FP: Hassan Daioleslam welcome back to Frontpage Interview.
Daioleslam: I am delighted to be back.
FP: Last time we discussed the new calls for negotiating with the Iranian ayatollahs. You talked about the fact that negotiating with the Iranian government is really not new and it has been going on for the last three decades to no avail. So if we should not negotiate with the Mullahs and if as you have argued before, military action against Iran is a disastrous option, what course of action is left? What could the US do to curtail the Iranian nuclear ambitions and stop its drive to dominating the Middle East?
Daioleslam: Before suggesting a realistic and viable approach, we must first understand the situation in Iran. There are a range of suggested solutions there. Unfortunately, many of them are based on a very poor or wrong understanding of the state of the Iranian government. Probably the main reason for that is the sophisticated misinformation campaign of the Iranian lobby in the US. A clear example of such misinformation campaign is the war mongering boastings of Trita Parsi, the president of the Iranian lobby NIAC that suggests Iran is so powerful now that the US has to share the Middle East with them – as if Middle East is some one’s to give and some one’s to get. An accurate understanding of the internal state of affairs of the Iranian regime places numerous winning cards in the hand of international community to stop the Mullahs drive to expansionism and nuclear weapon.
FP: That is a good starting point. How is the situation in Iran? It seems Ahmadinejad has a good grip on the country.
Daioleslam:, The Iranian regime is experiencing its most difficult situation of the past thirty years. As some Iranian analysts are arguing, the regime is at a turning point that will eventually decide the fate of the Clerical rule. The governmental figures use words such as: “economic disintegration” , “political impasse” , “leadership crisis”, “unprecedented social unrests” , and “total corruption” to describe the conditions in the country.
FP: Could these words be just excessive rhetoric rather than the reality of the situation?
Daioleslam: Good question. Let me quote some of the Iranian politicians. Recently, there was a very interesting dialogue between two famous politician and analysts in Iran. Saeed Hadjarian was interviewed by Abbas Abdi. They are considered as the pillars of "reformist" faction. Let's read an excerpt of the dialogue:
A. Abdi: It has been a while that the people I encounter ask me about the future, they want to know what will happen. Apparently, for many, the future of the country is uncertain. Do the people ask you the same question?
Hadjarian: Yes. They have no clue about their tomorrow and feel insecure. The government can't control anything. There is actually anarchism in the country. The government is being disintegrated. It is like the end of the time. We have descended in the hell.
Another Iranian commentator, Ahmad Zeidabadi, compared the regime's difficulties to a “seven head dragon”.
Ibrahim Yazdi, the former foreign minister and one of the most experienced Iranian politicians went even further and recently talked about the regime's total impasse:
"I believe that the regime as a whole is going to a total impasse. There is something wrong that whatever they do, the situation gets worst. The Economic situation is worsening and Ahmadinejad is bringing the economic disintegration.
The situation is so bad that the regime should quickly opt for a historical and fundamental turn." http://www.roozonline.com/archives/2008/06/post_7802.php
FP: How does this situation affect the outcome of Iranian nuclear issue?
Daioleslam: There are two distinct views about the Iranian choices and the path it will eventually take. There are those who believe that the regime is in such a weak position that will finally surrender to the international pressure. Ibrahim Yazdi for example said:
"At the end of the war with Iraq, Iran was in such a bad position that finally accepted the UN resolution. We are in the same position now because the catastrophic political and economic situation will force the regime to surrender to internal exigencies in much worst conditions. Briefly, if we take into account the two experiences of war with Iraq and the US embassy hostage taking, we should be concerned that the regime would eventually surrender to the UN resolutions in such bad terms that the national interests would be jeopardized."
There is also another view which I personally believe will dominate. This point of view is that the regime cannot or should not retreat. Any retreat is like a breach in a dam and will only stop with the regime's total surrender. This is the dominant belief among the Iranian leadership. As Rafsanjani has recently declared: "if we retreat on this issue, we will allow our enemy to interfere with all the issues of our country."
FP: Wait a minute. We are seeing signs of flexibility from the Iranians on the nuclear impasse. Are you suggesting that these notions are baseless? It seems the deal that the West is offering Tehran is very sweet and hard to turn down.
Daioleslam: Let me explain this further. In order to understand the Iranian regime's dilemma, we should go back to 2002-2003 when the regime passed a fundamental turning point. The result was the emergence of the Revolutionary Guards as the dominant force in Iran, symbolized later by Ahmadinejad's ascendance to power.
That turning point is the root cause of the actual gloomy conditions in Iran and the mullahs’ incapacity to accommodate the demands of the international pressure. .
FP: The causal relation is not clear. Could you elaborate on this?
Daioleslam: I will try. Let’s start with a question. Why in 2005, did the Iranian leadership replace Mohammad Khatami, a smiling and internationally greeted president with a radical and repelling personality as Ahmadinejad? Note that in Iran, despite the masquerade of elections, presidents are selected rather than elected. It is naïve to believe that Ahmadinejad's triumph was the result of a popular democratic process. The 2005 elections were particularly rigged. For the first time in the three decade history of the Clerical rule, all the candidates (except the lucky winner) publicly talked about massive intervention of the Guards and organized cheating.
So, the question is why the Iranian regime underwent such a radical transformation. Why was there a need to unify the power under the Guards' control?
FP: Are you suggesting that Ahmadinejad was Tehran’s answer to a challenge?
Daioleslam: Exactly. In 2002- 2003, the Iranian clandestine nuclear program was uncovered and the regime was under immense pressure. At the same time, Iraq was invaded by the coalition forces and Tehran was faced with US massive presence. These two new elements were on top of the most important threat that regime was facing: the internal unrests and a growing social and political dissent movement.
To face these three challenges, regime had two choices: First choice was to come clean in nuclear dossier, get along with new regional geopolitics and finally liberalize the political atmosphere inside the country. We know that Tehran did not follow this path. The Ayatollahs opted for the second choice:
- Confronting the new regional order and using it as a stepping stone for their expansionism,
- Buying time to advance the nuclear program, and
- Crushing the social and political movements.
All three of these elements required means of implementing them: Mullahs' armed forces- The Pasdaran Army (Revolutionary Gaurds); Hence Ahmedinejad’s presidency. The current catastrophic economic, political and social conditions, international isolation and placing the whole region at the verge of a dangerous war, are all consequences of this strategic choice by Tehran.
FP: Are these conditions irreversible, or can the regime get out of this?
Daioleslam: Let's for the sake of argument imagine that tomorrow, the West gets tenfold more generous and even offers the whole Middle East on a tray to the Iranian regime. And then in return, requests that Iran abandon its nuclear program. Since the nuclear program has been largely under the Guards' control and because of the missile program directly related to the nuclear program, the first step in verification should have to be total access to the suspected Iranian military bases and weapon facilities controlled by the Guards. Tehran will undoubtedly refuse. In Iran the Revolutionary Guards are the dominant power players. They have operations in many Middle Eastern countries. They have strategic military build ups in Iraq, Lebonan and several other countries. They have direct and active partnerships with radical groups in the region. They have direct involvement with Iraqi government. Can they possibly open their doors to the Western observers and inspectors?
Furthermore, for the past five years, Iran with the help of their lobby machinery in the US, has played the role of victim, targeted and harassed by the Israel-US hawks. How can they afford to lose this card and become guilty of pursuing a secret and advanced nuclear weapon program?
If the scope of Iranian weapon program becomes visible, the Western public opinion will push for a Libya or North Korean scenario: to bring and end to their whole nuclear program. Iran will not genuinely agree to any meaningful inspection of their facilities.
FP: One could argue that the incentives are so high that the Iranian regime would accept all these consequences.
Daioleslam: In order to predict what kind of incentive would bring the Iranian to a negotiating table, we should first understand how much Iran has spent on their nuclear project. I mean political cost, economic cost and diplomatic cost. The nuclear program has been the single most important project in Iran for almost three decades. It has bled the oil rich country to poverty. What can the West pay Tehran for stopping a program that is so heavily invested in? For Ayatollahs, this project is a weapon of power projection in Islamic world and not a weapon of deterrence.
FP: What about giving Iran security guarantees in return of stopping the nuclear program?
Daioleslam: Iran's main threat comes from the Iranian people. What kind of international guarantee could reconcile the Iranians with their rulers? Iran's surrender to the international exigencies will weaken the regime against the Iranian people. A clerical rule, confined to its borders and under strict international inspection is a naked king before its subjects. More than anyone else, mullahs know that.
Remember the end of war with Iraq. Immediately after Iran was forced to accept the cease fire, a huge demand for social and political freedom grew in the country. Khomeini responded by massacre of political prisoners and then, to fill the vacuum of the war, he issued the infamous fatwa against Salman Rushdie. The repeat of this scenario would be almost impossible for the regime.
FP: Based on your argument, the Iranian regime on one hand is incapable of retreating from its nuclear aspirations and accommodating the international community. On the other hand Tehran is suffering from a catastrophic economic, social and political situation. What is the impact of this dilemma on the Iranian leadership?
Daioleslam: Confusion. Weakness. Chaos. The lack of authority in the government is so obvious that even if the West comes to Tehran for surrender, we would not know whom we should surrender to! Just a few days after the 5+1 proposal, there was a fight between different factions each claiming to have the final authority to respond to the proposal.
FP: Is this state of disorientation well perceived in the Western capitals?
Daioleslam: I believe that the decision makers are aware of the economic, social, political and the leadership crisis in Iran. Of course it does not prevent the Iranian lobby to stick to its traditional campaign of projecting a powerful and unified Iranian leadership. To give an example, let's go to the predictable CFR Iran expert, Ray Takeyh, a champion of distorting the Iranian reality. He recently wrote in Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/16/AR2008051603434.html
"Although Iran's theocratic regime is perennially divided against itself, it has sustained a remarkable consensus on the nuclear issue. In today's political climate, neither Western sanctions nor offers of incentives will fracture state unity."
Of course, newspaper reader in Iran sees that instead of this imaginary "unity", there is a disintegrated leadership.
FP: Is the crisis in leadership an additional hurdle for a hypothetical deal with Iran?
Daioleslam: Absolutely. Many in Iran compare the current situation in Iran to the last year of Iran’s war with Iraq in 1998. At that time, Iran was forced to accept the UN resolution “drank the cup of poison” as Ayatollah Khomeini described it. Now, Iran has to drink a more potent poison while the regime lacks Khomeini's authority to minimize the political and social consequences. The patient is weaker, the poison more fatal and no one in the Iranian leadership capable of drinking it!
FP: Mr. Daioleslam. I was hoping to be able to discuss the US options in dealing with Iran, but it seems we have run out of time now. We have covered a lot of much needed background. To conclude this set of interviews, you need to come back.
Daioleslam: I promise to be back and I thank you for the opportunity to share my views with your readers.