]]]]]]]]]]]]    Iran Shows Its Soviet Sympathies    [[[[[[[[[[[[[[[
                     By Kenneth R. Timmerman            (3/12/1989)
     From The Wall Street Journal, 10 March 1989, p. A16:4
  (Mr. Timmerman is editor  of Mednews, a  Paris newsletter devoted
                 to Middle East Defense issues.)

             [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 10602PANC]

   Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard  Shevardnadze was right when he
called  his  recent  visit  to  Tehran  ``a  turning  point''  in
Soviet-Iranian  affairs.   He  might  have  added:  and  a strong
challenge  for  the Bush  administration  in a  country  of vital
strategic  importance   for  the  West,   where  successive  U.S.
administrations have blundered for so long.
   It was  the first  official visit  to the  Islamic Republic of
Iran  by a  Soviet  foreign minister,  and  it was  crowned  by a
meeting  with  Ayatollah Khomeini  on  Feb. 26.   After  years of
including the  Soviet Union on  the short list  of foreign devils
that Iran's revolutionaries  should regularly denounce, Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini,  in an  about-face, urged  greater cooperation
between the  two countries to  combat the ``devilish  acts of the
   Mr. Shevardnadze  also managed  to sign  a gas  agreement with
Iran -- the first one to be made public since the 1979 revolution
-- and to secure Iranian  approval of a long-standing Soviet plan
to build a  transborder railway.  This  latter should be sounding
alarm  bells in  Washington, reminiscent  as it  is of  a similar
agreement with Afghanistan  in the late 1970s  that eased the way
for the invading Red Army in 1979.
   The  success of  the Shevardnadze  trip has  been long  in the
making.   Soviet  Middle  East   experts  have  been  laying  the
groundwork  for these  advances  for many  years  through careful
diplomacy  and shrewd  intelligence  work.  Over  the  past eight
months, Soviet bloc delegations to Tehran have been tripping over
one another  in signing  new cooperation  agreements, bit  by bit
blocking off trade opportunities for the West.
   The tale of  Soviet-Iranian relations over  the past decade is
one worthy of more attention than it generally receives.  In late
1978,  for instance,  as  General Secretary  Leonid  Brezhnev was
publicly confirming his  support for the  shah, the Soviet-backed
National Voice of Iran radio,  broadcasting from Baku, capital of
Azerbaijan, Soviet Union, was issuing  rabid calls for the shah's
overthrow and the installation of an Islamic government.
   In the weeks preceding the Nov.  4, 1979, takeover of the U.S.
Embassy  in  Tehran,  the  Soviet  ambassador  to  Iran, Vladimir
Vinogradov,  was  meeting  regularly  with  the  ``students'' who
masterminded the  embassy debacle.   Their ringleader,  a certain
Mohamad Mohsen Khoiniha, today  is the Islamic public prosecutor,
after  having  totally  rebuilt  Iran's  dreaded  secret service,
Savama.  The extent of  how close he was  to the Soviets while in
exile with Ayatollah  Khomeni [sic] in Iraq,  and later as Savama
chief, aroused the attention of the French secret services, which
warned  about the  extent  of Soviet  penetrations  in Iran  in a
series of leaks from 1982 on, in the government-sponsored review,
Defense Nationale, and elsewhere.
   The warm relations between  the Soviet Union and revolutionary
Iran left numerous public traces -- conveniently forgotten in the
U.S. -- during  this time.  Speaking before  the 26th Congress of
the Communist Party of the  Soviet Union in February 1981, Leonid
Brezhnev   heralded  the   Iranian  revolution   as  ``profoundly
anti-imperialist,'' and  reiterated the Soviet  desire to develop
good relations with Iran ``based  on reciprocity.''  He then went
on to claim that  ``a liberation struggle can  be waged under the
banner of Islam'' -- an  astonishing statement when one considers
all the troubles the Soviet Union is having today with its own 50
million Moslems.  In July 1981, the two countries signed a series
of  commercial  and military  treaties,  which  included indirect
Soviet arms sales and the dispatch of Soviet advisers to Iran.
   In  1983,  Iran  publicly  turned  against  the  Soviet Union,
outlawing the  Soviet-backed Iranian Communist  Party, Tudeh, and
in May expelling 18 Soviet  diplomats on espionage charges.  Many
commentators took these moves as hard proof of the anti-Communist
nature of the  Islamic regime.  But  subsequent events have shown
this up as a dangerously complacent attitude.
   For one thing, the  expulsions did little to  slow the pace of
Iranian-Soviet  cooperation.    Soviet  engineers   continued  to
supervise the building  of the Isfahan  steel complex until Iraqi
missiles  (supplied  by  the   Soviet  Union)  made  their  lives
uncomfortable in  March 1985.  And  Soviet-manned listening bases
in Baluchistan, among the Afghan and Pakistani borders, continued
to  operate  with the  full  consent of  the  Iranian government,
tracking  the movements  of Afghan  guerrillas and  squashing any
attempts to organize a ``second front'' for the Afghan resistance
in Iranian territory.
   The outlawing of  the Tudeh party did  little to destroy other
Soviet assets inside Iran.   Unlike other political opponents who
got the rope, Tudeh's historical leaders were cake-walked through
their  televised ``confessions''  and  then shepherded  to gilded
cages on the outskirts of Tehran -- from which most were freed in
the yearly amnesty in March 1986.
   Since  then,  many  Soviet  sympathizers  have  simply  donned
turbans  and  grown  beards,  Iranian  sources  say, infiltrating
government ministries and national bureaucracies.  Today they can
be found  in top  positions in  the prime  minister's office, the
Interior Ministry,  the Foreign  Ministry, the  Security Ministry
and  of course,  the  Islamic Revolutionary  Guards  Corps.  (The
latter was structured from the  start along Soviet lines with the
help of an estimated 100 KGB advisers, and received an impressive
arsenal  of  Soviet  weapons.)   Even  a  personal  secretary  of
Ayatollah Khomeini, Mahmoud Doai, was once on the Soviet payroll,
as a broadcaster for the National  Voice of Iran radio station in
   The Soviets began to shed their  low profile in Iran more than
a year  ago, when  a senior  Foreign Ministry  official, Vladimir
Petrovsky,  attended the  ninth  anniversary celebrations  of the
Islamic revolution in February 1988  and discussed the renewal of
widespread economic  cooperation with Iranian  Prime Minister Mir
Hussein Mussavi, a  leading member of  Iran's pro-Soviet faction.
Since then, economic cooperation agreements have been signed with
the  Soviet Union,  Bulgaria, Poland  and Hungary.   According to
Iranian  government figures,  three  of Iran's  top  five trading
partners in 1987-'88 were East bloc countries.
   Soviet diplomats  contend that  their relations  with Iran are
based  on   ``long-term  goals   and  interests,   not  technical
considerations.''   They are  right.   Without the  drama  of the
aging ayatollah's condemnation of the Salman Rushdie novel, ``The
Satanic  Verses,''  Mr.  Shevardnadze's trip  would  have  been a
success.   In  the  present context,  however,  it  appears  as a
resounding  victory.   Mr. Shevardnadze  managed  to  win Iranian
respect by ignoring  the Rushdie issue,  and Western gratitude by
promising to  use his influence  with the Iranians  to temper the
ayatollah's wrath.   In this  arena of  high geopolitical stakes,
the Soviets have played with such consummate skill they have made
their Western colleagues look like a gaggle of bumbling amateurs.
They have played the long game, and they are winning.

                   *         *         *

Return to the ground floor of this tower
Return to the Main Courtyard
Return to Fort Freedom's home page