Despite the official American and Iranian denial of the information that appeared in the article published by The New York Times on Oct. 21, which stated that Iran has agreed in principle to hold one-on-one talks with the U.S. after the presidential elections; however this news is true. While officials who are close to President Barack Obama have intentionally leaked the news to influence the presidential elections, Iran agreed to the bilateral meeting, in order to gain some time to develop its nuclear program, and instigate a trouble between the U.S and their European allies.
The article was published in The New York Times after a report written by a former CIA agent, knowledgeable in Iranian affairs, in which he stated that both, the U.S. and Iran, reached an agreement after talks held in Doha, Qatar. Gary Samore, White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation and Terrorism, had also held talks in Ankara with an Iranian envoy, who uses his work at the Iranian Embassy as a cover for his actions.
All these movements may just be part of Iranian tricks domestically and abroad, to blackout the main story that was the center of attention for the past weeks, namely the collapse of the Iranian currency (riyal), which led to turmoil at the beginning of the month, and especially on Oct. 16, when the companies objected to the soaring prices of raw material and complained about the difficulties they face to cover the expenses.
In an attempt to anticipate wider potential social turbulence, the Iranian regime had intentionally created some schemes, in an act that has become very common in its overlooking of the welfare of its people. Moreover, there are also signs of management chaos and lack of leadership harmony, with conflicting messages addressed by several parties of the regime and that are being increasingly heard.
On Oct.13, a member of the Shura Council acknowledged the great impact of the foreign currency crisis on the economy, and the threat emanating from the demonstrations of the bazaar merchants, expressing his fear from wider public protest. His apprehension perfectly contrasts with the messages of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is trying to be reassuring, as if nothing has changed. Another sign of the gravity of this situation is the religious institution that has started to insist on finding a solution to the economic crisis.
The solution adopted by Khamenei’s regime reveals a clear desire to work on maintaining his position, regardless of the huge price paid by the Iranian people in return. The regime tried to blame the flow of billions of counterfeit dollars to the Iranian foreign exchange market by traders in the black market.
On Oct. 6, the semi-official Iranian news agency ISNA, stated that “some” are trying to win at the expense of the public through counterfeit currency that is being traded in the exchange market!
This has created anxiety and panic among the people who have exchanged their money in recent weeks, in an attempt to preserve some of the value of the riyal, which is rapidly deteriorating.
Multiple sources indicated that “the authorization to carry out this activity” was issued by the highest ranked official in the country, i.e. Khamenei’s office. Many Iranian sites published the statement of Arsalan Fathipour, the head of the Parliament’s Economic Committee, in which he talks deliberately about “billions of counterfeit dollars” in the country’s currency exchange market.
Fathipour was warning the Iranians against the counterfeit currency which swamped the market, while the government was behind it. The Iranian source says that it is impossible for the Iranian market to be flooded with nearly eight billion dollars, without any real intervention from the regime, “because a small group of counterfeiters cannot logistically organize such a fraud.”
The reason behind swamping the market with counterfeit dollars, was to control the riyal that lost 41% of its value against the dollar. The Iranian citizen who had $11,000 last year, is left this year with $3,400 and he does not really know how much he possesses in fact, because the regime prohibits the publication of the true exchange rate. With this collapse, the judiciary spokesman gave orders to impose death penalty on whoever damages the Iranian economy, and that was a direct threat to currency exchange offices.
Meanwhile, Khamenei says that Iran will not surrender to the “colonization” in facing the new European sanctions, but despite his speech tone, the Supreme Leader is eager to avoid a new “Persian Spring,” similar to the revolutions that took place in the Middle East countries in the past two years. Iran has not witnessed such a shock against its regime since it suppressed the demonstrators after the elections’ “fraud”.
The first fraud was followed by demonstrations, but we do not know yet what will happen after the second fraud that is related this time to the dollars. Khamenei faced his people for the sake of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but the Iranian president disagreed with the Iranian leader and is now spending his remaining days battling alone, while his aides lie in prisons, awaiting the end of his presidency next summer.
The signs of increasing desperation can be clearly noticed through the decision to mislead the market with counterfeit dollars. The Iranian people are not only paying the price of economic mismanagement or international sanctions imposed as a result of the regime's policies, but they are also paying a higher price for the counterfeit dollars.
As for the recent European sanctions imposed on Oct. 15, they represent a new transformation in the international efforts that aim to push Iran to change its foreign policy strategy. However, it is misleading to assume that the new European sanctions will drive Iran to take new positions regarding the issues that cause its conflicts with the international community, especially its nuclear policy. Its last regional record is nothing but a clear evidence of why the peoples of the region are deeply concerned.
The most obvious case is Syria, where the “Revolutionary Guards” are militarily involved with the regime of Bashar al-Assad in many aspects of the civil life. The Iranians intend to provide electricity to Damascus following an agreement signed by both countries three months ago and under which Tehran will provide Damascus with 250 megawatt of electricity, to compensate for the attacks on the power networks, and as now Turkey, Jordan and Egypt have stopped their supplies.
Recently, it was revealed that the “Revolutionary Guards” are playing an important role, even in the details related to the personal security of the Syrian President.
Furthermore, there is Hezbollah in Lebanon, which is known for its ideological allegiance to ‘Wilayat al-Faqih’ and receives direct orders from Tehran. The fear is now to see the counterfeit dollars spread into Lebanon, which could further destabilize the Lebanese economy. Despite its denials, the role of Hezbollah has expanded on the Syrian scene to support the Syrian regime against the opposition.
Syria and Hezbollah are the vital “arteries” of Iran which always strives to make them float, even at the expense of the Iranian people. Iran is aware that Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, led Damascus to face problems within its borders, while in the past it was battling inside the Lebanese territory with the lives of the Lebanese. Iran knows that its role in Syria now is similar to Syria’s previous role in Lebanon. Problems should remain there and not extend because if they lead to the collapse of the regime, the conflict would expand to reach Iran. Besides, the fall of the Syrian regime will cut off the basic lifeline for Hezbollah, even if some disagree with this view.
Iran's efforts to overcome the sanctions are certainly relentless, and the more the regime becomes desperate, the more the efforts become creative. There is no doubt that Iran will try to use all possible tricks before it accepts to be subject to concessions.
It is noteworthy that, in previous cases, when the Iranian regime faced major economic and political challenges, it avoided major shifts in its foreign policy and preferred to risk its economic policy to prevent the indignation of the Iranians, instead of dealing with political issues that are needed to put Iran on the road of development and stability. Iran preferred to be a threat to the countries in the region rather than a partner.
This happened prior to the harsh sanctions and prior to the draught in its financial reserve. But, can Iran count on the patience of its people in light of the current situation and for how long?
(The writer is a columnist for Asharq al-Awsat where this article was first published on Oct. 25, 2012.)