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Turmoil in Iran

Date and Time: 
Thursday, December 9, 2010 - 12:00 - 12:30

On Thursday, Dec. 9, at noon, GlobalPost hosted a free web-chat with Jason Rezaian in Tehran. He answered questions about the increasingly tense situation in Iran — including questions about recent WikiLeaks allegations, the bomb targeting nuclear scientists, and the shadowy Stuxnet virus. 

 

11:57

GlobalPost

Hi everyone, we will begin in just a couple minutes. Stay tuned...

11:58

GlobalPost

Hi there, everybody

11:58

GlobalPost

Thanks for joining us today and welcome to GlobalPostMembership’s chat with Jason Rezaian.

11:58

GlobalPost

Jason is GlobalPost’s Tehran-based correspondent.

11:59

GlobalPost

Jason will be answering questions today about all things Iran.

11:59

GlobalPost

Particularly, Jason has been watching the development of the country’s fragile economy and its tenuous relations with the rest of the world — made starkly apparent by the recent release of diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks.

11:59

GlobalPost

We want to invite all of you to submit questions to Jason during the chat.

11:59

GlobalPost

Let’s get started!

11:59

GlobalPost

Are you ready Jason?

11:59

Jason-Rezaian

Yes, sir. Hi everyone. Thanks for having me on. Look forward to answering your questions.

12:00

GlobalPost

Okay, so to begin

12:00

GlobalPost

in several stories you’ve written for GlobalPost, you’ve have talked about the dire state of Iran’s economy. Are the sanctions the main cause of this?

12:00

Jason-Rezaian

It's hard to say that they are the main cause. Iran's economy has been in trouble for a long time.

12:00

bastein

Hi Jason; Do we have any reason to be optimistic about Iran's future course?

12:01

Jason-Rezaian

Mismanagement has been a problem for years, and the economy has shifted into really just being involved in import and isn't exporting or providing for domestic needs.

12:02

alyosha19

Hi Jason; have you written anything about the situation of the Baha'is leaders in Iran, who are still in prison?

12:02

Jason-Rezaian

So, with that in mind, sanctions have definitely exacerbated the problems, and I think the situation is probably untenable in the long term#

12:03

GlobalPost

Thanks Jason.

12:03

GlobalPost

So everyone knows

12:03

Jason-Rezaian

I think we're going to try to go one at a time on questions, right ?

12:03

GlobalPost

We will keep track of your questions as they come and revisit them down the line

12:03

GlobalPost

Jason

12:03

Jason-Rezaian

Sounds good to me. I will try to get to everything I can.

12:03

Rafe_Wacman

Rafe_Wacman: Jason: Has economic hardship affected morale in armed forces, IRGC, or Basij.

12:03

GlobalPost

what is the current situation with Iran's subsidies?

12:04

GlobalPost

Are they contributing to the economic problems inside the country?

12:04

Jason-Rezaian

Well, the subsidy system currently cost the Iranian system $100billion per year, and they've needed to be reformed for a long time.

12:05

Jason-Rezaian

Right now there is a lot of speculation, but not a lot of consensus on what to with the system.

12:05

Jason-Rezaian

and clearly the fixes they have discusses -- like infusing people's bank accounts with nominal amounts of cash-- probably won't work

12:06

Jason-Rezaian

at the same time, though, keeping the price of gas at under .50 for gallon most of the past 30 years has been a recipe for disaster, which they are just woking up to, I think.#

12:06

GP-ChatHost

Just a quick note to the audience: This is now a moderated chat, meaning that you will not be able to submit questions/comments directly

12:07

GP-ChatHost

Instead, if you would like to ask Jason a question, simply message me GP-ChatHostby pasting the following into the message box: "/msg GP-ChatHostFOLLOWED BY YOUR MESSAGE" without the quotations

12:07

GlobalPost

If the subsidies are cut, what do you think the public reaction will be? How will this play out on the streets?

12:07

Jason-Rezaian

Well, I think there plan is to cut them over a period of time and test the waters a bit. The public reaction will be what you'd imagine...

12:08

Jason-Rezaian

Any time you take stuff away from people that they think is they're right they are going get upset.

12:08

Jason-Rezaian

and the regime has made the mistake of touting these subsidies for years.

12:08

Jason-Rezaian

Once cheap gas is gone, for example, they really don't have much of a story to sell anymore.#

12:08

GlobalPost

You’ve also written about growing environmental problem in Tehran. What kind of effect is this having on the people there? Is this adding to the tension?

12:09

Jason-Rezaian

It's adding to tension, and it's also landing people in hospitals.

12:10

Jason-Rezaian

i have traveled to some pretty polluted places, and Tehran has long been one of the most polluted cities in the world, and over the past 3 weeks or so it has become almost unbearable.

12:10

Jason-Rezaian

And there is very little relief in site.

12:10

Jason-Rezaian

Rumours abound at the cause of the pollution, but there are few solutions being offered. At least not any realistic ones.

12:11

GP-ChatHost

Hi Jason, here is a great question from our audience:Bastein: Hi Jason; Do we have any reason to be optimistic about Iran's future course?

12:12

GP-ChatHost

Another reminder to the audience, if you would like to ask Jason a question, simply message me GP-ChatHostby pasting the following into the message box: "/msg GP-ChatHostFOLLOWED BY YOUR MESSAGE" without the quotations

12:12

Jason-Rezaian

I think we have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Iran's future, but we have to look it in terms of partnering with Iran, and I think there's a ways to go before either the US or Iran will be ready to do that....But I honestly think it's closer than most will expect.#

12:13

GlobalPost

During the six-party talks this week, it seemed Iran was willing to consider a compromise on the nuclear issue. Is that true? Why the change in position?

12:14

Jason-Rezaian

Actually I don't think it's a real change in their position. They've said all along that they aren't willing to compromise on their right to enrich. That leaves a lot of room for negotiation.

12:15

Jason-Rezaian

I've read some reaction to the talks that the "Iranians weren't serious," however, if we go back and look at the history of these talks, especially the ones this past spring, I think both sides are responsible for the breakdowns.

12:16

Jason-Rezaian

I firmly believe that Iran wants a deal, and so does the US. It's just the both have different bottomlines, and we haven't figured out exactly what those are yet.#

12:16

GP-ChatHost

That is really interesting. We have another great question from the audience: ReferenceSeete : I've read that some political scientists think Iran and the USA could be productive allies if the hotheaded rhetoric got out of the way. Treating Iran along the lines of a regional hegemon such as Brazil or China. What do you think of this idea?

12:17

Jason-Rezaian

I think whether we like it or not (and clearly we don't) Iran is the main regional force, politically, culturally and for a long time as trade partner for most countries in the region.

12:18

Jason-Rezaian

The US has decided to ignore that for a long time... If we take out the hotheaded rhetoric on both sides, I think we'd have a decent shot at working together on a great number of issues.

12:18

Jason-Rezaian

And perhaps most importantly, find a great potential trade partner, hungry for our goods and ideas.#

12:19

GlobalPost

So, Jason, what's the hold up? Why can't the US and Iran, if the both would benefit from better relations, do away with the rhetoric and move on?

12:19

Jason-Rezaian

I think it has much more to do with domestic politics in both countries than it does with the executive branches of both.

12:20

Jason-Rezaian

One must understand that the rhetoric coming from Tehran is aimed at a local Iranian, and also a broad Muslim audience.

12:20

Jason-Rezaian

Clearly that doesn't help relations at all.

12:21

Jason-Rezaian

But if we look at the situation there are plenty of ways to open up.

12:21

Jason-Rezaian

We should remember that throughout the entire Soviet era we maintained diplomatic relations with Moscow.

12:21

Jason-Rezaian

We need to start somewhere.#

12:22

GlobalPost

I wanted to talk a bit about the WikiLeaks release, since that has been in the news of late.

12:22

GlobalPost

The WikiLeaks revelations seem to confirm what the Iranian leadership has always claimed — that the whole world is trying to unseat it. What has been the reaction from the Iranian leadership and the public on the ground?

12:22

Jason-Rezaian

Sure

12:22

Jason-Rezaian

Well, as a site Wikileaks is blocked, and many stories featuring Wikileak have also been blocked.

12:23

Jason-Rezaian

For the first time yesterday I saw an article about Julian Assange in a local paper.

12:23

Jason-Rezaian

Iran's official reaction has been that 1. we don't think it's a big deal.

12:23

Jason-Rezaian

2. it's a plot.

12:23

Jason-Rezaian

Ultimately, though, I think it confirms what the hardline clerics say

12:24

Jason-Rezaian

and that's too bad...

12:24

Jason-Rezaian

It also scares the heck out of the rest of the leadership who believes they've been building solid relations with their Arab neighbors.

12:25

Jason-Rezaian

I think also it should be pointed out that the Iranian leadership and the idea of Islamic Republic play very well with average Arab people and that also scares the leaders of those countries, especially the ones with large Shi'a populations.#

12:25

GlobalPost

As our time begins to wind down, I want to remind everyone to send in any last questions they might have.

12:26

GlobalPost

In the meantime, out of curiosity...

12:26

GlobalPost

we hear a lot about web censorship in Iran

12:26

GlobalPost

you just mentioned that WikiLeaks was largely unavailable to the Iranian public

12:26

GlobalPost

Yet we are talking right now without a problem

12:26

Jason-Rezaian

Right. Well, the Internet is controlled to a degree here in Iran

12:27

Jason-Rezaian

and much content is "prohibited"

12:27

Jason-Rezaian

but Iranians have figured out many ways around these blocks, especially by using proxy servers.

12:27

GP-ChatHost

Just another reminder: if you would like to ask Jason a question, simply message me GP-ChatHostby pasting the following into the message box: "/msg GP-ChatHostFOLLOWED BY YOUR MESSAGE" without the quotations

12:28

GlobalPost

What is the current state of web and media censorship in Iran?

12:28

Jason-Rezaian

I think that's the main thing to understand, sites are illegal or blocked but people still access them... If you can wrap your head around that, you will understand a lot about Iranian society.

12:29

Jason-Rezaian

I think that web censorship will naturally decrease as the Internet becomes more integral to the Iranian economy.

12:29

Jason-Rezaian

And this is happening already; many more ecommerce sites all the time.

12:29

Jason-Rezaian

One more reason that isolating Iran probably goes against the US' long term interests in seeing a more open Iranian society.#

12:30

GlobalPost

Okay, thanks Jason! Unless there are any last questions I think we are going to wrap up.

12:31

Jason-Rezaian

Thanks so much guys. I appreciate all your questions.

12:31

GlobalPost

Thank you everyone for joining us today and thanks so much Jason for your insights.

12:31

Jason-Rezaian

It's been a pleasure.

12:32

GP-ChatHost

Thank you Jason and thanks to all those who participated in the Chat. We hope you join us again next time!

12:32

GP-ChatHost

To read the chat transcript or for more information about web chats or GlobalPostMembership, please visit: http://www.globalpost.com/home/passport

12:32

GP-ChatHost

Thanks again and have a wonderful day!