Bad allies, bad timing
Sometimes countries are just plain unlucky. Yassamine Mather looks at Iran and its fraught international relations
In the June 9 statement issued by the G7 leaders, the following related to the Iran nuclear deal:
We are committed to permanently ensuring that Iran’s nuclear programme remains peaceful, in line with its international obligations and commitments to never seek, develop or acquire a nuclear weapon. We condemn all financial support of terrorism, including terrorist groups sponsored by Iran. We also call upon Iran to play a constructive role by contributing to efforts to counter terrorism and achieve political solutions, reconciliation and peace in the region.
The second part was a concession to US negotiators, who after president Donald Trump’s early departure from the summit were keen to include some condemnation of Iran’s Islamic Republic. Of course, only a few hours later, Trump dismissed the entire statement via a tweet and the ‘cold’ trade war gained momentum with accusations and counter-accusations being flung around.
But no-one could be happier than Iran’s leaders. In many ways most of the statement - and in particular the section on Iran - was an attempt at papering over obvious cracks, yet the unprecedented fallout and continued verbal confrontation between Trump and the other G7 leaders gave Tehran hope that the European Union in particular will be more determined to stick to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015).
In the meantime, on the other side of the world, the Chinese president was hosting another mini-summit with the presidents of Iran and Russia. China is clearly benefiting from America’s Iran policy - according to Iranian officials, it is likely to take over the $5 billion contract for the South Pars gas fields if the French transnational, Total, fails to get US exemptions for dealing with Iran and pulls out of the contract in order to avoid US fines. This is one example of how EU states see themselves as victims of US policies that will strengthen one of their main rivals, China.
So far as the EU is concerned, the main issue is that of security. In the words of EU foreign affairs and security representative Frederica Mogherini: “Because in the absence of the deal with Iran, we believe the security of the region and the EU will be at stake.”1
By June 11, as Trump was preparing for talks with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Iranian leaders were warning North Korea not to trust the Americans in any future nuclear discussions and subsequent deals. As the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman put it:
The US has a long history of broken promises of international treaties. We believe that the North Korean government should be cautious of US repetitive failures to fulfil its obligations and pledges … an optimistic look at the nature of US policy is beyond the bounds of possibility, and the recent violations also confirm this.2
Following Trump’s summit with the North Korean leader, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz is correct when it says:
the Iranian supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, can only regret he did not anticipate that a leader like Trump would rise to power in the United States - and that he didn’t wait until Trump came into office to sign the nuclear agreement with him instead of president Barack Obama.3
The US-North Korea declaration stipulates that North Korea will aim for “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”. However, there is no timetable and no pledge that the proposed denuclearisation will be irreversible. This contrasts to the agreement signed by Iran in 2015, which can only be described as a tightly worded and detailed document outlining the dismantling of many aspects of its nuclear programme and allowing intrusive, rigid monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency. A detailed timetable was drawn up for the removal of the country’s 20%-enriched uranium, and the shutting down of centrifuges.
In contrast to the single-page general statement between the US and North Korea, which followed one day of preparation, the Iran nuclear deal is 160 pages long, and its details took two years to finalise. No wonder EU leaders are frustrated by Trump’s action in tearing it up.
Of course, as Iran’s leaders celebrate the rift between the G6 world economic powers and the United States, Iranian supporters of ‘regime change from above’ are getting worried. They had hoped for a compromise statement, paving the way for more comprehensive international sanctions being reimposed on Iran. They had hoped that such a move would pave the way for the kind of chaos that would allow them to come to power - or at least allow them to share power with fellow Trump supporters.
In addition to the loony cult, Mojahedin e-Khalq, which is gung-ho in favour of Trump’s policy, supporters of the former shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, are also welcoming US attempts to impose new sanctions as part of a cold war against Iran that will lead to ‘regime change from above’.
As the political and economic situation deteriorates, some young Iranians, encouraged by relentless TV broadcasts from outside the country, are seeing the Pahlavi era as a golden age. Nothing could be further from the truth. As Ardeshir Zahedi, the shah’s son-in-law, foreign minister and ambassador to the US, keeps saying: “There wouldn’t have been a revolution of the scale Iran witnessed in 1979 if the situation was as rosy as royalists claim.” Those TV broadcasts make out there was substantial progress in terms of modernisation, class and gender equality, and democracy under the shah.
According to Al Jazeera,
Just as the Iranian government selectively chooses footage to create a very negative image of that time, Manoto [the TV station which broadcasts from London] cherry-picks glorious and beautiful archives that do not provide a true picture of historical reality to viewers.4
Of course, the Qatar-funded Al Jazeera has its own agenda in opposition to Saudi-funded Iranian TV stations. However, its documentaries such as I knew the shah are closer to the truth.5 And the fact of the matter is that the lies of Iran’s Islamic broadcasting authorities are echoed by satellite TV stations broadcasting from London, Los Angeles, Tel Aviv and elsewhere.
Contemporary history is rewritten by trashy Saudi and Israeli TV channels to present the shah’s era as one of burgeoning equality and prosperity. A much talked about documentary produced by TV channel Manoto - Reza Shah - is sycophantic nonsense. It distorts his coming to power after a military coup, at a time when the corrupt Qajar dynasty was incapable of continuing to rule. In the documentary Reza Khan, who seized power in 1925 and became known as Reza Shah Pahlavi, is portrayed as a brave, strong moderniser. The international context, including the rise of Bolshevism, is ignored and, of course, there is no mention of his Nazi sympathies, which was the real reason behind his forced exile in 1941.
Ervand Abrahamian, who has written a history of modern Iran, sums up Reza Khan’s ascendancy to power correctly:
By 1920 Iran was a classical ‘failed state’ … the ministries had little presence outside the capital. The government was immobilised not only by rivalries between the traditional magnates and between the new political parties, but also by the Anglo-Persian agreement. Some provinces were in the hands of ‘warlords’; others in the hands of armed rebels. The Red Army had taken over Gilan, and was threatening to move on to Tehran.6
The Pahlavis’ short-lived rule was not just authoritarian, but weak and uninspiring. Many of the actions of the two shahs (Reza Shah and his son, Mohammad Reza) were attempts at gaining ‘legitimacy’ as royals - attempts that often backfired.
Reza Khan chose the name ‘Pahlavi’ for his dynasty in an attempt to associate himself with the Middle Persian language of that name used at the end of the Achaemenian dynasty (559-330 BCE). After his coronation in April 1926, Reza Khan undertook a political course aimed at consolidating his power and by the early 1930s his close ties with Nazi Germany caused alarm bells to ring in London and Paris.
In 1935 he changed the country’s name from Persia to Iran - which in Persian means ‘Land of the Aryans’. This was part of an attempt to ensure Iranians were considered to be of Aryan descent and therefore safe from the Nazis’ Nuremberg laws. By 1939, the alliance with Nazism was so strong that Germany provided Iran with what they called a Germany Scientific Library, which contained over 7,500 books, selected to “convince Iranian readers ... of the kinship between the National Socialist Reich and the Aryan culture of Iran”.7
According to the Independent Sentinel website, “In various pro-Nazi publications, lectures, speeches and ceremonies, parallels were drawn between the shah of Iran and Hitler, and praised the charisma and virtue of the Führerprinzip.”8
In 1941, the combined forces of Britain and the Soviet Union invaded and forced Reza Shah to abdicate and hand the throne to his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Reza Shah was sent into exile in South Africa. His fellow pro-Nazi allies, such as Fazlollah Zahedi and Mohammad Hosein Airom, were kicked out of government.
Apart from Reza Shah, there are a number of other TV ‘documentaries’ about the ex-shah and his wife, Farah Diba. In these too, unsavoury subjects such as the CIA coup in 1953, Reza Shah’s secret service and the horrific prisons are not mentioned.
On the touchy subject of the shah’s well known affairs during his marriage to Diba (his third wife), she states dishonestly that he “always made sure I didn’t feel disrespect”. Personally, I do not think that bringing mistresses to official dinners where his wife is present is showing much respect! Those present at such events recall her humiliation in the 1970s, when successive younger mistresses were invited. The Islamic Republic has dug out clips showing the shah publicly humiliating his wife in front of ministers by dismissing her comments as irrelevant and “nonsense”.
Although we should not underestimate the effect of the falsifications deliberately undertaken by these media outlets, you can only fool some of the people some of the time. Despite all the efforts of Saudi, Israeli and Iranian supporters of Trump’s regime change policy, they have only succeeded in creating a sense of nostalgia amongst a small minority of young Iranians.
6. E Abrahamian A history of modern Iran Cambridge 2008.