A special consultative meeting was held in Tehran last week, headed by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. The meeting was attended by former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, who called for the Iranian regime to enter into a new comprehensive political dialogue with the West, including the US, to normalize relations and end the diplomatic discord that has persisted since the Islamic Revolution brought the mullahs to power in 1979. It was a blatant attempt to relaunch the tired, old, hard-line versus moderate fairy tale that has been a hallmark of Ali Akbar Salehi’s tactics for years.
Salehi successfully persuaded the West that he represented a ‘moderate’ faction within the Iranian regime’s hierarchy when he was Minister of Foreign Affairs under the rule of former ultra-hard-line conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He tried to re-emphasize his credentials as a restrained and mild-mannered soft-liner when he assumed the presidency of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, during former President Hassan Rouhani’s term in office. For the mullahs to trot out Salehi once again in an effort to hoodwink the West, is a sign of their growing desperation.
Western media and politicians have fallen for this subterfuge repeatedly. But the Iranian people know the truth. In frequent street protests they could often be heard chanting “Reformists and hardliners the game is over.” The Iranian people know that all of the mullahs are the same. They are all venally corrupt criminals, who are clinging to power by their fingernails, relying on the brutality of the IRGC, the regime’s Gestapo, and their militia thugs the Basij, to crush dissent. The people recognise that Tehran’s clerical leadership has to rely on coercion, repression, and lethal force in managing its domestic and international affairs. Its external aggression and internal brutality underline its determination to stave off all threats to the regime.
The truth is there are no reformists. It is the hardliners who rule Iran, and it is an ultra-hardliner, handpicked by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is the current president. Ebrahim Raisi, dubbed ‘The Butcher of Tehran’ because of his notorious role as an executioner, has spearheaded the crackdown on protesters during the nationwide uprising that began following the murder in custody of Mahsa Amini last September. He has condoned the killing of 750 protesters by the IRGC and the Basij and the arrest of 30,000. He has launched a frenzy of executions in an attempt to terrify the Iranian population into submission. He has ordered the re-emergence of the hated morality police to punish women who fail to follow the mullahs’ absurd misogynist dress code. And he has embarked on a world tour of pariah states like Venezuela, Nicaragua and Zimbabwe, to burnish his credentials as a leading violator of human rights. This is the regime that Salehi serves.
An Iraqi by birth, Ali Akbar Salehi has beguiled western politicians with his flair for languages, speaking fluent English, Arabic and Farsi. His degree in physics from the American University in Beirut and PhD in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, positioned him as an American-trained academic. When the main Iranian opposition movement, the People’s Mojahedin of Iran/Mojahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK), revealed the regime’s clandestine nuclear weapons program at a press conference in Washington in 2002, it shocked western powers to the core. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was called in to conduct inspections and in 2009 Salehi was sanctioned by both the EU and the UK for his involvement in the covert plan. The EU, in a typical act of appeasement, lifted their sanctions when Salehi was appointed as Foreign Minister in 2010. Following his assignment as head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization by President Rouhani, Salehi was again sanctioned and subjected to travel bans by the EU and UK and also by the US, on the back of further revelations by the IAEA.
Despite his conniving and devious reputation, Salehi was nevertheless embraced by western powers, when he emerged as a key negotiator at the ill-fated Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear talks instituted by Barack Obama in 2015. The one-sided nuclear deal related mainly to the lifting of sanctions in Iran. In return the West got very little, apart from a few scant paragraphs detailing Iranian cooperation in slowing down its nuclear enrichment process for a period of eight years. It was a very bad deal for the West and a breakthrough deal for Iran. The JCPOA released over $150 billion in assets that were frozen under the sanctions, re-vitalizing the broken Iranian economy and enabling the theocratic regime to re-double its international terrorism, its warmongering in the Middle East, and its repression at home. It quickly became apparent that the regime was also using the JCPOA as a convenient cover for accelerated nuclear weapons production.
When President Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the JCPOA in 2018, reimposing tough sanctions on the mullahs’ regime, it began a spiral of decline in Iran. In panic, the mullahs have made repeated efforts to resurrect the JCPOA, pleading with the US, EU and UK to lift all sanctions. With the faltering administration of President Joe Biden beginning to sound keen on reinstating the zombie deal, it is no surprise that the mullahs have stage-managed a very public appearance by Ali Akbar Salehi, openly imploring the West to return to normal diplomatic relations with the Iranian regime. Salehi is the carrot being dangled in front of the US Republican donkey. At the Tehran meeting Salehi pointed out that Iran had held talks with the US over Afghanistan, Iraq, prisoner exchanges and the nuclear agreement. However, he regretted that Tehran and Washington had not entered into comprehensive and wide-ranging political negotiations covering other issues. Clearly, he was referring to sanctions when he added: “Due to the political situation and the challenges between us and the West, particularly the US, they exert pressure on us in any way possible.”
It is obvious that the mullahs hope Salehi may persuade the West to restore the defunct JCPOA and lift sanctions. It would be a catastrophic error for them to do so. Eighty-five million oppressed and brutalised Iranians now look to the West to end their appeasement of this cruel regime and transfer their support to the people of Iran who long for freedom and justice.
Struan Stevenson is the Coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change (CiC). He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). Struan is also Chair of the ‘In Search of Justice’ (ISJ) committee on the protection of political freedoms in Iran. He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and is also president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA). His latest book is entitled ‘Dictatorship and Revolution. Iran – A Contemporary History.’