Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Keeping the Bear at Bay

In a few days the Caspian Sea littoral states will hold a summit meeting in Tehran. This ‎can be an important event for us Iranians. So important that it should not be taken lightly. ‎Russia’s Vladimir Putin has accepted to come as a response to an eight-year invitation. ‎My question is what we are paying for this honorable visit. The specific proposal is that ‎Iranian representatives should not accept to sign any agreement because we are not in a ‎good position to make a good deal right now, while others are. This imbalance will not be ‎changed through propaganda in our favor either. Even if we overlook other historic ‎examples, we have tested our chances with the Bushehr nuclear power plant as well.‎

My question comes because during the past two yeas the administration of Mr. ‎Ahmadinejad has been very generous in foreign policy, as a way to provide propaganda ‎to his supporters. The examples are our relations with Egypt, the trip to the UAE, the ‎insistence on talks with the US, etc. Don’t take me wrong: there is nothing wrong with ‎any one of these issues per se. The problem is with our approach, which has been a lot of ‎hue and cry at home, but bending over abroad. This is far from being honorable and has ‎nothing to do with ideological differences. This way our national interests are not met ‎because the other side has read our cards and thus sells himself dearly.‎

So the question boils down to what is it that we want from Mr. Vladimir Putin, who ‎comes hesitantly and after such a long wait. The joy of our officials is not hidden from ‎his eyes. One can almost read the reports of the Russian embassy in Tehran to the ‎Kremlin concerning what Iran currently desperately needs. After all, this is the first trip ‎by the leader of a major country to Iran after 28 years since the 1979 Revolution.‎

Next week’s meeting will be the second of its kind, after the first one in 1981. During the ‎twenty two years since the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the independence of the ‎Central Asian republics, or at least for the past sixteen years, the Caspian Sea littoral ‎states have been haggling over the resources of the Caspian Sea, at times even ‎approaching military confrontation. The last time the states met, Iran was at the height of ‎its power during the last 30 years. But it was still not content with anything less than 13 ‎percent of the share of the total resources. They aimed at getting 20 percent, if they could ‎not get the 50 percent which they enjoyed ruing the days of the Soviet Union. But others ‎did not agree and everybody went home empty handed. Today, we are even weaker than ‎then, which is why I caution that Iran should not agree to anything.‎

Many changes have shaped this region since the last meeting, the most important being ‎the power consolidation on two powers across the Sea, i.e. Russia and Azerbaijan. If we ‎are honest with ourselves and not be driven by our the propaganda we ourselves have ‎created, we have become weaker because of the nuclear issue and the Security Council ‎resolutions against us, isolating us and making us less secure. This puts others in an ‎advantageous position to pressure us to give them concessions and a good deal. At the ‎least it encourages them to try. Of course the Islamic Republic has not been native to ‎allow others to eat it up. It will choke them if they tried. During the past two years when ‎the nuclear issue went to an unfriendly forum, Iran’s national Security Council succeeded ‎in is final efforts. One should not be unreasonable about the accomplishments in this ‎regard. Still, others do see themselves holding the upper hand in dealing with Iran. ‎Azerbaijan can be seen as minor, which it is. But by the same yardstick is Dubai minor as ‎well? What about Qatar which is buying up the majority of corporate stocks of Sweden? ‎But if Baku and Tabriz (I am purposely not saying Tehran) are supposed to rub shoulders, ‎it is clear that Tabriz will prevail. This however will not be the outcome with Russia. The ‎reason does lie in having an ethical or good government. It is simply because it has a ‎stronger hand in the power game. ‎

One of the lessons that history has taught us is about the role of the forum where the ‎negotiations are held and the decisions made. Regardless of whether its paws are of ‎velvet or cotton, a bear remains a bear and it must be kept at bay. ‎

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Portraying Defeat as Victory

Reformists and fair-minded people must not be concerned with how hardliner dailies Keyhan and Resalat covered the Columbia University debate [look at Keyhan’s Saturday and Resalat’s Thursday issues]. Keyhan’s Saturday issue, which is a special on Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip, is the worst blow to the administration and its supporters. Moreover, Keyhan’s audience is the common man, and as Goebbles says, the bigger the lie, the better.

We can start with the first line of Keyhan’s article. It states, “half a billion people watched Ahmadinejad’s speech live.” That is a lie, and with a little reflection the authors of the article can see that. The speech was not even broadcasted live in Iran, and the number of people who watched it live is one-hundredth of the claimed number, meaning about four and half million people.

Keyhan writes, “in a survey of Columbia University students, 77% supported Ahmadinejad’s arguments.” This is incorrect. Columbia University students were asked whether they supported Ahmadinejad delivering a speech at the university, not whether they supported the contents of his speech.

But the most interesting is the author’s conclusion: “the approach of the previous president and government in international discussions and foreign policy was a passive, conservative approach, even apologetic at times towards the West and the Islamic revolution’s struggle against the United States.” Again, a lie. The last government’s brave defense of Iran’s rights prompted the American Secretary of State at the time to apologize to Iran about his government’s role in the 1953 overthrow of Prime Minister Mossadegh.

The author writes, “actually, we have been more successful in using [Khatami’s] discourse and methods. First, we have not given any points to the West; secondly, we have protected our rights; thirdly, we have influenced the West’s public opinion positively; and finally, European and American officials are now more passive and disabled.”

There are four mistakes in that claim. First, we have given points to the West, but our points have been ignored and are useless. Secondly, we are losing our rights in an asymmetric battle because of our insistence on slogans and moot points. Thirdly, the world’s public opinion has been mobilized against us. Finally, Western and American statesmen are much more serious about dealing with Iran now.

One must not be surprised by the Keyhan author’s jabs at former President Khatami either. It is natural that when you want to portray a defeat as a major victory, you must dismiss anything that may undermine you. When you are begging to negotiate with the Great Satan, you must harshly attack those who support compromise. Otherwise, how can you chant, “Islam conquered the White House”?

Violence against critics and crackdown on newspapers and websites all take place in Iran in order to prevent truth from coming to the surface. No wonder the President’s office asked the public to pray in mosques rather than to appear at the airport for his arrival.