Why Iran-US Relations Have Hit a Deadlock?: Part 1

Friday, December 14, 2012

Interview with Shahir ShahidSaless

Part I

Q: Let us begin with some basic questions. In your opinion, what is the main cause of the ongoing contentions between Iran and the United States? Why there is no perspective for reduction of hostilities on the horizon? What obstacles stand on the way of reestablishment of ties between the two countries?

A: This is a basic question and it takes a complete book to answer it. However, I will do my best to give a brief answer to it. Various theories have been given in an attempt to answer this question. Some experts believe that the challenge posed by Iran to the United States hegemony in the Middle East is the main cause of hostilities. The security of energy, especially oil, has been a main pillar of the United States foreign policy since the [former US President Franklin D.] Roosevelt was elected in 1933.

However, this theory falls short of providing satisfactory answers to a few questions. Firstly, during the entire period of the Cold War, the government of the former Soviet Union was a powerful foe for the United States which clearly announced that its ultimate goal was to topple the capitalistic system of the West. Despite all the apparent hostility of the Communist bloc against the West, the United States and the Soviet Union had both diplomatic and economic relations. On frequent occasions, both the United States and the Soviet Union arrested each other’s spies and then swapped them in a very civilized manner. There was a bridge connecting the western part of the [German capital city of] Berlin, which was controlled by the United States, to its eastern part, which was under the Soviet occupation. That bridge was famed as the Bridge of Spies over which the two sides swapped arrested spies. Therefore, mere hostility and struggle for hegemony over a region and even the whole world, especially in contemporary times, cannot be considered a factor which would keep two countries from having amiable relations. There is another example to the point. The [former US President Richard] Nixon made his groundbreaking visit to China under the rule of Mao Zedong at a time that China was at the peak of its anti-US rhetoric. The visit led to rapprochement between the two states. A worse case is the situation between Iran and the United States in which the two countries cannot even engage in any form of meaningful and fruitful negotiations. During the past 34 years, there have been overt and covert negotiations underway to improve relations between the two countries, but none of them have been either lasting or conducive to success, and all of them have failed.

On the other side, there is another theory and viewpoint which alleges that the existing challenge posed by Iran to the US hegemony constitutes the main reason behind hostilities between the two countries. However, it falls short of explaining the incident of hostage taking [at the US Embassy in Tehran]. What happened was that the former Iranian Shah went to the United States [after fleeing Iran]. Iranian students were concerned that the old story of 1953 [the year in which a US-sponsored coup d’état restored Shah to power] would be repeated and another coup may be staged [by Washington]. The US Embassy was stormed as a form of simple protest which according to Mr. [Ebrahim] Asgharzadeh [one of the students who stormed the embassy] was supposed to end in a few days. However, documents attesting to the US espionage activities in Iran were recovered to which even Washington has owned up, and the situation took a totally different turn. Therefore, this proves that the first flicker of hostility and tension between the two countries was not over challenging the US hegemony in the region. There was another factor which turned the hostage taking into a crisis whose impact has weighed down on Iran's relations with the United States up to the present time.

There is still a third theory which says the Iranian government needs hostility with the United States as impetus for its survival and this is the main factor which has prevented the two countries from reaching a final solution for their differences. This theory is also defective from several viewpoints. Firstly, Iran is not delusional in its enmity toward the United States. Washington has been trying to topple the Islamic establishment in Iran since its inception and this line of thinking is still followed by the United States as “the option of choice” with regard to Iran. Therefore, saying that Iran is depicting a hypothetical enemy may be a good thesis for undermining the position of the Iranian government, but it will be of no good to a logical analysis. Since the inception of the Islamic government in Iran, the United States has been trying to either transform it or, under ideal conditions, to topple it. Therefore, Iran's animosity toward the United States is not just an excuse, but the Iranian government is actually being threatened by the US actions and policies. Does this mean that Iran has faced the United States as an innocent child? Of course not. Iran, on the other hand, has spared no effort to deal any blow to the US interests. A seasoned American politician had said in person to one of my friends that no government has ever harmed the US interests as the Iranian government.

This theory can be also questioned from another standpoint. Iran has frequently offered reconciliation proposals to the United States under three presidents: first under the presidency of Mr. [Ali Akbar] Hashemi Rafsanjani, then when [former Iranian President Mohammad] Khatami was in office, and finally under the [incumbent] President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. At the time of Mr. Hashemi, he clearly set unfreezing Iran's assets in the United States as Tehran's precondition for détente with Washington. The two sides got engaged in many rounds of negotiations under the [former US President George] Bush Sr. for the release of the American hostages who had been taken into captivity by the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon. In return, the United States had promised that if Iran mediated for the release of the American hostages, Washington would unfreeze Iran's assets. Due to efforts made by Mr. Hashemi’s government, the American hostages were released in 1991. However, sometime later, Mr. Giandomenico Picco [a high-level UN negotiator for 20 years], told Iran that no assets would be unfrozen. In another case, Iran offered a lot of help to the United States during its invasion of Afghanistan whose details cannot be explained here. However, before a few weeks passed, Mr. Bush [then US President George W. Bush] introduced Iran as part of the “Axis of Evil.” The offer of “a big deal” to the United States by Iran in 2003, under Khatami, which has not been denied by Iran, was another instance of Iran's efforts to establish friendly ties with the United States. Such instances clearly prove that Iran has taken steps at various junctures to establish relations with the United States. Therefore, the theory that the very survival of the Iranian government depends on hostility with the United States does not match the realities on the ground.

Iran's hostility toward Israel and its alleged claim to annihilation of Israel has been mentioned as another reason by a group that believes this is the main reason for hostilities between Iran and the United States. The Iranian government maintains that “Israel” is like a cancerous tumor in the Middle East region which should be excised. In more accurate words, Iran says a referendum should be held to be attended by all the Palestinians (both those who are currently living in the occupied territories and those who have been forced out of their homes) in addition to Jews, in order to determine the future destiny of Palestine and Israel. Many analysts say the mere fact that Iran is not ready to recognize Israel and continues its hostility against Tel Aviv is a reason why the United States will be never able to reach reconciliation with Iran.

This theory is also faulty from a number of standpoints. Firstly, the unwillingness to recognize Israel as a state is not specific to Iran. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has about 60 members of which only about 10 countries have given official recognition to Israel. Close regional allies of the United States, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, also do not recognize Israel. Before recent developments in Syria, Damascus was the spearhead of hostility with and struggles against Israel. However, the United States had an open embassy in Syria. On the other hand, let’s see how the ongoing contention between Iran and the United States came into being and soared following the victory of the Islamic Revolution? During the entire hostage taking at US Embassy in Tehran, Israel was not a problem. Therefore, the occurrence and prolongation of hostage taking had other root causes which were in no way related to Iran's hostility with Israel. In addition, if the issue of Israel is so important to the United States, why every one of the US presidents who have come to office since the Islamic Revolution in Iran have brandished the olive branch? The last proposal for the reconciliation was offered by President [Barack] Obama on the occasion of the Iranian new year in late March 2009. This approach clearly proves that Israel, as a factor, is not of such an importance to prevent the United States from going on with its drive to mend fences with Iran.

There is another group of analysts who believe that the clash of different cultures or civilizations is the main source of hostilities between the United States and Iran. People like Bernard Lewis and [Samuel] Huntington argue that Islam sees the system of the Western values as the most important enemy of its own system of values. Having come to life again after many centuries of latency, it aims to topple the Western system whose set of values is at odds with those of Islam. The British thinker Bernard Lewis maintains that the confrontation between the governments of Iran and the United States can be only explained through this theory. In reality, however, this theory does not seem to be sufficient for justifying the main reason behind the continuation of hostilities between the two countries.

A major reason for this is the fact that when it comes to foreign policy, Iran has not been merely adhering to its value models at any cost, but has also paid due attention to expediencies. Otherwise, Iran should have come to loggerheads with the former Soviet Union as well; would have taken the harshest approach to the Chinese who do not believe in God; and would have come to blows with Russia over the suppression of Chechen Muslims, or with China for Beijing’s harsh and violent treatment of Uighur Muslims. In reality, however, none of these have happened.

The story that Mr. Saeed Qasemi [a commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC)] has told about the origin of the motto, “the way to Quds goes through Karbala,” depicts an important instance of Iran’s expediency-based approach in foreign policy. The motto was first set forth by the late leader of the Islamic Republic [Ayatollah Khomeini] in the heat of Iran’s war with Iraq. [Qasemi says] while a group of famous of IRGC commanders insisted on going to Lebanon, join ranks with the Lebanese Hezbollah group, and fight with Israel, Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic Revolution, warned them against entering into war with Israel and noted that they should instead focus on the war with Iraq and do not get involved in Arabs conflict with Israel. This is where the motto “the way to Quds goes through Karbala,” originated. At any rate, I am trying to say that the Iranian government does not come to blows with any other country on the basis of mere ideological differences and the government of the United States is also no exception to that rule.

On the other hand, the United States gives priority to its own interests, not ideological values, when making decisions with regard to its foreign relations. Washington’s support for such regional governments as Saudi Arabia which show no respect for the most basic political, human, and social rights of their citizens, especially women, is a major instance of this fact. Staging coups in various countries, including our own Iran, has already proven that the United States’ claim to advocating democracy and human rights is just a foreign policy tool and nothing more. If such claims proved useful anywhere in the world, the United States would make sure to bank on them. However, if the US interests call, Washington will easily violate human rights and democracy and lend its support to nondemocratic governments.

Therefore, it would not be a satisfactory theory to simply say that the root cause of hostilities between Iran and the United States is the clash of their cultures.

*Shahir ShahidSaless holds a master’s degree in international relations from University of London and a master’s in Geopolitics and Grand Strategy from Sussex University of the UK. Being a resident of Canada, he has carried out extensive research on Iran's relations with the United States and has many written works on this subject. He can be reached at:

To Be Continued…

Source: Entekhab News Site
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

More By Shahir ShahidSaless:

*US Election Winner May Face a Dangerous Iran:

*Netanyahu, Betting ‘All-In’ for High Stakes Iran Game?:

*Current Trend in US-Iran Relations: A Road to Hell:

طراحی و توسعه آگاه‌سیستم