JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
It’s official: Iran has a newly elected president. His name is Hassan Rouhani and he’s being described in the mainstream media as a moderate and a centrist.
Here to give us his take on things is Hamid Dabashi. Hamid is a professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University in New York. He is a frequent contributor to The Real News and author of the book Iran, the Green Movement and the U.S.A.: The Fox and the Paradox.
Thank you for joining us, Hamid.
HAMID DABASHI, PROF. IRANIAN STUDIES AND COMPARATIVE LIT., COLUMBIA UNIV.: Thank you very much, Jessica. What mainline news? You are the main news. [inaud.] The Real News. The other are phony.
Desvarieux: I appreciate it. I appreciate it, Hamid. But they are saying in mainstream media that he is a centrist and a moderate. What does that mean in the context of Iranian politics?
Dabashi: Well, first of all, you have to step back. He was one of the eight candidates among hundreds of candidates that the Guardian Council, which vets the candidate, approved. So he is extremely close to the regime, to the establishment. He is one of them. He has been member of the Expediency Council and Assembly of Experts, and also most importantly Supreme National Security Council. So he is an insider in the regime through and through. There is nothing [incompr.] about him. And most recently also he was a nuclear negotiator in the international community. They know him because of his involvement with the nuclear negotiations before the current negotiator, Saeed Jalili, was also a candidate.
Now, in the context of these eight people, yes, he was and he is the more moderate. And he describes himself as a centrist, as not an extremist. So, by that he wants to dissociate himself from the previous administration, from Ahmadinejad’s administration. But more importantly what is critical to keep in mind is not his credential as he was before he entered the race, but how in the course of the campaign over the last few weeks, particularly after three national presidential debates, people began to come around him—the reformists, the young, the university people, women’s rights activists, etc.—to in effect transfer the energy that existed in the last presidential election, that as you know resulted in a social uprising, onto him. And in every gathering that he went, people began to scream “Yo Hossein, Mir-Hossein,” referring to Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the last leader of the Green movement, who is still under house arrest. So as a result, the thing to keep in mind is that whatever his credentials so far as a member of the ruling regime is concerned, people have started investing in him new hope and new credentials. And he is responding in kind, and he is now part of this new synergy.
Desvarieux: What is his attitude towards people’s movements? Particularly I know that there was a strike. Bus drivers, they unionized and had a strike and there was a lot of backlash from the previous administration. What are his attitudes towards workers movements?
Dabashi: It is too early, Jessica, to tell. I mean, remember, he has not even been inaugurated. And also keep in mind that Iran is thoroughly entrenched in neoliberal economics through and through. Iran is an oil-based economy. Eighty-five percent plus of Iranian economy is oil-based. And as a result, I don’t expect any huge sort of radical change in his administration during his administration so far as the fundamental foundation of the Iranian economy in the neoliberal economics regionally and globally is concerned.
But during his campaigns, during his speeches, and also in the first speech that he delivered after his victory, he has been attentive and he has been talking about the rights of the laborers. In fact, just this morning he had a press conference, and somebody talked about the right of unions to—about the unions to be able to organize, and he said this is not a privilege, this is their legal right to be able to talk about their demands.
So within that context he—I mean, I’m not expecting too much. It’s too early to tell. But because he seems to be committed to civil liberties—this is my concern at the moment—he seems to be committed to civil liberties, and in that context, labor unions might have an easier way, independent labor unions might have an easier way to unionize and organize and be active in the scene. But it is too early to say.
Desvarieux: Okay. Let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about Iran’s relationship with the West. A member of the Obama administration has come out and said that they are open to restarting talks with Iran. And I know that now president-elect Rouhani, he has said that he would like there to be more transparency in Iran’s nuclear program. What do you make of all of this? Do you see there being a possibility for talks again?
Dabashi: Oh, absolutely. The ball now is squarely in President Obama’s administration. First of all, Rouhani enters the scene with a magnificent mandate. In the first round of the election he has absolute majority. I mean, you have to go back in the ’90s and presidency of Khatami for a president to have the mandate like Mr. Rouhani has. So if I were President Obama or anybody in Europe, I would talk very respectfully to this man, because he represents the will of his nation.
And both—in answer to your question, both during the campaign and in the first statement that he made to the nation after his election and in his press conference this morning, he said that we need to be more transparent about our nuclear activities. Then he said of course we have been very transparent, but in order to build confidence in the international community, we also need to be even more transparent.
He also said during his campaign that, yes, our nuclear program is legitimate and has to go on, but we have to do it in a way that other aspects of our society and other aspects of our economy—referring to the crippling sanctions—also will be running smoothly. So I don’t believe that if the Obama administration is serious about nuclear negotiation they will have anybody more capable. First of all, he has expertise. He has been a nuclear negotiator. They can talk directly English to him. He has a PhD in law from the U.K. There is no problem in that regard. And if the nuclear issue is really issue—to me it’s a nonissue, it’s a fabricated issue, because Iran is surrounded by four nuclear powers, and nobody talks about Israel, nobody talks about Pakistan, nobody talks about Russia. They’re all picking on Iran. But be that as it may, if the Obama administration is serious about the nuclear issues, they will never have anybody more capable, more confident, and more willing to sit down for a negotiation about nuclear issue.
Desvarieux: Well, thank you so much for joining us, Hamid.
Dabashi: Anytime, Jessica.
Desvarieux: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.