Iran: divisions in the US ruling class

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The 19 July meeting of a senior US State Department official and European Union representative with Iranian government officials in Geneva is a significant development. Previously the US insisted that it would not engage in serious diplomatic relations with Iran until Iran ended its nuclear enrichment programme. The US also proposed opening an interests section in Tehran which would be the first US diplomatic presence in Iran since the 1979 US hostage crisis. Whatever these developments come to, they reflect a serious division within the US ruling class and the ascendancy of a faction opposed to the neo-conservatives and Vice President Cheney who have been leading the call for an attack on Iran. Germany’s government has led in efforts to start negotiations.

In 2007 a combined report of 16 US intelligence agencies said that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003. Key figures in the US military have cautioned against war on Iran. On 3 July the chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, said, ‘This is a very unstable part of the world, and I don’t need it to be more unstable.’ He warned against opening a ‘third front’ and called for ‘dialogue’ with Iran. The US military command is acutely aware that its forces are over-stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan. Democratic Party US presidential candidate Barack Obama expresses their views by calling for face-to-face meetings with Iran and pledging to transfer substantial numbers of US troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. US Defence Secretary Gates and Secretary of State Rice have led in seeking negotiations with Iran.

On 13 July The Sunday Times carried a report that President Bush had given approval for an Israeli bomb attack on Iran. In 1981 Israel bombed an Iraqi nuclear reactor; last year it bombed what it described as a nuclear facility in Syria, and at the end of this May it conducted a 100-fighter-bomber exercise over the eastern Mediterranean as a trial run for attacking Iran. Israel’s Transport Minister said, ‘If Iran continues with its programme for developing nuclear weapons, we will attack it’. Such an attack was becoming ‘unavoidable’, he added. In response Iran tested missiles on 8 and 9 July, including a missile with the range to hit Israel. Senior Iranian officials said that Iran would destroy Israel and 32 US military bases in the Middle East and close the Strait of Hormuz if it were attacked. 

The Strait of Hormuz, between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula, is a little over 21 miles wide at its narrowest point. Through it travels about 40% of the world’s oil supplies. If the Strait were closed, oil prices would soar way above their already high level with dire consequences for international capitalism. Iraq’s Shia-dominated puppet government has told the US that if Iran is attacked it will turn its Shia allies in Iraq against the US and any who remain loyal to it, thereby jeopardising plans for US military bases and multinational corporations’ control of Iraq’s oil reserves.

The struggle within the US ruling class and between US and European imperialism will continue. There is no certainty that war with Iran has been forestalled, but, for Israel, the prospect of attacking Iran looks like a big gamble, with powerful sections of the US state urging restraint. 

Trevor Rayne
FRFI 204 August / September 2008