Khomeini in 1964 condemned the Shah for “shameful and degrading capitulations" to the U.S.

As the one who began this form of score keeping of rounds of nuclear negotiations between the IRI and the International Community (going as far back as March 2006 -- see index of posts on, I am delighted that finally the leaders of the Resolute Nation have chosen to use the analogy of a sporting event in order to explain the recent outcome of the Iran nuclear agreement with the 5+1. According to a report on BBC/Persian, the IRI President has stated that the result of this round between Iran and P+1 was like the score in a soccer match in which “we scored three goals and gave up two to the other side.” See here.

This mardomi kardan of the results of the negotiations has also extended to the sales job that the IRI foreign minister has done before the Islamic Consultative Assembly. According to a BBC/Persian report, the minister told the deputies that an (this) agreement is the result of give and take (bedeh va bestoun). But let’s face it: what the leaders of the Resolute Nation are doing is explaining in simple terms why IRI conceded its rights to the foreigners, granted them privileges—all for a pittance in economic relief. Where have we seen a similar situation before?

Ten years had passed since the overthrow of the Mossaddeq government and the Iran of the early 1960s was more than ever dependent on American military and economic assistance—and by implication under its political sway. Some may argue even that the preservation of the Pahlavi kingship rested on this association, not to mention all the social and economic reforms that the Shah was undertaking. In that political backdrop, in February 1962, the Iranian government had asked the US to extend the American military missions in Iran for an additional year. The US responded that it would do so only under the condition that Iran granted immunity to the members of the missions and their dependents. The Iranian government obliged and in 1964 the cabinet submitted to the Iranian parliament a bill that would formalize an exchange of notes (international written agreement) that granted immunities as the Americans had asked.

The ultimate defense of the Immunities Bill fell on the shoulders of Prime Minister Mansour. In his remarks to the National Consultative Assembly on 13 October 1964 he said that Iran was committing to the bill out of necessity to secure the cooperation of the United States with the various aspects of Iran’s military program and the acquisition and operation of military hardware. The privileges were being granted to people whose services the country required, he said. Because of developments in armaments and changes in military equipment, the country needed to employ technical people from the country that manufactured the arms. The bill passed by a slim majority.

At the time there was some speculation that the close vote was orchestrated by the Shah, who favored the bill, but wanted to show the Americans the lengths to which he would go to placate them no matter how unpopular the matter was with the public. Contemporaneously, the parliament approved a bill that authorized the government to receive “a $200 million loan from the United States for the purchase of military equipment.”

The quid pro quo—immunities for cash—received a tongue lashing by none other than the future leader of the Islamic revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, who saw the Immunities Law and the loan arrangement, against national interest, against Islamic values, and as signs of the Shah’s dependence on the United States. In the speech of 26 October 1964 he condemned the revival of the “shameful and degrading capitulations regime” by the Shah and his “rubber-stamp” parliament. Following the speech, the Iranian government arrested Khomeini and on 4 November 1964 exiled him to Turkey, where he would spend nine months before going to Najaf, Iraq.

On 10 November Mansur emphasized to the Assembly the importance of unanimity on the country’s important domestic policy, foreign policy, defense policy and the strengthening of the law and order forces. The Iranian nation and the Iranian government and the Shah, he said, were “truly above the idle talk of rumormongers and liars that distorted the truth about the country’s policies, including about the presence of foreign experts in the economic and military sectors.” The most memorable statement of his speech was this: “today our international policy must not have any sense of inferiority: such talk of inferiority does not become a country and a government that are completely conscious and aware, having no doubt as to the country’s economic and political independence.”

What does the ghost of Mansur whisper in the ears of the protagonists of the nuclear agreement like President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif, whose job is to sell the agreement to the Resolute Nation? Answer: beware of the limitations to give and take where national pride and Islamic values are concerned. What does the ghost of Ayatollah Khomeini whisper in the ears the present Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and the ultra conservatives in the Islamic Consultative Assembly, in the Sepah, and (yes) among secular-nationalists, who question the extent of rights that Iran has given up by this deal and extent of privileges granted to the foreigners? Answer: beware of selling ones dignity—if not sovereignty—for a handful of dollars.

During Ayatollah Khomeini’s life-time as Supreme Leader at least on three occasions the Islamic government carried out policies that were not exactly in tune or consistent with previously-held religious values or Khomeini’s dogmatic political views. In one instance, the long-held religious belief that had forbidden the consumption of sturgeon (and there-fore, its roe - caviar) was overruled for economic reasons of state. Another instance involved the acceptance of US-made, Israeli-supplied military weapons during the Iran-Iraq War, even though private third parties undertook their procurement and transportation. The third instance involved the Ayatollah agreeing to a cease-fire that ended the stalemated war with Iraq, even though the Islamic government’s battle cry had been ‘war until victory!’

One does not expect Ayatollah Khamenei to show any more inflexibility than his predecessor had shown. Ayatollah Khomeini set an instructive precedent for how to handle situations when Islamic values are at odds with national interests: it requires a degree of strategic aloofness—or disassociation and indirection—on the part of the Supreme Leader. To wit: by 1987 the tide that had carried Iran into Iraqi territory with the help of US-made and Israeli-supplied weapons began to turn. The Iraqi counter-offensive, now aided by the United States, drove out the Iranian forces from Iraq. In the summer of 1988, Khomeini accepted the UN Security Council Resolution 598 that had demanded an immediate ceasefire. He likened the acceptance to drinking from a poisonous chalice. In a statement to the Resolute Nation, he stated that the taking of this decision was more deadly than drinking hemlock. But, “today’s decision is based only on the interest of the Islamic republic,” he hastened to add.

To borrow from Bertrand Russell, in real life what one does is often a compromise between the ideal and the possible—requiring that one make virtue of necessity in the face of unpleasant choices. Khomeini would not commit wholeheartedly or openly to changes in policy, thereby allowing himself the distance needed to fend off future criticism or charges of hypocrisy, but there was no telling what deviation, regardless, could be had where interest dictated. Ayatollah Khamenei’s recent statements about the agreement tends to indicate that he too will continue in Ayatollah Khomeini’s steps when it comes to the nuclear deal between IRI on the one hand and and the Great Stan and the Lesser Five on the other.