Imperialists try to intensify pressure on Iran

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FRFI 174 August / September 2003

During a recent trip to Tehran, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw continued to ratchet up imperialist pressure on the Iranian regime, calling on it to agree by September to sign the ‘additional protocol’ demanded by the June meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This would give inspectors from the IAEA greater rights to conduct snap inspections of so-called suspect sites. Failure to meet this deadline would, according to Straw, jeopardise a European Union trade and co-operation agreement currently being negotiated. His visit came shortly after widespread student protests had taken place against the regime in Iran.

The student demonstrations had begun on 10 June at Tehran University in opposition to the privatisation of the university system but had quickly taken on an anti-regime character. The protests were militant, violently confronting the forces of the state, the police and Hezbollah (religious militia of the government) and spreading to at least eight other major cities. Slogans on the demonstrations included ‘Down with the Islamic Republic of Iran’, ‘Death to Khamenei’ (the main religious leader within Iran), ‘Death to Khatami’ (the reformist President) and ‘Death to Rafsanjani’ (the hard-line ex-president of Iran). All accounts of the protests point to the fact that many others joined the students on the streets. The Tehran Chief of Police told the media that of the 520 protesters arrested by 22 June, ‘only ten of them are students, the rest are ruffians’! Student leaders said though that more than half of those in custody were students, and 18 of them were women.

Support for the demonstrations also came from satellite TV stations based in Los Angeles in the US, run by Iranian exiles, primarily supporters of the Shah who fled Iran after the revolution of 1979. Los Angeles is home to the biggest Iranian community outside Iran and the base for TV stations broadcasting into Iran. Satellite dishes are illegal in Iran but this does not stop the rich middle class in Tehran from receiving the broadcasts. On 15 July, US General Paul Vallelly stated on the right-wing news channel Fox News that ‘We are trying to influence the protests with our satellite transmissions over there’ (emphasis added). He also said that Iran was a threat to US allies in the region, specifically Israel and Saudi Arabia. Blair and Bush have also expressed their support for the protests, the latter calling the demonstrations, ‘the beginning of the people expressing themselves towards a free Iran’.

The student protests represent a growing disillusionment with President Khatami, who was elected in 1997 on a platform of reforming the Islamic state and has always had a base of support in the universities. He used student protests in 1999 to strengthen his position, even though they were brutally suppressed by Hezbollah. This time one of the slogans has been ‘Protection or resignation – that is our final word’. For the students and their allies to take the movement forward in the interests of the mass of the Iranian people, the poor and oppressed, they will have to have a clear anti-imperialist position in opposition to the voices of the US exiles and their rich Tehran followers.

Iran’s nuclear programme
On 2 June, the imperialist G8 conference issued a statement that ‘we recognise that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery poses a threat to us all...Together with the spread of international terrorism, it is the pre-eminent threat to international security’. It added that ‘we will not ignore the proliferation implications of Iran’s advanced nuclear programme. We stress the full importance of Iran’s full compliance with its obligation under the Non Proliferation Treaty’ – that is, not to develop nuclear weapons.

The 1979 Islamic government inherited two partially-completed nuclear reactors at Bushehr supplied by Germany to the Shah regime as well as a nuclear research base. The power reactors were damaged severely in the 1980-88 war with Iraq but nuclear research continued, augmented by a new research centre in Tehran, under the supervision of the IAEA and the US, which supplied an extra nuclear reactor. In 1995, however, the Clinton administration imposed an absolute ban on trade with Iran to ‘prevent its support for terrorism and pursuing weapons of mass destruction’.

In 1997 newly-elected President Mohammed Khatami took steps to improve US-Iran relations. Subsequently, in early 2000, the US relaxed its sanctions, but not before it had demanded further reductions in the price of Iranian oil. Iran continued to try to improve relations with the US, for instance by supporting military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite this, some Washington officials have in the last two years accused Iran of supporting Al Qaida, ignoring the fact that, according to Yemeni president Ali Abdallah Salih, Iran has extradited six Al Qaida militants to Yemen.

IAEA Director General Mohamed El Baradei reported to the IAEA June meeting that ‘Iran has failed to meet its obligations under its safeguard agreement with respect to the reporting of nuclear material... The number of failures by Iran to report the nuclear material, facilities and activities in question in a timely manner as it is obliged to do...is a matter of concern’. In response the US, supported by Britain, Australia and Canada, pushed for a resolution that called for, ‘unconditional and comprehensive inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities by the IAEA’. When this failed to get a majority, the IAEA called on Iran to sign the ‘additional protocol’.

El Baradei has now met with President Khatami and other Iranian officials and agreed that senior IAEA experts would remain in Iran to discuss outstanding technical issues. However, in a move which has alarmed both the US and Israel, Iran recently tested a Shahab-3 missile. Its range of 810 miles would enable it to reach Tel Aviv. In a fit of imperialist hypocrisy, Blair and Sharon expressed their joint ‘concern’ at this development. The fact is that Israel has perhaps 200 nuclear warheads is well-known, together with missiles that can fire these warheads 1,500 miles – but the imperialists do not question the Zionists’ right to own such weapons of mass destruction.

The student demonstrations may have died down for the moment. But the Islamic regime is clearly incapable of meeting the demands of the students, and the imperialists will exploit this to put even more pressure on the Iranian government. However, given their problems in Iraq, they will be in no hurry to repeat such a military adventure.

Bob Shepherd & Louis BREHONY

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