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US Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman smiles at the start of two days of closed-door nuclear talks at the UN offices in Geneva, Oct. 15, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Fabrice Coffrini)

Political Forces Opposing Better US-Iran Ties Get Busy

Author: Shahir ShahidSaless Posted October 30, 2013

As the meeting between Iran and P5+1 group on Nov. 7-8 in Geneva nears, political forces that oppose the thawing of US-Iran relations bustle with activity. The move in Iran began last week with the sudden outcrop of anti-American posters around Tehran. One of the images showed an Iranian negotiator facing an American negotiator who had a black attack dog by his side. These were promptly replaced by new banners reflecting Rouhani’s outlook for Iran: "We don't oppress and don't allow being oppressed.”

SummaryPrint As the next round of Geneva talks between Iran and the P5+1 nears, currents that oppose better US-Iran relations have become active but some signs of hope have also appeared.
Author Shahir ShahidSaless Posted October 30, 2013

Meanwhile, there will be a gathering inside the former US Embassy compound Nov. 2 under the banner of, “the great conference of 'down with USA.'” A controversial, ultra-conservative speaker, Hassan Abbasi, has been invited as the keynote speaker of this event. This groundswell of explosive opposition began after the official website of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, head of the Expediency Council, published a piece from his memoir depicting that Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s revolution leader, supported elimination of the slogan, “Death to America.”

Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of the hard-line daily Kayhan, published an article titled “No U-turn” in which he fiercely attacked Rafsanjani. He accused Rafsanjani of “distorting statements and guidelines [set out]” by Ayatollah Khomeini. Shariatmadari wrote that Rafsanjani’s publication of this memoir was timed, “to support justification for the telephone conversation between Rouhani and Obama, and that they hoped to eliminate the “Death to America” slogan from [our] political culture and belief system of the people.”

Elsewhere, an international contest called “Down With USA Great Award” has been organized. Participants are to submit essays, photographs, and videos in several anti-American categories including, “Why Death to America?” Tens of thousands of dollars are to be awarded to the winning submissions.

Noteworthy is that Tasnim News Agency, said to be affiliated with the IRGC, is one of the program’s sponsors. Does this mean that the IRGC seeks to sabotage the upcoming talks? Statements of Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami, Deputy Commander of the IRGC casts doubt on this view.

Last month in a live televised program, Salami sought to explain the concept of “heroic flexibility,” as set out by Ayatollah Khamenei. He said, “For instance, the right to peaceful nuclear energy is reserved for us and there is no flexibility in this respect. But any political flexibility as a tactic is acceptable. We don’t want to create an obstacle to resolving political problems.” This position may explain why the other, and more important, news agency affiliated with the IRGC, Fars News, does not reflect news of the gathering and the contest, nor does it attack Rouhani and his administration.

Oceans apart in the United States, similar activities are extant. It has been reported that AIPAC, the Israel lobby, sent a letter to American lawmakers last week, reminding them that Iran has no right to uranium enrichment. According to those reports, AIPAC’s letter reads, “The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) does not speak about the right of enrichment. Even if there were such a right, Iran's extensive decades-long violations of the NPT would have negated it.”

The problem with AIPAC’s argument, as with Netanyahu’s position directly from Israel’s government, is that Israel is not a signatory to the NPT, and acquired nuclear weapons without international scrutiny. Were it not for the 1986 revelations of Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear technician, the world might still be unaware of what took place at the Dimona facilities. Interestingly, Israel still has not admitted to possession of nuclear weapons. This position can be a major obstacle to the formation of a WMD free-zone in the Middle East.

Based on information disclosed by Vanunu in 1986, up until that time, experts estimated that Israel possessed between 100-200 nuclear weapons. Since then, the world is unaware of Israel’s progress in nuclear weapons production and capabilities.

It is now apparent that demanding suspension of Iran’s uranium enrichment program will prevent a diplomatic resolution to Iran’s nuclear crisis. Instead, solutions that guarantee maximum transparency should be sought. Still, some hawks insist on suspending enrichment as the only way forward. On Oct. 25, US Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post, asserting that the United States “should be prepared to suspend the implementation of new sanctions, but only if Iran suspends its enrichment activities.”

However, there are some signs of hope. On Oct. 23, the administration gave ts briefing to Congress behind the closed doors. Apparently, Wendy Sherman, the United States’ top nuclear negotiator with Iran, has successfully persuaded some influential hawks in the Congress to postpone new sanctions on Iran.

Among them is Rep. Eliot Engel, the ranking Foreign Affairs Committee member who traditionally supports toughening of sanctions on Iran. After the briefing, he said: “We all have the same goal. We don't want Iran to have a nuclear weapon. There are various ways you can get there. They laid out some of their thoughts and ideas on it, which I can't share with you, but I certainly do think it's worthwhile talking to the Iranians and seeing if this is real.”

Shahir ShahidSaless is a political analyst and freelance journalist, writing primarily about Iranian domestic and foreign affairs. He lives in Canada. Email him at shahir@iranamerica.org

Read More: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/10/relations-america-iran.html

Shahir ShahidSaless
Contributor, Iran Pulse

Shahir ShahidSaless is a political analyst and freelance journalist writing primarily about Iranian domestic and foreign affairs. He is also the co-author of “Iran and the United States: An Insider’s View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace,” published in May 2014.

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