Friday, December 03, 2004

The Daily Star - Business Articles - WTO votes on membership for Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran

The Daily Star - Business Articles - WTO votes on membership for Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran: "WTO votes on membership for Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran

By Agence France Presse (AFP)
Saturday, December 04, 2004
GENEVA: The World Trade Organization will vote for the first time at a meeting on Dec. 13 and 14 on requests by Iraq and Afghanistan to join the body as well as a repeated demand by Iran, a statement said on Friday.

The accession requests along with other issues such as a report into the latest round of trade negotiations, will be heard at the next General Council meeting of the 148 member states.

Iraq asked for full WTO membership in October, eight months after having been given observer status. Afghanistan, which also has observer status, applied to join the WTO in April 2003.

There had been speculation that some countries would only support Iraq's request for observership if Washington agreed to alter its stance on Iran."

The Daily Star - Opinion Articles - Iran's paradoxical yearning for America

The Daily Star - Opinion Articles - Iran's paradoxical yearning for America: "Iran's paradoxical yearning for America

By Karim Sadjadpour
Saturday, December 04, 2004
During World War II, Allied soldiers occupied Iran, using the country as a way station to transport supplies from the Persian Gulf to the Soviet Union. As opposed to Britain and Russia, who had a long history of meddling in Iranian affairs, it was Iran's first exposure to Americans. "They arrived in our country with a certain innocence," said the respected Iranian historian Kaveh Bayat, "and without any colonial pretenses."

The Americans' supply train would regularly pass through my father's ancestral village, Arak, then a scenic oasis of green gardens and fruit orchards. "Whenever we heard the train coming," my father once told me, "all the young boys in the village would run as fast as we could through the apple orchard to greet the passing Americans. They would smile and wave and throw us whatever gifts they happened to have - playing cards, chewing gum, Life Saver candies. For us they were like heroes from another world."

So much has changed since then. Iran's 1979 revolution did away with the pro-American, undemocratic regime of Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, bringing in its place the anti-American, undemocratic regime of the clerics. Relations between the United States and Iran have been officially non-existent since a group of radical students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran 25 years ago last month, taking over 50 Americans hostage for 444 days. Sixty years ago, Arak was a humble village known to American troops for its grapes; today Pentagon officials are honing in on it as an industrial city that is integral to Iran's worrisome nuclear program.

And yet few countries have a more paradoxical relationship than the U.S. and Iran. While the Iranian regime continues to be belligerently anti-American, the Iranian people are overtly pro-American. While the governments in Tehran and Washington appear to be strategic archrivals, in the words of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger: "[T]here are few nations in the world with which the United States has less reason to quarrel or more compatible interests than Iran."

Indeed, Iran has likely benefited more than any other country from U.S.-led regime changes in Afghanistan and Iraq, as both the Taliban and Saddam Hussein were the country's sworn enemies. But neither side seized the opportunity to build on this common ground, and today U.S.-Iran relations are as antagonistic as they have been in years.

For the U.S., Iran's nuclear ambitions, opposition to Israel, and support for extremist groups have become increasingly intolerable after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But Iran's long-standing opposition to relations with the U.S. is a bit more complex. To be sure, many of Iran's ruling elites came of age politically during the anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist agitations of the 1960's and 1970's, and still cling to that worldview. Although their revolutionary zeal may have waned over the years, they still tend to share the cynical outlook of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who likened the relationship between Iran and the U.S. to that "between a sheep and a wolf."

Ideological rigidity alone, however, does not explain Iran's often-gratuitous anti-Americanism. For others among Iran's political and military elite, the increased competition and liberalization that would likely result from an opening of ties with the U.S. represents a threat to their interests. From their perspective, Iran is now a closed party - their party - and the fewer who join in, the merrier. With America bogged down in Iraq and oil prices hitting record highs, regime hard-liners see little reason to compromise these days.

On the other hand, some influential Iranians - led by former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani - recognize that relations with the U.S. are inevitable, given Iran's need to re-integrate into the international community and face its economic deficiencies. Moreover, the Iranian people are overwhelmingly in favor of rapprochement.

As author Afshin Molavi wrote in his incisive travelogue "Persian Pilgrimages," today's Iranian youths are not revolutionary idealists, like those of three decades ago. Instead, they have concrete demands, like jobs and political and social freedom. They are desperate to enter the global community and rid themselves of a damaged international reputation.

Today's Iranian intellectuals have undergone a similar maturation process, dismissing the "utopianist" and "nativist" political ideals of their predecessors. Referring to Jalal Al-e Ahmad's 1962 book "Gharbzadegi" ("West-toxication"), which became one of the manifestos of the 1979 revolution, one secular intellectual in Tehran remarked to me: "Nobody reads Al-e Ahmad anymore. On the contrary, we long for interaction with the West. If it can bring us more economic opportunities, as well as social and political freedoms, let us be 'West-toxified.'"

Still, despite popular demand in Iran, and common strategic interests, it could be years before America and Iran sit down and make amends. After 25 years of living without each other, reconciliation will not come easy. When it does come, however, there is good reason to believe that Iranians will greet their long lost friends with the same warmth and exuberance that they did over 60 years ago in Arak.

Karim Sadjadpour is an analyst with the International Crisis Group. This commentary is published in collaboration with Project Syndicate"

Asia Times - Asia's most trusted news source for the Middle East

Asia Times - Asia's most trusted news source for the Middle East: "The Persian puzzle, or the CIA's?
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

TEHRAN - The Persian Puzzle is the name of a new book by Kenneth M Pollack, author of The Gathering Storm: The Case for Invasion of Iraq , widely regarded as a main justification for Iraq's illegal invasion last year. Pollack, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst now at the Brookings Institution, seeks to explore the roots of problems between Iran and the United States over the past quarter-century. In so doing, however, Pollack unfortunately proves incapable of breaking free from a CIA school of thought that, in addition to denigrating Iran's national character, consistently predicts the imminent demise of the Islamic regime in Iran.

Concerning the former, much like Graham Fuller, another former CIA analyst and author of The Center of Universe: The Geopolitics of Iran (Westview Press, 1991), Pollack indulges in criticizing Iranian emotionalism, xenophobia, exaggerated "self-importance", "considerable ignorance of many of its policymakers", etc, thus making a mockery of objective analysis bereft of such abstract generalization smacking of what the late Edward Said labeled "Orientalism".

According to Pollack, the "clock is ticking" for regime change in Iran, reminding us of the rosy predictions of another CIA analyst, Raul Grecht, who in the early and mid-1990s wrote articles, for instance in the influential Foreign Affairs, under the pseudonym Edward Shirley, about the "meltdown" of the Islamic Republic of Iran, so imminent that Grecht advised the US government against even bothering to locate any moderates in the Iranian system in order to enter into dialogue with them.

A decade or so later, it is of course a legitimate question to ask what is behind this persistent CIA knack for vilifying Iranian national character and taking the risk of going on record with respect to regime change, even though there are few, if any, visible signs of regime change in today's Iran. Is it because of an undeclared, subliminal CIA grudge harking back to the 1979 Islamic Revolution that caught the US government totally by surprise, notwithstanding the complaint of then US president Jimmy Carter that a few months prior to the revolution he was never told by the agency that Iran was in a pre-revolutionary stage? Or is it because the CIA has received so much flak recently over what Pollack in his new book refers to as "our 25-year experience misstating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction" that the likes of Pollack want to redeem the agency in the guise of former CIA analysts?

Clearly, even with their high-tech pool of information, no present or former CIA analyst, or for that matter anyone else, is capable of historical clairvoyance with respect to a future regime change in Iran. Certainly, one may cite the indicators of regime instability and its opposite for a "scientific" study of political trends inside Iran enhancing the potential for political transformation, but to leapfrog from such limited studies to the categorical, albeit metaphoric, conclusion that the "clock is ticking" - in other words, it is simply a matter of time - is to substitute teleology for empirical research.

Related, Pollack presents a skewed analysis of post-revolutionary state-building in Iran and simultaneously refers to the present regime as the "worst sponsor of terrorism" and also as an increasingly moderate regime that "has no history of reckless behavior". At times, Pollack appears undecided as to where the chips are falling regarding the evolution of the Iranian system, contradicting himself particularly when discussing the Iranian nuclear issue.

On the one hand, Pollack claims that Iran's possession of nuclear bombs will stimulate a back-to-the-past policy of "aggressive" foreign policy by Tehran aimed at undermining its neighbors, using past tense, and on the other, accusing Tehran of precisely such "aggressive" actions as terrorism and subversion, using present tense. As a result, the book leaves a confusing impression of the post-ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini political system in Iran, partly due to Pollack's failure to touch on important facets of Iran's foreign policy, such as Iran's role in regional conflict management.

A major flaw of the book is that it claims that the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) permits nuclear weaponization through "transparency", whereby all the fissile stages, save "loading the material" in a bomb, can be done under the watchful eyes of the NPT. This is, without doubt, a caricature of the NPT and its safeguard mechanisms, which Pollack may have been cognizant of had he devoted minimal attention to the intrusive Additional Protocol of the NPT, signed by Iran last December.

The biggest flaw of the book, however, is that it adds precious little to our knowledge of the subject matter. A fairly average summarizer of pre-existing approaches (eg, the grand bargain approach, which Pollack endorses by nuancing it), the book reads like a polished doctoral dissertation, and a mediocre one at that, one that insists Iran is to blame for most, if not all, of the problems in the current US-Iran quagmire, in part by psychologizing deep-seated, even structural conflict, and insisting that if only the Iranians could set aside their "emotionalism", then they could see the light of rapprochement with the US.

In an ideal world, authors explicitly espousing war and armed conflict would be chastised for contributing to "hate literature", and the likes of Pollack would at least not be treated as media celebrities as they are in the US today. But sadly we live in a unipolar Orwellian order where truth is a casualty of ideological warfare, espoused under the veneer of "clashing civilizations", and certainly ill-equipped to deconstruct the discourse of warmongers who use the considerable resources at their disposal to lay the groundwork of public diplomacy for America's next military gambit.

The Persian Puzzle is, in conclusion, highly recommended as a useful reading for the students of the CIA and the US government to decipher the riddle of a whole array of (former) CIA analysts sold to the historical determinism of regime change in Iran, as part and parcel of its perpetual demonization reaching its apex in George W Bush's "axis of evil".

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and "Iran's Foreign Policy Since 9/11", Brown's Journal of World Affairs, co-authored with former deputy foreign minister Abbas Maleki, No 2, 2003. He teaches political science at Tehran University.

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