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The Geneva Accords and the Return of the “Defensive Realists”

After intense negotiations between Iran and world powers (chiefly among them the United States), November 24 saw a historic breakthrough. In a six-month interim agreement, Tehran has committed itself to a substantial freezing of its nuclear program in return for “modest relief” — according to US President Barack Obama — in sanctions. The agreement will be a first step towards achieving a comprehensive solution, with which the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program will be ensured while all sanctions against the country would be lifted. There has been much speculation over the degree in which the decade-long transatlantic Iran strategy of coercive diplomacy was responsible for reaching this diplomatic victory. Was it the permanent threats of war or the increasingly crippling sanctions which, in the eyes of many Western observers, led Iran to “give in”? Arguably, it rather was a shift away from that policy of threats and pressure, and towards serious diplomacy aiming at a reconciliation of interests (especially during the month of November), which rendered the deal possible. But yes, without any doubt the sanctions did have an impact. The sanctions have severely deepened Iran’s economic malaise, considerably harmed a variety of social groups, while part of the power elite quite comfortably adjusted to the situation. Consequently, the power gap separating the state and (civil) society was even boosted. Yet, the immense damage that sanctions have done to society does not bear much relevance for policy-makers. However, what has gone largely unnoticed by supporters of the sanctions policy is the realpolitik fact that, contrary to its stated goal, the escalation of sanctions was accompanied by an escalation in Iran’s nuclear program. When Obama entered the White House, there were not even 1,000 centrifuges spinning in Iran; today, the figure stands at almost 19,000. The reason for this is that the West views sanctions through a cost-benefit lens, according to which it can only be a matter of time until the sanctioned party will give in. In contrast, Tehran sees sanctions as an illegitimate form of coercion, which ought to be resisted, for the alternative would be nothing less than capitulation. Nonetheless, many commentators sardonically insist on praising the sanctions’ alleged effectiveness for aiding diplomacy. This is not only a sign of analytical myopia, but also constitutes the not-so-covert attempt to shed a positive light on the coercive diplomacy that was pursued so far. In reality, Iran’s willingness to offer concessions is rooted within a wider context. Firstly, Iran already demonstrated its readiness to compromise over the last three years, which the Obama administration did not dare to accept due to domestic political pressures (i.e., his re-election). Secondly, and this is likely to have been crucial in achieving the agreement in Geneva, Iran’s current foreign policy is primarily not a result of pressure through sanctions. Instead, it is embedded within a specific foreign-policy school of thought which is characterized by realism and a policy of détente. Notably, with Hassan Rouhani’s election, the “defensive realist” school of thought reasserted power, which had previously been ascendant during Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s and Mohammad Khatami’s administrations. Their prime objective was a policy of détente and rapprochement, especially with the West, but also with neighboring Arab states — specifically, Iran’s geopolitical adversary, Saudi Arabia. In contrast to the “offensive realists” who took the lead under the Ahmadinejad administration, “defensive realists” do not view foreign policy as a zero-sum game but instead as an arena where win-win situations ought to be explored – especially with the United States. Another pivotal difference between these schools of thought is their estimation of US power. While “offensive realists” see the superpower’s power-projection capabilities rapidly declining, the “defensive” camp rightly acknowledges that even a US in relative decline can inflict substantial damage on weaker countries like Iran. The historically unprecedented Iran sanctions regime is a prime illustration of the veracity of the latter view. Ultimately, the nuclear agreement in its core has to be seen as a U.S.-Iranian one, which expresses the will of both sides to secure their interests in a rapidly changing regional landscape. To what extent this will affect Washington’s traditional regional allies in Tel Aviv and Riyadh will be highly interesting to watch


Ali Fathollah-Nejad (2013) “The Geneva Agreement with Iran: A Result of the Sanctions Policy?“, Fair Observer, 04/12; ▪ republished on Global Research, Montreal: Centre for Research on Globalization, 09/12;  ▪ published (slightly edited) as The Geneva Accords and the Return of the »Defensive Realists«, LobeLog (U.S. foreign affairs blog of the international news wire service Inter Press Service), 05/12; ▪ republished on Payvand Iran News, 06/12.


Ali Fathollah-Nejad (2013) “Iran-Sanktionen: Wie gut zielt der Westen?” [Iran Sanctions: How Well Does the West Target?], Telepolis, 12/11 ▪ republished as Der lange Schatten der Iran-SanktionenThe Huffington Post Deutschland, 20/11.


Rohanis Agenda [Hintergrund]


Lesen Sie das Interview hier [pdf].



Regine Naeckel (2013) “Rohanis Agenda: Was will der neue iranische Präsident? [Rohani’s Agenda: What Does the New Iranian President Want?]”, Interview mit Ali Fathollah-Nejad, Hintergrund: Das Nachrichtenmagazin, Nr. 4/2013, S. 52–55.



This is a long interview (in German) with Ali Fathollah-Nejad on the new Iranian administration’s foreign-policy agenda in which he discusses the various dominant Iranian foreign-policy schools of thought. It has been published in the German news magazine Hintergrund.

How Rouhani Could Change Iran [USA]


Hassan Rouhani, the incoming president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, was the only cleric candidate and won more than 50 percent of the vote. He received enough votes to prevent conservative voices from gathering against him in the second round. The elections and transfer of power passed peacefully, demonstrating a possible consolidation of electoral democracy in Iran with respect to the electoral process.

Rouhani has assumed the role of president, constitutionally the second most important man in the country after the Supreme Leader, amid tense circumstances in the country. Iran today faces heavy international sanctions and chaotic domestic rivalry among three political factions: conservatives, reformists and hardliners.

The conservative wing is gathered around Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, and follows his cautious but sometimes pragmatic political path. The reformist movement connected with the presidency of Mohammad Khatami and his predecessor Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Kerrubi, now under house arrest, voice assumed leadership within the Green Movement after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s second presidential win assumed by.

Hardliners had power for the last eight years under Ahmadinejad and prominent clerical leader of the Guardian Council (sometimes called the Iranian Bilderberg group) Ahmad Jannati. Ahmadinejad was also a choice of the Revolutionary Guard and Basij militia.

Economic pressures

Revolutionary committees, militia forces (basij) and other mobilization structures during the Revolution and the Iran-Iraq war are not disbanded but have evolved into interest cartels controlled by influential and elite Revolutionary Guards. These cartels are called bonyad and manage confiscated and nationalized enterprises, with the excuse that it helps the goals of the Islamic revolution and the development of Iran’s foreign relations. They became the main state contractors, especially for the defence industry and the Revolutionary Guard, thus creating an economic realm where they developed ties with members of the political elite and were influential in the country and abroad.

Bonyads control about 40 percent of Iran’s economy, and in 1994 some 58 percent of the national budget was allocated to them, at least according to data from Said Amir Arjomand, an expert in Iranian domestic politics. Leaders of bonyads are not responsible to the state but directly to Khamenei. They gain special profits obtained from an annuity military-industrial-commercial complex and have a special license to import and export goods. Together with the Revolutionary Guards they control the Mehrabad airport in Tehran and seaports in the Persian Bay. They receive support from clerical families and their friends, as well as donors from economic foundations.

Nepotism blossoms through a new political-economic elite named aghazadehgan (master’s sons), composed of upper level clerical families. Power of the Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia throughbonyads was seriously regarded when Ahmadinejad, their preferred candidate, was elected.

Given these complex dynamics, it is illusory to expect Rouhani to achieve greater progress in the economy unless international sanctions were lifted to re-open the oil market and prevent further inflation of the rial.

The Rouhani administration will have difficult times ahead, as he explained in a statement to the media: “A multitude of problems and issues face us today. I have come forward with full knowledge of all the problems and have stepped into this position despite the unparalleled issues facing the nation which I will share them with the nation later. No government in the history of Iran has faced the problems that this new administration faces,”, Rouhani said.

Change is coming

Rouhani will have to balance these forces in order to fulfil his mission. Ghoncheh Tazmini, a political analyst and research director at the Ravand Institute for Economic and International Studies in Iran, a think tank, strongly believes Iran will experience change as Rouhani breathes new life into the Islamic republic. She based her optimism on two main reasons:

“”The first is that his moderate inclination will bring about the same subtle yet tangible results Mohammad Khatami’s presidency brought. These are qualitative and conceptual changes rather than quantitative. These are palpable, substantive changes that will reverberate within Iranian society. At the state level, he will bring about a ‘politics of normalcy.’”

“The second reason stems from the fact that he is as much a conservative, establishment figure as he is a moderate figure. Thus, he will have more political ‘purchasing power’ and elicit piecemeal results because he is cut from the same cloth as establishment figures.”

Tazmini compares Rouhani with the experience of Khatami’s rule. “Khatami tried to move Iranian politics beyond tumultuous times towards a regular politics. In the context of Khatami’s reform campaign, the ‘politics of normalcy’ reflected the state of a country that had endured years of turbulent social and revolutionary change” she said. Tazmini believes Rouhani’s presidency will represent the explicit project of a return to normalcy wherein Iran would avoid diplomatic isolation and seek to eliminate revolutionary-style politics, self-reliant economic policies and rigid social mores.

It is a shift towards more pragmatic politics characterized by an effort to define Iran’s politics by repudiating revolutionary politics, Tazmini said, and that Rouhani’s Iran will produce a revival of the politics of normalcy where ideological radicalism will give way to broader interests of a 21st- century Iran.

Rouhani’s message to clerics July 3 conveyed this direction: “A strong government does not mean a government that interferes and intervenes in all affairs. It is not a government that limits the lives of people. This is not a strong government”. And instead of strong government, his speeches are full of government of moderation.

Rouhani might well succeed, but if we reconsider Khatami’s efforts, some worries persist. Khatami was even more connected to the conservative establishment, both clerically and through family ties. Rouhani has an advantage of not being part of any faction while still preserving an image of established cleric. Tazmini calls it the Rouhani brand: “He is the reconciliation of the contending and competing ideological tension between reformist/pragmatist and conservative-traditionalist camps – a compromise of sorts.”

In fact, the Supreme Leader refused to share his favorite candidate with the public. On various occasions, the Leader emphasized the necessity of holding healthy elections, noting that even his family members did not know for whom he would vote.

Moderation in foreign policy

Another big question that remains is Iran’s foreign policy. Rouhani has a great deal of experience in this area. He presided over the Supreme National Security Council from 1989 to 2005 and served as the National Security Advisor to Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Khatami. From 1991 until the elections he led the Political, Defense and Security committee in the Expediency council. He has extensive experience in diplomatic negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the subject of his book of memoirs.

At his first press conference, after the election, Rouhani set key determinants for Iranian foreign policy. Among them is a clear attitude about nuclear energy. Iran will not stop uranium enrichment, said Rouhani, but will increase transparency and show the world that Iran’s nuclear program is fully in line with international standards. This could mean that Rouhani will draw on his old connections and relationships in the IAEA and re-enable inspectors from this agency to inspect Iran’s nuclear facilities, which would at least partially reduce international tension and possibly eliminate sanctions that heavily burden Iran’s economy.

Reuters reported earlier in July that diplomats in Vienna, where the International Atomic Energy Agency is based, believe there will be an IAEA-Iran meeting in mid-August, shortly before the Agency issues its next quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program and ahead of a week-long session of the United Nations agency’s 35-nation governing board in September.

Rouhani seeks “a constructive relationship with the world” and advocates moderation, which is reminiscent Khatami program “Dialogue among Civilizations.” The program’s tenets could help re-employ Iranian diplomacy through cultural centers.

Ali Fathollah-Nejad, an Iranian-German political scientist and expert on Iranian sanctions and the Iran-West stalemate, discussed this turn in Iranian foreign policy with The Atlantic Post. “In accordance with the desire expressed by the bulk of Iranians, Rouhani has indeed promised a foreign policy geared towards the reduction of tensions and the pursuit of national interests equally cognizant of the country’s sovereignty and the population’s well-being that is closely linked to the heavy burden of sanctions. This will be a prerequisite towards settling the now decade-old so-called nuclear crisis.”

Regarding sanctions, “the responsibility for their desperately needed removal will remain with those who have imposed them in the first place,” said Fathollah-Nejad. “This entails that during the next rounds of negotiations between Iran and the great powers, in response to Iranian concessions the United States and the European Union will have to offer a substantive relief of sanctions.” Fathollah-Nejad believes financial relief should be first priority and that the West should “immediately start preparing the political room for that” and decide how to remove institutional obstacles towards that end.

Rouhani also touched on the topic of Syria, saying that the future of the Syrian authorities must be in the hands of the Syrian people. This statement brings up two sensitive topics. First, Rouhani stated that Iran does not believe that anyone other than the Syrian people should decide on the situation in the country, including international forces. Second, Iran’s ties with Syria are long and complex. The Alawite Syrian leadership is closely connected with the Shi’a Hezbollah, the pro-Syrian Lebanese opposition. Iran directly funds Hezbollah is directly funded by the Iranian government. Hezbollah in Lebanon was created by radical Iranian cleric Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, whose forces are trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Finally, Rouhani said that old wounds need to heal between Iran and the United States, opening the possibility of re-announcing talks with Washington. This statement interpreted as bold, is a continuation of Khamenei policy.

The 444 days following the hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the Iran-Contra affair in 1986 strained relations between the two countries. But we should not forget that Iran has played a constructive role in the Middle East in the past. The pragmatic alliance of Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Khamenei controlled Iran’s foreign policy with revolutionary rhetoric. Iran quietly cooperated in the expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait in the Gulf War, despite Saddam Hussein’s offer to return to the border agreement of 1975.

Iran has improved its relations with all Muslim countries, successfully hosted several summits of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and worked with Caspian Sea nations. Historically, while Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Khatami repeatedly tried to open ties with Washington, personal differences were insurmountable. The powerful American-Israeli Public Affairs (AIPAC) and former Secretary of State Warren Christopher bolstered the diplomatic blockade between the two countries.

When former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wanted to meet with Iran’s chief diplomat in 1998, Khamenei blocked the meeting. When he later decided to send his commissioner Larijani to the White House, George Bush was not interesting in talking to the Iranians. During President Barack Obama’s first term, Ahmadinejad stood defiant on the Iranian side. Perhaps Obama and Rouhani, with the consent of Khamenei, could really begin talks at foreign policy level.

Fathollah-Nejad confirms this possibility, calling Rouhani “a pragmatic realist.” “Rouhani will offer a unique opportunity for reducing tensions with the U.S. An improvement in Iran-U.S. relations will, however, also be dependent on Washington, where it remains to be seen if the pro-engagement camp can seize upon this historical opportunity offered by Rouhani’s election to effectively force back the confrontational camp there.” The consequences could be dire if this opportunity is missed, he said.

Rouhani may potentially be more influential in foreign policy than Khatami, to whom he is often compared. Rouhani [has], in addition, [been the] head of Iran’s major think-tank and bastion of its realist school of thought, the Center for Strategic Research, and more learned and experienced than Khatami, Fathollah-Nejad said.

“More than anyone else, Rouhani will be qualified in communicating and explaining Tehran’s foreign-policy stances to a domestic audience in need of a balanced account on foreign-policy issues ranging from nuclear diplomacy to the Syrian crisis,” he said.

Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour, former Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative for the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations recently assessed the election outcome, saying, “The actual result of presidential polls in the Islamic Republic was undoubtedly an analytical shock to those who believed that there is no election in Iran, but selection.”

These forecasts suggest four years of a more moderate and open Iran resembling the Khatami era. Yet Rouhani will contend with Khamenei and the status quo organization of the Islamic republic,bonyads and a resolute attitude in foreign policy. At the same time, he has an opportunity to relax the tension in Iranian society and try to break the country’s international isolation.


Vedran Obućina is an Atlantic Post contributor in Rijeka, Croatia.



Vedran Obućina (2013) “How Rouhani Could Change Iran“, The Atlantic Post (Washington, DC), 6 August.

Nefarious Fallouts of Iran Sanctions


This article is based on a talk the author gave at the first-ever expert conference on Iran sanctions to have taken place in Europe. Organized by the Paris Academy of Geopolitics (PAG) at the French Senate on 3 June 2013, the conference assembled legal and economic experts as well as three former European ambassadors to Iran and former UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali. The passages on Iran’s new President Hassan Rohani have been added in retrospect.

The article has been originally published by the New York-based World Policy Institute, and republished by the Moscow-based Oriental Review. A version of this article has been published in its French original on Le Huffington Post (France and Canadian Quebec editions), Mondialisation.ca (Canada) and in the current issue of the PAG journal Géostratégiques. A German translation will appear in the upcoming issue of the Vienna-based international-politics journal International: Die Zeitschrift für internationale Politik.

The article demonstrates that on various grounds (socio-economic, politico-diplomatic, geopolitical and geo-economic) that the sanctions regime against Iran has been counterproductive. Crucially for Western policymakers and contrary to officially stated goals, the rapid escalation of economic sanctions during the past few years has been accompanied by the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program. The article concludes by urging the sanctions imposers to prepare the political and institutional grounds for meaningful sanctions relief – a prospect the bulk of Iranians wish for and their new President Hassan Rohani is predestined to deliver if the West reciprocates with goodwill.

Iran’s new president, Hassan Rohani, has promised to ease the tensions surrounding the international relations of his country. In line with the will of the majority of Iranians, the issue of economic sanctions – weighing heavily on the latter’s day-to-day life – will be a key to that end.

In general, the purpose of sanctions is to force a political opponent to do what she would not do otherwise. In the case of the sanctions imposed on Iran – during the course of what is commonly but simplistically referred to as the “nuclear crisis” – the stated goal has been to force a reversal of Tehran’s nuclear calculus toward slowing down or even halting its nuclear program. This goal has clearly not been met. Instead this period has witnessed ever more crippling sanctions – a form of “structural violence” exerted upon an entire country and its people.

On the politico-diplomatic level: Hardening the fronts

Economic sanctions are one of the most preferred instruments of Western foreign policy. The immediate Western reaction to the Syrian crisis is the most recent evidence of this. In the Iranian case, sanctions have been an integral part of the transatlantic strategy pursued against Tehran, code-named “coercive diplomacy” in Diplomatic Studies. There, sanctions are usually presented as a quasi-peaceful means and as such inherently part of a purely diplomatic approach geared towards avoiding a military confrontation. However, as the Iraqi case demonstrates, sanctions are the last step before military action. In other words, “smart sanctions” are likely to be succeeded by “smart bombs.”

Apart from this worst-case scenario, sanctions have not proven to facilitate the resolution of conflicts; on the contrary, they rather tend to harden the opposing fronts. Frequently, opposing sides view sanctions through fundamentally different prisms. In this case, while the West conceives of sanctions in a cost–benefit framework – the heavier the costs imposed on the targeted country by way of sanctions, the more willing the sanctioned state will be to offer concessions. Iran on its part sees them as a means of illegitimate pressure against which she ought to resist. This explains why in the last couple of years the escalation of sanctions was accompanied by that of the nuclear program. For example, in 2006 – before the Iran sanctions were elevated to an undoubtedly crippling dimension by the United States and the European Union – Iran had a thousand centrifuges; the number today is much more than tenfold. This reality of the nuclear dynamics in the wake of sanctions remains largely ignored in Western capitals.

Moreover, it should be stressed that policymakers in the West have so far devoted much more time and energy to identifying which new set of sanctions to impose rather than to committedly and creatively finding a diplomatic solution of the decade-old stalemate.

On the socio-economic level: Widening the power gap between the state and society

The popular rhetoric of sanctions incorrectly characterizes the nature of the socio-economic effects imposed on the target country. Contrary to what is commonly claimed, sanctions actually weaken the lower and middle classes, particularly affecting the most vulnerable in society – workerswomen andthe youth. As a result, the power gap between the state and society widens. All this, as a matter of fact, actually dampens the prospect of popular uprising. A person struggling for economic survival barely has the luxury of engaging as a citoyen in the struggle for democracy. This explains the firm renunciation of sanctions by Iran’s civil society – voices that the West has largely chosen to ignore.

In political-economic terms, sanctions have largely paralyzed Iran’s civilian economy while state and semi-state economic entities – especially those associated with the Revolutionary Guards – have been able to benefit inter alia by monopolizing imports of various goods via “black channels.” State resources have buoyed those companies that have access to them, leaving others to drown in the tide of rising costs. Sanctions have also prompted enormous growth in the volume of bilateral trade between Iran and China (still about $ 40 billion according to the Iran–China Chamber of Commerce and Industries which is closely related to the regime) – to the detriment of producers and jobs in Iran. The reality of sanctions is that they have cemented the politico-economic power configuration in Iran.

On geopolitical and geo-economic levels: Putting a brake on Iran’s development

Sanctions produce far-reaching effects at the geopolitical and geo-economic levels. Corresponding with the implicit geopolitical rationale for sanctions – that if you cannot control or influence a country, you will resort to weakening it – these restrictions have indeed stunted Iran’s  development trajectory. This inflicted damage has not, however, produced the ultimate goal of reversing Iran’s nuclear and regional policies and has in fact damaged Western interests by boosting the clout of countries like China, Russia, and other regional states.

In the wake of the U.S.-pressured withdrawal of the Europeans from the Iranian market, Iran was virtually handed over to China on a silver plate – something Beijing is indeed quite appreciative of. China’s economic presence in Iran can be witnessed all across the board: from the construction of the Tehran Metro to the exploration of Persian Gulf oil and gas fields.

Iran’s technocrats – a prime victim of the sanctions – observe this development with great concern. Among other things, they have seen that a healthy competition between different foreign competitors is sorely missing, and that the lack of high-tech (formerly delivered by the West) has reduced the quality of domestic production. All of this has a negative impact (mid- and long-term) on Iran’s economic and technological development. If the situation remains unchanged, such damage can hardly be compensated. As another case in point, the sale of Iranian oil to large customers such as China or India has turned into barter – a de facto “junk for oil” program has emerged. In addition, during the past couple of years China has been given preferential rates by Iran for its oil imports.

Finally, some of Iran’s neighboring countries also benefit from the sanctions. Most significantly, due to the energy sanctions against Iran, Russia can safeguard its quasi-monopoly on Europe’s energy supply – a strategic interest held by Moscow which is unlikely to be reversed easily. To a much lesser degree but still noteworthy, Turkey – which has turned into the sole land trade corridor reaching Iran from the West – has seen its profits in its dealings with Iran risen sharply. Not surprisingly, its business press has been cheering the Iran sanctions as providing Ankara with a competitive trade advantage. Also off the radar, Qatar which in the Persian Gulf is sharing the world’s largest gas field with Iran, has been able to exploit South Pars much more rapidly than Iran given the latter’s lack of access to advanced technologies. This has resulted in a tremendous gap of revenues between the two countries of many several billion dollars.

Conclusion: Time for Abandoning Coercive Diplomacy

Ultimately, the policy of sanctions is counter-productive on multiple levels, most sensitively on diplomatic and socio-economic grounds. The sanctions – whether called “crippling” or “targeted” – disproportionately affect the civilian population. “Smart sanctions” are very much an oxymoron as “smart bombs” which allegedly function in surgical precision. And like their military counterparts, “targeted sanctions” inflict extensive “collateral damage.”

Despite the political need to seriously reconsider sanctions as a tool for a judicious and solution-oriented foreign policy, there are many political and institutional barriers to overcome before the extremely dense web of Iran sanctions can be dissolved – which remains not only a huge political challenge but also a moral one. The first step in this direction will be the sober realization among policymakers that while sanctions do have effects, these are not the ones officially proclaimed or desired – neither in socio-economic terms nor in the sphere of Realpolitik when it comes to altering Tehran’s nuclear calculation. Leaving the sanctions against Iran in place advances the specter of an Iraqization of Iran – with all its adverse effects internally (destruction of society) as well as externally (war and destabilization of an already too fragile regional balance).

To pave the way for a new chapter in Iran’s relations with the West, Rohani has already proved his wisdom by his choice of foreign minister. Mohammad-Javad Zarif, Iran’s former ambassador to the UN, has already been labeled as “Tehran’s leading connoisseur of the U.S. political elite”. All this undoubtedly presents the most suited prerequisite towards the aim of alleviating the multi-level liability that sanctions constitute. But at the end, it is the responsibility of those who have imposed the sanctions to initiate the process of their removal. The ball is now in the West’s court. It would truly be the “height of irresponsibility” if one missed this opportunity offered by the Iranian people who have already paid dearly for an utterly miscalculated transatlantic “coercive diplomacy.”



Ali Fathollah-Nejad (2013) “Fallouts of Iran Sanctions“, World Policy Journal (online), New York: World Policy Institute, 31 July;

▪ republished on Oriental Review (Moscow), 1 August;

published as “Nefarious Fallouts of Iran Sanctions” on:

Global Research, Montreal: Centre for Research on Globalization, 5 August;

Payvand Iran News, 5 August;

Iranian.com, 5 August;

Fair Observer, 9 August.

Asfar: The Middle Eastern Journal, No. 3 (August 2013).





“a must-read” — Action Coalition Against Sanctions on Iran.

Írán po Ahmadínežádovi: Nedotknutelná ekonomika se zajímavým potenciálem [Czech Republic]


Podezření, že buduje jaderný arzenál; obavy, že na něj zaútočí izraelské letectvo; výhrůžky, že zablokuje Hormúzský průliv – Írán opakovaně hýbe světovými trhy. Odborník na emerging markets Jim O’Neill zemi řadí mezi Next 11, jedenáctku zemí, které mají společně s BRICS potenciál stát se v 21. století největšími ekonomikami světa. Evropští investoři ovšem na problematickou zemi zřejmě ani po nástupu nového prezidenta nevsadí, říká expert na Írán z londýnské School of Oriental and African Studies Ali Fathollah-Nejad.

Íránská ekonomika kolabuje. Čekáte s nástupem Hassana Rúháního obrat k lepšímu?

Je potřeba brát v potaz dvě věci. Tou první je něco, co lze nazvat špatným řízením. Pokud se novému prezidentovi povede dát dohromady tým, který zvládne třenice mezi jednotlivými politickými frakcemi, tým, v němž budou zastoupeny všechny zájmové skupiny – a to skutečnými experty –, mohlo by dojít ke změně. Nesmíme ale zapomínat na to, že v Íránu byly skupiny, které výrazně vydělávaly na tom, jak se věci během posledních osmi let Ahmadínežádovy vlády dělaly. Jde zejména o hospodářskou větev Revolučních gard. Ty nebudou nadšeny z toho, že by je soukromý sektor nebo někteří hráči spojovaní s politickou konkurencí mohly připravit o výhody.

Druhým bodem jsou, předpokládám, mezinárodní sankce.

Ano. Jak řekl sám americký prezident Obama, jde zřejmě o nejkomplexnější a nejobsáhlejší sankce v historii. To znamená, že ať už Rúhání udělá cokoli, íránské firmy možná ani tak nebudou moci volně obchodovat se světem, využívat globální bankovní systém nebo třeba se pojistit. Stejně tak je možné, že ani napříště nebudou moci dovážet nejnovější technologie, které by jim umožnily uspokojit domácí poptávku. Dokonce je možné, že se sankce v některých oblastech zpřísní, konkrétně by mohlo dojít k zákazu veškerého obchodu s Íránem. Ten byl už tak kvůli finančním sankcím značně ochromen, podobný krok by ho jistě dále přiškrtil.

Nástup Rúháního tedy z pohledu západního byznysu nepřinese nic nového?

V první řadě je potřeba se zaměřit na to, co se stalo. To, že Západ není na íránském trhu, je čistě rozhodnutí Západu. Američané v posledních deseti letech tlačili na Evropu, aby se její firmy z Íránu stáhly. Nakonec byly v podstatě všechny evropské společnosti nuceny odejít. Jejich pozice okamžitě zaujali Číňané. Podstatné je, že pro technokraty v Íránu je to důvod k obavám. Zaprvé, země nemá přístup k moderním technologiím, které potřebuje. A zadruhé, Číňané využívají – nebo zneužívají – finanční sankce. Podobně jako třeba Indové odebírají íránskou ropu, ale neplatí za ni; místo toho do země posílají nekvalitní zboží, v podstatě odpad. Stalo se to i terčem vtipů – místo o iráckého programu “ropa za jídlo” se dnes mluví o íránské “ropě za odpad”.

Jak vnímáte narůstající přítomnost a vliv Číny v zemi?

Levné čínské výrobky zaplavují íránský trh, což dusí íránskou výrobu i trh práce. Čínská přítomnost má tedy bezesporu své stinné stránky. Zároveň je zajímavé sledovat doslova explozivní růst čínsko-íránského obchodu, který je přímým důsledkem situace na mezinárodní scéně. Čínsko-íránská obchodní komora například nedávno mluvila o bilaterálním obchodu ve výši 46 miliard dolarů, což je obrovské číslo. Jak Číňané, tak Íránci, kteří se na těchto obchodech přímo podílejí, vydělávají. Přínos pro íránskou ekonomiku jako celek je ale přinejmenším sporný.

I to by mělo nahrávat Západu. Pokud by tedy stál o normalizaci vztahů.

Rúhání je pragmatický člověk, s nímž je možné se dohodnout. Je tím nejlepším, co si Západ mohl přát. Proto by se s ním měl navázat dialog, jehož součástí by měla být i nabídka oslabení a postupného zrušení sankcí. To by umožnilo evropským firmám vrátit se na íránský trh. Čím déle bude normalizace vztahů Západu a Íránu trvat, tím obtížnější bude pro Evropu a Ameriku se do země vrátit. Už proto, že je řada Íránců na západní firmy stále naštvanější. Platí to zejména pro evropské firmy, protože Íránci nechápou, proč ustupují americkému tlaku; proč si nehledí svých zájmů, které by se měly od těch amerických a izraelských lišit. Návrat pro Evropany bude obtížný, ale ne nemožný.

Měly by o něj evropské firmy usilovat?

Určitě. Írán je důležitý geopolitický uzel a velice zajímavý trh v perspektivním regionu.



Roman Chlupatý (2013) “Írán po Ahmadínežádovi: Nedotknutelná ekonomika se zajímavým potenciálem” [Iran After Ahmadinejad: (Sanctions-)Locked Economy Has Interesting Potential], Investičníweb (Czech Republic), 2 August.


This is another part of an interview Ali Fathollah-Nejad gave to the Czech journalist Roman Chlupatý (see the other interview here). The following topics are discussed: prospects for the Iranian economy under the new presidency of Hassan Rohani; the impact of international sanctions on the country; prospects of Western business involvement in Iran; China’s economic presence in Iran; prospects for a normalization of relations between Iran and the West. The interview has been published by Investičníwebthe second largest business- and finance-oriented web-based media in the Czech Republic.

Svět čeká, zda se mu otevře íránský potenciál [Czech Republic]


Když se Západ nedohodne ani s ním, tak už asi s nikým, komentuje vítězství Hasana Rúháního v íránských prezidentských volbách Alí Fatholláh-Nejád ze School of African and Oriental Studies v Londýně. Přidává se tak k vesměs optimistickým reakcím, které se ve světě i v samotném Íránu po volbě kandidáta politického středu objevily.

Teheránskou burzu a rial jako by někdo minulý týden polil živou vodou, neutěšené hospodářské situaci navzdory. A nejen v Londýně se mezi firmami aktivními v regionu začalo opatrně spekulovat o uvolnění sankcí. Předčasně, varuje Fatholláh-Nejád, podle kterého vše pojede ve starých kolejích.

Íránská ekonomika by se měla po nástupu Rúháního dočkat jistého oživení, shoduje se většina expertů. Jak výrazné ovšem bude, je otázka. Země od poloviny loňského roku zažívá volný pád – oficiální data signalizují 14procentní nezaměstnanost a 30až 40procentní meziroční nárůst inflace, což v praxi znamená, že riál poztrácel více než 75 procent své hodnoty. To způsobil dosluhující prezident Mahmúd Ahmadínežád, který ve velkém ignoroval rady expertů, včetně vlastních ekonomických poradců a ministrů. Nemalou měrou k tomu ale přispěly také koordinované americko-evropské sankce, které postupně přiškrtily íránské vývozy ropy z úrovně 2,2 milionu barelů denně na pouhou třetinu.

„Rúhání vylepší hospodářskou správu země. Bude více naslouchat odborníkům, zlepší podnikatelské prostředí a zredukuje počet zásahů státu do ekonomiky,“ myslí si Nádir Habíbi, profesor americké Brandeis University. Na něco podobného se ve svých předpovědích odvolávají i další znalci Íránu. Jedním dechem ale dodávají, že v některých oblastech může nový prezident narazit. Konzervativci, Revoluční gardy a jim podobní za Ahmadínežáda získali značné bohatství a výhody, o něž by je reformy mohly připravit. Jakékoli změny přitom budou podmíněny jejich souhlasem. Rúhání tak má před sebou na domácí scéně úkol hodný provazochodce – a na té mezinárodní to nebude o moc lehčí. Sankce jsou totiž ne náhodou přirovnávány k zámořským lodím: Jakmile se dají do pohybu, je těžké je zastavit.

„Je to nejlepší prezident, jakého si Západ mohl přát. Přesto nevěřím tomu, že by v dohledné době mělo dojít ke zmírnění sankcí,“ je přesvědčen Fatholláh-Nejád. Upozorňuje přitom i na signály z poslední doby, podle kterých naopak svět hodlá přitvrdit. Jak nedávno informovaly Süddeutsche Zeitung, na konci července by se mohla objevit další série opatření, která by opět o něco ztížila obchodování s Íránem. Zastánci sankcí, podle kterých je vítězství Rúháního signálem, že tlak v podobě obchodní klatby funguje, to nejspíš uvítají. FatholláhNejád a jemu podobní to považují za kontraproduktivní krok, který bude brzdit snahy nového prezidenta, poškodí evropské firmy se zájmem o Írán a nic neřeší.

„Jakmile byly evropské firmy donuceny se stáhnout, zastoupili je Číňané. A ty mezinárodní sankce jen stěží odstaví,“ popisuje současnou situaci Fatholláh -Nejád. Írán tak ani v případě navýšení tlaku nebude bez určitého druhu zboží, pouze se mu ho dostane v nekvalitním provedení. Jak někteří znalci vtipkují v narážce na program food for oil (jídlo za ropu), který zavedl Západ s Irákem, Írán na něj naváže programem junk for oil (odpad za ropu), což pro něj může být svým způsobem také trest. Už vážněji pak dodávají, že by další navýšení tlaku na Írán ze strany Západu bez toho, aby Rúhání dostal šanci, jen posílilo diplomatickou a obchodní pozici Pekingu.

„Írán je geopoliticky velmi důležitý. Zároveň jde o hodně zajímavý trh. Správný přístup nám toto místo může otevřít,“ říká Fatholláh-Nejád – a v podstatě všichni s ním souhlasí. O tom, co je správné, se ale přou. I proto se asi z pohledu evropského byznysu nic nezmění.



Roman Chlupatý (2013) “Svět čeká, zda se mu otevře íránský potenciál: Vítězství středového kandidáta vzbuzuje opatrné naděje na zmírnění sankcí” (The World Is Watching Whether the Iranian Potential Is Going to Be Unlocked), E15, 26 June [pdf], p. 10.



This is an interview Ali Fathollah-Nejad gave to the Czech business daily (freesheet) E15 on the 2013 Iranian presidential election, President-elect Hassan Rohani and prospects of sanctions relief.