Notes From the Margins…

Iran and the US: Friends at Last?

  • November 25, 2013
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In a period of unrelenting gloom in the Middle East, the deal reached between Iran and the 5+1 countries is a positive development for various reasons.

Firstly, it lays the basis for the diplomatic resolution of a festering and extremely dangerous confrontation that has threatened for more than a decade to turn into an all-out regional war,   whose consequences would have been absolutely horrific for Iranians, and also for the wider region.

Many powerful states have wanted this outcome for some time; Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.   Neocons, ‘liberal interventionists’, and American Likudniks have also called repeatedly for the West to blast ‘the Mullahs’.

After all, as Niall Ferguson and Melanie Phillips and so many others have argued, you couldn’t just allow a state motivated by nothing less than a desire for collective martyrdom to acquire nuclear weapons in order to get themselves blown into heaven.  Nor, as Netanyahu has often warned, could acquire weapons that would enable it enact a second Holocaust in Israel.

Now, as a result of this deal,   the people who would have died as a consequence of lies and fantasies like this will now live, and the people who wanted this outcome can only flail at their keyboards and rant about ‘appeasement’ and why-Obama-is-Neville Chamberlain.

So this represents a major setback for Israel and Saudi Arabia in particular,   both of whom have been trying to lure America into whacking Iran for them.   Now it now turns out that Iran and the US have been secretly negotiating with each other for months.

The fact that the United States has chosen to talk to a leading member of the ‘axis of evil’ is also something of a turn around.

Following Obama’s rediscovery of diplomacy in Syria, the deal may well represent a recognition, however unacknowledged, that the US simply cannot afford to fight another major war in the Middle East, even if some sections of its foreign policy establishment would still like to.

So all this is good.     But it isn’t a time for jubilation.   The deal could unravel, and there are many people who will be seeking to make sure that it does, in Tel Aviv, Riyadh and beyond.

It’s also worth remembering what was done in order to force Iran to do this.   The sanctions regime imposed by the United States since the Clinton years has inflicted huge damage on the Iranian economy.  Despite the usual insistence from its architects that these measures were intended to target the Iranian government not the Iranian people, ordinary Iranians, as always, have borne the brunt of them.

Unemployment in Iran is close to 35 percent, mainly because factories have been forced to close because they can’t import raw materials and vital parts.   Inflation is at least 22 percent.  The rising costs of food, water, fuel and electricity have hit ordinary Iranians who are least able to afford it.

According to the International Affairs Review, ” blue collar workers in downtown Tehran can barely afford meat, while luxury cars are ubiquitous in the neighborhoods of North Tehran.”   In addition, lack of spare parts has resulted in numerous plane crashes, in which as many as 1, 700 people may have died.  

The 5+1 countries are perfectly aware of these consequences, despite the usual references to ‘humanitarian’ exceptions to sanctions.     The  ‘White House Fact Sheet’ on the Geneva deal   will now allow “license safety-related repairs and inspections inside Iran for certain Iranian airlines”, so hopefully passenger planes will stop crashing.

But most sanctions will remain in place, such as the prohibitions on buying Iranian oil that have reduced Iran’s oil output from 2.5 millions barrels per day at the beginning of 2012 to 1.5 million – a “loss of $80 billion that Iran will never be able to recoup” as the report puts it.

That is a prohibition that Saudi Arabia will be particularly keen to keep in place.   But most of the sanctions will remain in effect to ensure Iran’s compliance with the Geneva conditions, such as US restrictions on trade, which will continue to deprive Iran of ” access to virtually all dealings with the world’s biggest economy.”

Then there are the ” targeted sanctions related to Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism, its destabilizing role in the Syrian conflict, and its abysmal human rights record, among other concerns,” which will also remain in place.

There is no doubt that Iran and Hezbollah have helped Assad, but to call this ‘destabilizing’ given the role played by the West and its Gulf allies in Syria is a highly subjective interpretation of what has gone on these last few years.

So hypocrisy and dishonesty remain the nature of the game here.   And then there is the following:

The American people prefer a peaceful and enduring resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and strengthens the global non-proliferation regime.   This solution has the potential to achieve that.   Through strong and principled diplomacy, the United States of America will do its part for greater peace, security, and cooperation among nations.

Just to recap: there is no evidence that Iran was ever seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon,  and there is nothing illegal about its desire to acquire nuclear energy.  So there is nothing ‘principled’ about US diplomacy, and nothing principled about the sanctions.

But for the time being, the tide of war has receded and the warmongers have been thwarted.   And given the events of the last decade, that can only be reason for cautious optimism.

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  1. Nik

    25th Nov 2013 - 10:44 pm

    I agree that there is room for cautious optimism! I was even stunned when I read this:

    Britain’s Hague warns Israel against actions that undermine Iran nuclear deal
    U.K. Foreign Secretary says Britain will be ‘on its guard’ in case any country will try to disrupt Iran interim agreement.

    Still I have a bad feeling that this might turn ugly in the long run. The Iraq case showed us that even having nothing at all going on can get you into the crosshairs within months. Good old Bibi N. won’t let go of his favourite scarecrow. Let’s hope that the 5+0.5 (since you cannot really count Germany as an independent actor as soon as Israel’s “security” or rather regional dominance is in question) show some backbone and do not backpeddle as soon as the first few hickups in the forthcoming negotiations start to occur. But let’s hope for the best.

    PS: I wonder if your venerable and ever vigilant compatrios at GCHQ are reading your blog. If they are: Guys, the blog is great, but don’t miss out on his books!

  2. Nik

    26th Nov 2013 - 12:50 pm

    Yeah, especially the latter would be perfect. Because no “sane” conformist expert or journalist or political would even consider voicing doubts about who carried out terror attack X, Y or Z since it is potentially career-ending.

    But then again option one is even more elegant. Because if you can count on something then it is the fact that Iran+Hisbollah are not the folks to be “outterrored”, like you put it the other day using the example of the PIRA et al. Poke them enough and they’ll happily bomb/kill back… which in turn – of course – proves once and again how “they” only understand the language of force, right?

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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