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
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
"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
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.