30th July 2017
Recent soundbites from Washington give cause for concern about the prospects for peaceful resolution of conflicts in the Middle East, says JANE GREEN
On May 21 Donald Trump, during his first international trip as President, delivered from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, what was billed as a “speech to the Muslim world.”
It was significant in itself that Trump had chosen the Saudi dictatorship as his first port of call overseas. It was still more significant that, in a speech that pitched the fight against terrorism as a struggle between good and evil, Trump should play to the Saudi gallery and cast Iran as the regional bad guy.
Trump started his tirade by saying: “Starving terrorists of their territory, their funding, and the false allure of their craven ideology, will be the basis for defeating them. But no discussion of stamping out this threat would be complete without mentioning the government that gives terrorists all three — safe harbour, financial backing and the social standing needed for recruitment. It is a regime that is responsible for so much instability in the region. I am speaking of course of Iran.”
He went on to condemn Iran’s role in supporting President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, though no mention of the illegal Nato intervention in that country was made. Nor did the Saudis’ support for Isis get a mention.
Instead Trump played the populist card, appealing to the needs of the Iranian people, saying: “The Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims are its own people. Iran has a rich history and culture, but the people of Iran have endured hardship and despair under their leaders’ reckless pursuit of conflict and terror.
“Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism, and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve.”
The sudden conversion of the US to a defender of the Iranian people will come as a surprise to solidarity organisations and human rights activists across the world.
The Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights (Codir), along with others, have been fighting a long battle to persuade Western leaders to condemn the human rights record of the Islamic Republic and to bring pressure to bear on the regime to allow free and independent trade union and political activity.
Trump is clearly shedding crocodile tears over the fate of the Iranian people. Even the 5+1 (China, France, Russia, UK, US plus Germany) nuclear deal — negotiated before Trump came to office — did not place any obligations on the Iranian government to clean up its human rights record.
The US president is on record as saying that the deal is too soft on Iran, therefore, any change he initiates is unlikely to improve the lot of the ordinary people of Iran.
Only three weeks after Trump’s Riyadh speech US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, when questioned at the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee, stated: “Well our Iranian policy is under development. It’s not yet been delivered to the president, but I would tell you that we certainly recognise Iran’s continued destabilising presence in the region, their financing of foreign fighters, their export of militia forces in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, their support for Hezbollah. And we are taking action to respond to Iran’s hegemony. Additional sanctions have been put in place against individuals and others.”
More alarmingly, Tillerson went on to explicitly call for regime change in Iran, indicating that the US would directly supporting such action: “Our policy towards Iran is to push back on this hegemony, contain their ability to develop, obviously, nuclear weapons and to work toward support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government. Those elements are there, certainly, as we know.”
Codir has vehemently opposed the Iranian theocratic regime for over 30 years. We have consistently opposed the imprisonment, torture and execution of political activists, women and trade unionists over that period. However, at no time have we ever suggested that the fate of Iran should be in the hands of anyone other than the Iranian people themselves.
Tillerson’s utterances potentially target Iran to become another Syria, with the West justifying intervention in support “democratic forces” to destabilise the regime.
There is no doubt that the Iranian regime is deeply unpopular among its people. President Hassan Rouhani is clinging to the hope that the 5+1 deal can be salvaged and a less onerous sanctions regime would help reboot the economy.
In Rouhani’s own propaganda the deal was sold as Iran’s continued opening to the West and necessary for the crippling economic sanctions to be lifted.
While there is opposition to the regime in Iran it is doubtful that it is the kind of opposition the US is likely to support.
It is not implausible to anticipate a scenario in which some manufactured “Free Iran Army” could emerge to become the conduit for Western funding and arms and attempt to bring down the present regime. The real opposition inside Iran would then find itself having to fight on two fronts. It may sound far-fetched but the so-called Free Syrian Army provides a template.
Whatever method is finally decided upon, the main objective of US policy is to weaken Iran as a political force in the Middle East, effectively bolstering the position of Saudi Arabia in the Muslim world and ensuring that the Saudis, along with Israel, remain the eyes and ears of the US in the region.
As Nato-led interventions in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Syria have shown, US policy has been a recipe for destabilisation, people’s misery and uncertainty in the region.
Neither the theocratic dictatorship of Iran, nor the Saudi regime, is acting in the interests of their own people or those of the wider region.
The US State Department has recently released a long-awaited “retrospective” volume of documents on the 1953 coup in Iran, which led to the overthrow of Iran’s prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddeq. These files confirms what Iranian democrats have known for decades — that the US and British intelligence services have form when it comes to interfering in the internal affairs of Iran. The recent statements of both the US president and the secretary of state indicate that history may be in danger of repeating itself.
Those fighting for peace, democracy and human rights inside Iran undoubtedly need our support. Through Codir and other international bodies we will continue to give that support. However, like the Iranian people, we must remain vigilant against outside interference and be prepared to support the real democratic opposition in Iran, not the opposition forces of Donald Trump’s choosing.