Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday Redux

The United States is largely responsible for the distrust and antipathy Iranians feel towards America. The Geneva Deal formulated by the Obama Administration on November 25, 2013, is a promising first step in the effort to open up meaningful dialogue with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, and the possibility of a normalization of relations somewhere downstream. It would be a major mistake for the Republican Party to sabotage this effort for political gain.

Black Friday

America's retailers are again promoting "Black Friday," the go-crazy shopping day after Thanksgiving, when "fantastic deals" are being offered, and stores are hiring extra security personnel to manage the stampede of frantic shoppers pressing against the closed doors, waiting to burst through and snatch up the last X-Box One, Barbie Fashionista doll, or gigantic flat-screen TV they really can't afford, even if it is half price.

The Shah's Imperial Guard Shooting at Protesters, Black Friday, Tehran, Iran,
September 8, 1978
Thirty-five years ago another Black Friday occurred, one that made inexorable the overthrow of the Pahlavi monarchy in Iran and the ouster of the country's leader, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. This was the massacre of protesters in Tehran's Jaleh Square on September 8, 1978, by troops loyal to the Shah. The day was labeled "Black Friday" by the opposition, and the event radicalized further an already fervent opposition movement, making compromise with the regime, practically impossible.

I arrived in Tehran two months after Black Friday and experienced first hand the chaotic period leading up to the overthrow of the Shah, and the storming of the American Embassy the following year. I made it a point to learn about Iran's history before I went there, and continued to follow the country's troubled road to its current impasse with the U.S. after I left.

The Pahlavi Dynasty

The United States was a reliable backer of the Pahlavi dynasty, although during World War II, the US stood by when Great Britain and the USSR arrested the then Shah and sent him into exile. The three nations then took control of Iran's oil resources, secured a transportation corridor, and using Iran's resources, supplied the war effort. It was during this time that the Shah's son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was installed as the head of the rump state and told exactly what he could and could not do.
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Early 1950s
The United States agreed to grant Iran its independence at the end of WWII, although the USSR balked, delaying the withdrawal of its occupying forces until 1946, after trying and failing to create an autonomous state in the northern provinces of Iran.

Iran formed a parliamentary form of government and in 1944 the election of the Majlis (lower house of parliament) was the first genuine democratic process most Iranians could remember. Unfortunately for the Iranians, Britain and the US found Iran's oil too attractive to risk losing to what the CIA and the British Secret Intelligence Service ("MI6") perceived to be a looming communist movement in Tehran.

Operation Ajax

Just nine years after Iran began opening its state to opposition parties, the United States and Britain, through the machinations of their intelligence services, undertook to overthrow the government of Mohammad Mosaddeqh, elected prime minister in 1951. Britain owned and operated the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) and prevailed upon the US to help make sure things stayed the way they were, with the UK deciding how much Iran would earn from the use of its oil reserves, and the Shah deciding who, besides he and his family, would receive the millions of dollars flowing into the government's coffers.
Mohammad Mosaddeqh, 1952
In 1953, in an operation the CIA code named TPAJAX, or in some circles, Operation Ajax, Mosaddeqh was toppled, thrown in jail, and then after several years, placed under house arrest, where he died. The coup preserved the Shah's power and served to protect Western economic and security interests, including Western ownership of Iran's vast oil infrastructure. As Stephen Kinzer wrote, "It also transformed a turbulent constitutional monarchy into an absolutist kingship and induced a succession of unintended consequences at least as far ahead as the Islamic revolution of 1979."

Nuclear Cooperation Between the U.S. and Iran

During the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah, the United States supplied Iran with modern military weapon systems and even nuclear technology. Looking back, one can say that the foundation for Iran's current nuclear program was laid by the United States in 1957 under Dwight D. Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace program. The US even supplied Iran's Tehran Nuclear Research Center (TNRC) with a 5-megawatt nuclear reactor that was fueled by highly enriched uranium. The U.S. and Iran negotiated a nuclear cooperation agreement as late as 1975, approved by President Gerald Ford and signed by Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. In it, the U.S. explicitly permitted Iran to fabricate U.S. nuclear material into fuel for use in Iran's reactors and for pass through to third countries with which the U.S. had agreements. The Shah was open about his intent to build, with U.S. help, as many as 23 nuclear power stations by the year 2000. American nuclear architect-engineering companies were ecstatic.

Unfortunately, Humpty-Dumpty fell off the wall in 1979 and we haven't been able to bring all the pieces back together again. After initially eschewing nuclear development, Ayatollah Khomeini, who came to power after the revolution, changed his mind and agreed that the program should go forward. Iran sought help from Germany, and then Russia, which helped complete Bushehr, to date, Iran's only nuclear power reactor.

The Current State of Affairs

Various intelligence sources showed that Iran pursued not just a peaceful nuclear program, but a nuclear weapons development capability, as well, although a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate judged that Iran stopped work on nuclear weapon's development in 2003, but was  "keeping the door open" on restarting its nuclear weapons program.

It is clear from recent developments that Iran is more open now that at any time in the recent past to consider a permanent halt to any efforts to develop nuclear weapons. The Obama Administration has been working quietly for months to open a dialogue with Iran and seek a mutually agreeable path forward towards that end. The agreement, reached just a few days before Thanksgiving, provides Iran with about $7 billion in relief from international sanctions in exchange for curbs on uranium enrichment and other nuclear activity. All parties to the so-called "Geneva deal," pledged to work toward a final accord next year that would remove remaining suspicions in the West that Tehran is intent on building nuclear weapons.

 This opening with Iran is promising. However, Republicans in Congress, joined by some Democrats, are critical of the deal. They want to continue sanctions, and even impose new ones, which they argue are working. Republicans, heartened by Obama's vulnerability over the troubled roll-out of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), are quickly labeling the accord, "Obama's deal," and even before hearing the details, calling it "disgraceful," and an obvious attempt to distract the public from the ACA "debacle."

All this Republican hullabaloo is to be expected from a Republican Party that acts with a knee jerk negative spin to anything the current White House does. Nevertheless, in this particular case, it would be a shame if Republican intransigence managed to scuttle an agreement as critically important as this. That would truly be a BLACK FRIDAY spelt large.

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