Iran Review Exclusive Interview with Arshin Adib-Moghaddam
By: Firouzeh Mirrazavi
Arshin Adib-Moghaddam is Reader in Comparative Politics and International Relations at SOAS, University of London and Chair of the Centre for Iranian Studies at the London Middle East Institute. Educated at the Universities of Hamburg, American (Washington DC) and Cambridge, where he received his MPhil and PhD as a multiple scholarship student, he was the first Jarvis Doctorow Fellow in International Relations and Peace Studies at St. Edmund Hall and the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford.
As a critic, writer and scholar, Adib-Moghaddam is best known for his work on Iran, relations between the west and the Muslim world and the international politics of West Asia and North Africa. As a public intellectual, he writes on contemporary politics and culture and his commentary and interviews have been published by leading outlets including Al-Jazeera, CNN, The Daily Star (Beirut), The Guardian, The Independent, Mehr News Agency (Iran), Outlook Magazine (India) and opendemocracy. Adib-Moghaddam has lectured globally on topics ranging from Iranian and Islamic politics, Islamophobia, critical and postcolonial theory and the myth of a clash of civilisations.
Arshin Adib-Moghaddam took part in an interview with Iran Review to discuss his viewpoints regarding the recent agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, US Congress efforts to escalate unilateral sanctions against Iran and the future of relations between Iran and the United States and Europe. What follows is the text of Iran Review’s interview with Arshin Adib-Moghaddam.
Q: Iran and the P5+1 group have reached an agreement on the date for starting the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action, and the plan entered into force as of January 20, 2014. Following this development, the US Congress has stopped efforts aimed to escalate unilateral sanctions against Iran. What goal did the new Congress bill for the escalation of sanctions against Iran was pursuing and what developments have forced its proponents to withdraw from their previous position? Do you think that the US senators will finally give the go-ahead to the imposition of new sanctions against Iran?
A: When it comes to contentious international issues such as Iran or Palestine for that matter, an influential section of the US Congress does not act in independence of Israeli interests. That must be the starting point of the analysis. While there is no inevitability about that dependency, i.e. the US Congress does not automatically yield to the demands of pro-Israeli lobbying organizations, the linkages are salient enough to have an impact on US foreign policies. In the case of Iran, AIPAC and other lobbying groups have been at the forefront of an aggressive campaign to escalate sanctions against Iran and it is well known that they have access to enough congressmen to influence the foreign policy of the government. In this sense they are a part of a “deep state within the US state” which does not necessarily act in accordance with US national interest, but the interest of Israel. This is my disagreement with the Chomskyan analysis of the relationship between Israel and the United States. Chomsky sees Israel as the Trojan Horse of US strategic interests in West Asia and North Africa. For me Israel is a liability to those preferences, a hurdle rather than a facilitator. The Obama administration has to balance the various poles of America’s power structures and so far it has done an excellent job in that regard. The fact that congress has been disciplined is down to his administration and their supporters who made a decisive and persuasive case for diplomacy. This is an important departure from previous administrations. A moment of rare political audacity.
Q: Some analysts maintain that the apparent opposition of US lawmakers to the approach taken to Iran by the US President Barack Obama, and the ballyhoo around intensification of the United States sanctions against Iran are just different parts of a predefined political game between the US administration and lawmakers. What is your opinion in this regard?
A: I don’t believe in the good cop bad cop analysis. It is true that the Obama administration points to US Congress and Israel in order to signal to the Iranians that there are worse adversaries to deal with. This is a part of the US bargaining strategy in order to put more pressure on Iran. It is also a convenient way to indicate that there are limits to what the United States can deliver. The same rationale works for the Iranian side of course, for instance when the majlis threatens to increase uranium enrichment. But these are not pre-planned conspiracies. The Iranian parliament and the US Congress do have their own political will which does not always coincide with that of the government. I deem the obstacles real. The opposition of the US Congress may be used in order to strengthen the US bargaining strategy, but that does not mean that they are fabricated. It means that the Obama administration attempts to turn a threat into an opportunity.
Q: While the Iranian nuclear negotiating team sticks to an interpretation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which has indirectly recognized the right of its member states to enrich uranium on their soil, the Western countries, especially the United States, do not believe in such a right for any country. How, do you think, it would be possible for both sides to reach a common understanding on this issue in the next steps of the nuclear negotiations?
A: This issue is absolutely crucial because it has repercussions for the nuclear non proliferation regime beyond the Iranian file. Iran, in many ways, is fighting the cause of emerging nuclear powers. The issue boils down to questions of national sovereignty. International law embeds and supports the sovereignty of states and the NPT regime cannot be detached from that overarching legal architecture. At the same time international law is secondary to politics and international power, so the issue of nuclear enrichment as a right can only be solved as a part of the political/diplomatic process. One way to find a compromise would be to take up the Iranian offer of multilateral co-ownership of the nuclear facilities. Iran invited western companies to that end years ago. Multilateral co-ownership on Iranian territory would mitigate fears, create trust and facilitate joint interest in the viability and security of Iran’s nuclear installations.
Q: It seems that relations between Iran and the United States are gradually improving. Bilateral meetings, which were considered a taboo or were held in secret up to a year ago, have already taken place on the sidelines of Iran's nuclear talks with the P5+1 group and other international events. Can we assume that the nuclear program of Iran is being used as a window of opportunity to put an end to the longstanding political silence between Iran and the United States?
A: I have maintained for years now that Iran and the United States will eventually find a modus vivendi to mitigate their rivalry and I have tried to present scenarios for such a cold peace as a transition to more amicable relations. After the revolution Iran has attained what I have called latent independence. Since the revolution Iran has dared to say no. It is true that this has come at a price but this confidence to negate is a historic achievement for a country that had been semi-colonised throughout modernity. But in order to move from latent dependency to manifest dependency, Iran needs to digest the “Others” it has created after the revolution, in particular the “ghul” of the United States. Once this ghul is digested it becomes unnecessary to refer to it. Manifest independence does away with the dependency on enemy images. The Iranian self appears liberated from the shackles of the past. The United States becomes just another country Iran deals with rather than a forbidden theme park that is referred to at every twist and turn of the official rhetoric. As I have said in successive interviews with Mehr News Agency and Fars News Agency: Iran has all the geo-political opportunities to transform a policy of na sharghi na gharbi jomhurye eslami to a policy of ham shargi ham gharbi jomhurye islami - Iran as a nodal point between east and west. This is an opportunity to mitigate the various identities composing the meaning of Iran and to secure them from paranoid interpretations which cloister the ability of the state and the nation to fulfill the immense potential that Iran holds.
Q: It seems that more grounds are being provided for enhanced cooperation between Tehran and Washington. Some examples include the situation in Afghanistan - from where the US is scheduled to pull out its troops by the end of 2014 - to the rising insecurity in Iraq and, most recently, the presence of the terrorist forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Iraq, followed by the ongoing situation in Syria. Will such regional issues provide sufficient potential for the reduction of tension between Iran and the United States?
A: I am in no doubt that renewed Iranian-American relations will have a stabilizing effect on world politics in general. The two countries have merging interests and ultimately they are actors that can deliver. One of the reasons why the foreign policy of both countries was not effective in the different strategic theatres that you have mentioned is exactly because there was no dialogue to align them where necessary. This region needs peace and stability. The human suffering of the last decades is unbearable. The threat of al-Qaeda continues to be real and urgent. Iran and the United States must sit on the same table in order to deliberate about how to bring about a security architecture that will outlaw, once and for all, the use of force in the region. It is central that this is not pursued in exclusion of other regional actors. Iran and the United States will continue to disagree on a range of issues, certainly Palestine, Hezbollah, Bahrain etc., but I do not see any reason why these differences could not be negotiated within a diplomatic context. Certainly, they are not more serious than the differences that the United States has with China.
Q: Following the inauguration of the new Iranian administration, the European countries have been enthusiastic about resumption of their relations with Iran. But some analysts believe that Europeans’ relations with Iran possible, only after US green light in the matter. What is your opinion in this regard? Why EU states could not or would not present themselves independent from US will and power?
A: In many ways Europe as an idea and a political project is more central to Iran than the United States. In terms of cultural exchanges, economic potentials, even intellectual proximity, Iran and Europe are abstractly intertwined. One could say that Iran and Europe inhabit each other despite the political estrangement on the governmental level. World politics is not always merely made by states, but by people as well. In that regard, Iran and Europe are inseparable on many levels. I was raised in Hamburg in Germany and I know from my personal experience that the history of that town cannot be written in isolation of the contributions of the “Persian Hanseatics”. I see similar linkages in London and of course in Iran itself. I have started answering your question in this unconventional way to indicate that the Iranian-European dialectic has a consistency to it that goes beyond the politics of the day. It is all the more surprising, as you implicitly criticize, that the European Union is not positioning itself rather more independently in international affairs. I think it has a lot to do with an uneasiness with conflict which has emerged out of the history of mainland Europe, a historical consciousness that does not lend itself to getting embroiled in intractable foreign wars. In Britain, always a special case in the European context, and even in the United States this historical consciousness is slowly maturing as well. The European Union with its codification of a pan-European human rights charter, free travel etc. is an important model in human history. It has pacified a continent that ravaged the world with two world wars. Somewhat bulky this structure will have to mature in order to give away to rather more independent foreign policies. Indeed, it will be the great normative challenge of the European project to align the human rights standards applied to the conduct between member states to the international affairs of the union. So far the EU has failed on that account.
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