The ways of Iran’s rulers have changed a lot over the years. The last monarch of Iran – the Shah – held absolute power, embracing and embraced by the West. But he was overthrown and fled into exile. Then came the religious absolutism of the leaders of the Islamic Republic.
Thirty-four years later, Iran still has difficulty balancing modernity with traditional piety.
Iran’s confrontation with the West began with the US-embassy hostage crisis in Tehran in 1979. Enmities would escalate, for decades.
The hostility grew even greater when Iraq’s Saddam Hussein invaded Iran with Western support.
With production of long-range missiles and multiplication of nuclear enrichment centrifuges, Iran said it was “resisting” the West.
On the world stage the Islamic Republic blames its economic failures on what it calls “a Western conspiracy”.
The West, particularly the USA, attributes Iran’s failure to integrate with the international community to the Islamic Republic’s human rights record, to the absence of democracy in Iran.
The US called it a “sponsor of terrorism”. Iran calls America the biggest threat to its integrity, citing sanctions which are meant to isolate the Islamic Republic. The new presidency of Barack Obama appeared to offer a prize opportunity for dialogue.
Obama told the Iranian leaders: “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
His Iranian counterpart, said: “If you stop pointing the gun at Iranians, I will talk to you.” The prevarications have now gone on for 34 years.
To maintain bargaining power, Iran today dances between policies of rhetoric and pragmatism, never staying long with one or the other.
For coverage surrounding the presidential elections, Masoud Imani spoke with Rouzbeh Parsi, an analyst at the European Union Institute for Security Studies, by video link with Stockholm.
Masoud Imani, euronews: “Thirty-four years after Iran’s Islamic Revolution, how would you define Iran: radical? Pragmatic? Pragmatic and radical, or what?”
Rouzbeh Parsi: “I would say that it is a post-revolutionary state that is trying to come to terms with the fact that its rhetoric no longer matches its actual policies. It is, in many senses, a status quo power.”
euronews: “Why does Iran ‘swim’ not with but against the current in its dealings with the international community?”
Parsi: “Well, to some degree, that goes back to the revolution. The whole point, of course, being to try to up-end and re-shape the world in what they would consider to be more just forms. To some degree, that is still something that they are trying to pursue.”
euronews: “Who is paying for the western-imposed sanctions? Iranians? Or Iran’s nuclear programme?”
Parsi: “At the moment, most of the later sanctions that have been imposed on Iran are inflicting pain on society and the general population. The state is still managing to hold its own [to survive, to subsist], for now at least.”
euronews: “Do you think that Iran and the USA will, one day, come face-to-face for a negotiation?”
Parsi: “I think that is inevitable. It is more a question of who has the political will and courage to not only say it loudly but also act on it.”
euronews: “The scenario which is going on now in the region, in the Middle East and in the global arena, when it comes to Iran and the West do you think it is a geopolitical game or is it more a question of democracy in Iran?”
[Is the West trying to advance its own geopolitical interests or is it really trying to encourage Iran to develop democracy?]
Parsi: “I think it is a bit of both. I mean, obviously Iran has a human rights record that deserves a lot of criticism, and there are things that Iran is doing in the region that are not helpful. But, nonetheless, this is also about geopolitics. To some degree, some of these problems are things that they would fight over regardless of who is running Tehran.”
euronews: “And the end of the Green Movement? What will happen to the Green Movement?”
Parsi: “For something to qualify as a ‘movement’, it has to be more permanent. It remains to be seen… I mean the discontent is there. There is no question about that. But whether it coagulates into an actual movement is a different issue.”
euronews: “Who is the final decision-maker in Iran?”
Parsi: “The final decision-maker – but not the sole decision-maker – is the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.”
euronews: “But politics in Iran is much more complicated. There are different layers of decision-makers. No?”
Parsi: “Absolutely. It consists of different circles and networks of power, that goes into the military establishment, into politics, into business, etcetera, etcetera. So that is why I say that he is the final decision-maker but not the sole decision-maker. He still needs to line up all these different factions and networks before he can come to a decision that will be backed by them, which is necessary.”
euronews: “Who is losing most by this confrontation? Iran or the West?”
Parsi: “Well, in terms of – when you look at geopolitical weight and strength, Iran is the one that will lose out most. The US may find Iran a problem in the region but it has bigger fish to fry than a country like Iran in the Middle East. Nonetheless, that does not mean that Western politics and Western policies on Iran do not come with a price tag.”
euronews: “Who do you think will win the presidential election in Iran?”
Parsi: “The only rule that we can hold on to is that in the last 20 years all presidential elections have served us with surprises, and I think that this one will hold a few surprises.”
euronews: “And how do you see Iran in the next four years, under the next president?”
Parsi: “The next couple of years are going to be very crucial, because, first of all there is a question of management. The country has been very badly managed. There is a question of lack of societal trust. And there is, of course, the over-arching question of an economic policy, an economic situation and an economic structure that is very, very dysfunctional.”
euronews: “And what do you see as the end of the conflict with the West? Compromise or war?”
Parsi: “Well, we can only hope for a compromise, and I think that all sides, probably, will see sense in that. The question is whether they will be able to that before the powers that they themselves have unleashed – in terms of confrontation – can be contained.”