Akbar Ganji / Al Jazeera America – 2014-01-12 22:35:16
(January 10, 2014) — “If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so,” warned National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan on Wednesday.
“Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.”
Meehan was referring to a new package of sanctions on Iran that has already won the backing of 54 senators. And the accuracy of her warning is certainly borne out by developments in Tehran, where the power struggle between President Hassan Rouhani and his hard-line rivals is escalating.
Rouhani was elected last June on promises that included diplomatic steps to reverse Iran’s international isolation and the release of the leaders of the Green Movement, which had campaigned against then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the disputed election of 2009, and whose supporters and leaders had been the targets of harsh and sustained repression ever since. Hundreds have been jailed, many tortured and dozens killed.
Reports from Iran indicate that the president has asked Adm. Ali Shamkhani, the moderate secretary-general of the Supreme National Security Council, to find a way to end the house arrest of three key Green Movement leaders: former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, former speaker of the parliament Mehdi Karroubi and Mousavi’s wife, Zahra Rahnavard, a university professor.
But Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his conservative allies are concerned that the release of Green Movement prisoners will be interpreted by their supporters and opponents as a defeat. Khamenei used the word fetneh (sedition) to describe the movement, claiming it had been engineered by the United States and Israel.
Ultraconservative Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, secretary-general of the powerful Guardian Council, even claimed he has documents proving that the movement was funded by Saudi Arabia and the US — although he demurred when Karroubi challenged him to produce the documents.
Javad Karimi Ghoddosi, a former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and member of the national security and foreign policy committee of the majlis (parliament), claimed the “sedition” was led by “a certain foreign center that we do not know where it is.”
He added that he believes this unknown center directs former Presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, as well as Mousavi and Karroubi. The majlis published a 700-page report in which it claimed, “The seditionists had asked the NATO alliance to attack Iran, if called upon.”
So while Khamenei and his more hard-line supporters want Rouhani to resolve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program through negotiations with the US and improve the economy, they have no intention of retreating on the Green Movement’s leaders. Khamenei’s website has declared that their “sin” is “unforgivable.”
Moreover, those among the hard-liners whose business interests have benefited from sanctions that preclude open commerce with much of the world economy have an additional interest in preventing normalization of ties with the West.
Warnings and Threats
As a result, not only have the conservatives been viciously attacking Mousavi and Karroubi, they have also begun attacking the Rouhani administration.
On Dec. 29, Khamenei ally Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda claimed the US and Britain “wanted to turn the failed movement into an opposition” and have dispatched the “murderous takfiris (Salafi Sunnis)” to turn Iran into “another Syria.”
Despite this, said Alamolhoda, “the Rouhani administration uses the same seditionists in his government who are either tired of the revolution or do not recognize the nezaam (the Islamic Republic’s political system),” adding that “130 days after the new government took office, a part of the executive branch is controlled by the seditionists, or those who were silent about the sedition.”
Some of the conservatives are clearly trying to delegitimize Rouhani’s outreach to the West and efforts to ease the repression on Green Movement supporters by labeling those moves part of a foreign-backed agenda to destroy Iran’s system of government.
In an interview, Lt. Brig. Gen. Yadollah Javani, a hard-line IRGC commander, threatened to confront any effort by the Rouhani administration to deviate from Iran’s revolutionary path or to secularize the government.
Such warnings and threats have become increasingly commonplace, not only through the Iranian media but also in the majles.
On Dec. 30, Brig. Gen. Masoud Jazaeri, a deputy chief of staff of the armed forces, implied that Rouhani’s administration had appointed Green Movement supporters to key positions, likening this to allowing “coup leaders” to govern.
Former Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi expanded the attack, harshly criticizing the Geneva accord between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany), claiming that Western powers have cheated on Iran and its nuclear rights, and that “there are several points in the accord that are truly shocking.”
He warned that Iran will gradually lose all its centrifuges because the deal denies it the right to repair and replace existing ones, saying, “50 to 60 of them explode every day.”
A hundred majles deputies have introduced an urgent piece of legislation that would force the government to enrich uranium at 60 percent “if the P5+1 approves new sanctions against Iran and tries to deny Iran its fundamental nuclear rights.” Reports indicate that the number of co-sponsors of the legislation may reach 200 of the 290 deputies.
Those attacking Rouhani want to send a message to their supporters and opponents that his election won’t change Iran because the elected government remains subordinate to the nezaam, led by Khamenei.
They want to maintain pressure on the administration to block the release of Green Movement leaders and any meaningful reform. Indeed, the hard-liners want Rouhani to address the economic crisis even while keeping corrupt and incompetent officials in place.
Attacking the Iranian president also serves to muddy the waters as the scale of economic damage and corruption under the previous Ahmadinejad administration begins to emerge.
The agreement with the P5+1 has become a major target of this conservative domestic agenda, curiously mirroring similar critiques by US hawks. Rouhani’s administration is accused of making too many concessions to the P5+1 without receiving anything in return.
As evidence, critics cite remarks by President Barack Obama, chief US negotiator Wendy Sherman and Treasury official David S. Cohen on the Geneva accord. Often quoted, for example, is Cohen’s testimony before the Senate on Dec. 12, in which he said Iran had been granted only “limited, temporary and reversible relief” from sanctions.
Despite the regime’s interest in easing economic pressure, many of its core conservative supporters — like hawks in Washington, Israel and Saudi Arabia — oppose a broader rapprochement between Tehran and Washington. Fear of the consequences of a US-Iran thaw drives many to adopt positions that undermine prospects for success of the nuclear agreement.
And the hawkish pressure on each side of the equation has the effect, intended or not, of reinforcing it on the other side. That may be why the Obama administration appears to be turning up the heat in Washington, warning that escalation of sanctions at this stage could scuttle the diplomatic process, raising the danger of war.
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