The Policy of Closed Doors and Semi-Open Window

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Abolqasem Qasemzadeh
Expert on Middle East Issues

The call for direct talks between the United States and Iran has been source of controversies since the beginning of the second term of the US President Barack Obama in office. The 49th Munich Security Conference was held on February 2 in Germany attended by political representatives of most countries who went there to discuss solutions to the existing crises in various parts of the world, especially in the Middle East. Addressing the conference, the US Vice President Joe Biden noted that if the officials of the Islamic Republic were ready for serious talks, Washington would be also ready to hold direct talks with Iran over the country’s nuclear energy program, provided that negotiations are not merely held for the sake of negotiations. The announcement by the US vice president was followed by a flurry of media reports in the West topped by stories about possible direct talks between Iran and the United States. The Obama administration’s policy toward Iran has been frequently analyzed by Western political circles and various viewpoints have been asserted on them prominent examples of which are discussed below.

1. The second Obama administration’s policy toward Iran has been marked with new signals sent to Tehran by Washington. One of those signals is that instead of calling for mediation or showing willingness to continue talks with Iran through European countries, the United States is now willing to engage in direct talks with the Islamic Republic. Changing two key secretaries – namely, secretaries of states and defense – by the US president, and replacing them with two new figures both of whom are known for their willingness for interaction with instead of hostility toward Iran, and more importantly, both of whom are critics of Israel’s policies in the Middle East, was a clear sign that the United States has been possibly serious in its offer of direct talks to Iran. Obama believes that the Islamic Republic of Iran is not one of the weak states of the Middle East, but on the contrary, enjoys the highest degree of military power among the regional Muslim states. In addition, Iran sways pervasive influence on all Muslim communities in the Middle East. The experiences of Afghanistan and Lebanon have taught the Americans that Tehran is the gravity center of any possible solution to many problems in the Middle East and assistance from the Islamic Republic is the key to resolution of those problems. Therefore, new signals sent by Obama for bilateral negotiations with Iran are serious and stem from the United States assessment of Iran's position in the Middle East as well as the high influence that Tehran sways on the Muslim communities. According to the US assessment, although the existing crises in the region are worsening, Obama has focused his gaze on the collection of the extant political, social and economic conditions. As a result, he has reached the conclusion that the United States’ interests can be best met through reconciliation with Iran, not through conflict or engagement in an unpredictable war. The proposal of talks by Obama is the sign of the beginning of a new era in US Middle East policy which is marked with real change.

2. There is another viewpoint which challenges optimists who believe that the proposal of direct talks with Iran by Obama administration is serious. Some political authors in the West have noted that the proposal is just a tactic. They have added that by proposing direct talks with Iran Obama is trying to project a strong image of the US government to the world depicting it as a country which is firstly, powerful at international level, and secondly, has great maneuvering room with regard to both anti-Iran sanctions and possible talks for the resolution of bilateral differences. Since the beginning of his presidency, Obama has been proposing talks to Iran. In practice, however, he has taken international sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran to new levels which are far beyond the contents of the United Nations Security Council’ resolutions. This is Obama’s exclusive way of managing crisis according to which Washington gives lip service support to negotiations and talks, on the one hand, while sparing no effort to intensify sanctions against Iran, on the other hand. He started to exercise this method from the outset of his first term in office and is bent on continuing the same method in his second term as well. Obama’s main strategy is going on with the sanctions policy and intensification of sanctions until full stop of all kinds of economic and monetary transactions between Iran and all other countries, banks, as well as monetary and credit institutions. As a result, analysts in this group believe that the rhetoric about talks or sloganeering pivoted around bilateral negotiations is just a tactic which will by no means prevent continuation of sanctions against Iran.

3. Although all the evidence shows that the Obama administration will need to revise the United States Middle East policy during its second term, its proposal of bilateral talks to Iran revolves around the presumption that Tehran has accepted the occurrence of that change. However, faced with the US offer of bilateral talks, Tehran does not actually know how wide the scope of the proposal is. Joe Biden said in his address in Munich that the United States does not seek negotiations for the sake of negotiations, and that Washington is willing to engage in talks with Iran without any precondition in order to find solutions to mutual issues in such a way that would be acceptable to both parties. However, he also noted that “the ball is in the government of Iran's court" to show that it is negotiating in good faith.

4. Another viewpoint, which has been brought up by certain political circles, believes that the proposal is a tactic by Washington. The proponents of this viewpoint pay more attention to the outcome(s) of Obama administration’s offer of talks to Iran instead of bothering to discuss the main motivations behind the offer. The proponents maintain that a review of political developments in the past three decades, when Tehran and Washington have had no diplomatic ties, has made both parties (Iran and the US) reach the conclusion that continuation of tense relations is not beneficial to either of them. European countries, on the other hand, are not able to have normal relations with Iran without the approval of the United States and further distance between the European Union and Iran will not be beneficial to the interests of the European countries in the Middle East. Proposing bilateral negotiations between Iran and the United States can be a turning point for all the Western countries. Instead of focusing on the motivation or offering politicized interpretations of this proposal, most of which are more based on imagination than the realities, the two sides should get down to real negotiations. On the one side of talks is the United States which considers itself the most powerful international power while, on the other hand, it is Iran which is the biggest power in the region. If the proposal for bilateral talks is actually realized, its first outcome will be reduction of tension in bilateral relations with subsequent opening of new avenues to resolution of various political crises in the Middle East. There should be no doubt that in case of bilateral talks between Tehran and Washington, a great deal of political and economic reckonings of the West (both the United States and Europe) in the Middle East will change. This is why some countries, including Russia and Britain are not willing for this proposal to be realized because it will shift political leverages in the Middle East.

5. If we wanted to define the set of the US government’s policies toward Iran, it could be summarized in a short phrase: “closed doors and semi-open window.” The closed-doors strategy is the best description for the US strategy towards Iran which has been constantly accompanied with the tactic of semi-open window. In this strategy, billions of dollars are spent by the United States on media propaganda in order to confront Iran. This confrontation between Washington and Tehran has enjoyed the regular support of  Israel and its powerful lobby at the US Congress. In closed-doors policy, the United States has gone as far as making efforts to topple the Islamic Republic of Iran sparing no measure in this regard. Such measures ranged from taking advantage of economic levers in the form of the sanctions policy, to defiance of all the rules and regulations of free trade by the US government. The practical measures taken by the Obama administration in line with the sanctions policy have been aimed at forcing the Islamic Republic of Iran into “surrender.” The “threat” component of this policy has been gaining increasing prominence. However, at the same time, the Obama administration has continued to show a semi-open window to Tehran in order to justify its closed-door policy toward the Islamic Republic. Tehran will only agree to bilateral talks if Obama makes an exception to his “closed-door” policy or, at least, shows some signs of change in it. Choosing Senator John Kerry, a former presidential candidate, as the new secretary of state may be a sign of the changing US policies toward Iran. John Kerry has been member of the US Congress Committee on Foreign Policy for 28 years and has headed that committee for four years.

This committee (the US Congress Committee on Foreign Policy) is the most important center delineating the United States’ foreign policy. John Kerry is a renowned personality and enjoys a lofty status in the political pyramid of American officials in Washington. He has also urged on moderateness in Washington’s relations with Tehran. His selection as the United States secretary of state for the second Obama administration, who will also take charge of Iran dossier in cooperation with Joe Biden, has been paralleled with the offer of bilateral negotiations to Tehran. Implementation of this proposal needs suitable grounds and, as a first step, the US should revise continuation of its closed-door policy and confrontation with Iran. Obama and other American politicians are well aware that Iranian officials are totally informed about the “closed-doors and semi-open window” policy of the United States. That policy has been actually in gears for three decades and has led to bans against Iran's financial and banking sectors, which has even included the Central Bank of Iran despite all international financial regulations. The financial bans have made it impossible for Iran to import medicines due to discontinuation of financial transactions between Iranian banks and foreign private pharmaceutical companies.

Therefore, after all these complications, Tehran really needs to see a new opening in the existing situation before it sits at the negotiating table. The Americans are well aware that the Islamic Republic of Iran will never enter into talks with the United States via a semi-open window as long as the main doors are kept closed. Tehran will also never pin its hope and trust on Washington’s new proposal. Many articles have been written about the “high wall of distrust” between Tehran and Washington in both Western and Iranian print media. Most analysts maintain that as long as that wall is in place, no improvement should be expected in bilateral ties. The question is how this wall can be possibly brought down? Is it possible to go on with the policy of closed doors and semi-open window and still expect Tehran to pin its hope on bilateral negotiations? Mr. Biden’s position that negotiations should not be held for the sake of negotiations is also the stance of Iran's officials. Purposive negotiations, however, need necessary grounds which can be prepared by taking mutual steps. One such step, which can be considered the most important as well, is for the United States to stop the totally wrong policy of “closed doors” and sufficing to “semi-open window” when dealing with Iran.

Key Words: Closed Doors, Semi-Open Window, US-Iran, Direct Talks, Joe Biden, Qasemzadeh

Source: Ettelaat Newspaper
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

More By Abolqasem Qasemzadeh:

*Egypt in Turmoil:

*Palestine: From “Observer Entity” to “Observer State”:

*Fanning the Flames of War Instead of Promoting Cease-fire:

طراحی و توسعه آگاه‌سیستم