The Iran Deal: the Dog’s Dinner Obama Dished Out

“Trump violates international treaty!” “Trump tears up pact signed by world powers!”

These were some of the headlines that pretended to report US President Donald Trump’s move on the “Iran nuclear deal” last week. Some in the Western media even claimed that the move would complicate the task of curbing North Korea as Pyongyang might conclude that reaching any deal with the world powers, as Iran did, is useless.

But what is it exactly that Trump has done?

Before answering that question let’s deal with another question. Is Obama’s Iran “deal” a treaty?

The answer is: no.

It is, as Tehran says “a roadmap” in which Iran promises to take some steps in exchange for “big powers” reciprocating by taking some steps of their own.

Even then, the “roadmap” or “wish-list” as former US Secretary of State John Kerry described it, does not have an authoritative text; it comes in five different versions, three in Persian and two in English, with many differences.

The “wish-list” hasn’t been signed by anyone.

Nor has it been submitted, let alone approved, by the legislative organs of any of the countries involved.

The various texts do not envisage any arbitration mechanism to decide whether or not it has been implemented. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which was not involved in shaping the deal, is charged with the task of assessing and, if possible, certifying, Iranian compliance. But there is no mechanism for assessing and certifying whether other participants have done what they are supposed to do.

Legally speaking, the so-called deal doesn’t exist and thus cannot be “torn up” by anybody.

The trouble with the “deal” starts with its genesis.

Jack Straw, a former British Foreign Secretary and an ardent supporter of Iran, had told me that the idea began at a meeting in his official residence in London with then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. At that time the IAEA had established that Iran had violated the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and had asked the UN Security Council to take action. The UNSC had passed resolutions that Iran had rejected because the mullahs didn’t want to appear to be repeating Saddam Hussein’s “mistake” of walking into “UN resolutions trap.”

Straw came up with the idea of creating an ad hoc group to work out a deal with Tehran, by-passing the IAEA and the Security Council, thus flattering the mullahs that they were given special treatment because their regime was special.

It seems that Rice was receptive and initiated a “bold move” by inviting then secretary of Iran’s High Council of National Security Ali Ardeshir, alias Larijani, to Washington exactly at the time that Straw was about to leave office.

Over 100 US visas were issued for Larijani and his entourage. But Iran’s “Supreme Guide” vetoed the visit at the last minute.

When Barack Obama entered the White House, he revived the scheme and after secret talks with Tehran in Oman, arranged by his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he transformed the idea into a process.

Tehran felt that in Obama it had a friend in Washington.

And, Obama really went out of his way to woo and flatter the mullahs.

He created a parallel Security Council, composed of the five “veto” holding powers plus Germany which was and remains Iran’s principal trading partner.

The concoction, dubbed P5+1, was never given an official status.

It was not formally and legally appointed by anybody, had no written mission statement, implied no legal commitment for members and was answerable to no one.

Tehran accepted the trick with its usual attitude of sulking pride.

Larijani’s successor, Saeed Jalili, boasted that the Islamic Republic’s “special status” was recognized by “big powers”, implying that such things as NPT or even international law as a whole didn’t apply to Iran.

Jalili proved a pain in the neck. He saw talks with the P5+1 as a mechanism for Iran to suggest, if not dictate, the course of events on a global scale.

He was not ready to talk about Iran’s nuclear cheating unless the P5+1 also discussed Iran’s plans for a range of international problems. In one meeting, Jalili displayed his “package” dealing with “problems that affect humanity”, from the environment to the “total withdrawal of the American Great Satan” from the region.

Somewhere along the way, the European Union, encouraged by Britain and Germany, hitch-hiked and secured a side-chair along the P5+1.

The idea was to use the EU foreign policy point-person as a punching bag against Iranians who appeared unwilling to play. Thus the P5+1 was enlarged into a Group of 31, that is to say 28 EU members plus the US, China and Russia. (At one point Brazil, Turkey and Kazakhstan also seemed to have won side-chairs with the group but were quickly disembarked.)

Once Jalili was out of the picture, as the new Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, named his Foreign Minister Mohammed-Javad Zarif as point-man, things began to move fast.

During his long years in the US, part of it as diplomat in New York, Zarif had established contacts with the Democratic Party, including John Kerry who took over from Mrs. Clinton as secretary of State. Zarif persuaded his bosses not to miss “the golden opportunity” provided by Obama’s administration which included many “sympathizers” with Iran.

Thus, in just two years what had proved impossible for 10 years became possible.

A vague text was established, fudging the issue, and declaring victory for both sides. The participants in the game agreed to keep the text away from their respective legislatures so as not to risk scrutiny of the witches’ brew they had cooked.

The so-called “deal” was dubbed a non-binding “roadmap”, implying that the “roadmap” isn’t the same as the journey.

Two years after unveiling, the ”roadmap” remains just that.

Neither Iran nor the G31 have delivered on their promises. Iran’s path to developing nuclear weapons remains open, although this doesn’t mean that Tehran is currently making a bomb. For their part, the G31 have not canceled the sanctions imposed on Iran.

Both sides have lied to one another and to their respective audiences.

Obama has left a dog’s dinner of diplomatic deception. Interestingly, Trump hasn’t thrown that dog’s dinner into the dustbin and promises to rearrange and improve it.

Is that possible?

Trump’s Iran Strategy Sharpens Power Struggle in Tehran

London- Although it had been expected for months, US President Donald Trump’s unveiling of his new strategy on Iran seems to have taken the ruling elite in Tehran by surprise, intensifying the power struggle within it.

The radical faction close to “Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had expected Trump to tear-up the so-called nuclear deal, depriving the rival faction known as Rafsanjani’s orphans led by President Hassan Rouhani, of their main propaganda plank.

That Rouhani is anxious to pretend that the nuke deal remains intact is a sign of his faction’s failure to work out any alternative policy. If he denounces the deal, he would be validating Trump’s claim that Tehran never intended to abide by the rules. Such move would, in turn, persuade the Europeans and perhaps even Russia and China to tone down their support for Tehran against Washington.

“We intend to remain committed to the nuclear deal,” Rouhani said Friday night, “for as long as others continue to respect it.”

That was a strange position since one of those “others”, the US, had already announced it would not abide by the deal as it stands now.

“We hope that others will not follow Trump’s lead,” says Hessameddin Ashna, Rouhani’s chief political adviser. This means that Rafsanjani’s Orphans are determined to stick to the “deal” even when and if the US renders it meaningless.

For the deal to work in favor of Iran it is important that international banks and businesses resume treating the country as a normal partner.

Two years after the nuclear deal was announced, this hasn’t happened. The reason is that companies and banks are not sure that by doing business with Iran they would not risk running into trouble with US rules and regulations. Fear that the sanctions that were suspended under the nuclear deal could be snapped back at any time has prevented Iran from attracting any significant foreign investment.

For the same reason Iran has failed to regain access to world capital markets and banking services. Today, even Iranian embassies abroad are not allowed to open bank accounts and are forced to pay their staff in cash. Tehran is also forced to pay the militant groups it backs, notably Hezbollah in Lebanon, Islamic Jihad in Gaza and the Houthis in Yemen with suitcases filled with dollars.

However, Rouhani and his faction, which includes former President Muhammad Khatami, may not be totally unhappy with Trump’s move because the US president singled out the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is controlled by Khamenei, as the main culprit. The Rouhani faction is now harping on the theme that had it not been for the IRGC, the nuclear deal would have borne real fruits for Iran.

However, Trump, according to the daily Kayhan, believed to be a mouthpiece for Khamenei, chose a “more devious method” by not formally denouncing the deal while making it clear the US will intensify sanctions against Iran. This means that “Iran will continue to comply with the deal while the US refuses to abide by its pledges,” the paper says.

The IRGC is clearly happy that, despite months of rumors, Trump did not ask the US Congress to declare it a “terrorist organization”.

According to Kayhan, Trump “dared not” classify the IRGC as “terrorist.” The reason, Kayhan says, was “the stern warning” given by IRGC Commander General Muhammad-Ali Aziz Jaafari.

IRGC spokesman Gen. Massoud Jazayeri has also highlighted IRGC’s message of defiance.

“We intend to intensify our support for suffering peoples fighting for their rights everywhere, most notably in the Middle East,” he said.

The message was further amplified by Quds Corps Commander General Qassem Soleimani. He ended weeks of seclusion with a lightning trip to Iraq after which he posted his “selfies” all over the official media. The message was that he remains very much in business.

The IRGC also tried to dismiss Trump’s order for imposing economic sanctions on the IRGC’s business wing. That business wing, known as the Khatam al-Anbia Conglomerate, controls over 100 companies with a presence in Dubai, Oman, Austria, Cyprus, Greece and Turkey.

On Saturday, General Ibad-Allah Ibadi, the head of the conglomerate, inaugurated a new steel mill with a fiery speech about the IRGC’s determination to expand its business activities across the globe.

“Despite Trump’s forlorn attempts many around the world are keen to do business with us,” he claimed.

While Khamenei has maintained silence, at least at the time of this writing, spokesmen for the rival factions have tried to minimize the impact of Trump’s dramatic move in different ways.

Rouhani is beating the drums about a promise by French President Emmanuel macron to visit Tehran next year as a sign that Iran can ignore the US and “work with European and other partners.”

Rouhani’s rival in the recent presidential election, Ayatollah Ibrahim Raiisi, however, has called for a “full adoption of Resistance Economy” which means forgoing foreign trade and adopting a North Korean style system of self-sufficiency.

For the time being, the rival factions are jumping and gyrating much like angry cats meaning to spring at each other. Without knowing it, perhaps, under the surface, Trump may have sharpened the power struggle in Tehran.

Trump’s New Strategy on Iran Takes the Bull by the Horns

London- After months of speculation and counter-speculation, US President Donald Trump has unveiled his long promised “new strategy on Iran.” The 1370-word text released by the White House on Friday morning is likely to surprise many, at times for opposite reasons.

The first to be surprised are those, especially in Europe, who feared Trump to behave like a bull in a china shop, bent on nothing but wanton destruction for the sake of making some noise. That hasn’t happened. Carefully crafted, the text avoids using diplomatic jargon for obfuscation and, instead, opts for clarity.

Next to be surprised are those who goaded Trump to beat the drums of war and send the Marines to Tehran. However, Trump’s new strategy aims at a sophisticated and measured use of American economic, diplomatic and, yes, military power in pursuit of carefully defined objectives rather than mere saber-rattling of the kind former President Barack Obama, remember his “all options are on the table”, specialized in.

Finally, there will also be surprise on the part of those, especially the “New York Boys” in Tehran who hoped and prayed that his efforts by their American apologists, led by Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry, would prevent Trump from trying to tackle the totality of relations with the Tehran, an issue that has dogged seven US presidents since 1979.

The first feature of the Trump text is its avoidance of the syrupy jargon of diplomatic deception. Unlike Presidents Jimmy Carter and George Bush who spoke of “goodwill breeding goodwill” or President Bill Clinton who talked of “welcoming the aspirations of the Iranian people”, Trump states his objectives in stark terms: “The United States’ new Iran strategy focuses on neutralizing the Government of Iran’s de-stabilizing influence and constraining its aggression, particularly its support for terrorism and militants.”

This simple sentence throws out many shibboleths of US policy on Iran. It does not say it hopes to “moderate” Iran’s behavior, as Carter, George W Bush, Clinton and Obama did. It says the aim is to “neutralize” it. It also abandons the childish claim that Iran’s aggressive behavior is the work of “certain groups within the Iranian regime”, and not the totality of it, as President Hassan Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif claim.

More importantly, it abandons the distinction that Obama and Kerry tried to portray between Tehran’s backing for outright terrorist groups and the so-called “militant” ones such as the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah and the Palestinian branch of Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas). Without openly saying so, Obama implied that some of the “militant” groups financed and armed by Iran may not be as bad as terrorist outfits that Tehran supported. Trump rejects that illusion.

Also surprised would be those who expected Trump to behave like the lone-ranger by acting alone. The text, however, makes it clear that in implementing the new strategy, Trump is seeking broad coalitions both inside the United States, Congress, and in the international arena. The text reads: “We will revitalize our traditional and regional partnerships as bulwark against Iranian subversion and restore a more stable balance of power in the region.”

By highlighting the topic of “subversion” and the need to restore “a more stable balance of power” the new strategy offers a broader vision of relations with Iran, beyond the narrow and heavily fudge disuse of the nuclear deal which, put in context, is presented as no more than a part of a larger jigsaw.

The jigsaw also includes “gross violations of human rights” and “the unjust detention of American citizens and other foreigners on spurious charges.” In other words, Tehran must understand that taking foreign hostages is no longer risk-free.

Beyond regional and European allies, the text envisages putting American diplomacy in higher gear to garner support from “the international community”.

The new strategy also does something that previous US Presidents tried to ignore: the fact that a regime’s foreign policy is the continuation of its domestic policies. If a regime violates its own laws and oppresses its own people it is also likely to ignore international law and try to harm other nations.

A section dealing with the nature of the Khomeinist regime establishes a direct link between “exporting violence and terrorism” to “undermine the international system” and “oppressing the Iranian people and abusing their rights.”

All along the target in this new strategy is the “revolutionary” persona of the regime and not Iran as a nation-state. This is why the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is directly named and singled out for punitive measures while Iran’s national army, part of Iran as a nation-state, is not. Again, targeting Iran as “revolution” and not Iran as “state” the text names the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei as responsible for “exporting violence, and oppressing the Iranian people.” There is no mention of Rouhani and his Cabinet or even the Islamic Majlis , the parliament, which are supposed to represent Iran as a “state”.

All in all the Trump text cites nine major grievances against Iran that the US intends to address. These include Tehran’s support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus “against the Syrian people”, “unrelenting hostility towards Israel” and “threatening freedom of navigation” in the Strait of Hormuz.

This last point is of special importance because previous US administrations have tried to temporize with it as best as they could.

Even when Iran captured a number of US Marines in international waters in the Gulf, President Obama took no punitive action; instead he released $1.7 billion of Iran’s frozen assets as a sort of unacknowledged ransom.

The list of Tehran’s misdeeds also includes Iranian intervention in Yemen, the attempt to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in Washington and Iranian attempts at subversion against the United Arab Emirates.

The text asserts: “The previous Administration’s myopic focus on Iran’s nuclear program to the exclusion of the regime’s many other activities allowed Iran’s influence in the region to reach a high water mark.”

This “holistic” approach to the “problem of Iran” could be seen as a challenge to both sides. But it could also be seen as an opportunity for both sides to abandon the incremental method and seek an all-encompassing dialogue covering all their mutual grievances.

If an opportunity could be cited it is because the new strategy does not call for a change of regime in Tehran, something the Khomeinist establishment has always feared. The text says the aim of the new strategy is “to bring about a change in the behavior of the Iranian regime.”

Advocates of a tough line on Iran might see that as a repetition of the pious hope expressed by all US administrations since 1979. However, if we go beyond the surface of that statement we would see that the detail measures required for Iran to change its behavior would, in time, transform the present regime into something quite different. In other words, the concept of “regime change” is not cited directly. But what is presented as “change within the regime” could be a huge step in that direction.

Apologists of the Joint Comprehensive Plan for Action (JCPOA), or the nuclear deal, may find it difficult to pursue their policy of trying to isolate Trump if only because the US leader is not setting himself directly against the controversial agreement as such. Instead, he points to Iran’s repeated violation of its pledges, as most recently testified by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Director Yukio Amano with regard to inspection of certain military sites in Iran. Nor could the Europeans ignore the fact that Iran’s testing and deploying of medium and long-range missiles violates the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which is often cited to give some legal aura to the JCPOA.

Because JCPOA is not a treaty and has not been signed by anyone and not ratified by any legislature, there is no mechanism for leaving it in any formal way. Thus Trump didn’t need to say that he has denounced JCPOA. Yet, he has indicated that JCPOA must be amended so as to fill its loopholes. Iran is also required to fulfill its pledges, including the ratification of the Additional protocols to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Trump does not “leave” the CJPOA in a formal manner because there is no mechanism for doing so in a bizarre text that has no legal validity. It leaves it suspended in a fog of uncertainty, where it was born in the first place.

Trump’s text makes it hard for the leadership in Tehran to devise a strategy to counter it. Had he renounced the CJPOA in a formal way, Tehran leaders could have cast themselves as victims of “Imperialist bullying”, and deployed the Europeans, led by EU’s foreign policy tsarina Federica Mogherini to fight their corner. Now they cannot do that because all that Trump is demanding is a more strict application of the measures that the EU and others say they mean to defend.

That leaves Tehran with the choice of either unilaterally denouncing the CJPOA, for example by claiming that it cannot allow unrestricted inspection “suspect sites” in its territory, or trying to open a dialogue with the US through the EU or even regional mediation. However, first indications are that Tehran will not formally denounce the CJPOA, preferring to keep the fig-leaf behind which it can hide its true nuclear intentions.

Tehran would also find it hard to vilify the US because of the new strategy the bulk of which is devoted to highlighting the sufferings of the Iranian people. The reference to IRGC’s business activities and alleged networks of corruption and extortion will also be popular among Iranians who, rightly or wrongly, believe that the military has used its position for personal enrichment, something President Rouhani has even publicly mentioned.

The new US strategy is certain to dampen foreign, especially European enthusiasm, for investing in Iran because Trump could refuse to suspend sanctions or even ask the Congress to impose new sanctions on Iran. Iran will find itself in a limbo, never a comfortable place to be in, with all the hype that Rouhani made about the nuclear deal proving to be hollow.

The October 15 deadline for Trump to recertify or de-certify the JCPOA will end soon after the publication of the new strategy. But what matters in the longer run is the new strategy itself.

The worst case scenario after the publication of the new strategy is that Iran and the US will be put on a direct collision course with the risk of at least limited military clashes.

The best case scenario is that both sides admit that they cannot resolve the problems that have dogged them for four decades through incremental and, ultimately, superficial measures and that the only way ahead is the quest for a grand bargain which would require a redefinition of Iran’s place in international politics.

Both options, best and worst, have powerful advocates in Tehran and Washington, advocates who could sabotage either or both.

China: Reshuffling the Party Cadres


It is a testimony to the peculiarities of international attention to world events that while every tweet by US President Donald Trump triggers an avalanche of reports, analyses, and outright abuse, little attention is paid as the People’s Republic of China prepares to hold its five-yearly National Congress of the Communist Party in Beijing.

And, yet, China is now established as the world’s largest economy in gross domestic product (GDP) terms and the second biggest exporter after Germany. It also has the world’s fastest-growing portfolio of foreign investments with interests in 118 nations across the globe.

At the same time, at least 10 million Chinese are working abroad, almost always on projects sponsored by Beijing, helping transform large chunks of Africa, South America, and Asia.

According to estimates, there are already more than three million Chinese in Siberia, spearheading a 19th century-style campaign to exploit the region’s vast natural resources. First encouraged by Moscow, the Chinese presence has become a source of concern for the Kremlin which fears losing control of Siberia due to demographic imbalance. This is why Russia now offers free land and seed capital to any Russian citizen who wishes to settle in Siberia. (Few have taken the offer, so far!)

China has launched projects that recall the golden days of European imperial expansion in the 19th century.
The new Silk Route project, the biggest in human history by way of the $1.4 trillion investments, will link the Central Asian heartland to the Indian Ocean via Pakistan, directly or indirectly affecting the economies of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, India, Pakistan, and Iran. A direct rail link, already been tested between Beijing and London, is to be extended to other major European capitals.

China is also studying the building of a Central American railroad as an alternative to the Panama Canal which is incapable of receiving ships with extra-large containers.

In Africa, China has not only established itself as the biggest trading partner but is also emerging as the” wise old aunt” who could bash heads together and persuade local rivals not to upset the apple cart.

In sub-Saharan Africa, China has replaced the United States, not to mention the old colonial powers such as France and Britain, as the principal influence-wielding big power.

On a broader scale, the spectacle of President Trump and his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson begging China to “do something” about North Korea’s provocative behavior is a good indicator of Beijing’s growing influence.

Even in the so-called Shanghai Group, a Chinese initiative, it is now Russia hat is asserting itself as the ringleader with the backing of former Soviet republics in Central Asia.

It is not hard to see that China is all over the place. Or is it?

The question is pertinent because the People’s Republic has not been able or has been unwilling to forge a correspondence between its economic power and its political role on the global scene. Economically high profile, it remains low profile politically, earning the sobriquet of “Economic Giant, Political Dwarf”.

Part of this is a matter of choice. Chinese leaders know that they govern a country that is still ridden by deep-rooted poverty and infrastructural backwardness. In terms of per capita income, China is still poorer than Iran, and even the Maldives islands. In terms of life-expectancy it is world number 102 among 198 nations.

Thus, Chinese leaders have preferred to remain essentially focused on domestic issues with priority to rapid economic growth. To them, getting involved in international politics seems a risky distraction.

However, the Chinese low profile has another reason: lack of experience in international affairs and the skilled manpower needed for punching below its weight in the diplomatic arena. It is interesting that not a single high profile international post is filled by a Chinese diplomat when diplomats from even Burma and Ghana have held the position of United Nations’ Secretary-General.

Rather than imitating the British or French styles of empire-building in the 19th century, China has opted for the Dutch model of going for a trade and leaving politics to others. But is such a strategy sustainable? You might not want to go after politics but what if politics comes after you?

This is one of the questions likely to be raised at the five-day 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China due to open next Tuesday.

Though China has historically poor relations with neighbors, except Pakistan, it has a neutral profile elsewhere, notably in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and South America if only because it does not bear the burden of a colonial and/or hegemonic past.

Because the Party’s congresses are prepared in secret it is hard to know whether or not a major review of the nation’s foreign policy is included in deliberations. Next week’s congress will have two priorities.

The first is to consolidate Xi Jinping’s position as “supreme leader”, something more than mere Secretary-General.

This could be done by bestowing on him a lofty title as was the case with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. President Xi, expected to be unanimously re-elected for a further five-year term, could also strengthen his position by propelling his protégés into key positions in the Central Committee, the Politburo, the Politburo Standing Committee, the Committee for Discipline and Inspection, and the Military Committee, the party’s five key decision-making organs.

The second priority is a change of generations at the top the hierarchy with new figures born in the 1960s or later moving up the ladder. A majority of the 2300 delegates slated to attend belong to the “new generation.”

The new putative leadership consists of individuals with some experience of the outside world, often through studying in the United States and Western Europe. That could provide a greater understanding of world politics and a keener taste for getting involved.

One thing is certain: the international scene is in turmoil and Russia and the United States, still burdened by memories of the Cold War, might not always be able to provide the answers needed.

For its part the European Union, its economic power notwithstanding, cannot mobilize public opinion for a greater political role internationally. India, another rising power, is bogged down by its surrealistic quarrel with Pakistan while hopes of Brazil emerging as a big player have faded; maybe for decades.

In other words, there is room for China to become a key player in global politics.
Will she want that​​?

We shall know the answer in Beijing next week.

The ‘Autumn of Sorrows’ for Russia’s Muslims

London- “Set the East ablaze!” This was the brief order that the leader of the Bolshevik revolution Vladimir Ilycyh Ulianov, alias Lenin, gave to Zinoviev when he sent him on a mission to mobilize the Muslim subjects of the Russian Empire in support of the October Revolution.

Zinoviev was the party name of Ovseï-Gerchen Aronovitch Radomyslski-Apfelbaum, a Ukrainian Jewish intellectual who had spent years in exile in Europe and had almost no knowledge of the “wild frontiers” of Central Asia and the Caucasus where the Tsar’s Muslim subjects lived. Used to café discussions with Westernized intellectuals, Zinoviev failed to establish any rapport with Muslim tribes of the regions concerned and antagonized the religious leadership in Central Asia and the Caucasus by advancing the slogan: “You believe either in God or in Revolution!”

Having failed to set the Muslim East ablaze, Zinoviev was transferred back to the center to lead the Communist International (COMINTERN) with the task of seizing control of Socialist and Social-Democrat parties in Europe, a mission which he performed with great efficiency before Stalin, emerging as sole dictator after Lenin’s death, put Zinoviev and many other top Bolsheviks to death on charges of treason.

Having learned from Zinoviev’s experience with Muslims of Russia, Lenin decided that “education and persuasion” wouldn’t do the trick among people firmly attached to their religion and traditional way of life. His next emissary was Mikhail Frunze who was determined to win Russia’s Muslims over by force rather than persuasion. When Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Qarapakh and Uzbek tribes rebelled against the new Bolshevik regime, Frunze didn’t ask for more ideological instructors. He demanded more guns and aircraft to bomb the rebels. Lenin cabled him succinctly: “Shoot their men, seize their animals, drive their women and children across the border!”

Frunze did that with extra zeal, writing one of the darkest chapters of Soviet history, known by Central Asians as “The Autumn of Sorrows.” Frunze died a year after Lenin, before Stalin had a chance to also kill him.
However, the Bolshevik Revolution did have some genuine supporters among a small number of Westernized Muslim intellectuals in the Caucasus and central Asia.

The best known among them was Sultan Aliev, a Tatar who came to be known as “The Muslim Lenin”. A brilliant and charismatic propagandist Aliev, or in Russian Galiev, enjoyed much prestige with the Bolshevik leadership to the point that he was one of those who carried Lenin’s coffin. Aliev wanted a straight Communist revolution in the Muslim lands of the Russian Empire. His teachings inspired such events as “the burning of burqahs” and the mass shaving of beards in Tatar, Bashkir and Uzbek territories.

Other Muslim intellectuals searched for ways of producing a version of Communism that could be reconciled with at least some aspects of traditional Islamic teachings. They emphasised the importance of education, equality for men and woman, and acceptance of intellectual diversity. The most brilliant among them were Sadreddin Ayni, Ahmad Danesh and Abdul-Rauf Fitrat.

The Bolshevik Revolution’s full effect on the Muslim world took several decades to materialize with the creation of Communist parties in Iran, Turkey and several Arab countries. By the 1950s, Communism had become an important, and fashionable part of political and intellectual life in the Middle East and among the Muslims in the Indian Subcontinent and Indonesia.

The Communist word view in general and Leninist methods of organization and agitation, was adopted by many Islamist activists who regarded Communism as a form of “kufr”(infidelity). In Egypt, Hassan al-Banna, the teacher who founded the Muslim Brotherhood, admitted he had learned much from Lenin’s modus operandi. Sayyed Qutb, the chief theoretician of the Brotherhood, modelled his book “Signposts” on Lenin’s “What Is To be Done?” The Pakistani religious-political leader al-Maudoodi said he had no objection to being regarded as a pupil of Lenin “when it comes to the role of an organized vanguard to reshape society.”

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the current Iranian “Supreme Guide” is also a not so secret admirer of Lenin. In a strange choice of timing, in a talk last month, Khamenei repeated Lenin’s parable of the mountain climbers almost word for word.

On a wide scale, however, the Muslim world proved inhospitable to Communism as governments crushed its adepts and people shunned them.

The Red October: 100 Years Later

London- This month marks the centenary of the 1917 Revolution in Russia which led to the foundation of the Soviet Union. Many in the Russian Federation will mark the occasion with special festivities. A majority of Russians have moved away from the Communist heritage. The remnant of the Communist Party receives no more than 10 to 15 per cent of the votes in elections. All over the world almost all Communist Parties have either disappeared or morphed into different identities. Nostalgics of Communism will also be in festive mood. However, it would also provide an occasion to remember the victims of the Bolshevik revolution and its child Stalinism. Here, we cast a glance at the origins of the Red October in its early phase.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin called it “the greatest tragedy in the history of Russian people.” To the French poet Louis Aragon it was “the event that redefined the modern world”. An American journalist labeled it “Ten days that Shook the World.”

The “it” in question was the October Revolution which led to the seizure of power in Russia by the Bolshevik Party 100 years ago. Well, seizure of power may not be the right phrase if only because when the Bolsheviks pushed themselves to the front of the stage there was no power in Russia to seize. The Tsarist edifice had collapsed and the provisional government headed by Alexander Kerensky was acting like a headless chicken. On occasions, Prime Minister Kerensky had to find a horse-driven droshky to take him to the office because the driver of his limousine hadn’t turned up. Exhausted by three years of war and carnage the vast empire was on the edge of famine, its administration in taters and its agriculture almost wiped out.

When a group of armed sailors appeared at an open session of the Duma, the Russian parliament that had emerged from the country’s first and last free elections, the deputies had only one thought: how to flee into safety. Suddenly, Russia, the largest country in the world, was left without anyone in charge. The Bolsheviks pretended they could fill the vacuum but soon found out they couldn’t. They were a small party of middle class urban intellectuals, most of them just back from exile, with little contact with the Russian heartland. In the election for Duma the party had won around five per cent of the votes. But its leader Vladimir Illych Ulianov, better known by his nom de guerre of Lenin, believed that in war-torn Russia power was like a jewel box that had fallen in the street for anyone to pick up. He was determined to be the one who does it. What he didn’t realize was that in doing so he would not inherit a power that had ceased to exist but a responsibility that his party was in no position to assume.

Initially, Lenin, who was a master of tweets long before twitter was invented only hoped to win a propaganda battle thanks to his daily missives. Days after he was told that he was now in charge he “tweeted” that his aim was that the Bolsheviks, acting through what he called Soviets of Workers, Peasants, Soldiers and Sailors, would be able to hang on for at least 100 days so as to last longer than the Paris Commune, the model for the Communist Utopia, had lasted in 1871.

When the 100 days came and went, Lenin began to realize that triggering a revolution is far easier than building a new society. He saw Russia plunged into a civil war that lasted almost four years, claiming millions of victims. In 1921 he wrote: “The civil war has decimated our proletariat exactly when we want it to build the new Russia.”

Half regretting his own propaganda, Lenin shared his doubts with the 11th Congress of his party. “Because of my position, every day I hear a lot of sentimental Communist lies; and sometimes I get sick of them.”

Having mobilized his party‘s energy to destroy the cursed “bourgeoisie,” he realized that Russia needed that very same bourgeoisie to rebuild.

“The idea that Communists alone could build the Communist society is naïve, absolutely childish. We Communists are but a drop in the ocean of the people. We’ll be able to build Communism only if we make the vanquished bourgeoisie work for us”.

Marx had taught that every state belongs to one dominant class in different stages of history, starting with the primitive commune to capitalism and passing by feudalism. While casting himself as an arch-Marxist, however, Lenin rejected that linear analysis. He insisted that there could be a shortcut for direct passage from capitalism to Communism. During that shortcut the state would be controlled by “the vanguard of the proletariat”, that is to say the Communist Party.

Experience quickly showed that Lenin’s romantic optimism had been misplaced. The mass of Russians lived in starvation as Politburo members fought over whether or not to use the Tsarist gold reserves for importing canned food from France. Lenin decided to sue terror to fore peasants to share part of their meagre crops to feed the starving cities.

In a letter, his kind of “tweet”, to Lev Kamenev, who was in charge of the economy, Lenin said: “There is no evolution without terror: political terror and economic terror!”

To use terror systematically, Lenin created CHEKA, the secret police and precursor of the KGB headed by Polish Felix Dzezhinski.

However, the Bolsheviks were not numerous enough to provide the leadership, management and administration required by a huge country at a time of exceptional crisis. In 1924, as he was approaching his early death, Lenin estimated the number of Bolshevik cadres at around 4,700, many of them having jumped on the bandwagon after the victory of the Revolution.

That led Lenin and his party towards a new policy which he dubbed “one step backwards for two steps forward”. The label was the New Economic Policy or NEP which envisaged the creation of mixed public-private enterprises and the creation of state capitalism. When Preobrazhenski, a member of the party’s central committee, publicly took Lenin to task for pursuing a new version of capitalism, the father of the revolution opted for sophistry in response.

“In capitalist society the proletariat works for the bourgeoisie, “he said. “In Communist society, the bourgeoisie works for the proletariat.”

“Peasants ask us: The capitalist is able to supply things that we want, charging exorbitant prices and humiliated and robbed us. But he was, after all, able to supply things,“ Lenin said. “But what about you, Communists? Can you supply the things we need? You Communists may be saints destined for heavens. But can you get things done? Can you supply what we need?”

It took history almost 80 years to provide the answer, which was “no.”

Initially, Lenin wanted a talk-fest in which all Russians, used to silence for centuries, would air their grievances in public and make their views heard. Soon, however, he realized that freedom of speech and of press could be dangerous for the kind of centralized state he was trying to build.

Three years after “Red October”, the heavy Russian silence which Tolstoy had claimed was due to drunkenness, was back in force. Lenin told the party congress: “We can have free debates on weekends but absolute obedience to the Soviet leader, the dictator, the rest of the week. One wonders what would have happened today when every chat-room in cyberspace is a Soviet!

Having called for the abolition of censorship, Lenin soon returned to measures that the Tsarist regime would not have thought of. He described press freedom as deadly and dangerous. Freedom for whom, and for what?

He insisted that “all over the world wherever there are capitalists, press freedom means freedom to buy newspapers, to buy writers, to bribe, buy and fabricate public opinion for the benefit of the bourgeoisie.”

His argument was that once “history” had chosen the path of Revolution, there could be no free choice that might harm or hamper the course of Revolution. Thus, freedom of choice belongs to pre-Revolutionary societies, a bourgeois value.

When faced with the inevitable failure of his Revolution to produce “positive improvement” in the material of the workers and peasants, Lenin blamed Russia’s “deep-rooted backwardness.”

“Facts and figures reveal the vast and urgent task we face to reach the level of an ordinary West European civilized country, bearing in mind the semi-Asiatic ignorance from which we have not been able to extricate ourselves,” he wrote in a message to the Central Committee.

“As long as our countryside lacks the material basis for Communism in the countryside, under no circumstances should we immediately advance purely and exclusively Communist ideas. (Doing that) would be harmful, I might say even fatal.”

At one point, Lenin suggested to send students to Britain, Germany, Canada and the United Sates to learn how to organize and manage modern industries and offices. The Central Committee took no action because the Soviet state had no money for that and there was no guarantee the Western “enemies” would issue the necessary visas.

Sometimes, Lenin’s proposed solutions for major problems were derisory. In one memo to the Central Committee he said the country’s educational system was on the verge of collapse. But the solution he suggested was increase bread ration for teachers!

In another memo he presented his parable of the mountain in which a group of climbers have gone far up a range but feel lost and unable to reach the summit. The way out of the situation is to climb down and cast a fresh look at what lies ahead on the way to the summit. The trouble is that human societies cannot be treated as blank pages on which one could doodle as one wishes in the hope of finding the right shape. You make a mistake on the path, people die. You correct the mistake, people die.

Isolated within its ideological cocoon, the Bolshevik leaders also spent much time on in-fighting and clan rivalries. Lenin wanted to promote Bukharin as the rising star, describing him as “the most valuable theoretician of our party.” That made Stalin jealous. In the end, Stalin could put Bukharin to death, after Lenin had died.

Lenin disliked Larin and did all he could to marginalize him. Zinoviev and Kamenev couldn’t stand each other. Lenin’s concubine, Nadezhda Krupskaya, had a quarrel with Stalin who had been rude to her on telephone. That led to Lenin writing to the Central Committee asking it to replace Stalin, which didn’t happen because Lenin died a few months later.

Lenin’s great genius was to realize that there is no standard model, no recipe fr revolutions.

“Every revolution,” he wrote, “is a leap into the unknown, and each time a different unknown.”

Iran, Iraq and Turkey Seek Triple Military Alliance


London – Iran, Iraq and Turkey have agreed to create a triple military alliance as the first step towards growing cooperation in mutual defense and regional security.

The creation of the “military triangle” was highlighted yesterday in a report published by Fars News Agency, the principal news outlet for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

According to the report the idea of alliance was raised in the recent trip to Ankara by Iran’s Chief of Staff of Armed Forces General Muhammad Hussein Baqeri at the head of a 40-man delegation, during high-level meetings with Turkish leaders including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Baqeri’s visit was the first of its kind by the highest Islamic Republic military commander to a member-state of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Its historic importance was subsequently highlighted by the visit to Tehran of the Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar followed by President Erdogan himself. Within a few days of Baqeri’s visit to Ankara, his Iraqi counterpart Gen. Othman al-Ghanimi came to Tehran to discuss Baghdad’s role in the emerging alliance project.

According to sources, Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish senior commanders held a series of meetings to set out the rules for join staff conversation, exchange of military intelligence and targeted joint operations.

Since then, the three neighbors have held coordinated military exercises along their respective borders.
Initially, the composition of Baqeri’s team in his Ankara visit was kept confidential.

Now, however, Fars has revealed the names of some of those who accompanied the Chief of Staff in his historic visit. They included General Muhammad Pakpur, Commander of the Ground Forces of the IRGC, Gen. Qassem Rezai, Commander of the Border Forces and the deputy head of the regular army’s planning division. Gen. Rahim-Zadeh.

Also present in Baqeri’s team was Gen. Mehrabi, who heads the Khatam al-Anbia base, a conglomerate that runs the IRGC’s economic and business enterprises, indicating that the “triple alliance” may also include the sale of certain categories of weapons by Iran to Turkey and Iraq, as well as joint construction projects in border areas.

The presence in Gen. Baqeri’s team of Gen. Hassan Baqeri, in charge of the army’s training programs, indicated the intention to extend military cooperation into educational and academic domains.

The fact that Baqeri also met the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildrim, Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli and Security Chief Hakan Fidan underlined the broader political dimensions of his high profile role in reshaping Iran’s defense and foreign policies.

The “triple alliance” also envisages cooperation in training of the security forces of the three neighbors.

In talks with his Turkish and Iraqi counterparts, Gen. Baqeri proposed the development of plans for academic level “joint action” in the field of defense and security. That could allow for an exchange of students seeking military careers at higher academic levels.

Such an exchange would enable Iranian trainee officers to get familiar with the military culture of NATO, something that was available to Iran before the Islamic Revolution in 1979. At the same time, the program would enable the military in Iraq and Turkey to obtain direct understanding of Iran’s military doctrine, mindset, methods and practices.

It is not clear how many trainee officers would be exchanged among the three members of the proposed alliance.

However, according to Gen. Baqeri the putative allies would also organize joint courses for trainee officers from all three countries. That would allow the gradual emergence of a new generation of officers who have studied together and thus know each other’s way of thinking more closely, fostering an esprit de corps that could strengthen neighborly ties.

According to Fars, it was the Kurdish secessionist referendum in Iraq that speeded up a process that had been “in gestation at thought level for some time”.

In an unusually frank statement, Gen. Baqeri has asserted that Iran, Iraq and Turkey will not allow Iraqi Kurds to secede.

Iran and Turkey have a long history of alliance treaties.

The first came in 1639 when the two neighbors divided Mesopotamia on the basis of the Qasr-e-Shirin Treaty, ending centuries of conflict and war over who controls what is now Iraq. That ended centuries of wars between the Ottoman Empire and Iran in which, at times, Iranians allied themselves with European powers against the Turks.

After the collapse of the Caliphate in Constantinople, Iran and Turkey went through a period of “national redefinition” and in 1933 concluded the Saadabad Pact which even envisaged the creation of joint military units.

That was interrupted in 1941 when the Allies, Great Britain and Russia, invaded and occupied Iran for almost five years.

In 1955 Iran and Turkey created a new alliance with Iraq. Known as the Baghdad Pact it also included the United Kingdom.

The Baghdad Pact collapsed in 1959 when the new Iraqi pro-Soviet regime of Col. Abdul-Karim Qassem denounced it. That forced Iran and Turkey to create a new alliance known as the Central Treat Organization (CENTO) with Pakistan added as a new member and the UK retaining the place it had in the Baghdad Pact. The United Sates was included as an associate member, emphasizing CENTO’s close ties to NATO.

Right now Iran, Iraq and Turkey have a number of major concerns.

The Kurdish secessionist bid is highlighted as a major threat. In reality, however, such a threat could be no more than marginal in military-security terms. More urgent is the need to fully cleanse the region from the remnants of ISIS and find a way out of the quagmire that is Syria.

Iran and Turkey have been on opposite sides in Syria for seven years.

Now, however, Tehran is beginning to realize that it is losing its dominant role in Syria as Russia assumes the role of big power there. An alliance with Turkey and Iraq could help Iran regain part of its lost influence in Syria without risking a direct clash with Russia.

The forging of the triple alliance also boosts the prestige and authority of Gen. Baqeri as a top-level player in Iran’s macro-politics, eclipsing that of President Hassan Rouhani and his Cabinet who have been excluded from the entire process.

The 56-year old two-star general, whose full surname is Afshordi-Baqeri, took over as Chief of Staff last June and has hit the road running. Holder of a PhD, Baqeri is regarded in Iranian military circles as an intellectual soldier as opposed to his long-serving predecessor Gen. Hassan Firuzababadi, who was more of a bureaucratic figure.

Gen. Baqeri has also established direct contact with his Pakistani counterpart Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, who is visiting Tehran next week. According to sources Gen. Baqeri wants Pakistan to join the emerging “triple alliance” or, at least, to revive aspects of military cooperation it had with Iran and Turkey before the mullahs seized power in Tehran in 1979.

In a gesture of goodwill toward Baqeri, Gen. Bajwa ordered the deployment additional Pakistani military units on the border with Iran to prevent infiltration of “terrorists” and smugglers into Iranian territory.

Gen. Baqeri is also sending an indirect message to the United Sates at a time that President Donald Trump is reportedly pondering whether or not he should declare the IRGC a “terrorist organization.”

Gen. Baqeri’s message is clear: The IRGC and the Iranian armed forces are really important players in the nation’s politics. Antagonizing them would be bad policy on the part of the US, especially at a time that the new commanders, under Baqeri, are trying to establish links with NATO via Turkey.

“Iran has already entered a post-Khamenei transition period,” says Nasser Zamani, an analyst in Tehran.

“What is certain is that the mullahs cannot handle that transition and that gives the military an opening to offer an alternative narrative of the revolution, paving the way for normalization with the outside world.”

Gen. Baqeri’s efforts to make the “triple alliance” possible is an indication, albeit indirect, that his priority is national security and regional military cooperation rather than “exporting revolution”, a project that has already failed.

Kurdish Secession and Mysteries of Identity

An old Arab adage asserts that there is always something good in whatever happens. The secession referendum held in the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq is no exception. It has added to tension in the region, awakened many old demons and diverted attention from more urgent problems. At the same time it has also provided an opportunity to examine and debate some important issues in a cold and clinical manner as opposed to the inflammatory style current in our neck of the wood.

One such issue concerns the relationship between ethnicity and nationality.

It is important because the Middle East which, is and has always been a mosaic of ethnicities, has arrived at the state of nation-statehood, a la Europeen, through an historic shortcut that bypasses the ethnic conundrum. In Europe, the birthplace of the modern nation-state, the concept of citizenship provided a synthesis between ethnicity and nationality. All European states are multiethnic entities; and, yet, few of them experience ethnic tension the way it affects the emerging nation-states of our region.

The assumption on the part of Iraq’s Kurdish secessionists is that statehood should coincide with ethnicity. However, if that were the case almost all Middle Eastern states would have to be divided and subdivided, by one account, to create least 18 more states.

Kurdish secessionists dismiss that account with the argument that most ethnic groups in the region are too small to merit statehood.

In other words, size becomes a justification for secession.

They also claim that Kurds represent the largest ethnic group without its own state. That, of course, isn’t true. In the Indian Subcontinent, the Dravidians, numbering over 300 million do not have a state of their own. The same is true of the Punjabis, some 100 million of them, who are divided between India and Pakistan with reference to religious differences into Muslim, Hindu and Sikh sub-groups.

In Africa, the Haussa and the Ibo who number 40 and 35 million respectively don’t have a state of their own. In China, the Uighurs, 22 million and the Manchus 12 million, not to mention the Tibetans with 4 million, have had their states wiped out by the Han majority.

There are more Pathans in Pakistan than in Afghanistan, more Irish in United Kingdom than the Republic of Ireland, and more Hungarians outside Hungary than inside it.

The second argument is that since Iraq is an “artificial country” created by Sykes-Picot there is no reason why anyone shouldn’t walk out of it. To start with, despite the fashionable buzz all over the place, the so-called Sykes-Picot “plot” has nothing to do with the current shape of the Middle East.

Sykes-Picot was a draft treaty by Britain, France, Russia and Italy to carve out the Middle Eastern possessions of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. However, the draft never received final ratification by the four countries involved.

Before the war ended the Tsarist Empire collapsed and the new Bolshevik regime published the text of the draft as part of propaganda against “Imperialist powers.”

The draft envisaged giving large chunks of Anatolia to Russia, an ally of Britain and France and Italy. But when the Bolsheviks seized power Russia became an enemy; there was no reason to give it anything.

As for Italy, it had performed so miserably in the war that Britain and France decided it merited nothing but crumbs of the cake, in the shape of a presence in Cyrenaica and Tripolitania. With Sykes-Picot rendered inoperable, Britain and France made new deals later reflected in several treaties notably of Lausanne and Montreux.

In any case, to say Iraq is “artificial” is meaningless because all states are artificial; none has fallen from heavens fully shaped. It took the United Sates almost 200 years to assume its present shape, by admitting Hawaii, annexed in 1898, as its 50th state in 1959.

A century ago there were 32 nation-states in the world; today there are 198, the majority of which are newer and more “artificial” than Iraq.

In some cases, ethic identities are either fabricated or exaggerated in pursuit of political power. For example, the Castilians and the Catalans share the same Christian faith, speak variations of the same Latinesque language, and are hardly distinguishable from one another by outsiders. Yet, we have a Catalan secessionist movement in Spain. The reason is that Catalonia has always been a support base for leftist movements in the Iberian Peninsula while the rest of Spain, especially Castile and Galicia has been conservative.

Ironically, the more multi-ethnic a state the more successful it has proved in history. The Sumerian state was “pure” in ethnic terms but vanished without trace. The Roman Empire, open to all ethnicities up to the position of the Emperor, lasted over 1000 years, and perished when it tried to impose uniformity through its new official religion: Christianity.

Countries where citizenship is not based on ethnicity or religion offer inhabitants freedoms unavailable elsewhere. In a small street in Paris, Rue des Petites Ecurries, shops and cafes belonging to all sorts of Islamic sects, Jews and Christians exist side by side without anyone cutting anyone’s throat, at least not yet; something unthinkable in “pure” places such as the ISIS or the Taliban “emirate.”

There is nothing easier to invent than “traditions” upon which ethnic identities are constructed. To fabricate a new identity, Ataturk adopted the Latin script, purged the Turkish language of Arabic and Persian vocabulary, using French words instead.

Now, however, we see the old Ottoman ghost coming back to reassert itself.

Some Kurds, tried a similar scheme by including the vowels ( اعرابIrab in Arabic) in the Arabic script and, imitating Ataturk, purged many Arabic and Persian words. The result is that their new-speak appears more Kurdish but is hard to understand especially when it comes to classical texts of their literature.

There is much talk of identity these days.

But human identity is protean, subject to tangential twists and turns of individual and collective life.

For example, Kak (brother) Massoud Barzani’s identity is not exactly the same as the Peshmerga who drives his bullet-proof Mercedes. Kak Massoud was born in Mahabad, Iran, an Iranian subject, but spent the first 12 years of his life in the Soviet Union. He then spent a decade in Iraq before being forced out by the Ba’athist terror machine, finding refuge first in Iran and then in the United States. That does not make him any less Iraqi or any less Kurdish if only because the two are not incompatible but complimentary in his case.

An Iraqi citizen is easy to define and recognize because citizenship is a politico-judicial status that can be tested and ascertained. When it comes to ethnic and/or religious identities, however, we are often in terra incognito.

Two things are certain about anyone of us: our humanity and our citizenship. Everything else is subject to dicey speculation and convoluted definitions.

Reform in Iran: Wetsminster Style or Imamate?


London- It was almost five years ago when Iran’s “Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei launched the idea of constitutional reform to transform the Islamic Republic’s presidential system into a parliamentary one. The idea was to end election of the President of the Republic through universal suffrage and give the Islamic Majlis (parliament) the right to select a Prime Minister to head the executive branch of government.

Khamenei launched the idea in the wake of a public quarrel with then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who had wanted to replace the Minister of Security and Information but had been ordered not to do so by the “Supreme Guide”.

Ahmadinejad’s argument was that since the president is directly elected by the people, he should also have the right to choose his Cabinet colleagues. Khamenei’s counter argument was that under the Islamic Constitution, then “Supreme Guide” had the final say on all matters and could even suspend the application of basic rules of Islam.

Ahmadinejad reacted by 11 days of sulking during which he went on strike from his duties as President. In the end, however, he had to eat humble pie, and submit to Khamenei’s order.

Sources said the open quarrel led to Khamenei ordering small group of constitutional experts to prepare a report on adopting a parliamentary system. According to the sources, the report, which has not been made public, appears to have recommended three options to the” Supreme Guide”.

The first option is to keep the title of President but have the person who will occupy the post be nominated by the “Supreme Guide” and approved by the Islamic Majlis. Keeping the word “President” is deemed important to maintain the claim that Iran will remain a republic.

The second option, for a while favored by late President Hashemi Rafsanjani, would be a merger of the position of the President with that of the “Supreme Guide” with the person occupying the post selected by a Congress consisting of both the Islamic Majlis and the Assembly of Experts. Such a system would end the apparent contradiction between an elected political executive and a non-elected religious authority.

The third option is to have the head of the executive branch directly appointed and, when needed, replaced, by the “Supreme Guide” who could assume the title of Imam. In such a system, the heads of executive would be an administrator, not a policymaker, carrying out policies determined by the “Imam.”

“The Islamic Republic created by the late Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini was full of contradictions from the start,” says historian Parviz Nuri. “It wanted to appear democratic so as to seduce the Westernized middle classes. But it also wanted to establish absolute rule by the Shi’ite clergy.”

Initially, the Khomeinist system included both a President, directly elected by the people, and a prime minister named by that President and approved by the Islamic Majlis. But that was a source of tension right from the start as Abol-Hassan Banisadr, the Islamic Republic’s first president who remained in office for just over a year, was in constant dispute with Prime Minister Muhammad-Ali Rajai.

Banisadr was dismissed by Khomeini, then acting as “Supreme Guide”. But the quarrel between President and Prime Minister continue. For eight years Ali Khamenei, the present “Supreme Guide”, who acted as president was in constant dispute with Prime Minster Mir-Hussein Mussawi-Khameneh. In the end Khamenei formed an alliance with then Majlis Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani and pushed through a constitutional amendment that abolished the post of prime minister altogether.

Thus, the trend has been towards a gradual concentration of executive power in the hands of the “Supreme Guide”.
But why has the debate been re-launched now, just weeks after President Hassan Rouhani’s re-election for a second and final four years term?

One reason may be the growing concern over the consequences of Khamenei’s departure from the scene and the difficulty of choosing a successor who could pretend to the status he has gained over the past 30 years. A weak “Supreme Guide”, named by a club of second rate mullahs known as the Assembly of Experts, would wield little authority against a President elected by popular vote.

Such a president would wield immense powers that, given certain conditions, could be used to reduce the role of Shi’ite clerics in the nation’s politics. An even bigger risk is that the Iranian electorate, increasingly secular in mood and persuasion, may go for candidates who offer a policy of de-emphasizing, if not actually abandoning, the religious character of the system.

Having the head of executive named by the parliament could also lead to instability as majorities form and disintegrate within the Majlis.

“Islamic Majlis” member Abdul-Reza Hashem Zai says what matters is who controls the majority in the parliament at any given time. “It is also crucial to see which tendencies are behind the idea of a parliamentary system,” he says.

Another Majlis member Ezzat-Allah Yussefian insists that whatever change is to be introduced must reflect “the wishes of the Supreme Guide”.

Writing in the newspaper Etemad, a pro-Rouhani, daily, columnist Ali-Akbar Gorji, rejects the idea of a parliamentary system on the grounds that Iran does not have regular political parties that could ensure parliamentary discipline through stable majorities or coalitions. “Right now we should focus our attention on allowing the formation of political parties,” he insists.

Sadeq Ziba-Kalam, a prominent intellectual and supporter of Rouhani, goes further by asserting that introducing a parliamentary system in Iran at this time could be “a setback for democracy”. The reason is that hardline factions control the institutions, including the “Islamic Majlis,” leaving the direct election of a president as the only opportunity for ordinary citizens to express their wishes.

Ziba-Kalam speculates that in a parliamentary system Rouhani would not be chosen as President by the current “Islamic Majlis;” the post will go to Hojat al-Islam Radii’s, his more radical rival in the least presidential election.

However, the option of imamate may be more suitable for the Islamic Republic. In Jaafari theology, people should recognize no authority as legitimate unless it comes from the “Imam” who is “Massoum” (infallible). This was why late Ayatollah Khomeini adopted the title of “Imam” to put his authority above worldly, political and secular, consideration. In recent times a campaign has been launched to give Khamenei the same title of “Imam”. This was highly publicized when the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, wrote Khamenei a letter calling him “Grand Ayatollah and Imam” at the same time.

In Jaafari theology, the concept of ”infallibility” (‘ismah) is reserved for Ali, Faitmah and their 11 male descendants. However, a new campaign now aims at extending the concept to also cover Khamenei.

In a speech in Qom earlier this month Ayatollah Ali Ansarian said the concept of “Islam” also applied to all the 124,000 prophets plus many other “muqarrabin” (those close to God) and should apply to Khamenei as well.

“Introducing a full Imamate in Iran would fully reflect the true nature of the system founded by Ayatollah Khomeini,” says religious historian Nuri. “It would also resolve the inner contradictions of a system torn between imitating modern Western political practice and nostalgia for an imagery Islamic system under the Imams.”

A system of imamate existed in Yemen under Zaidi Imams for centuries. In Batinah, inner Oman, the Ibadhis also had an imamate with the last Imam, Ghalib bin-Ali al-Hanai, who died in 2009.

Khamenei seems anxious to introduce as yet unclear constitutional reforms as part of his legacy. For him, and for Iran, the clock is ticking.

Iran Offers Nuclear Deal Compromise with US via Oman


London – Iran has asked Oman to transmit to Washington a set of new proposals designed to prevent a showdown with the Trump administration over the controversial nuclear deal reached with six major powers, sources in Tehran confirmed yesterday.

Known as the Comprehensive Plan for Joint Action (CJPOA), the deal envisages the temporary lifting of some sanctions against Iran in exchange a freezing of aspects of the Iranian nuclear program.

The Iranian demand was put to the Omanis by Islamic Republic Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, during a “working visit” to Oman for talks with his Omani counterpart Youssef bin Alawi bin Abdullah.

President Donald Trump claims that Iran has violated the spirit of the deal and is reportedly planning to refer the whole issue back to the US Congress, effectively ending the periodic suspension of sanctions against Iran. Trump has three objections to the deal, all of which are expected to be addressed in the compromise formula Zarif has taken to Muscat.

The first of these is that the CJPOA includes “sunset clauses” that envisage the ending of all sanctions on Iran in periods of between 10 to 30 years. In the new Iranian formula, a mechanism will be agreed to end the “sunset” concept and link the full lifting of sanctions to certified performance by Iran.

Trump’s second objections is that Tehran has refused to ratify the Additional Protocols to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), thus keeping all options open for a full resumption of the military aspects of its nuclear project. What Zarif is offering now is to fast-track the arousal of the additional protocols through the Islamic Majlis, the Iranian parliament, before March 2018 when Iran and the 5+1 foreign ministers are due to hold a “revision conference” to assess mutual performance.

The third American objection is that Iran has tried to exclude its missile development project from the deal, thus ignoring resolutions passed by the United Nations’ Security Council. The compromise formula now suggested by Iran would provide for arbitration on the issue, allowing Iran to continue its project but offering guarantees that missiles thus developed would not be designed to carry nuclear warheads.

Before flying to Muscat, Zarif said that if the US wants “stringent inspection” of Iranian nuclear sites to continue, it must continue to abide by the terms of the CJPOA. The Islamic foreign minister also said the US “could be sure Iran would ratify the Additional Protocols.”

As an additional “sweetener,” Zarif renewed Iran’s offer of cooperation in the fight against ISIS and suggested that Iran’s regional policies be separated from the nuclear issue.

In a separate interview, Zarif said that despite Iran’s flexibility, chances of the US remaining committed to the CJPOA was “50-50”, adding that Tehran already had contingency plans to deal with any outcome.

Trump must notify the US Congress by October 15, leaving a narrow window of opportunity for any mediation by the Omanis.

Zarif, who will also visit Qatar after Oman, is using his mini-tour to put other “possibilities”, related to relations with neighboring countries, on the table.

Iran and Oman have already signed a security accord and demarcated their continental shelf in the Gulf of Oman. Oman has also offered “mooring rights” to the Iranian Navy, enabling it to expand its active presence right down to the Gulf of Hauf and the Gulf of Aden. Tehran now wants the accord “deepened” to include joint operations against terrorist threats, piracy and human-trafficking in the region. The establishment of a daily direct shipping line between the Iranian port of Chahbahar and the Omani capital Muscat is expected to facilitate security and trade cooperation.

According to sources in Tehran, in Qatar Zarif is expected to propose the creation of “joint organs” in a number of domains including environmental protection, and combating drug trafficking and smuggling in general. Iran and Qatar already have a security cooperation accord that could be expanded to cover other areas of mutual interest and, later, also joined by Oman. One area of concern is the rapid depletion of fishing resources in the Gulf where many foreign nations, notably China, are “plundering” fish resources with no regard for regeneration of stocks. Iranian fishermen have been engaged in a series of protests and strikes, calling on Tehran to curb unrestricted Chinese fishing activities. Tehran claims that effective action would not be possible without the cooperation of other littoral states; Oman and Qatar are expected to be the first to agree to joint action with Iran.

Both Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani have gone out of their way in recent weeks to describe an easing of tension with Gulf neighbors as a “top priority”. As always with the Islamic Republic, however, it is not clear whether their stance is endorsed by the “Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on all issues or, whether as often in the past, they are asked just to buy time.

One calculation in Tehran may be based on the assumption that if they manage to keep the US committed to the CJPOA until next March, the Trump administration would then find itself too involved in the mid-term US elections to open a new front in foreign policy. Tehran also hopes that the Democrats, still committed to President Barack Obama’s legacy, would regain control of the US Senate, making it harder for Trump to pick up a fight with Tehran.