Iran-- A Little Bit Of Perspective From Reese Erlich
You may recall, that we've been looking at the U.S.-backed coup in Egypt as a replay of the tragic U.S. coup against popular Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq in 1953. Wednesday Rand Paul brought up an amendment recognizing that the military overthrow of Mohammed Morsi was a coup and that, legally, the U.S. had to stop sending aid until democracy is restored. Outrageously, Paul's amendment failed, overwhelmingly-- 86-13-- no Democrats joining Paul and the dozen Republicans who went along with him just a bunch of obstructionist crackpots who oppose anything that Obama backs.
A few hours later, the House passed Ed Royce's H.R. 850, piling more sanctions onto Iran, which had more to do with domestic saber-rattling than working towards a peaceful solution to a problem that began in 1953 when the CIA overthrew the government there. Disgracefully, the vote was a lopsided 400-20, the 20 being a handful of committed progressives like Barbara Lee, Raul Grijalva, Keith Ellison, Donna Edwards, Beto O'Rourke, Jim McDermott, Jim McGovern plus 3 anti-war Republicans. The National Iranian American Council issued this statement deploring the House vote:
The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) deplores the House of Representative’s passage of H.R.850, a broad new Iran sanctions bill.
"This does not send a message of good cop President and bad cop Congress, it projects an image of the bad cop running amok and the good cop having lost control," said NIAC President Trita Parsi. "This does not add leverage to the U.S. at the negotiating table, rather, it undermines negotiations."
Last month, the Iranian people defied the odds by electing Hassan Rouhani as their next President. Rouhani campaigned on “peace and reconciliation with the West” and improving Iran’s human rights situation, raising hopes for diplomatic progress.
“The Iranian people sent a clear message in recent elections that they support moderation over radicalism, but that message has fallen on deaf ears among House leadership,” said Jamal Abdi, NIAC Policy Director. "By forcing this vote before the U.S. has an opportunity to engage with Iran’s incoming government, the House risks squandering a major opportunity and only makes a nuclear deal more difficult to achieve.”
Many in Washington responded positively to the Iranian election. Last week, an unprecedented 131 House members signed a bipartisan letter led by Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) and Rep. David Price (D-NC) urging President Obama to reinvigorate diplomacy with Iran, while indicating that the President should put sanctions relief on the table in exchange for Iranian concessions on its nuclear program. 29 former policymakers, diplomats, military officials and experts called on President Obama to “reinvigorate diplomatic efforts” to resolve the nuclear standoff, including through “new bilateral and multilateral negotiations.
Unlike past sanctions bills, H.R.850 encountered stiff opposition from Members of Congress, former policymakers and experts. Sixteen Representatives signed a letter to House leadership raising their concerns with the timing of the vote and content of the bill, urging the bill be modified and delayed until new negotiations proceed.
“The support for new diplomacy with Iran within Congress is clear, even among many who ultimately voted for these new misguided sanctions,” said Parsi. “But as we saw with Iraq, sanctions are often the pathway to war and Congressional leadership must change course soon in order for diplomacy to succeed.”
"This bill has has not been adopted into law, it must pass the Senate first and there's no companion there yet," said Abdi. "There's a strong likelihood negotiations will proceed between the U.S. and Iran before that happens, but the House vote was nevertheless the wrong signal to send."
So we contacted our own expert on Iran, author Reese Erlich, to ask him to put this into some perspective for us. He had already told me before the vote that "right-wingers in Congress are trying to force an immediate vote on upping the sanctions on Iran. The US and Europe have already imposed extremely harsh sanctions on Iran, causing severe economic pain and serious problems for ordinary Iranians. The proposed vote comes on the eve of the inauguration of Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani. A congressional vote to increase sanctions prior to any discussions with the new moderate president will send a antagonistic signal to Tehran."
In this article for GlobalPost, Reese Erlich looked at the impact of sanctions on Iranians and why tougher sanctions haven't changed Iranian government policy.
The election of moderate presidential candidate Hassan Rouhani has raised hopes here of lifting the crippling US and western European sanctions against Iran.Last week Reese did another article for GlobalPost.com that plays into this mess and is important to understand: Algiers Accords bind US to non-interference in Iran-- and are always forgotten. "The US government loudly criticizes enemies such as Iran and Syria for violating international law," he wrote. "But when the US signs a legally binding international accord that guarantees non interference in Iran's internal affairs, the US feels free to ignore it." The Algiers Accords were signed in 1981 by the U.S. and Iran and are a legally binding agreement.
Rouhani has indicated he wants a settlement with the Obama administration-- but on Iran's terms. He and other Iranians argue that sanctions mainly hurt ordinary people.
In his first press conference after winning the election on June 15, Rouhani said, "We don’t want further tension. Both nations need to think more about the future and try to sit down and find solutions to past issues and rectify things."
...Sen. Lindsey Graham told a conference hosted by the Christians United for Israel this week that, “If nothing changes in Iran, come September, October, I will present a resolution that will authorize the use of military force to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.”
Despite the most crippling sanctions in the history of Iran, the government has shown no signs of changing position on its nuclear enrichment program — which it says does not include plans to build nuclear weapons. Government leaders appeal to the Shia tradition of resistance in efforts to rally the public against outside powers. They argue that the sanctions have backfired and actually generated solidarity among Iran's Shia allies.
"People in the Shia countries, and around the world, want the sanctions lifted," said Mohammad Sadegh Janansefat, a prominent economist and editor of Industry and Development magazine. "The sanctions aren't working. The Islamic Republic isn't giving in."
The US and some western European countries have imposed a series of increasingly stringent economic sanctions in an effort to stop Iran from enriching uranium and building nuclear weapons. US intelligence agencies admit that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, but they fear its current nuclear enrichment facilities could generate bomb-grade fuel at some time in the future.
Officially, US sanctions target Iranian leaders and key industries, not ordinary people. US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman told the US Senate, "US regulations contain an explicit exception from sanctions for transactions for the sale of agricultural commodities, food, medicine, or medical devices…."
She went on to say, "We have demonstrated that supporting the Iranian people and pressuring the policies of their government are not mutually exclusive."
That's not how Iranians see it.
Every weekday many dozens of people wait in long lines at the 13th of Aban, a government-run pharmacy that is their last stop to find drugs in short supply. One man unable to fill his prescription shouts angrily as he stomps out.
"A lot of people are angry when they can't get their medicine," Yusuf Abadi noted. He was waiting to get a chemotherapy drug and asked that his real name not be used.
Tahereh Karimi, a woman standing in the same line, knows that officially, pharmaceuticals are excluded from the sanctions. But, she said, the US government puts the squeeze on ordinary people in hopes they will pressure the government.
"The US knows what it is doing," Karimi said. "Tell Obama not to hurt ordinary people."
Since the US imposed stringent sanctions 18 months ago, the Iranian economy has been in free fall. Oil revenues dropped by 50 percent, the local currency lost as much as 2/3 of its value, and inflation hit 40 percent. The drop in the rial's purchasing power makes importing foreign drugs and medical devices particularly expensive.
In addition, the US has threatened international banks with severe penalties if they break the sanctions. So while banks are supposed allow fund transfers for medicine and medical devices, many find it easier to ban Iranian transactions altogether.
...In numerous interviews ordinary Iranians couldn't understand the logic of the US position on Iran. State Department official Sherman said, for example, "We will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, and there should be no doubt that the United States will use all elements of American power to achieve that objective."
Since Iran has no nuclear weapons program, asks newspaper reporter Nasser Mardhoukhi, "why pick on us?"
Like many Iranians, Mardhoukhi uses religious rhetoric to explain his views. "Imam Hussein inspires us," said Mardhoukhi. "He fought the evil doers and we fight the evil doers today."
Imam Hussein ibn Ali is one of the most revered figures in Shia Islam. The 7th century political and religious leader refused to accept the rule of another dynasty. He was killed resisting outside oppressors during the famous Battle of Karbala.
Shias cite the bravery and martyrdom of Imam Hussein as a model for fighting oppressors today. Shias commemorate his death each year with the Ashura holiday, where Shia men flagellate themselves to show self-sacrifice.
"We have to fight the invaders," said Mardoukhi. "Sanctions are a form of warfare. The sanctions make people miserable."
Mardoukhi and others stress that opposing sanctions is a political, not a religious issue. But their religion inspires them to resist US pressure, he said. He conceded that, at least in the short run, sanctions are likely to continue.
Iranians views of their nuclear power program differs sharply from perceptions in Washington, said Etemaad newspaper owner and general manager Elyas Hazrati. He noted that Iran has never invaded another country in modern history.
The US is hypocritical for allowing Israel to have some 200 nuclear weapons while punishing Iran that has none, he said.
"Ayatollah Khamenei issued a fatwa [religious decree] prohibiting making a nuclear weapon," said Hazrati. "We would never do something that is haram [forbidden]."
Hassan Rouhani spoke about the Algiers Accords in his first press conference as president elect, a reference that might puzzle most Americans. The Accords are a legally binding agreement quite famous in Iran and virtually unknown in the US.Reese is currently writing his fifth book, Syria's Uprising: Assad, the Rebels and U.S. Policy. We'll have more on that as the publication date gets closer.
In 1979 Iranian militants overran the US Embassy in Tehran and seized diplomatic hostages. As part of the hostage release in 1981, the US government negotiated with Iranian officials in Algiers, Algeria, and jointly issued the Accords in January 1981.
The Accords call for lifting US sanctions against Iran, returning seized Iranian government property being held by the US, and prohibited the hostages from suing Iran for damages.
The US also pledged that "it is now and will be the policy of the United States not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran's internal affairs."
That declaration of non-interference includes sanctions. US courts have consistently upheld the legality of the Algiers Accords.
Former hostages tried to sue the Iranian government in US courts, but the State Department intervened in the case, arguing such payments were prohibited under the Accords. A federal appeals court upheld the State Department position. The US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the case.
So the Algiers Accords remain a judicially recognized international agreement upheld by the US government. Republican and Democratic administrations have taken the same position over the years regarding compensation for hostages.
Successive US governments have also ignored the provisions regarding non-intervention.