rouhani.”

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UN Extends Human Rights Rapporteur Mandate

On March 22nd, the UN Human Rights Council voted to extend by one year the mandate of Javaid Rehman, its special rapporteur for the human rights situation in Iran. During the session, the representatives of 22 countries voted for the extension of Rehman’s mandate, while seven countries voted against, and 18 abstained. The countries that voted against were Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Eritrea, India, Iraq, and Pakistan.

On March 11th, Rehman released his report on the human rights situation in Iran. The report detailed abuses against minority groups, labor activists, protesting teachers, journalists, and others. It also highlighted the negative impact of economic sanctions on the welfare of Iranians.

Esmail Baghaei, Iran’s permanent representative to the UN, stated that the measure was “not constructive and political.” He added: “This resolution and mandate of the special rapporteur only reinforces fictitious clichés about Iran.”

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Iran and Iraq Make Visas Free

The Iranian Foreign Ministry announced that on April 1st, the cost of visas for travel between Iran and Iraq would become free. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghassemi said that the agreement for free visas was reached during President Rouhani’s recent trip to Iraq. He stated: “Iran and Iraq agreed to waive all the cost for visas to facilitate relations between the two countries and connections between the people.

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Rouhani Blasts U.S. in Last Cabinet Meeting of the Iranian Year

During his last cabinet meeting of the Iranian year (which ended March 21st), President Rouhani strongly censured the U.S. and said the goal of U.S. sanctions was to take control of Iran. He stated: “Another issue in our country is that our enemies have sworn to use all their capabilities to try to obstruct the progress of the lives of Iranians and to take from the people the ability to have normal lives. Without any reason, the Americans left their commitments [under the nuclear deal] and imposed the most severe sanctions against the Iranian people.”

Rouhani added: “They [the U.S.] believe that if they increase these sanctions and pressures, they can return to Iran. The aim of the Americans is nothing less than to return to Tehran and gain dominance over the Iranian people.”

Rouhani further stated that Iranians should not forget who their enemies are and should curse and blame them for Iran’s current conditions. He stated:”We shouldn’t forget the main enemy and the main plotter. You should wish damnation on those who created these conditions for the country. The Americans, Zionists [Israel], and reactionary regional countries created this condition.”

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NIAC Statement on Bolton Seeking War with Iran

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement on reports that John Bolton asked the Pentagon for options to attack Iran in September, rattling officials:

“John Bolton and fellow Iran hawks believe they have two years left to collapse the Iran nuclear deal and trigger a disastrous war that the American people want no part of. We know that Bolton and other administration officials preferred an Iran war to negotiations prior to serving Trump. Now there is confirmation that they are still seeking out opportunities to fulfill their war agenda.

“This administration takes an expansive view of war authorities and is leaning into confrontation with Iran at a time when there are numerous tripwires for conflict across the region. It is imperative that this Congress investigate Bolton’s request for war options and pass legislation placing additional legal and political constraints on the administration’s ability to start a new war of choice with Iran that could haunt America and the region for generations.”

Mohammed bin Salman Is the Next Saddam Hussein

“Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is reportedly shocked over the backlash to his government’s killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. In a recent phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, according to the Wall Street Journal, his confusion over official Washington’s furor “turned into rage,” as he spoke of feeling “betrayed by the West” and threatened to “look elsewhere” for foreign partners.

Saudi Arabia’s indignation at the United States would not be the first time an autocratic U.S. ally in the Middle East has assumed it could act with virtual impunity due to its alignment with Washington in countering Iran. Indeed, the Saudi prince’s meteoric rise to power bears striking similarities to that of a past U.S. ally-turned-nemesis whose brutality was initially overlooked by his Washington patrons: former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein…”

Read more on Foreign Policy.

73 Prominent International Relations Scholars Say Iran Deal Will Help Stabilize Middle East

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: (202) 386-6408
Email: jabdi@niacouncil.org  
 
Washington, DC – 73 prominent International Relations and Middle East scholars have issued a letter in support of the Iran deal, arguing that it is a “strong and positive step toward stabilizing the Middle East,” and that a potential Congressional rejection of the agreement would further destabilize the region and “reignite Washington and Tehran’s gravitation towards a military confrontation.”

 
The letter’s signers include some of the most renowned thinkers in the fields of International Relations, political science, and Middle East studies including Professors Richard Bulliet, Noam Chomsky, Juan Cole, John Esposito, Fawaz Gerges, Robert Jervis, Rashid Khalidi, John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt and Ehsan Yarshater.
 
The letter was organized by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).
 
Scientists and other non-proliferation experts have hailed the agreement’s clear non-proliferation benefits, though the potential positive regional implications of the deal have received comparatively little scrutiny.
 
“In addition to advancing non-proliferation goals, this agreement could be the key that unlocks solutions to some of the most intractable conflicts in the Middle East,” Trita Parsi, President of NIAC, said. “The region suffers from a diplomacy deficit and the nuclear deal paves the way for an increase in dialogue and diplomacy on a whole set of issues – which is critical for stability in the Middle East.”
 
In the letter, the scholars argue that an important driver of instability in the region has been the dysfunctional relationship between the U.S. and Iran. Resolving the nuclear issue is a critical step towards taming the US-Iran rivalry and reducing its negative impact on the region.
 
“For the past 36 years, the US and Iran have been embroiled in a zero-sum geopolitical struggle,” the letter reads. “The arena for this contest has been the larger Middle East, where the two have sought to undermine each other at every given opportunity, at the expense of the stability of the region as a whole.”
 
“Many of the signers of the letter publicly opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003,” Parsi added. “History proved them right. Clearly they know a thing or two about international relations, the Middle East and Iran.”

See the letter online here.

 
***
 
The Nuclear Agreement with Iran:
A Plus for Regional Stability
 
Statement from Middle East and International Relations Scholars
 
The nuclear deal with Iran (The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – JCPOA) is a strong and positive step towards stabilizing the Middle East, beyond its undeniable non-proliferation benefits.
 
The Middle East is in turmoil. It is suffering from a broad range of problems that all, one way or another, contribute to the instability plaguing the region. Increasingly, the instability is not in the form of inter-state violence, but rather intra-state bloodshed with the eventual collapse of the states themselves.
 
While the region’s problems have many sources, one critical driver of instability has been the dysfunctional relationship between the West and Iran in general, and US-Iran tensions in particular.
 
For the past 36 years, the US and Iran have been embroiled in a zero-sum geopolitical struggle. The arena for this contest has been the larger Middle East, where the two have sought to undermine each other at every given opportunity, at the expense of the stability of the region as a whole.
 
In both Iraq and Afghanistan, US-Iran competition significantly contributed to the destabilization of these two countries. In other countries, the two have funded and backed rivaling groups, adding fuel to an already destabilizing fire.
 
Even at moments where both sides desired an opportunity to tame their rivalry, the absence of a dialogue between the US and Iran closed off all paths towards de-escalation.
 
While the JCPOA is primarily a non-proliferation agreement that successfully closes off all weaponization pathways in the Iranian nuclear program, it carries with it significant peace dividends by making diplomacy and dialogue available for conflict resolution – a necessary step to tackle all of the region’s sources of tensions, be they terrorism, sectarianism, or unilateralism.
 
The region suffers from a diplomacy deficit and the mere fact that the US and Iran can talk to each other again is in and of itself a stabilizing factor for the Middle East and an encouragement for regional rivals to pursue dialogue instead of proxy fights.
 
Indeed, the carnage in Syria can not be ended in the absence of US-Iran diplomacy. Nor can the threat of the ISIS be neutralized without US-Iran dialogue and possibly cooperation.  The plague of sectarianism will not be halted unless the US has the ability to engage with all sides of that divide. The deal can prod constructive diplomacy in ever wider circles across the region in part by providing a successful example of patient, win-win negotiations.
 
Clearly, the nuclear deal will not automatically or immediately bring stability to the region. But reactivating diplomatic channels between the United States and Iran is a necessary first step. Ultimately, a Middle East, where diplomacy is the norm rather than the exception, will enhance US national security and interests.
 
Conversely, a Congressional rejection of the deal will further destabilize the region. Such a move will isolate the United States while Iran will be freed from the nuclear constraints the deal would impose on it. Beyond the proliferation risk this would entail, US-Iran tensions will increase once more and reignite Washington and Tehran’s gravitation towards a military confrontation.
 
As such, we urge the members of the US Congress, as well as the leaders of the P5+1 states and Iran, to swiftly endorse the JCPOA and fully implement it. The historic agreement will prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and can prove that through creative diplomacy, the most complex conflicts can be resolved peacefully
 
Endorsed by:
 
1.     Prof. Ervand Abrahamian, City University of New York
2.     Prof. Gordon Adams, Emeritus, American University
3.     Prof. Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, University of London
4.     Prof. Robert Art, Brandeis University
5.     Prof. Reza Aslan, University of California Riverside
6.     Prof Guitty Azarpay, University of California Berkeley
7.     Prof. Kathryn Babayan, University of Michigan
8.     Prof. Shiva Balaghi, Brown University
9.     Dr. Bahman Baktiari, Executive Director, International Foundation for Civil Society
10.   Prof. Ali Banuazizi, Boston College
11.   Prof. Asef Bayat, University of Illinois
12.   Prof. William O. Beeman, University of Minnesota
13.   Prof. Peter Beinart, City University of New York
14.   Prof. Seyla Benhabib, Yale University
15.   Prof. Mehrzad Boroujerdi, Syracuse University
16.   Prof. Richard Bulliet, Columbia University
17.   Prof. Erica Chenoweth, University of Denver
18.   Prof. Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
19.   Prof. Juan Cole, University of Michigan
20.   Prof. Dale Copeland, University of Virginia
21.   Prof. Hamid Dabashi, Columbia University
22.   Prof. Dick Davis, Ohio State University
23.   Prof. Michael C. Desch, University of Notre Dame
24.   Prof. Carl W. Ernst, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
25.   Prof. Hadi S. Esfahani, University of Illinois
26.   Prof. John Esposito, Georgetown University
27.   Prof. Stephen W. Van Evera, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
28.   Prof. Tom Farer, University of Denver
29.   Prof. Farideh Farhi, University of Hawai’i at Manoa
30.   Prof. Sumit Ganguly, Indiana University
31.   Prof. Gene R. Garthwaite, Dartmouth College
32.   Prof. Mark Gasiorowski, Tulane University
33.   Prof. Fawaz A. Gerges, London School of Economics and Political Science
34.   Prof. George C. Herring, University of Kentucky
35.   Prof. Robert Jervis, Columbia University
36.   Prof. Kevan Harris, University of California Los Angeles
37.   Prof. Ross Harrison, Georgetown University
38.   Prof. Nader Hashemi, University of Denver
39.   Prof. Richard Herrmann, Ohio State University
40.   Amb. Robert Hunter, Center for Transatlantic Relations.
41.   Prof. Shireen Hunter, Georgetown University
42.   Prof. Toby C. Jones, Rutgers University
43.   Prof. Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, University of Maryland
44.   Prof. Arang Keshavarzian, New York University
45.   Prof. Rashid Khalidi, Columbia University
46.   Prof. Rami Khouri, American University, Beirut
47.   Prof. Elizabeth Kier, University of Washington
48.   Prof. Charles Kurzman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
49.   Prof. Deborah Welch Larson, University of California Los Angeles
50.   Dr. Judith A. Lerner, New York University
51.   Prof. Peter Liberman, City University of New York
52.   Prof. Mahmood Mamdani, Columbia University
53.   Prof. John Mearsheimer, University of Chicago
54.   Prof. Najmedin Meshkati, University of Southern California
55.   Prof. Mohsen Milani, University of South Florida
56.   Prof. Stephen Miller, Harvard University
57.   Prof. Timothy Mitchell, Columbia University
58.   Prof. Mehdi Noorbaksh, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology
59.   Prof. Trita Parsi, National Iranian American Council / Georgetown University
60.   Prof. Paul Pillar, Georgetown University
61.   Prof. D. T. Potts, New York University
62.   Prof. William B. Quandt, University of Virginia
63.   Prof. R.K. Ramazani, University of Virginia
64.   Prof. Brian Spooner, University of Pennsylvania
65.   Prof. Tamara Sonn, Georgetown University
66.   Prof. Ahmad Sadri, Lake Forest College
67.   Prof. Mahmoud Sadri, Texas Woman’s University and the Federation of North Texas Area Universities
68.   Prof. Muhammad Sahimi, University of Southern California
69.   Prof. Emile Sahliyeh, University of North Texas
70.   Prof. Randall Schweller, Ohio State University
71.   Dr. John Tirman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
72.   Prof. Stephen Walt, Harvard University
73.   Prof. Ehsan Yarshater, Columbia University
 
Added Signatures:
 
74.   Prof. Niloofar Haeri, Johns Hopkins University
75.   Prof. Thomas Juneau, University of Ottawa
76.   Dr. Abbas Kadhim, Johns Hopkins University
77.   Prof. Mohsen Kadivar, Duke University
78.   Prof. Philip Khoury, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
79.   Prof. Peter Kuznick, American University
80.   Dr. Mojtaba Mahdavi, University of Alberta
81.   Prof. Augustus R. Norton, Boston University
82.   Prof. Rouzbeh Parsi, Lund University
83.   Prof. Omid Safi, Duke University
84.   Prof. Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, Virginia Tech
 
###

What Iran Wants

On Christmas Eve, Iran’s Supreme Leader took to twitter to score some points against America. Hashtaging #Ferguson and #Gaza, he tweeted that if “Jesus were among us today he wouldn’t spare a second to fight the arrogants&support the oppressed.” He also shot off a few tweets hashtaging #BlackLivesMatter. Four days later, he commemorated the Wounded Knee massacre by asking on Twitter if killing millions of Native Americans and enslaving Africans constitute “American values”?

Coming in the midst of Iran’s negotiations with the US and the P5+1 (the Permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany), President Barack Obama ending decades of enmity with Cuba, as well as peculiar “non-coordination” between the US and Iran against Islamic State fighters in Iraq, Khamenei’s tweets raises the question: What does Iran really want with America?

After Havana, does Tehran want to be next? Does it seek to end the enmity with America, or just lower its intensity? Or do the leaders in Iran fear not having America as an enemy?

Many in Washington have argued that Iran is addicted to its enmity with the US. “It’s a pillar of the revolution,” one often hears. Coming to terms with America would be the end of the Islamic Revolution. Yet, many of those voices also categorically rejected the idea that Iran would engage the US in bilateral negotiations, have its foreign minister become email pals with Secretary John Kerry, or have its President tweet Happy Rosh Hashanah greetings to Jews worldwide.

A simplistic, one-dimensional (mis)understanding of the Iranian leadership generated crude and ultimately erroneous predictions of Iranian behavior. The surprising flexibility of the Iranian decision-makers could not be captured since Washington’s read of Tehran was surprisingly inflexible.

Rather than categorical rejection of ties with the US or open desire for such a relationship, the truth may simply be that Tehran itself did not know until recently what path to pursue in regards to Washington.

About three years ago, a debate emerged within Iran’s security establishment on redefining Tehran’s relations with the Great Powers, particularly the US. A realization had occurred that due to geopolitical changes in the region, some form of a relationship with Washington was necessary – the question was the parameters of that relationship and the manner it would come about.

It was an intense debate; perhaps the most important and difficult one the leaders of the Islamic Republic have experienced since the Iraq-Iran war. With the fast changing situation in the region, the debate never reached a finale. There are some indications, however, that Tehran has come closer to a conclusion in the past few weeks. On December 17, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, told the Financial Times that even if a nuclear deal is reached, the US and Iran can still not cooperate in the region. But, Shamkhani explained, the two “can behave in a way that they do not use their energy against each other.”

This is a critical statement that sheds light on where the debate in Tehran is tilting. Rather than partnership, Tehran is offering a truce.

A top Iranian official explained it to me a year ago: Iran’s relationship with the United States would at best be a cordial rivalry, not an alliance or partnership. But the operative term is cordial, not rivalry. Just as Shamkhani hinted, contrary to their past behavior, the US and Iran would not be challenging or undermining each other. There can even be tactical and strategic collaboration between the two, although Tehran likely will prefer to keep that behind-the-scenes. Or as in Shamkhani’s interview, flat out deny that collaboration is in the cards.

But why can’t Tehran shred its past objections and opt for a less conflicted approach to America? This is where the value of rivalry comes in. Iran does not aspire to be just a normal power. Both the current regime, as well as the regime of the Shah, seeks a strong regional leadership role. While the Shah used Persian nationalism internally, and an alliance with the US and Israel externally to become the undisputed power of the region, the Khomeini regime’s instruments have been political Islam and rejection of America’s presence in the region.

If Tehran joined the American camp, it would become a normal power whose influence would be determined solely by its economic and military prowess. This wouldn’t take Iran very far, Tehran fears. It would at best be a second tier state, below the United States.

By keeping its rivalry with the US alive and challenging America’s vision for the region, Iran would catapult itself into a higher level of regional influence, Tehran believes. By positioning itself as a rival, Iran would approach the US as an equal, rather than compete with Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia for the role of America’s most valuable proxy in the region.

Keep this in mind next time Ayatollah Khamenei takes to twitter to challenge the US or point out America’s double standards. In an era where the US and Iran may secretly collude against Sunni Jihadists, where trade between the two may flow once again, and where quiet collaboration between the two may become commonplace to stabilize regional hotspots, the optics of rivalry must desperately be kept alive where it matters the most. On twitter that is.

 

This article was originally published in Middle East Eye.

Iran Nuclear Deal Could Spell End of the War That Never Was

In less than a week, the outcome of the nuclear talks with Iran will be clear. According to one P5+1 diplomat, the possibilities — ranging from most to least likely — are an extension of the talks, a comprehensive agreement, or an agreement in principle.

Not on the menu — at least among the principals at the negotiations — is a return to the escalatory cycle that defined the past decade and threatened constantly to spill over into war. As the U.S.’s lead negotiator, Wendy Sherman, remarked at a conference in Washington last month, if the talks fail, “escalation is the name of the game, on all sides, and none of that is good.” In other words, failure is not an option.

This — not surprisingly — comes as a disappointment to some in Washington. Little more than a decade after having advocated war on Iraq, many of the same personalities have sought to bring the U.S. and Iran to the precipice of military conflict. Their efforts were only narrowly averted last summer when secret negotiations in Oman yielded November’s interim agreement on the nuclear issue. Since then, President Obama’s detractors have taken aim at the talks itself, pouncing on any and all U.S. compromises as paving the way towards nuclear holocaust.

But their messaging, besides being histrionic, has been confused. In the same week where Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that “the alternative to a bad deal is not war,” but more sanctions, leading U.S. hawks, Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz, wrote that the “wise[] bet is that sanctions will fail…” — at least “without other forms of coercion.”

What “other forms of coercion” did they have in mind? War, of course.

This cross-signaling bespeaks a broader problem for Washington’s warmongers: the nuclear talks have de-escalated tensions between the U.S. and Iran not just on the nuclear issue, but on others as well. This has made their lives difficult because, instead of merely invoking Iran to garner support for their hard-line position, they are now forced to argue the point and to justify why turning our back on dialogue is the right approach.

Because let’s face it: Having been involved in constant negotiations with each other for the past year, the U.S. and Iran understand each other better now than at any point over the past 35 years. Moreover, with the Middle East in a turmoil never before seen, both countries have been forced to revisit a calculus that had made each other implacable enemies, incapable of cooperation. If the Middle East and the U.S.’s role in it is to be salvaged, it will have to be on the back of a broader U.S.-Iran détente.

It is a difficult point to argue. With most U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan by the end of the year and the White House prepared to put more boots-on-the-ground in Iraq — all the while U.S. fighter jets pound Islamic State outposts in Syria — the idea that the United States can open up a new front with Iran is unsound. Americans have neither the appetite for a new war nor the ability to wage one, and the empty braggadocio of U.S. hawks won’t change that fact.

That leaves U.S. hawks in the unenviable position of having to swim against the tide in U.S.-Iran relations. At a time when so many are hopeful for a peaceful resolution to this conflict – both in the United States, in Iran, and around the world – those pushing for war look and sound perverse in their efforts to thwart compromise and kill the negotiations.

Being the last, best chance the United States has at limiting Iran’s nuclear program, this pulls the thin veneer that long masked their intentions off for good. Pushing conflict with Iran has never been about the nuclear program, as much as it has about that old desire to reconfigure the Middle East via regime change. How else can we explain U.S. hard-liners’ adamant opposition to an interim deal that, by all accounts, has stalled Iran’s nuclear program for the first time in a decade and allowed international inspectors daily access to check on Iran’s nuclear facilities? How else to explain the shrillness that greets mere letter-writing to Iran’s leader at a time when the nuclear deadline nears and the Middle East goes up in flames?

U.S. hawks are pulling no punches, because they have no more punches to pull. They recognize well enough that if a nuclear deal is cemented in the weeks ahead, their push for war is close to being all for naught.

That doesn’t mean they won’t try to spoil an agreement. Two weeks ago, Republicans swept to majorities in both houses of Congress during the mid-terms, giving U.S. hard-liners a pedestal on which to preempt a nuclear deal. Already, some members of Congress have designs on scurrying any agreement reached between the U.S. and Iran — either by preventing the president from implementing a deal or by imposing new sanctions on Iran.

However, if the White House has the wherewithal to withstand Republican-led attacks on a nuclear deal, U.S. hawks will be without any further means to advance us towards war against Iran. A nuclear agreement will take hold; both sides will adhere to their reciprocal obligations; and the world will be free of both renewed conflict and a new nuclear-weapons power.

President Obama’s legacy will then be defined not merely as bringing to a close two wars inherited from his predecessor, but as spelling the end of the war that never was. That will be — in the great scheme of things — his singular triumph in office. It will also be the last throw of cold-water on war plans a decade-in-the-making.

This article was originally published in Huffington Post.

NIAC Welcomes Potential U.S.-Iran Discussions on Iraq

Press Release - For Immediate Release

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) released the following statement in response to reports of potential discussions between the U.S. and Iran on the situation in Iraq:

News that the Obama administration will reach out to Iran over the security situation in Iraq is a welcome and sensible development that could strengthen the US response to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS).

For too long, institutionalized silence between the US and Iran has prevented cooperation on issues of mutual interest and importance. This silence has fed perceptions that Iran is the implacable enemy of the United States and vice versa. Now that the wall of silence has been broken by the ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna, new opportunities to diplomatically resolve seemingly intractable situations – including in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan – could emerge.

This new development will also provide a boost to the atmosphere of negotiations toward a comprehensive nuclear deal. Achieving a negotiated agreement to resolve the nuclear dispute by the July 20thdeadline is in the interest of all parties involved because it will present further opportunities to address mutual interests.

Regardless of the outcome of discussions on Iraq and the collaboration therefrom, the U.S. and Iran are on the precipice of a virtuous cycle.  Recognition of strategic convergence beyond the nuclear issue will add to the urgency of striking a nuclear deal, while progress at the negotiating table will continue to break down presumptions of mutual hostility and broaden recognition of common interests.

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The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. We accomplish our mission by supplying the resources, knowledge and tools to enable greater civic participation by Iranian Americans and informed decision-making by policymakers.