A prominent voice in the inter-Iranian conflict between the ideological camp led by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who opposes openness to the West and especially to the U.S., and the pragmatic camp led by Hashemi Rafsanjani, who promotes such openness, is that of reformist intellectual and Tehran University professor Sadegh Zibakalam.
Zibakalam, who in 2014 was sentenced to 18 months in prison criticizing the regime's nuclear policy and for his reformist and pro-U.S. opinions, recently again took up his public calls to the Iranian regime to abandon the anti-Americanism preached by Khamenei, arguing that it harms Iran's interests and democratic life. According to Zibakalam, the Islamic Revolution never advocated hostility towards the U.S. - it only opposed dictatorship and supported free elections. He has stressed that the anti-U.S. policy has hijacked the true message of the Revolution and that this policy is being used as a tool by the camp that controls Iran's domestic and foreign policy. But, he said, the younger generation is not fooled by this, and seeks rapprochement with the U.S. - and the JCPOA is a harbinger of that.
This paper will review some of Zibakalam's notable public statements in recent months critical of the institutionalized Iranian regime hostility towards the U.S., and in favor of the JCPOA for the benefit that he says it that it will bring Iran.
Sadegh Zibakalam (image: iranhumanrights.org)
"In My Opinion, The JCPOA Is The Beginning Of The End Of The [Chanting Of] 'Death To America'"
At a November 2, 2015 public debate with Ebrahim Asgharzadeh at the Sharif University of Technology marking the anniversary of the November 4, 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Zibakalam said:
"Has hostility towards the U.S. existed from the onset of the Revolution, and was it part of the will of the people? In response to this question, I will say that hostility towards the U.S. and the 'Death to America' [slogan] were not part of the goals of the Revolution. The goals of the Revolution were to oppose the dictatorship, and efforts were devoted to achieving free elections - not hostility towards the U.S...
"In Iran's current history, no stream has harmed our national interests like [the one that advocates] hostility towards the U.S. I believe that hostility towards the U.S. has harmed [Iran] more than war with Russia [would have]. Hostility towards the U.S. has completely paralyzed us, both in our political development and in other matters.
"Hostility towards the U.S. was the biggest factor in the continuation of the situation that preceded the Revolution - that is, restricted elections and so on. Our only way out [of this situation] is to ask why such a thing has happened - not just to say that there should be no such hostility.
"Much of what we said about the U.S. was not true; some of it was a revision of history. For once, we should ask ourselves whether the U.S. really was so idiotic as to want a coup d'├®tat on November 4, 1979.
"When the Shah was there, and the military, [the U.S.] did not act to stage a coup d'├®tat - but it did act to stage one after everything was destroyed?! Or, with regard to the Tabas events [i.e. the failed 1980 U.S. hostage rescue attempt], which involved only aircraft - how can you call this a military assault?...
"Who says that the Shah was a nobody? Between 1943 and 1978, he made all the major decisions. What proof is there for those who claim that the U.S. dictated all his actions? Do you think that if the U.S. truly supported the Shah he would have been toppled? It was [the Shah's son-in-law and foreign policy chief] Ardeshir Zahedi and other rulers who believe that the U.S. did not support the Shah. In fact, at the start of the Revolution, the U.S. did not know what to do with it...
"In my opinion, the JCPOA is the beginning of the end of the [chanting of] 'Death to America.' Two or three days ago, [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry and [Iranian Foreign Minister Javad] Zarif spoke about Syria, not about nuclear issues. In fact, this is the beginning of the end of 'Death to America.'"
"If The Purpose Of The Nuclear Industry Is Purely To Produce Electricity And Medicine, Then What Was The Need For The Secret Measures At Natanz?"
In September 2015, at the Conference To Explore The Political And Security Dimensions Of The JCPOA, in Iran, Zibakalam defended the agreement's achievements, which included Iran distancing itself from the "Death to America" slogan and rapprochement with the U.S. He also noted that the Iranian nuclear industry was an important factor in anti-U.S. policy in Iran. He said:
"That there is an agreement is more important than the agreement's details, because in the shadow of the outcome of the JCPOA, a certain atmosphere has been created between Iran and America, in which we can work out the details of the agreement. The JCPOA train left [the station] on July 15 [the day after it was announced]... Iran and the U.S. are the two main actors in this matter, and they have reached an historic turning point in their relationship...
"After [the JCPOA was announced in] Vienna, the strongest and most principled reaction of the elements hostile to the U.S. [in Iran] was their statement that they did not recognize the agreement as the end of 'Death to America' and that they will continue to chant it... Iran is already on board the train that is moving away from 'Death to America,' so it can be said that we have already passed the main stages of the JCPOA... The other side [the U.S.] has already accepted the reality of post-Revolution Iran..."
Criticizing the building of the Fordo site, Zibakalam said: "Between Tehran and Qom, in the heart of the mountains, large funds were spent in order to build a series of special facilities whose main purpose is to withstand enemy airstrikes and prevent the destruction of nuclear infrastructure. Now that Fordo has become a research center, I ask: Why was so much money and time wasted on building the Fordo facilities?
"We should not look at the JCPOA as part of goals that were predefined - because that way the entire agreement will be questioned. That is the wrong approach.
"In fact, the nuclear industry was created in Iran to show hostility to America... If the purpose of the nuclear industry is purely to produce electricity and medicine, then what was the need for the secret measures at Natanz? After the Natanz activity was exposed by the munafiqeen [i.e. the Mojahedin-e Khalq], the nuclear dossier became an issue and a banner to show hostility against the U.S....
"The government of [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad devoted all its efforts to making the nuclear industry an issue for showing hostility to America... The problem started as soon as the extremists would not say why America and the West opposed [Iran's] nuclear industry, and instead said that America and the West opposed Iran's advancements in the nuclear industry and in science. This is a blatant lie, because there is no economic or scientific advancement on the nuclear front, and a good example of this is Pakistan.
"The West opposed a nuclear Iran because we repeatedly stated proudly that we wanted to destroy the Zionist regime, while Brazil and other countries with nuclear industries never said anything like that.
"None of the activities at Fordo, Natanz, and the Arak heavy water reactor, which have now stopped, served Iran's national interests; they were based solely on resistance to the U.S....
"Public opinion in Iran does not support the nuclear program... The Iranian people want the nuclear crisis in Iran to end, and if we polled various groups of people, we would see that they absolutely do not agree with Iran's nuclear program...
"The emergence of the Islamic State [ISIS] has caused many changes and developments in the Middle East, creating rapprochement between Iran and the U.S., Iran and Saudi Arabia, and Iran and the Arabs. Iran and the U.S. share views in Afghanistan and Iraq... Extremists have noticed that in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen, Iran and the U.S. are indirectly cooperating, which makes them worry. This is also true for Lebanon.
"The Majlis never had, and today does not have, any standing in [Iran's] domestic or foreign policy. The days of the Majlis heading the agenda are over. Today, the country's agenda is constantly moving forward - however, Majlis members are preoccupied with their own affairs.
"Hostility towards the U.S. has no connection to the Islamic Revolution, because the Iranian people revolted for other reasons. It is more accurate to say that the Islamic Revolution hijacked hostility towards the U.S., particularly because this hostility served a special purpose in its inter-Iran policy.
"But now, Iran has encountered a problem with the hostility towards the U.S., because the young people are highly educated and there is openness in public opinion. It is this that drives their opposition to the hostility towards the U.S., and makes things difficult for those who hide behind it.
"The hostility towards the U.S. has become the identity of the extreme conservatives, and if we take 'Death to America' away from them, the conservative stream will have nothing left to say. Those who persist in hostility towards the U.S. are preventing Iran's expansion and development."
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5843, Imprisonment For Iranian Intellectual Who Spoke Out Against Iranian Regime's Nuclear Policy, September 17, 2014.
 Ghanoondaily.ir, November 2, 2015; Sahamnews.org, November 6, 2015.
 Fars (Iran), September 6, 2015.