After weeks of deliberations, the Islamic Republic has finally given its official response to President Trump’s May 8 withdrawal from the nuclear accord and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s May 21 announcement on American strategy toward Iran.
On June 21, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif published a 3707-word policy statement with an additional 90 endnotes. The statement was widely re-published not only on various official sites but also in many hardline publications. All appearances seem to indicate that the statement is not solely the view of Zarif, but rather that of the regime. In the Islamic Republic’s power structure, foreign policy is made by the Supreme Leader; however, he does so after reaching a consensus among various factions. Top IRGC commanders, for example, seem to have far more say on foreign policy than Zarif.
What do the text of the policy statement and the political context of Iranian politics tell us?
(1) The ultra-anti-American statement was delivered by Zarif who, based on his statements, appears to be one of the least anti-American Iranian official. This alone is hugely significant. An ultra-hardline statement delivered by Khamenei may point to several (contradictory) interpretations. For example, although Khamenei was secretly behind the nuclear negotiations, in his public statements he viciously attacked the U.S. and President Barack Obama both before and after the nuclear deal. Khamenei was playing the bad cop, so that the good cop (Zarif) would get concessions and cooperation from the Americans. The fact that the extremely anti-American policy was delivered by Zarif signals to both domestic and foreign audiences that all the factions are united in hardline confrontation with the U.S.
(2) Tehran is unlikely to enter negotiations with the Trump administration, although there are rumors that the regime has been secretly negotiating with Trump administration officials. Zarif’s policy statement is tantamount to a death knell for any negotiation, secret or otherwise. The statement is laden with insults to Trump and Pompeo. It calls Pompeo’s May 21 statement “a delusional US approach to our region,” describes Trump’s decision about Iran as “Impulsive and illogical,” and charges that “ mostly illegitimate financial interests have been the main basis for the formulation of mind-bogglingly ill-conceived US policy positions.”
(3) At the outset, the policy seems to have as its primary objective an appeal to Americans; particularly those politicians, journalists, opinion makers who oppose Trump. It begins by pointing to Trump withdrawing from Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Accord and putting in jeopardy NAFTA as well as undermining the rules-based international order. However, the middle part of the statement says: “In fact, the truth is that all US administrations in the past 70 years should be held accountable for their disregard for international law, and their violations of bilateral and multilateral agreements with Iran.”
If the intension of the regime’s policy is to split Americans into pro-Trump and anti-Trump, then the policy statement shoots itself in the foot by attacking all American presidents in the past 70 years. If the regime wants to also appeal to Europeans, then mentioning of international law and agreements by the fundamentalist regime is truly bizarre, as Tehran has committed the worst violations of international law during the past 70 years, including taking American diplomats hostage for 444 days in 1979, as well as attacking the British Embassy and Saudi Arabia’s embassy and consulate in recent years.
(4) The statement includes 15 demands from the U.S. government. Some of these are also truly bizarre.
For example, in demand number 9: “The US government should cease policies and behavior that have led to the creation of the vicious DAESH (ISIS) terrorist group,” the statement is echoing the conspiracy theory of Ayatollah Khamenei that the Obama administration created ISIS to undermine Iran and the Shia as well as to give Islam a bad name.
On the other hand, the Tehran regime itself can be considered a terrorist regime. It has created groups such as the Lebanese Hezbollah which are on terrorist watch-lists and has had covert relations with both al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Demand number 4 states: “The US government should openly acknowledge its unwarranted and unlawful actions against the people of Iran over the past decades, including the following: take remedial measures to compensate the people of Iran for the damages incurred and provide verifiable assurances that it will cease and desist from such illegal measures and refrain from ever repeating them:
a. Its role in the 1953 coup that led to the overthrow of Iran’s lawful and democratically-elected government and the subsequent 25 years of dictatorship in Iran…
c. Direct military aggression against Iran in April 1980, which was a blatant violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iran; …
d. The shooting down of an Iran Air passenger plane by the USS Vincennes in July 1988—a flagrant crime…”
First, it is a fact that religious groups and clerics were involved in the coup that overthrew Mossadegh. Ayatollah Abolqassem Kashani, Ayatollah Mohammad Behbahani, and Hojatolislam Mohammad Taqi Falsafi played major roles during the coup as did the fundamentalist group Fadaian Islam.
In June 1981, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini condemned Mossadegh as apostate. Khomeini said: Mossadegh “was not a Muslim. …He was slapped in the face. And if he [Mossadegh] remained in power, he would have slapped Islam.”
Meanwhile it was the hardline Fadaian Islam that made an assassination attempt on the life of Mossadegh’s foreign minister Dr. Hossein Fatemi.
It is the height of hypocrisy to condemn the U.S. for its role in the coup against Mossadegh in 1953, while remaining silent on the role of clerics and the continuing oppression of Mossadegh’s party in present-day Iran.
Second, what the statement refers to as the April 1980 military aggression is in fact a failed hostage rescue mission. President Jimmy Carter had sent a small force to rescue the American hostages. In fact, the invasion and occupation of the U.S. embassy in Tehran was an aggression on what international law regards American soil. In the view of foreign minister Zarif, the fundamentalists have the right to invade and occupy the American embassy, take its diplomats hostage, but the U.S. does not have the right to rescue them.
Third, the shooting down of the civilian passenger plane was a tragic mistake and not a crime. In a recent interview, retired Gen. Shahram Rostami, a former Iranian Air Force oficer admitted that minutes before the civilian plane were to leave, a military jet fighter was on the runway and in conversation with the tower got permission to fly, but due to a mechanical problem the flight was cancelled by hand signal. Then, the civilian plane took off within minutes. The Americans who were probably listening to the conversation between the tower and the fighter pilot mistook the civilian plane for the warplane. Moreover, the civilian pilot did not respond to the communications from the American Navy ship.
Secretary Pompeo’s strategy regarding the Islamic Republic basically demanded the regime to stop its terrorist policies and behave in a normal manner like the other 190 or so governments around the world. The regime had a number of options. For example, it could have done what North Korea has done: sit down and negotiate. The regime has chosen the path of confrontation. Rather than responding to Pompeo’s legitimate demands, the Zarif statement engages in bizarre, false, and hypocritical mudslinging and throwing insults.
Iran is a nation deeply divided and at war with itself. A small group of fundamentalists have been oppressing and brutalizing the majority of the population. Ayatollah Khamenei is taking Iran to a bloody confrontation with the U.S. history will judge Zarif statement harshly.