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Iranian talks: American pragmatism at work

Claudio Gallo is a journalist, currently working as a Culture editor at La Stampa, where he also was foreign desk editor and London correspondent. His main interest is Middle East politics.

Published time: May 05, 2014 13:11
A general view of a meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (centre L) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (centre R) in Vienna April 9, 2014 (Reuters / Heinz-Peter Bader)

The current nuclear talks between Iran and the so called 5+1 (the UN Security Council Countries plus Germany), is clearly not only a technical problem, it is actually a plain political negotiation with many layers of meaning.

Now the Crimea is casting a thick shadow on the cohesion of 5+1: Russia may be no more eager to align itself with the majority, while China is already playing the traditional game of the guy who pushes the brake, with a lot of socializing moderation.

But if you consider just the Western powers (USA, United Kingdom, France), it appears that their real basic goal is to humiliate Tehran. Not to humiliate it for a kind of metaphysical hate, as Iranian hawks are inclined to think in an ironic revival of the ancient Persian dualism between good and evil. The West (say America, the others are only pompous background actors) aims at the symbolic annihilation of Iran as a price to pay to become a tolerated province of the Empire in an unpredictable future, a true Hegelian Aufhebung.

They want Tehran to surrender under demonstrably unfavourable conditions, as the Roman soldiers at Caudine Forks were compelled to do by their Samnite enemies in 321 BC. This might be the scheme that underlies the acts of the West, an open scheme indeed: if this confrontation brings a regime change instead of peace with the Ayatollah, it's the best for everyone.

Inside this framework, Washington is moving with the usual pragmatism, also because Obama has to cope with the incredible power of the Israeli lobby (and, although much less, the Saudi one) over the US Congress. Israel’s scheme is very similar to the one of the Iranian hawks, which is completely dualistic, in which there's no dialectical third stage: it's us or them, no other choice is possible.

The sanctions’ cage is so widespread and powerful that even though Tehran is complying with the current six month agreement signed on November 24, it can hardly eat its cake, as the IAEA (the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency) has confirmed. Most Western banks and firms are refusing to work with Tehran in a so limited temporary window, fearing to fall into the hellish sanctions’ net. To European companies, who had solid ties with Iran in the past, it is also a main obstacle.

In this circumstance, you can see the American pragmatism at work. US politics has always had a double standard: we act in the interest of humanity because God gave us this mission, but they are actually in the pursuit of their own material interests as every State does.

The last temporary agreement is opening a door through to the huge Iranian market, usually dominated by European companies. But while playing the long chess game with the Ayatollah’s regime in the name of “all the civilized world”, Washington is promoting, in its own name, American companies. France, traditionally had a huge stake in the Iranian automotive market, is not happy at all. During the 5+1 negotiations, Paris acted as the “bad cop” giving a say to the Israeli and Saudi extreme positions, pretending to have a political role still. This move only resulted in delaying the agreement and created enmity with Tehran.

Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran (AFP Photo)

Since June 3, 2013, US Executive Order Act 13645 has banned the exporting of products and services to the Iranian automotive industry. The final target of this sanction was the Revolutionary Guards who supposedly had some interests in that sector, European companies were the most stricken. At the same time, General Motors has been preparing to enter the Iranian market. In the last few months, GM’s advertisement “We are back” was on the front pages of Iranian newspapers. So it seems that the sanctions are producing a kind of protectionism like a collateral benefit, that is in favor of US companies to eliminate foreign competitors from a potential new and rich market, The US Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen made it very clear by saying that the Iranian market is not open, and that foreign banks had to choose between Iran and the US market.

Michel Makinsky, a French scholar, and Iran expert at the Poitiers School of Business, is sure that “Obama is to ‘purge’ the Iranian market from any foreign competition”. He quotes two evidences. Last year, the powerful lobby United Against Nuclear Iran issued a summons to Renault to retire from Iran if the company wanted to escape the new sanctions. “At the same time,” Makinsky says, “we know that Iranian industries were contacted by General Motors to start a new collaboration, in consideration of a possible future opening in the market”.

While the commercial war between allies goes on in the shadows, a big French delegation has been to Tehran in the last few weeks despite the fact that some French managers had been “invited” to the US Embassy to be advised about the danger of these commercial activities. An annoyed Secretary of State John Kerry told the former French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius that those who travelled to Tehran were “inappropriate”.

During this "everlasting moment" of economic crisis in which the West is trapped, the virtual Iranian market may be important. The new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani received a mandate from the Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei’s to talk to Washington in order to avoid the ruin of the Iranian economy stifled by sanctions. So Tehran is having nuclear negotiations and slowly privatizing its public economy. Europe must take advantage of this moment, and try to pretend to be a true union, free from the suffocating American protection. But all the “candid” European politicians have to know that President Rouhani did not receive the mandate to democratize society. Iran remains an authoritarian theocratic regime, post-communist China as its model at most. But who actually cares that China is not a democracy?

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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