A tough diplomacy of convenience

Par Rasoul Asghari* 10/28/2023

The uprising which began on September 16 and spread throughout Iran for months, not only shook religious fascism but also aroused surprise and questions in the West: what replacement for Iranian theocracy; what direction will geopolitical developments take in the region? As the uprising progressed and the trend towards the overthrow of the regime strengthened - removing any illusion of reform, questions about the future of Iran arose with greater acuteness, notably the question of "the 'alternative ".

In the first part of our article we will address the main lines of confrontation between European and American countries in connection with the uprising of November 2022. We will address a political aberration called the policy of appeasement and the status quo; a mistaken policy promoted by foreign ministries and chancelleries. We will see the vicissitudes that governed their efforts to influence the course of events in Iran.

In the second part, we will examine the lasting gains of the Iranian democratic revolution, a product of the uprising's direct impact on global public opinion. Finally, it will be a question of explaining why the Islamic Republic cannot return to the balance before November 2022?

"Maintaining the status quo policy", or "supporting the movement for change after the breakdown of the political balance caused by the uprising" or "returning to the times of bygone regimes", these are three scenarios that arise. presented to Western foreign policy.

This in a context where Europeans stubbornly refuse to include the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC) on the list of terrorist entities, give in to the IRGC hostage policy, and release an Iranian diplomat-terrorist sentenced to 20 years in prison in behind-the-scenes deals with the mullahs, bowing to pressure to limit the activities of the main resistance movement (PMOI), giving the mullahs billions from the Iranian people to spend on regional terrorism and repression in internal. To complete the list, Enrique Mora, deputy secretary general of Josep Borrell, emphasizes that there is no other choice than to accept the failing JCPOA (nuclear agreement with the mullahs).

As Ebrahim Raïssi, Iranian president and former judge of the death commission who directed the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988, recently claimed at the UN, can we affirm that the mullahs' regime resisted the storms? A demand promoted by the network of pro-Iranian regime journalists and researchers in Western capitals.

Western chancellors are limited to their calculations based on an immutable balance of power in their eyes. They are obsessed with their business and look for temporary solutions and short-term advantages. These diplomats, addicted to a policy of appeasement, systematically take the side of the power in place. Masters in the art of justifying their political opportunism, they insolently brandish the logic of realpolitik.

"The diplomacy of certain Western countries, by supporting a reactionary program, has obstructed the Iranian popular movement"

Episode 1: Breaking out of lethargy

If the regime's leaders live with the nightmare of the outbreak of new popular revolts, Western diplomats are observing the outcome of events with confusion and wait-and-see attitude. Not having seen the wave of uprising which spread to more than 160 cities in Iran coming, they only cautiously and weakly condemned the violence of the fascist regime.

The protests continued at the cost of the immense sacrifice of the demonstrators and the leadership of Iranian women. Their courageous perseverance inevitably created fissures in the thinking and analysis of diplomats deeply addicted to the policy of appeasement. The radicality of the uprising and the strength of its demands transformed the fissures into tangible breaches. The formation of a commission of inquiry into human rights violations in the Islamic Republic during the recent protests, approved by the United Nations Human Rights Council on November 24, 2022, can be analyzed in this context . As well as the expulsion of Iran from the United Nations Commission on Women on December 14 of the same year.

In January and February 2023, the tone of governments against the regime hardens and is accompanied by sanctions. This is reinforced with a debate on the need to place the IRGC on the terrorist list of the European Union, Great Britain and Canada. Unprecedented fact: on January 19, 2023 the European Parliament, by the overwhelming majority of its members, demanded the inclusion of the IRGC on the European Union terrorist list. What the Council of European Governments then refused to do.

Episode 2: tinkering with alternatives

The uprising did not stop, new forms of protests were attempted throughout Iran. The masses, no longer shying away from the danger of being arrested, tortured or killed, were determined to settle historical scores with the regime. For the first time, the belief that the regime could be overthrown flowed through the veins of Iranians. The powerlessness of the regime in the face of the courage of the demonstrators has slowly brought about a change in the outlook of Western politicians. Coming to their senses, they saw that "fear had changed sides" and that it was an unstable regime, with a possible large-scale popular revolt that could take away the regime at any time.

This is where the question of the alternative to this cruel regime arises. It is clear that the image of Iran of tomorrow will be shaped by the force that can overthrow the regime. When we talk about the question of the alternative, we are really talking about the quality of his action and his methods to achieve the overthrow. The successive uprisings of recent years, in addition to their extent and their perpetuation, have always had regime change in their sights. At the same time, they pointed to the only organized force that promotes revolutionary change. When we follow the footsteps of this force, we arrive at the essential People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI).

Those familiar with Iranian political forces know that the MEK's strategy has been to challenge the regime through the expansion of resistance units that target centers of repression and symbols of the regime in Iranian cities.

In Iran it is forbidden to pronounce the name of the People's Mojahedin and the idea of regime change is a crime. This is something that Western diplomacy has understood well and has led it to distance itself from this red line. She avoided angering the regime which has an unwritten rule for diplomacy of convenience: "If you want to associate with the regime of the mullahs, consider the people's mujahideen to be out of touch. »

Instead of acquiescing to the reality of the Iranian street, Western diplomacy has turned to tinkering with supposed alternatives for the regime. The first function of this tinkering was to have trusted individuals for tomorrow and launch those who could possibly play a role in the Iran of tomorrow with the aim of obtaining privileges and complicity.

The meeting of European and American heads of state and officials with those whom the media have described as representatives of Iranians in the diaspora, or the position taken by the French president who described the movement in Iran as a revolution, these are laudable actions. But when we pay attention to the composition of these formations – which have no organization, no strategy and no desire to overthrow the regime – there was a hidden message for Tehran: We are not talking about regime change, we are not targeting the main organ of repression, namely the IRGC, we respect your red lines... we are therefore waiting for you...

The media then engaged in promoting athletes, actresses and internet influencers as leaders of the Iranian revolution. The latter generally reduced the Iranian people's aspiration for regime change to a simple question of opposition to compulsory hijab or opposition to religion. Above all, everyone agreed that there was no alternative to the regime, nor leadership at the head of the revolutionary movement. Above all, the Persian-language media, affiliated with various governments, in a coordinated action, applied the greatest censorship of the century against the PMOI and National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). That is to say against the only viable and respected Iranian alternative.

On the other hand, we did not hesitate to give the son of the former Iranian dictator the title of "crown prince", and to brandish the supporters of the monarchy as the future of Iran. It was at best a mediocre version of the episode of "Mohammad Khatami", the former president of the regime, who for years was sold to Western public opinion as a prophet of reform and moderation. If the emergence of Khomeini was a historical anachronism, the return of the fallen monarchy was perceived as fundamentally counter-historical. But the sale of such a product, at least in France, which rejected monarchical despotism more than two centuries ago, can only be a pure joke.

The high point of alternative-building was on February 17, 2023, when the shah's son stood alongside a controversial television presenter and actress at the Munich Security Conference, where he had was invited instead of representatives of the regime. Reza Pahlévi has a very detailed strategy: achieve a transition within the Islamic Republic by creating an alliance with the Pasdaran! A baroque strategy which serves the regime which seeks to slow down the revolutionary movement and has not skimped on deeply infiltrating its opponents and particularly the monarchical movement.

This invitation launched by certain factions of the European diplomatic corps had a message: the West will not support regime change in Iran and will maintain its distance from the "subversive" opposition and the real alternative, the NCRI. By supporting this kind of reactionary agenda, the West has actually only done a disservice to the Iranian people's movement.

"Western governments, despite much noise, have not provided any real opportunity for the regime's opponents"

Episode 3: Factory Reset!

Although they have made a lot of noise, Western governments have not actually provided any tangible aid to Iranian opponents. Their considerations for the uprising of the Iranian people and the rare sanctions against the regime also had other motivations. Because this time the developments in Iran took place in a particular international context and coincided with the failure of nuclear negotiations and Tehran's participation in the war against Ukraine, with the sending of weapons and suicide drones to Russia. We were able to measure how the destructive activities of the regime now threatened the very borders of Europe.

May 26, 2022 can be considered as the official date of the reverse march of the European and American diplomatic train on the line of appeasement: Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat-terrorist sentenced to 20 years in prison in Belgium for attempted attack bombing a NCRI conference in Villepinte, Paris-Nord, was released and immediately sent to Iran where he was received with praise by the mullahs.

Events then accelerated: on June 19 the French police banned the annual NCRI gathering. This ban came a few days after the 90-minute telephone conversation between the French president and his Iranian counterpart. (The Iranian resistance finally managed to hold its rally thanks to a decision by the Paris court)

A day later, on June 20, a thousand Albanian police officers attacked the PMOI headquarters in Ashraf 3, Albania. A member of the Mujahideen, Ali Mostashari, died and 100 other people were injured during the Albanian police force which confiscated more than 150 computers from Iranian militants. The PMOI was suspected of "political activities against the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran". An attack that was clearly not possible without the green light from the United States. Through its spokesperson, the US State Department assured that "the actions of the Albanian police were carried out in accordance with the laws and with respect for individual rights and freedoms". The next day, the US State Department, in a friendly gesture towards the mullahs, announced that it did not recognize the representativeness of the PMOI.

Last September, the revelations that splashed the Islamic Republic's lobbying network at the highest decision-making levels of the American government (including at the heart of the State Department and the Pentagon), laid bare the motivations and deep roots of this kind of position.

Gestures of goodwill accelerated: The resumption of secret dialogues with the United States, the release of the regime's blocked money, including six billion dollars in South Korea, in exchange for the release of five imprisoned American hostages in Iran.

To summarize what Western diplomacy has achieved, it is telling to quote Ali Bagheri, political assistant to the Iranian Foreign Ministry and responsible for nuclear weapons negotiations. The latter admitted that the changes in the Iranian regime's foreign policy over the past year, that is to say the resumption of negotiations with the United States and the normalization of relations with Riyadh, had been undertaken in response to last year's unrest which shook the foundations of the regime in Iran.

*Rasoul Asghari, analyst at FEMO, is an Iranian journalist in exile, specialist in political economy.