Why Iran-US Relations Have Hit a Deadlock?: Part 2

Friday, December 14, 2012

Interview with Shahir ShahidSaless

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

Part II

Q: So, why do you think that Iran and the United States cannot get along?

A: Well, all the aforesaid issues which we discussed here are quite real and account for just part of the reasons behind the ongoing confrontation between Iran and the United States. What I said is by no means aimed to connote that all those theories are built on delusion. However, none of them can adequately explain why these two countries cannot engage in meaningful talks in order to reduce their differences. The main factor which has barred the two countries from talking to each other, or in better words, rendered them incapable of having purposive and meaningful negotiations is extreme distrust on both sides.

As said before, problems between the two countries started right after the victory of the Islamic Revolution and following the hostage taking [at the US Embassy in Tehran]. Of course, even that crisis had its root in what had already happened between the two countries in pre-revolution years. The US-sponsored coup d’état on August 19, 1953, [which toppled Iran's popular Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq] in addition to Washington’s unbridled support for the former Shah of Iran, suppression of the Islamist forces by the Shah’s regime, and pressures from Shah for pushing the country toward Western modernization, led to bloody incidents of June 5, 1963. Positions taken by Ayatollah Khomeini against the Shah’s ambitious plans and his project of modernization within framework of the so-called White Revolution, led to Ayatollah Khomeini’s exile from Iran. When the Islamic Revolution triumphed, the seed of “extreme distrust” had been already sown between the leaders of the newly established revolutionary government of Iran and the White House as a result of previous conduct of the United States toward Iran. It was due to the said extreme distrust that when Iran's Shah went to the United States for treatment, the revolutionary youth of Iran were concerned that the White House was again contemplating another coup d’état to get the Shah back to Iran.

Developments which occurred in later years further increased the distrust between the two countries. Plotting a military coup at Iran's Nojeh Airbase, inciting Iraq’s imposed war against Iran with director support of the United States for [the then Iraqi dictator] Saddam [Hussein], and providing chemical weapons to Iraq were other measures taken by Washington which further exacerbated the situation. On the other hand, the hostage taking had dealt a drastic blow to prestige and international standing of the United States while the existing bonds between Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah caused the United States to blame Iran for huge bomb attacks against the American forces in Beirut as well as taking American nationals hostage in Lebanon. As time went by, the distrust grew in dimension. Even every proposal for peace and reconciliation by either side of this equation was considered a plot by the other side. The Americans maintained that Iran is barely trustworthy, while the Iranians’ stance on the Americans was the same or even worse. Iran's influence in Iraq caused the American war machine to run aground after invading that country and the United States lost no time to introduce Iran as responsible for its failure in Iraq. This spiral of repeated faceoff has continued its upward rise as a result of which both sides have been rendered unable to embark on any form of negotiation to achieve a solution for their problems. When Iran's nuclear energy program came into the light in 2002, it was another shock for the United States. As a result, the wall of distrust grew higher and sanctions were imposed on Iran. Even positive steps that Iran took later, like suspending its [uranium] enrichment work for two years, were met with hostility on the US side. Mr. Seyyed Hossein Mousavian, a member of Iran's former nuclear negotiating team under President Khatami, has noted that the European negotiators told Iranian counterparts after various rounds of talks that the United States did not want to see even a single centrifuge operating in Iran. “We asked for how long?,” Mousavian added, “They said for at least 10 years!”

It is interesting that even the Western analysts have admitted that the main reason behind failure of [anti-Iran] sanctions has been lack of constructive negotiation and the distrust between the two sides. However, they keep tightening sanctions without noting that this is practically making any possibility of talks narrower. Well, it is common sense that when there is no negotiation, there is no possibility of reaching an agreement as well. However, one side of this equation is doing what it likes and keeps imposing stricter and stricter sanctions on Iran without attention to the above fact. In the meantime, the other side [namely Iran], says it does not want to negotiate with the United States and insists that the nuclear issue should be resolved through negotiations with the P5+1 group [which includes the US, the UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany]. It is obvious that [the member states of] the P5+1 group only reflect the United States’ will. As a result, it is impossible for Iran to resolve the nuclear issue through the P5+1 without reaching an agreement with the United States first. Here, I want to move a step farther and say that even if the nuclear problem is solved, there are other critical points and differences between the two countries, which if remain unsolved, may cause one of the two parties to disregard their commitments with respect to the nuclear agreement as well.

Q: So, you think that the root cause of the problem between Iran and the United States is severe distrust. Is there any other factor besides the distrust which could have caused Iran-US relations to hit a deadlock?

A: It is true that distrust plays a prominent role in this regard, but I must say that there are other factors in work which have been influential in creating the existing situation, while causing the distrust to continue to soar exponentially. “Perceptions and misperceptions” is one of those factors with “misanalysis” of the situation being the other factor. In line with its aggressive policies, the United States has mobilized big powers against Iran and has chosen pressure, sanctions, and threat as the main axis of its foreign policy approach to Iran in the hope that it would be able to make the Iranian government accept its conditions. This is a major instance of misanalysis on the part of the United States. The theory which says Tehran will give in to Washington’s conditions under mounting pressure has been formulated by a group of the American thinkers whose members lack enough understanding of the Iranian society, culture and government. The collection of the aforesaid factors has had a tangible effect on Iran's nuclear case and has barred both parties from finding a final solution to it.

Q: Can you bring examples of how misinterpretations and misunderstandings, on the one hand, and misanalysis, on the other hand, have pushed Iran's nuclear case into the existing standoff.

A: Before answering this question let me say that inattention to issues which will be discussed here has led the nuclear case into its current position and as long as these issues are not addressed in a constructive manner, the existing Gordian knot will not be cut. Fortunately, I and another expert on Iran issues wrote a long 20-page analytical article in criticism of the US sanctions policies in the Washington Quarterly journal, which is perhaps one of the most prestigious journals on the US policymaking, in December. In that article, the United States sanctions policies and viewpoints of theoreticians who advocated that policy (who had also published their own article on the necessity of intensifying sanctions against Iran just one year ago in the same journal) had been criticized and threats resulting from that policy had been pointed out.

It is generally believed in Iran that the Americans are sure that Iran has no plan to build a nuclear bomb and pressures imposed on the country are solely aimed at undermining the Islamic government. This theory, however, cannot explain that if the Americans are not actually concerned about this issue why they developed the extremely complicated program known as “Olympic Games” and used it to produce the Stuxnet virus in order to launch a cyber attack against Iran's nuclear site in Natanz? The details of this project which were revealed by the New York Times show that the United States along with Israel had first prepared a simulation of Natanz facility by taking advantage of centrifuges that they had seized from Muammar Gaddafi’s nuclear program (because they did not possess first-generation centrifuges anymore). Then they had produced the virus after a couple of years of hard work and had tested it on the simulated facility before launching the real attack on Iran's Natanz facility. This complicated and laborious project clearly proves that stopping Iran's nuclear energy program and dealing blow to it is, for any reason, important to the United States and this is not just an excuse. The question as to why despite possessing a huge nuclear arsenal, the United States is afraid of Iran developing nuclear weapon and whether that fear is justified or not, is a very important question which will be discussed later.

The Americans are afraid of Iran and fear that the day will come when Iran is endowed with the capability to build the nuclear bomb. They argue that it is correct that as long as Iran is member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and under meticulous inspections, it will never develop nuclear weapons, but it can quit the IAEA at any juncture with a three-month advance notice. In that case, Tehran will be able to build the bomb “quite legally.” This has already happened in the case of North Korea. Pyongyang quit the IAEA in 2003 and tested its first nuclear bomb in 2006.

The interesting point is that when any reference is made to the fatwa (religious decree) issued by [the Leader of the Islamic Revolution] Ayatollah Khamenei about prohibition on the production and proliferation of nuclear weapons (which has been frequently referred to by some American analysts), it comes under heavy fire from analysts who are close to Israel and ultra-right American thinkers, some of whom are Iranian. They claim that by doing this [issuing the fatwa] Iran is resorting to the Islamic principle of Taqiyya (telling a lie out of expediency). This issue needs clarification. For example, this is a primary principle of Islam and is not covered by Taqiyya. However, since there is no way for the two sides to get to talk about this, the issue has practically remained a mystery.

For now, just let’s assume that “from its own viewpoint” the United States considers its fear of Iran's nuclear energy program justified. The influential American analysts and politicians have put their heads together and have finally reached the conclusion that the only way to stop Iran's nuclear energy program is to mount sanctions and pressures against the country so high that Iran would be forced to its knees and give in to the United States’ demands. This analysis, however, falls short of taking a number of realities into account and has, therefore, failed so far. It is my understanding that the United States will not be finally able to bring Iran's uranium enrichment program to complete standstill.

First of all, Iran's nuclear energy program is now a matter of national pride for the country. Iranians have progressed so far in this filed that they are not ready to be humiliated by stopping that program under pressure and sanctions. Iran considers indigenous development of this technology one of its main honors as a result of which, shutting down the enrichment program would amount to negation of the country’s own identity. On the other hand, Iran argues why it should allow the United States to play with the country’s national pride and sovereignty by its double standards? Iran asks how come that Israel with about 400 nuclear bombs is not accountable to any authority in the world, but Iran's peaceful nuclear energy program should be stopped? Therefore, Iran stands up to what it calls “blatant US bullying” with all its capacities.

The Americans ignore this fact and argue that all decisions made in the world of politics are solely based on the “balance between profits and losses,” where there is no place for such issues as national pride and similar emotions. Therefore, they argue, if pressures mount on Iran, the country will finally give in. Such a misanalysis has caused them to continue with their aggressive policy of increasing sanctions against Iran. However, one of the widely accepted theories in international relations is the theory of “identity politics” about which many books have been written noting that this theory is returning as a major player to the global politics. The reason I use the word “return” is that for about four decades in which the world was engaged in Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union, the issue of “identity politics” played almost no role in international disputes. However, following the collapse of the Communist bloc, that theory has come to life again. The first serious confrontation rising from identity politics following the World War II was seen in the Balkans and during the ruthless war of the former Yugoslavia’s Serbs against Muslim people of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s.

At any rate, what I am trying to say is that the issue of defending identity and, ultimately, the national pride is a very important issue which can explain the reason behind Iran's resistance [to the West] and its unwillingness to accept suspension of uranium enrichment. This important issue should be included in the United States policies toward Iran. However, due to unshakeable and firm belief of the American analysts in the principle that Iran will sooner or later cave in under pressure on the basis of “profit and loss” calculation, they have paid no attention to the issue of “national pride.” Due to such oversight, the United States has been going on with its aggressive policy of pressure on Iran which nobody exactly knows where it may end up.

Another major problem is the type of the United States’ conduct and the discourse it has chosen on how to deal with Iran. Washington’s condescending position and resort to the regular threat that “all options are on the table,” cannot get along with the Iranian culture, especially with traditional religious culture of our country. In fact, the US approach shows that American politicians insist on avoiding recognition of a national identity and continuing efforts to change it. This, again, takes us back to the issue of identity politics and the resistance that Iran shows [against the United States] for protecting its national identity.

The next issue is lack of correct understanding of the Iranian government’s viewpoints about suspending uranium enrichment among the American politicians. Iranian leaders believe that any form of retreat in the nuclear case would be a major success for the United States after which Washington is sure to use other issues such as terrorism or the human rights [situation in Iran] in order to continue using the lever of pressure and sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Therefore, Iran argues that even one step backward would mean full retreat until the acceptance of complete defeat. In fact, even if the Americans’ theory about the balance between “profits and losses” is accepted to be accurate, we will also have to admit that in this special case, the Iranian government happens to be following the same rule. In other words, it argues that even one step aback would be equal to continuation of pressures from the United States until full defeat of Iran. This is why Tehran is not ready to give up its current position.

This set of issues, which was discussed above, has caused the nuclear issue to turn into an unbreakable deadlock between two countries.

*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

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

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