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    Middle East
     Oct 26, 2010


Sympathy for Iran spawns new world order
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

Iran and Venezuela stand continents apart. Yet as two leading members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries cartel with mixed economies and shared foreign policy orientations, and as leading betes noires of American hegemony, their growing interdependence reflects a strategic alliance that goes well beyond their bilateral relations and, in fact, is connected to their aspirations for a "new world order".

Thus, in his latest (ninth) trip to Tehran last week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez - in addition to signing a hefty nearly US$800 million investment in Iran's giant Pars Field gas sector, among 11 new economic agreements - gave timely support to his embattled Iranian counterpart.

Chavez's support for President Mahmud Ahmadinejad was

 

expressed not only in terms of assisting Iran's on-going battle against foreign-imposed economic isolation but also in the broader issue of seeking a post-hegemonic world order, based on horizontal relations and equality among nations, instead of the current ossified, hierarchical structure that allows Western powers to act as "kings of the world", to paraphrase Chavez in his Damascus visit that preceded a two-day stop in Tehran.

In today's post-cold war context of global politics evincing proofs of a descent to a unipolar world order dominated by the West, challengers of the status quo such as Iran and Venezuela represent "heroic societies" as torch bearers of an alternative global counter-system determined to resist the seductions of western hegemony.

Not surprisingly, some critics have targetted both countries, vilifying and stigmatizing them as "rogue states" and the like. The West meanwhile has shown a ruthless ability to stamp out resistance - for the most part while much of the world has sunk in the marshland of submission, apathy and pure cynicism born by powerlessness.

Coinciding with Chavez's Tehran visit has been a slew of anti-Iran reports in the Western media, ranging from a timely leak of secret information on Iraq pointing fingers at Iran's subversive activities, to allegations of Iran's bribery of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's chief of staff, Umar Daudzai, trumpeted by the New York Times.

Concerning the allegations, a Tehran editorial raised the legitimate question: "How is it possible that a diplomat who is alleged to pursue the objective of meddling in internal affairs of a country would do that in full view of others?" The editorial refers to the Times' claim that Daudzai once received a plastic bag full of Iranian payment "for influence", a charge flatly denied by Daudzai and Iran's ambassador to Kabul.

Some Tehran observers have wondered aloud if the New York Times story is part of the US's attempt to gain leverage over Karzai's government, which includes several members of the Islamic Party associated with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar - wanted by the US - as well as with the current activities of the Supreme Peace Council of Afghanistan, headed by a former president Burhanuddin Rabbani and which is nominally independent of both the government as well as foreign sources.

But the United States, after so much expenditure in Afghanistan in the past nine years, is averse to merely being a passive observer at the council's present efforts at peacemaking with the Taliban. Despite all the talk of a US troop drawdown by mid-next year, all signs are that the US military is busy at base-building as part of an indefinite stay - in a strategic location that puts the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces in closer proximity to both Iran and China, not to mention the energy hub of Caspian Sea in light of US's plans for realizing the TAPI pipeline (ie, Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) as an alternative to the IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India) pipeline, known as "peace pipeline".

Venezuela's timely investment
According to reports from Tehran and Caracas, Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA has agreed to buy a 10% share of investment in phase 12 of the South Pars, the giant oil and gas field that Iran shares with Qatar.

At a time of rapid disengagement by Western oil companies from Iran, the antidote of Venezuela's rather substantial investment in Iran may induce other countries, such as India, to set aside hesitation about ignoring Western sanctions and participate in Iran's energy sector; with respect to phase 12 of South Pars, in addition to an Angolan company, two Indian companies - so far held back by fears of a Western backlash - have expressed interest in joining.

Furthermore, Iran and Venezuela have signed an agreement for a joint oil shipping venture that, according to reports from Caracas, will enable Venezuela to "sell more than half a million barrels of oil to Europe and Asia".

While these do not make up for the decline of Western investment, they nonetheless count as important counter-steps, or rather "retaliatory measures" to paraphrase Tehran officials, vis-a-vis the Western sanctions.

According to Mahmoud Bahmani, the government has invested upwards of $75 billion in the energy projects and "the results will be witnessed during the next three or four years". Despite such upbeat news, there is a cloud of uncertainty regarding Iran's ability to maintain its oil exports at the current level (of up to 2.5 million barrels a day) in light of the sanctions; several giant oil fields are awaiting development due to lack of investment, and some experts have attributed the recent alarming increase of accidents at Iran's oil installations to a lack of adequate modernization of old equipment.

"Mention has not been made anywhere [in international documents] about banning the supply of fuel to other countries' airplanes," Iran's first Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi recently complained, referring to the news that Europeans are refusing to provide jet fuel for Iranian passenger airplanes, this while both US and Europe continue to hold the facade of "smart sanctions" that do not affect the Iranian people.

Even in Europe, not everyone is on the same page on the sanctions' effectiveness; case in point, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in an interview with a German newspaper last week, expressed his pessimism that sanctions can be effective, advising "more moderate" methods of dealing with Iran.

"Sanctions are the weapons of hegemons to weaken their challengers and in our case this is rationalized under the guise of a nuclear issue," says a Tehran political analyst. "This is why the nations that share our sentiment against hegemony refuse to cooperate with those instruments of [perpetuating] hegemony." In turn, this raises the question of what will be next in the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

New nuclear talks
So far, Tehran has not formally responded to a letter by the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, proposing a new round of negotiations with the "Iran Six" countries (Russia, the US, Great Britain, France, China and Germany) in mid-November. Tehran wants to clarify the subjects for negotiation before committing, and already the Iranian press is replete with references to Ahmadinejad's three preconditions: the issue of Israel's nukes, Iran's nuclear rights, and Iran's regional status.

Still, given Iran's continued desire to lower the pain of sanctions and to realize the objective of securing nuclear fuel for its Tehran reactor, the chances are that Tehran will give a delayed nod to a new round of nuclear talks despite its misgivings about the outcome. After all, in his final press conference in New York, Ahmadinejad stated that he had given the go ahead to Iranian officials to contact Ashton for a new round of negotiations. A preliminary meeting between Ashton and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, may be called for.

From Tehran's vantage point, its ability to solicit the sympathy of other nations, above all Turkey and Brazil, and enroll them as direct participants in what is undoubtedly an important vexing issue of international affairs today, is also wedded to its dream of a post-hegemonic world where a multiplicity of nations have an effective role in what Ahmadinejad constantly refers to as "global management".

Hence, whether or not Iran's script for nuclear talks succeed is a specific question that has suddenly acquired a new level of discursive significance, in terms of present efforts to "building ties to accelerate the birth of the new world of equilibrium and peace", to paraphrase Chavez.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . For his Wikipedia entry, click here. He is author of Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) and his latest book, Looking for rights at Harvard, is now available.

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(Oct 23, '10)

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