Toward a Green Foreign Policy for Iran
by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles
04 Sep 2010 03:53
Twelve principles to guide the debate.[ analysis ] On August 7, 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini proclaimed the last Friday of the fasting month of Ramadan as Quds Day, during which Muslims are supposed to declare their solidarity with the Palestinian people and protest the occupation of Jerusalem by Israel. Since Ramadan is a lunar calendar month, its final Friday falls on a different date every year. This year it has fallen on September 3.
At the time that Khomeini made his proclamation, Israel had attacked and occupied southern Lebanon in order to uproot the forces of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The Revolution of February 1979 had toppled the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, one of Israel's closest allies in the region. Israel was widely believed to have helped found SAVAK, the Shah's dreaded security organization responsible for the arrest, torture, and murder of hundreds of the dictator's opponents. On the other hand, many of the Iranian revolutionaries of that era had received training in guerrilla warfare in the PLO camps in southern Lebanon. Thus, the revolutionaries' anger toward Israel and their support for the Palestinians had roots in what took place during the Pahlavi era.
Since 1979, large demonstrations have been held in Iran and elsewhere on Quds Day.
All of Iran's important political figures have always supported these demonstrations, and this year is no different. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi met on Tuesday, August 31, and declared that Quds Day is when the free people of the world show their solidarity with "an oppressed people whom have been driven out of their motherland." Karroubi had announced many days in advance that he would take part in the demonstrations. Mohammad Khatami declared, "The Reformist and democratic groups that support the Islamic Republic as a system that relies on people's votes and defends their rights must pay more attention to this [Quds] Day, because this is a humane issue."
Last year, Quds Day fell on September 18, a little over three months after the rigged presidential election of June 12. Since Quds Day demonstrations are officially sanctioned by the Islamic Republic, the Green Movement took advantage and staged large-scale protests.
The demonstrators chanted "Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, I will sacrifice my life for Iran," which deeply angered the hardliners. Mousavi's car was attacked by vigilante groups, chanting "Death to hypocrite Mousavi." Khatami was also attacked.
To prevent Karroubi from attending this year's Quds Day demonstrations, which would have brought a large number of Green Movement supporters onto the streets, Basij militia, plainclothes agents, and thugs surrounded his home, beginning Sunday, August 29.
They have besieged the apartment building in which Karroubi and his family live, chanted against him, and even attacked other residents of the building. As the time of writing this article -- Friday evening in Tehran, September 3 -- the episode had not ended, even though the Quds Day demonstrations had.
This year's Quds Day also brings to the fore the hardliners' foreign policy -- if it is even deserving of the name -- which is partly based on antagonism toward Israel, support for militant Palestinian groups, such as Hamas, and rejection of any negotiations between Israel and Palestinians regarding a two-state solution. In fact, after stalling for two years, negotiations mediated by the United States were restarted on Thursday, September 2.
They were quickly rejected by both Iran and Hamas. Along with Iran's own nuclear program, this inveterate antagonism toward Israel is the main source of friction between the West and the Islamic Republic. As a counterweight to what the hardliners have been advocating for Iran's relationship with the rest of the world, it is crucial that the Green Movement spell out a coherent foreign policy in order to further contrast itself with the ruling establishment.
In a previous article, I described what I considered to be the achievements of the Green Movement over the past 16 months. At the end of that article, I pointed out that, aside from a few comments by Mousavi, Karroubi, and Khatami, the Green Movement and its de facto leaders have not articulated a coherent foreign policy for Iran. They have not clearly described their view of the current tensions surrounding the nuclear program and the hardliners' antagonism toward Israel, nor their alternative vision for Iran's place in the international arena.
There are several reasons why the articulation of such a foreign policy vision has become very important. One is that as the drumbeats of a possible war with Iran get louder and debate over it gets more heated, the Green Movement must make its position regarding possible military attacks on Iran absolutely transparent. Second, neoconservatives in the United States have been busy trying to present the Green Movement as a pro-American development. Michael Weiss of the Weekly Standard, the mouthpiece of the neoconservatives, recently asserted that Shiva Nazar Ahari, the courageous human rights defender and advocate of children's rights is "clearly pro-West and philo-American," an absurd claim. On the basis of this and similar absurdities, some neoconservatives, the Israel lobby, and their Iranian minions speak as if at least part of the Green Movement will support military attacks on Iran as a way of toppling the Islamic Republic. Such claims must be countered. Third, again, as the confrontation between the hardliners and the Western powers centers around Iran's nuclear program and its antagonism toward Israel, it is essential for the Green Movement to articulate its views and remove any ambiguities regarding how it stands on these issues.
Before the debates on a Green Movement manifesto for Iran's foreign policy can start, I believe that three general principles should govern any such discussions:
1. Every nation, large or small, rich or poor, and powerful or weak, has some fundamental national interests and rights. Such interests and rights, by their very definition, are independent of the type of political system that governs a nation. Such basic interests and rights are thus distinguished from those of the political system, the ruling elite, various factions, and so forth. For example, protecting the national security against foreign military attack and the territorial integrity of Iran is a national interest. Protecting Iran's rights within the framework of international treaties and conventions is also a national interest.
2. Foreign policy cannot be separated from domestic policy. In fact, the former is a reflection of the latter in the international arena. One good example is the claim that is often made by Tehran's hardliners that they support "democratic elections and democracy" in Iraq and Afghanistan. The claim is bogus, because the same group commits fraud in Iran's elections, violates the rights of the citizens, and uses violence and even murder to crack down on peaceful demonstrations. A nation cannot claim to be a true democracy and yet intervene in other nations' affairs, attack them unjustifiably, or occupy their territory. Likewise, the hardliners' defense of "Palestinians' rights" is bogus, because they consistently violate the rights of their own fellow Iranians.
3. An effective foreign policy cannot be based on an ideological view of the world. It must be based in pragmatism and consideration for what truly serves the national interests and citizens' rights. Ideological foreign policies, like those of the Soviet Union and of China during the reign of Mao Zedong, lead inevitably to disaster. Another example is the foreign policy of Tehran's hardliners, which has increasingly isolated Iran, with deeply negative repercussions. In the Middle East, Israel is another nation with a foreign policy that is based on ideology -- Zionism.
The Basis for Discussing a Green Foreign Policy
Rajabali Mazrooei is a Reformist journalist and a member of the political directorate of Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF), the most important Reformist group. He was a prominent and outspoken member of the 6th Majles (parliament), which was controlled by the Reformists during 2000-4. He recently posted an article on Norooz, the official website of the IIPF, titled "The Green Movement and Foreign Policy." Due to his close relation with the rest of the leading Reformists, Mazrooei's article is important. In it, he acknowledges that, although the Greens constitute a civil movement and, therefore, their main preoccupation is with domestic problems, they must make their positions regarding foreign policy transparent. After noting that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's foreign policy is aggressive and based on adventurism, Mazrooei introduces seven principles to begin the debate on a Green foreign policy:
1. It is imperative that the Green Movement declare its own foreign policy to distinguish it from that of the hardliners.
2. To develop such a foreign policy, debates and discussions must start with the aim of arriving at a coherent summary of the positions regarding important issues.
3. A rational definition of national independence must be developed that is based not on isolation of Iran, but on a foreign policy that is based on peaceful coexistence with other nations with the goal of guaranteeing the national interests.
4. The foreign policy of Iran must be based on lowering tensions with other nations and building mutual confidence between Iran and other nations.
5. A principle of the policy must be Iran's right to develop and have access to the technology for peaceful use of nuclear energy, within the framework of international laws and treaties.
6. The right to the technology for nuclear energy must not supersede other national rights, and in particular the fundamental rights of the citizens.
7. The Green Movement must oppose any military attacks on Iran's territory.
Any patriotic Iranian can easily support these seven principles.
The third principle is particularly significant because, to counter the argument that Ahmadinejad's reckless and aggressive foreign policy has increasingly isolated Iran, the hardliners claim that they have established relations with the "masses" across the globe. The president's close aides always claim that he is one of the most popular politicians around the world and common people support him. But, even if this were true, it is governments that nations deal with, not the masses, and having constructive relations with foreign governments is an essential element of any sound foreign policy.
The fifth principle is important because part of the opposition to the hardliners, particularly in the diaspora, rejects Iran's nuclear program. It echoes the assertion that the U.S. administrations, the neoconservatives, and the Israel lobby have been repeating, namely, that the program is really intended for the development of nuclear weapons, even though no credible evidence for the existence of such a weapon program has yet been found by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). As Mohamed ElBaradei, former director general of the IAEA, declared, "I cannot evaluate intentions." The agency can assess only the facts on the ground, and no "smoking gun" has ever been found.
ElBaradei made similar declarations on multiple occasions. He also said that the threat of Iran developing a nuclear weapon has been "hyped."
Yukiya Amano, the new IAEA director general, has likewise never asserted that Iran had or has a nuclear weapon program, even though the hawks baselessly claim that he has taken a tough posture toward Iran.
Still, the most extreme elements of the opposition in the diaspora -- those who explicitly or implicitly favor military attacks on Iran -- view the possibility that the Islamic Republic could develop nuclear weapons as a threat to their aspiration of toppling the regime. They are counting on foreign military attacks on Iran to achieve their goal, and believe that nuclear weapons, or even nuclear weapon capability, in the hands of the Islamic Republic would be a credible deterrent against such attacks.
The sixth principle is highly important, because Ahmadinejad's reckless, aggressive nuclear policy has given rise to much talk of possible military attacks on Iran. In turn, the hardliners have been using such talk as another excuse to tighten their repression of the Iranian people, under the guise of responding to threats to national security. If military attacks do occur, they will not topple the hardliners, but will be used by them to wipe out the entire opposition and set back Iran's democratic development for decades. At the same time, such attacks will also destroy Iran's economy and infrastructure, hence depriving the people of their most basic rights -- to a peaceful and economically sustainable life.
Thus, nuclear rights cannot supersede the fundamental rights of the people. This means that a way must be found to address the legitimate concerns of the international community -- though not the propaganda by the neoconservatives and Israel lobby -- regarding the nature of Iran's nuclear program. For example, the Majles could ratify the Additional Protocol that provides the IAEA with the authority for intrusive inspection of Iran's declared nuclear facilities, as well as any other facility that can be reasonably suspected of involvement in a clandestine nuclear program. Iran did sign the Additional Protocol on December 18, 2003, and carried out its provisions on a volunteer basis until August 2005. The Majles never ratified the agreement, however, and because Iran and the European Union could not reach an accord regarding the nuclear program, Iran stopped its volunteer implementation of the protocol. But during the time it was enforced, the IAEA conducted one of the most intrusive inspection processes in the agency's entire history.
Several additions may be made to Mazrooei's seven principles:
8. By and large, sanctions hurt ordinary Iranians. They are also used by the hardliners not only to justify their utter incompetence and mismanagement of the economy -- not to mention their corruption -- but also, as Karroubi has pointed out, to make even more profit out of the misery that increasingly tighter sanctions bring. If some sanctions can be identified that hurt only the hardliners, they can be supported. But, given that 60 percent of Iran's official economy and almost 100 percent of its underground economy are controlled by the hardliners, it is difficult to identify such measures.
9. There is no fundamental contradiction between defending Iran's rights in the framework of international treaties and rejecting the hardliners and advocating a democratic Iran. There is no fundamental contradiction between defending Iran's fundamental rights to peaceful use of nuclear technology and rejecting not only the illegitimate presidency of Ahmadinejad, but also his senseless and aggressive nuclear policy. Defending Iran's rights and rejecting the hardliners are not mutually exclusive. The recognition of this point is particularly important because those that support Iran's right to have access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes are often criticized by extreme elements in the diaspora as acting as the "lobby" for the Islamic Republic.
10. Supporting Iran's political independence from the decision makers in the West is not the same as being hostile and demonstrating permanent enmity toward major Western powers, including the United States. The hardliners and reactionaries have tried to instill such a bogus notion in Iranians ever since they came to power.
11. There are warmongers in Israel, the United States, Britain, and France, but also in Iran. A truly progressive view of Iran's relations with the rest of the world must confront both sides. This is particularly vital in view of the fact that the hardline warmongers in Tehran do not mind a limited military exchange with Israel and/or the United States as a perfect excuse to wipe out the Green Movement.
12. Contrary to the hardliners' claims, the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not affect Iran's vital national interests. A just settlement of the issue will have a positive effect on the Middle East (including Iran), but it is not an issue with which the nation should be obsessed. Iran must leave it to the Palestinians to decide what kind of peace settlement they want to reach with Israel. No one, including Iranians, can be more Palestinian than the Palestinians themselves.
At the same time, one cannot claim to be a defender of human rights and not have any sympathy for the plight of the Palestinian people -- or for the plight of oppressed people anywhere in the world, for that matter. Human rights and respect for them are universal values that transcend national boundaries. A few weeks ago I participated in a debate on the Persian program of Voice of America. Another participant was a former Iranian university student activist who now lives in the United States and has been closely aligned with the neoconservatives. During the debate he repeated, practically word for word, their thinking on Iran. He also defended the surge in U.S. forces in Afghanistan as "necessary" and, in short, acted as if his mission in life is to be a spokesman for the neoconservatives, as well as the Obama administration. As soon as I said, "As a Muslim I have sympathies for the Palestinian people," he jumped in and stated the standard cliché, repeated by Israel's supporters, that if this is true, I must also have sympathies for the Muslims in Chechnya. Well, I do. As both a Muslim and a believer in the universality of respect for human rights, I have sympathies for oppressed people everywhere, whether it is in Palestine, or in Guatemala, Honduras, Chechnya, or anywhere else. And, precisely for the same reason, I condemn the illegal invasion of Iraq, the destructive war in Afghanistan, and China's suppression of the people of Tibet.
All indications are that the leaders of the Green Movement support the 12 principles outlined herein. Thus, let the debate begin, with the hope that the outcome will be a coherent Green foreign policy for Iran.
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