Posts Tagged ‘Bahman Baktiari’

Bahman Baktiari: Sport Diplomacy with Iran: Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges

September 10, 2014



Bahman Baktiari: Can the U.S. and Iran Become Trustworthy Rivals?

July 18, 2014

Bahman Baktiari: Can the U.S. and Iran Become Trustworthy Rivals?

Huffington Post
Bahman Baktiari
Charles Randall Paul

Diplomats from the P5+1 countries (China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom) and negotiators from the United States and Iran have been diligently striving to meet the July 20 deadline for signing a historic and unprecedented accord assuring that Iran will not build nuclear weapons. Although the interim agreement signed in November 2013 allows for a six-month extension, prolonging these crucial negotiations in a time of extreme turmoil in the Middle East region is not in the interest of either Iran or the U.S. It is time to end 35 years of wasteful cold war and mutual satanization with Iran. Both nations must instead focus their full diplomatic powers on stabilizing the deteriorating security conditions in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond.

Both sides know that a successful settlement on the nuclear issue rests on reliable trust-but-verify protocols. For the United States and the P5+1 group, three main trust-confirming objectives are essential: continual Iranian cooperation with random inspections to verify that nuclear weapons are not being built; expansion of the IAEA’s ability to effectively monitor Iranian nuclear-power activities to allow discovery and neutralization of any breakout attempt; and voluntary adoption of verifiable legal and technical restrictions to ensure that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons.
To address these concerns effectively, Iran must sign the IAEA Additional Protocol, a legal document that grants the IAEA complete authority over inspection of nuclear facilities on declared and possible undeclared activities. Under the protocol, the IAEA can initiate surprise inspections with expanded rights of access to sites and pertinent information.

Because the Iranian parliament has to vote to endorse the IAEA Additional Protocol, it is vital for President Rouhani’s administration to obtain this approval even though the parliament has not been generally supportive of his win-win approach with the West. President Rouhani can still remedy this problem if he submits the Additional Protocol along with the fatwa (ruling) issued by Ayatollah Khamenei that religiously forbids the development of nuclear weapons. Submitting these together as effectively one piece of legislation will dissuade hardliners from rejecting the protocol supported by the fatwa of their Supreme Leader.

Both in Tehran and in Washington, D.C., domestic political opponents of détente are loudly criticizing the naïveté of any agreement between historically untrustworthy adversaries. Negotiators on both sides know that they can only secure a lasting accord if it is supported by a majority of their fellow citizens, who will want to feel that their nation is acting wisely, not weakly, in coming to such terms. Still, with a balanced agreement, the majority of Americans and Iranians desire the chance for a new future. Despite reservations on both sides, now is the time to complete this long-neglected work and enter a new era based on a verifiable experiment in mutual trust.

Some Americans are trying to keep sanctions in place until all substantive foreign-policy disagreements can be resolved. This is utterly overreaching and disrespects the good-faith intentions of the negotiations.

Even if we could pressure the Iranians to sign a verifiable nuclear-weapons agreement without lifting all the punishing sanctions, it would be a self-defeating diplomatic disaster not unlike what happened with the Versailles Treaty, signed 95 years ago. That treaty imposed such harsh penalties on Germany that the resentment among the German people erupted in virulent retaliation that set off a chain of violent events unlike the world had ever seen. It should matter deeply to us all how the Iranian people feel about the fairness and respectfulness of this agreement. In a real way World War I and World War II finally ended when the United States decided to reject punishments of former enemies and generously reconstruct all of Europe with the Marshall Plan. Within less than a decade, against all prior assumptions, the U.S. made friends of adversaries, with enormously positive political ramifications for the world. With that same practical spirit, fully acknowledging our rival interests and views, is it not obvious that America is better off with the Iranian people as strong and trustworthy collaborators for stability in a region of dysfunctional states and violent movements?
The Iranian leaders certainly know that if they fail to live up to their commitments, the United States and others will reimpose the sanctions. Furthermore, this time, if Iran violates the terms of the agreement, the Iranian people will clearly blame their government for such a failure, meaning uncertain consequences for the regime.

If Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Menachem Begin of Israel were able to sign a peace treaty in 1979 that has stood the test of time despite their countries’ continual differences and the tumultuous instability in the region, cannot the world powers seize this moment for a comprehensive, verifiable and respectful agreement with Iran that opens the way for normalization of the relationship between Iran and the United States?

Winning the peace based on prudent trust between countries with rival interests is never easy, but it is the summit of statesmanship. A new future based on growing mutual trust is now a real possibility, and it would be tragic to waste this opportunity. The United States and its European partners should let the Iranian people know that they desire a balanced, verifiable agreement that lifts all sanctions and launches a new relationship with Iran.

Bahman Baktiari holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Virginia. He is the executive director of the International Foundation for Civil Society in the Middle East and North Africa.
Charles Randall Paul holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago Committee on Social Thought. He is the president and founder of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy.

Bahman Baktiari

October 15, 2013


Testing the Diplomatic Option with Iran: The Stakes for the Iranian People

October 12, 2013

Bahman Baktiari and Nader Habibi

For the first time in more than 30 years,  the United States and Iran have engaged in high-level diplomatic talks in the hope of resolving the nuclear impasse.   The unprecedented telephone conversation between President Obama and the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is a positive development after three decades of acrominous dialogue.   The stakes for both governments cannot be underestimated. Both presidents face daunting domestic challenges,  Obama has to convince Congress and the Israeli government that Rouhani represents the best chance for a diplomatic resolution of the nuclear impasse.   Rouhani has to navigate the minefield of the Iranian political system to make sure hardliners do not derail his initiatives.

Yet,   the stakes are much higher for the Iranian people.  They want these negotiations to succeed, and as much as statements like “recognizing the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy ”is reassuring to political leaders in Iran, what Iranian people need to see is  tangible relief from  some of the  sanctions,  reparation of Iran’s international image, and  better opportunities for young Iranians who struggle to make a living for themselves and their families.

By their large participation in the June Presidential elections the Iranian voters demonstrated that they are well aware of the high stakes involved in the current nuclear impasse.    The financial and oil sanctions   have taken a heavy toll on Iranian economy and its young population.  GDP growth per capita declined from an average 3.5 percent per year between 1997 and 2004 to 1.5 percent between 2005 and 2010.   As a result, Iran is currently experiencing record high unemployment along with very high inflation rates. While the over all unemployment has recently approached 14% for the entire economy the youth unemployment is well above 20%. The economy has sunk into a recession in 2012 with a negative five percent economic growth.  Iran’s standing on the 2012 Human Development Index published by the United Nations Development Program has declined in 2012 to 76 out of 186 nations. Between 2010 and 2011, it had already declined by six positions on the UNDP index.

Under such economic conditions, young Iranians do anything in order to move to another country in search of job and a more secure living.   According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in a ranking of 91 countries with the largest brain drain,  Iran is at the top of the list  with between 150,000-180,000 of its university graduates leaving the country every year.  For the first time in Iranian history,   we hear  about  “Iranian boat people”  risking their lives on refugee boats headed to Australia.  Instead,  they have ended up on an islamd prison created by the Australian government to block refugee boats from entering the country.   According to available data,  more than 5 million Iranians live abroad today,  a staggering number since a majority of them have emigrated since 1979 revolution.

Some critics believe that even a  partial lifting of sanctions  before the Iranian government agrees to major concessions will send a wrong signal to the Iranian government. The U.S. congress is moving in the direction of imposing new sanctions before the negotiations can get off the ground.   However,  this will send the wrong signal to the Iranian people. They  will perceive such a move as an attempt by the U.S. congress to undermine the negotiations.  If it was not for the vote of the Iranian people that resulted in the election of Rouhani,  there would not have been a negotiating partner that speaks of moderation, and a determination to resolve the nuclear impasse.   Furthermore,  maintaining the sanctions will enhance the position of the hardliners and the Supreme Leader who are looking to transform any small set-back into a major failure.

The United States should view the Iranian people as an important stakeholder in the current negotiations.   As President Obama stated in his UN speech,  “Iran’s genuine commitment to go down a different path will be good for the region and the world, and will help the Iranian people meet their extraordinary potential in commerce andculture, in science and education.”   By lifting some of the sanctions and relieving the economic pressure on Iranian people at the start of the nuclear negotiations,   the United States will  not only demonstrate its  good will and credibility to Iranians,  and it would also increase their stake in success of the negotiations.    This will put  more pressure on Iranian government to deliver on its promises and show more flexibility.  Otherwise,    the Iranian people will blame their own government if the negotiations fail.

Nader Habibi is the Henry J. Leir Professor of the Economics of the Middle East,   at Brandeis University’s Crown Center for Middle East Studies.

Bahman Baktiari is the Executive Director of the International Foundation for Civil Society in Salt Lake City, Utah.


March 10, 2013


Bahman Bakhtiari

Bahman Bakhtiari is the Executive Director of the International Foundation for Civil Society.


August 21, 2012

What Edward Really Said

Bahman Bakhtiari

Bahman Bakhtiari



August 21, 2012

“For all practical purposes this weekend ended the Israeli debate on attacking Iran. What tipped the scales were two developments. The first was the decision of the country’s president, Shimon Peres, to make his opposition to a military strike public. The second was an interview given by a former key defense advisor of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, questioning for the first time publically whether his former superior and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are fit to lead Israel in time of war.”


Bahman Baktiari 





August 21, 2012

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Bahman Baktiari 

August 18, 2012

Bahman Baktiari


Bahman Baktiari

The Economist: Iran and sanctions When will it ever end?

August 17, 2012

For ordinary Iranians, daily life goes from bad to worse

Aug 18th 2012 | from the print edition

THE last time fruit and chicken were luxuries in Iran was back in the 1980s, when the country was fighting against Iraq. On the whole, Iranians believed that their young Islamic Republic needed protecting from Saddam Hussein and his Western backers. Non-combatants in the big cities generally accepted shortages and other privations with patriotic stoicism.

Two-and-a-half decades on, Iran again gives the impression of a country at war even if, for the moment, the guns are silent. Prices of basic food, clothes and electronic goods have soared as a result of international sanctions and a plummeting currency; the rial has more than halved in value over the past year. Nobody believes the official figure of 24% for the annual rate of inflation. Civil servants have been reduced to moonlighting in menial jobs to make up for their shrinking buying power.

The solidarity of the 1980s is conspicuous by its absence. Last month a limited sale of subsidised chicken prompted mini-riots. To engage a taxi-driver in conversation in the capital, Tehran, is to invite a tearful jeremiad against life’s iniquities. Even the fasting month of Ramadan, the traditional time for restraint and pious introspection, seems often to be abused as people smoke or munch openly in violation of official propaganda. “How can I fast for 18 hours a day,” asks a bazaar trader, “when my nerves are shot to bits?”

The country’s leaders have belatedly acknowledged that their insistence that Iran must enrich its uranium in defiance of the West is causing pain. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called for an “economy of resistance” based on self-reliance. If meat is not available, says one Friday prayer leader, people should make do with traditional egg soup.

In fact, Iran is much richer than it was in the war years of the 1980s. On paper at least, it earned a plentiful $120 billion from oil revenues in the financial year ending in March 2011. Some of the lucre has gone to finance the pro-poor subsidies beloved of the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but big sums have also found their way into the pockets of senior clerics, former Revolutionary Guard commanders and well-connected businessmen at the heart of the economic elite. Porsche says it sold more cars in Tehran in 2011 than in any other city in the Middle East.

Politics and economics are notoriously mixed. Shortly before Ramadan, a sumptuous open-air wedding party for the son of a very rich businessman was invaded by masked riot police who had apparently been dispatched at the instigation of a political foe. To the screams of guests, the police fired tear-gas and pulverised crystal fixtures as the inhabitants of neighbouring apartment blocks looked on in horrified fascination.

The worst effects of oil sanctions are only now starting to be felt, as a European Union embargo against Iranian crude takes effect, buyers such as South Korea and Turkey move their custom from Iran to other suppliers (Saudi Arabia, in the main), and payments are delayed because of Iran’s exclusion from a system of electronic bank transfers. Oil receipts are thought to be down by one-third on the beginning of the year, while the industry struggles to acquire equipment and to build storage to hold the growing lake of oil for which buyers have not been found.

Paying the price

The supreme leader disapproves of Iran’s dependence on hydrocarbon revenues and has called for investment in the country’s non-oil economy. But speculation offers better returns. Industrial units on Tehran’s southern fringe lie idle as investors buy foreign currencies or fixed assets as a hedge. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is hard to find Iranians who argue that their travails are a price worth paying for nuclear self-sufficiency as a barrier against foreign-inspired regime change.

This is what their leaders insist, but they do their cause little good by squabbling among themselves. Less than a year before he is due to step down, Mr Ahmadinejad seems to be losing a power struggle with rivals who enjoy the support of Mr Khamenei. On July 30th four men believed to be associates of the president’s most controversial ally, Esfandiyar Rahim Mashaei, were sentenced to death for their role in a bank fraud said to have been worth $2.6 billion. Rumours suggest Mr Mashaei may himself be a defendant.

The president has accused his political enemies of deliberately stoking inflation in order to harm him. Parliament plans to deny the government a role in staging next year’s elections, the plan apparently being to “elect” a candidate more fully obedient to the supreme leader, whom obsequious disciples now consider quasi-divine.

The Islamic Republic now seems to be more disliked than at any time since the revolution of 1979 that ended the monarchy, for which some people are showing nostalgia. Back in 2009, middle-class Iranians launched a pro-democracy agitation in response to Mr Ahmadinejad’s fraudulent re-election, yet many poor and pious Iranians stayed on the sidelines when the protests were crushed. Since then, however, dissatisfaction has spread. In the words of a middle-aged father trying to get his son to Canada: “Why should he stay? To watch the country tip into chaos?”

Fear as well as loathing

Hanging over all such calculations is the fear that Israel or America may attack Iran’s nuclear sites and set off a wider regional conflict. Iran seems to base its foreign policy on the assumption that, whatever the results of on-off nuclear negotiations conducted with the UN Security Council’s five permanent members plus Germany, the West is bent on toppling the regime. As evidence of this, Iran cites not only sanctions but also the assassination of five scientists associated with the nuclear programme and the infiltration of a computer worm, presumably by America and Israel, into its main enrichment plant.

The Iranians also fear that they could lose Syria as an ally to America if Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, is overthrown. On August 4th 48 Iranians were kidnapped near the Syrian capital Damascus by rebels claiming that their victims were on a military mission. Iran says the hostages are pilgrims and has asked Turkey and Qatar, which have good relations with the rebels, to intervene to get them freed.

Iran’s loyalty to Mr Assad is partly meant to counter the stance of its regional rival, Saudi Arabia, in favour of Syria’s rebels. Hardliners in Tehran have been cock-a-hoop over recent unrest in Shia-majority provinces in eastern Saudi Arabia. For their part, besides hoovering up customers for Iran’s oil, the Saudis are said to have executed several Iranian convicts who had been languishing for years in a Saudi jail.

Ordinary Iranians are suffering from policies of confrontation on which they have not been consulted. In 2006, when George Bush’s administration and its European allies drafted the first batch of punitive measures against Iran, the talk was of “smart” sanctions targeting only Iran’s nuclear activities. The reality, six years on, is of a people tested to the limits of their endurance while under the shadow of another perceived threat: that today’s almost-war will become tomorrow’s real one.