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End of Year Letter from a friend in Teheran… Bagher Asadi.

January 2, 2021

Bagher Asadi. Teheran. December 31, 2020 (see note below)

Dear Friend/Colleague

The New Year 2021 is right here and knocking on the door. Around these days at the end of each year, all of us tend to wish each other a new year better than the outgoing one. But, this year, with the almost one-year-old Corona pandemic still around and more than kicking, at least in most of the countries seriously afflicted with the naughty virus, the annual customary well-wishing truly comes from the heart. The pandemic has taken such a heavy toll in many societies, on both sides of the development divide, that almost every heavily impacted country – state – feels reeling under the burden. The COVID-19 roller-coaster has indeed exhausted whole populations, even if, it is a matter of deep satisfaction and gratitude, that only a very small percentage of each country’s population has been seriously infected. The psychological burden on everybody, including those not directly touched and afflicted, and the pervading sense of uncertainty, has been tremendous and deeply disquieting, with longer term human cost yet to emerge in years to come.

Seven months into the situation – in October – and having heard and read about the sudden demise of this or that close friend or colleague, or his wife or relative, due to Corona infection, I – for one – had the feeling that we had been spared the predicament. Well, that was not to be. First my wife, and then my son, and finally myself, became infected with the virus. Their infection, gladly of a weaker variance, was overcome through home-bound quarantine, and mine, of a stronger nature and substantial lung infection, required 6 days of hospitalization and a month of quarantine at home. Thanks God, all of us are alright now, and seem to share the deeply cherished common feeling that nothing in life is more precious than being healthy, first and foremost. All that comes with the baggage of living in an utterly unjust world – whatever the locale – seem to have to be relegated to the backburner till one is safely out of the Corona doldrums. And now tiptoeing into 2021, everybody, everywhere – whether in an advanced capitalism in the United States or in a heavily-sanctioned developing society like Iran – is also grappling with the added anxiety and uncertainty if –and when – the ‘savior’ vaccine will be available adequately – and whether to be administered ‘indiscriminately!

When Bagher sits down to compose the New Year message, well, as an Iranian, and equally as a retired diplomat, he seems to be preoccupied with the affairs of at least two countries – or certain affairs of two countries; first of his homeland, and simultaneously of the state that is geographically distant which has all but become a totally unwelcome practical neighbor in all four directions and a constant nuisance – America! Given what we have suffered under the unjust, inhuman ‘Maximum Pressure’ policy of the ‘Mashang’ [pudden-head] American President, during the past two years, it is no surprise that those among us Iranians with saner heads and softer hearts have found his defeat in the November elections quite a good omen for somewhat better, easier days ahead, if for no other reason that the new Democratic administration in the White House is – or is thought or presumed to be – predisposed to diplomatic-political talk, and hopefully, real, serious negotiation down the road. And nothing sounds more music to a diplomat’s ear than the talk of talk, and then walk of walk. That of course relates to only one side of the coin, and let’s keep all fingers crossed that the defeated, heart-broken, and yet unyielding  ‘Mashang’ on the way out of the White House, and an equally infamous and jingoistic prime minister in Tel Aviv, will not hatch and pull off a nasty game against Iran during the next 20 days or so.

In so far as possible return to the knocked out nuclear deal is concerned, the situation in our own neighborhood does not seem to be clear at all, if not pretty murky and disquietingly uncertain. Here at home, the pre-June 2021 presidential elections tug-of-war between the sitting-duck centrist President Rouhani and the conservative bloc, especially the hothead fringe now dominating the Majles (Parliament), has put the immediate future of a possible diplomatic aperture between the two estranged capitals on the nuclear issue (JCPOA) in practical limbo. The recent Majles controversial decision on JCPOA, immediately endorsed by the powerful Guardian Council and sent to the Executive branch for implementation, has been widely seen in Iran as a knee-jerk reaction to the frustration felt from Trump’s defeat in certain conservative quarters in Iran who would have been happier to see his ‘Maximum Pressure’ policy serving their political agenda. The hasty move by the Majles, packed by young and inexperienced political novices, has also been interpreted as a concrete step towards walking out of the nuclear deal in such a short notice that would render any tangible progress in any possible diplomatic process between the Rouhani and Biden administrations practically impossible. The radical right, already in control of the Judiciary and the Majles, has set its eyes on the Executive branch, which once seized next June – whether by a man of uniform or a former general in civilian clothes – is determined not to allow the sitting duck president, and a foreign minister of external-international renown and respect, gain any credit for moving in the direction of resolving the nuclear dispute with the incoming American administration. The possible rapprochement, they fear, might also bear positive political fallout in the form of relief in sanctions, help the badly devastated national economy, and afford the centrists a stronger case for serious rivalry in the June elections. Indications abound that the radical right has been preparing itself for a total consolidation of the power structure under overall conservative grip, and then to decide what to do, first with the ‘Great Satan’, and then with the Iranian economy and the host of serious, crippling domestic challenges – dubbed by independent economists and sociologists as “super crises on a national scale.”  As for talking to the Americans, nobody yet knows the tipping final say from the Ayatollah.

The state of political limbo between the two competing camps presently mostly on and around the fate of JCPOA, with quite serious, if not critical, repercussions for the national economy as a whole and the rising economic woes of a sizeable segment of the Corona-stricken population presents a very difficult, uncertain vista in the months ahead – at least until the pictures clears one way or another. Whether the system finds it inevitable to opt for some form of direct, meaningful talks with the incoming US administration (as happened, with the direct blessing of the Ayatollah, back in early 2013 through the backdoor channel in Muscat and via the good offices of the late Sultan Qaboos of Oman), or the state waits until summer 2021, is an example of the proverbial six-million dollar question. It might all depend on what those on the top echelons of power already know – or get to hear on the slippery sands of reality on the main street or external offers, options, and possibilities on acting according to either scenario. From an overall, systemic point of view, well, it is really difficult to speculate, with some degree of objectivity and reasonableness, about the longer term future of a developing society, whose governing structure is securely anchored to the currently dwindling coffers of an oil-based ‘Rentier State’, ever-eroding popular base and constituency of a heavy-handed ideological state (as registered in the latest parliamentary election last March), and an overarching, deep-seated and pervading sense of survival-minded ‘security state’ phobic mentality. And such common, run-of-the-mill reform-minded citizen as Bagher, busy with bits and pieces of editing texts in English and writing group email messages in Persian on a wide range of domestic and external issues – and in any case, experienced enough not to raise hackles anywhere – cannot but wait by the closed frame of an apartment window in southwest Tehran and just wait for the future to arrive, when and however it does, and hopefully, gradually and peacefully.

As in previous similar messages during the past few years, this New Year message also serves to connect with a wide range of friends and colleagues – and in cases, ‘buddies’ – both fellow Iranians and equally others from the days under the diplomatic hat at the UN and multilateral work now dispersed all around the world. It is my earnest hope that all of them – some older than me, some the same age, and still some younger – are in good shape, healthy, and well-functioning, whether still employed or retired, and in any case, each pursuing an active, meaningful, and self-realizing life. Writing from Tehran, where I’m sure happens to be an almost daily ingredient of the daily news across the globe – regardless of the nature of the news piece(s) – the somewhat long message [and sorry for that] intends to provide, albeit in very broad brush, some personal reflections on how I am, and how I see and feel things in this interesting land surrounded by a rough, dangerous, and uncertain neighborhood.

But, at the end of the day, this is Bagher as others have come to know and work with him – and generally almost the same as he has always been. Except that currently – and inspired by the Corona season since last March – he has grown a long, white beard, some liken to the ‘mullas’ and others with a more urbane flair to “Uncle Ho” or an Indian-style ‘guru’! Despite the very concrete threat still posed by the naughty Corona virus and its new variances, and even under a sky pregnant with uncertainty, expectation, and stormy dark clouds, your old friend – close to 70 now – happens to be among those ever-diminishing ‘endangered souls’ who tend to entertain some hopes for the proverbial ‘silver-lining.’ That’s all he can say for a tomorrow that is not here yet, and all of us – mortals – hope, though to differing degrees, to be better than yesterday and the immediate past. But, from a long-term perspective, all of us, wherever we happen to be, we can rest assured that ‘Corona, Corona-like folks, and Mashangs” will definitely leave the scene, some sooner than the others. And, “This, too, shall pass,” as coined in a famous piece of poetry by Saif Farghani, a contemporary of Sa’adi, reflecting on the Moghul invasion and occupation of Iran (سیف فرغانه – این نیز بگذرد). We Iranians have endured all kinds of tough days and tumults, home-grown disturbances and conflicts as well as foreign occupations and wars, for over three millennia, and have fully and enviously mastered the cherished craft of survival; in the short term to ‘lie low till the storm is over’ and suffice to ‘grab the saddle,’ and in the long term, to sit securely in the saddle and ride. Better days will come – whether me and my generation will still be around or joined those already gone 7 thousand years ago (Omar Khayyam).

Having ended on a positive note, I remain,

Yours Sincerely

Bagher

31 December 2020, Tehran

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Note: Bagher Asasi, retired Iranian diplomat at the United Nation. I knew him forty years ago when he was a grad student at the University of Colorado – Boulder studying Political Science – or as he would jokingly put it “Political Silence.” He went on to be a diplomat at the Iranian Mission to the United Nations where I met with him informally to renew our friendship.

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