Why Iran-US Relations Have Hit a Deadlock?: Part 3

Monday, December 17, 2012

Interview with Shahir ShahidSaless

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

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

Part III

Q: The United States has on several occasions offered to negotiate with Iran and has claimed that the talks would be aimed at resolving bilateral problems. Iran, however, maintains that Washington’s offers of negotiation are nothing but fraud and Washington is covertly trying to conspire against Tehran even when it is apparently showing a friendly face. How accurate, in your opinion, this analysis actually is?

A: Iran believes that it should not engage in negotiations with the United States because Washington is pursuing its own ominous goals. Part of this proposition is true. We know that [the US President Barack] Obama issued a message of friendship to Iran on the occasion of the Iranian new year [in March 2010] in which he explicitly talked about “a new beginning,” and reached out for friendship with Iran. (The Iranian Leader [Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei] has been also quoted as saying that Obama had written other letters on this subject and the issue was even disclosed by the US media.) According to a New York Times report, before issuing his new year message to Iran, Mr. Obama had ordered the Stuxnet virus to be completed as soon as possible in order to be used for a cyber attack on Iran's Natanz nuclear facility. Therefore, it is true that the United States’ offer of talks is not accompanied with genuine goodwill. However, the noteworthy point here is that we are talking about the world of politics, where willingly or unwillingly, there is no room for pure and honest friendship. There is a famous quote from the 19th century British politician, Lord Palmerston who said, “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.”

Negotiations between Tehran and Washington would not mark the beginning of all-out friendship and infatuation between the two states. The world of politics is basically not a good place to pursue such a goal because it is actually unattainable. Even establishment of relations and opening of embassies is not, per se, a goal. The main goal of negotiations is to find a way to reduce tension and move in a direction which will lead to reduction of sanctions and decreasing economic pressures on the country because the main targets of those sanctions are wage-earners and low-income people. Of course, I agree that accepting humiliation should not be part of the plan to achieve that goal. Even today, many articles are published in the United States, which introduce China as the biggest threat to future outlook of the United States. On the other side, Chinese experts on international relations publish many reports and articles on the internet all of which warn about the serious threat posed by the United States to China. However, relations between the two countries continue, despite mutual suspicion, and China is currently the second biggest trade partner of the United States.

Last year, the Chinese President Mr. Hu [Jintao] visited Washington and met with his American counterpart, President Obama. As usual, at the end of the meeting, both leaders appeared before reporters. Mr. Obama slammed and expressed regret over the situation of human rights in China, while Mr. Hu, reciprocally, advised the United States to stop interfering in the internal affairs of other countries. At the end of the interview, they shook hands, put up dashing smiles, and posed for photos. We, Iranians, cannot understand this behavior, but it is the stark reality of international relations in the modern world.

Q: Iran believes that it is entitled to uranium enrichment while the US argues that the Islamic Republic should stop enrichment. How the existing standoff could come to an end despite such a major difference in viewpoints?

A: This issue needs in-depth discussion. In short, however, it would be worthwhile to note that a prominent American professor of international relations, Charles Kupchan, wrote a controversial book entitled “How Enemies Become Friends: The Sources of Stable Peace,” in 2010. In his amazing research, Kupchan argues that to bring down the wall of distrust between a big power and a smaller power, the first step should be taken by the big power. By taking reconciliatory steps, he says, the big power should win the trust of the smaller power and pave the way for finding peaceful solution to the existing problems. Mr. Amir Mohebbiyan (an Iranian political analyst), published an article which appeared on the website of the Iranian Leader last year in which he said (quote), “Iran does not pursue ‘hostility for hostility’ thesis and if  a rational change is seen in the United States’ behavior, Iran will take note of it. Unfortunately, however, no such change has so far taken place and the American leaders stubbornly insist on their past positions and behavior.

The US policy will finally fail to bear fruit because it is based on an incorrect premise, and continuation of the existing atmosphere of hostility and animosity will lead to war. Referring to a possible war with Iran, two US secretaries of defense have already warned Washington against getting engaged in such a war. The former US Secretary of State Robert Gates believed that a war with Iran would also engage “our grandchildren,” while his successor, Mr. Leon Panetta, has noted that the war with Iran would cause Americans to regret what they had done.

However, without getting down to details – which need a lot of time to be properly discussed – it should be noted that the United States should first of all reach the conclusion that it is not able to bring uranium enrichment in Iran to complete standstill. Iran had no plan to enrich uranium up to 20 percent. When Tehran's request for purchasing 20-percent enriched uranium to be used at Tehran Research Reactor, which is specific to medical purposes and production of radio medicines, was rejected, the country embarked on enriching uranium to 20-percent level. Therefore, if the two sides took reciprocal measures to lift sanctions or render them ineffective, I think it would be possible for them to reach an agreement to limit enrichment level to, say, 5 percent. Secondly, the United States should give up its policy of pressure and threat. The most urgent step is for Washington to change its tone and put an end to frequent threats against Iran. Without that change, it would not be possible for the two sides to engage in meaningful, effective and serious negotiations.

It is possible for some people to say that this is only meaningful in theory, but how in practice and despite the existing atmosphere of serious distrust, the Americans can be convinced that they should take the first step? Here, theoreticians of international relations can help us. Jacob Bercovitch, the American scholar, conducted a research in 2007 in which he concluded that international disputes in the 21st century can be resolved through “mediation.” However, the important point is that the mediator should be totally well versed about the culture and way of thinking of both parties to a dispute and, therefore, be able to rapidly dispel and explain ambiguities to both parties.

Q: Let’s ask another basic question. To what extent Israel and the pro-Israeli lobby are effective in setting the course of the US foreign policy toward Iran?

A: The pro-Israeli lobby is a complicated and poorly organized collection of certain organizations which actively support Israel and which are topped by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). They also include a huge group of writers and journalists who are working in all American newspapers and other media; rich people supporting Jews, who of course do no comprise all wealthy Jews; think tanks which promote and theorize policies that benefit Israel; as well as a group of radical, but powerful, Christians who call themselves “Zionist Christians.” There are two theories about the role of the Israeli lobby in the United States foreign policy.

The first theory has been proposed by two prominent American scholars of international relations, that is, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer both of whom happen to be Jews! For the first time in the US history, these two American academics published a book entitled “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” in 2006. The book raised a lot of controversy and rapidly became a bestseller. Walt and Mearsheimer said in their detailed research that the United States’ all-out support for Israel neither meets the US strategic interests in order to be strategically justifiable (as it is actually detrimental to Washington’s strategic interests), nor is the United States morally bound to offer unbridled support to Israel. They have also presented frequent examples of the violation of ethical principles by Israel in order to prove that Washington’s support for Tel Aviv has no ethical basis. They finally reached the conclusion that there should be another factor in work which has left such a profound impact on the US foreign policy. By producing a great number of evidence they have proven that, in fact, the Israeli lobby is actually putting tremendous pressures on the American politicians to set the direction of their policies in favor of Israel and it has nothing to do with the US strategic interests or ethical norms. The influence and power of this lobby is also related to financial and propaganda assistance which it provides politicians who are apparently elected through people’s votes (and who include all kinds of politicians from the US president down to representatives of the Congress and Senate). The other way around, it means that if this group stops its financial and propaganda support for any candidate, he/she would greatly lose the chance of being elected.

The second theory has been formulated by another elite scholar, William B. Quandt. He believes that from the time they enter school, up to their admission to university and then through their political career, American politicians are bombarded by totally unilateral stories about Israel through the mass media. In those stories, Israel is always subject to injustice and its enemies seek to annihilate it. Quandt believes that when a person makes his/her debut in the world of politics through such a background, they are sure to approach the issue of Israel with some sort of prejudgment. From the viewpoint of Quandt, since American politicians enter the politics with preformed prejudice, convincing them to provide unlimited support to Israel is not a tough job for the pro-Israeli lobby. The only thing which that lobby has to do is to highlight anything which is against the Israeli interests, so as to prevent them from happening.

At any rate, taken from either of the two aforesaid standpoints, Israel has played a prominent role in shaping the US foreign policy. Here, I want to briefly explain a point. Perhaps you remember that during the recent presidential elections in the United States, [the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu made a trip to the US in order to deliver his famous address to [the annual session of] the UN [General Assembly]. Concurrently, some Israel media revealed that Obama had turned down his request to meet with him. Obama and his aides had noted that Netanyahu is clearly meddling in the process of the US election in order to change the result in favor of [Obama’s Republican rival Mitt] Romney. This issue in addition to Obama’s unwillingness to set “red line” for Iran's nuclear activities caused great strain in his relation with the pro-Israeli lobby. In the aforesaid article, I wrote that if Obama were elected, it would be for the first time in a few decades that a US presidential candidate has turned its back on the Israeli lobby and has yet been able to win the election.

This development shows that the current situation in the United States as well as the arrangement of political forces has changed in such a dramatic way that a person like Obama can be elected as US president without effective support from the pro-Israeli lobby. This unprecedented issue can have unprecedented impact on the future outlook of the US foreign policy. Does this mean that Obama does not give a damn about Israel and its lobby anymore? Certainly not. Obama should move within the framework set by his party and, in addition, he still needs the support of the Congress and the Senate representative in order to outdo his opponents. Let’s not forget that the gravity center of Israel’s influence on the US policy is the US Congress. However, under new circumstances, Obama is in a position to bargain and relatively reduce the pressure that Israel is trying to put on him. In the meantime, since this is his second term in office, he has no concern about losing a reelection and is not afraid of the Israeli lobby anymore. These factors will once again prompt Obama to come up with a new proposal for negotiations with Iran. Recent remarks by the [US Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton and her offer of two-way talks should be considered along the same lines. Now, we must wait and see what approach the Iranian government will take to this issue.

Q: Now that you have talked about Mrs. Clinton’s proposal to Iran, please answer our last question. Why the United States has come up with this proposal at this juncture?

A: When, at the behest of a group of Iran experts, the United States decided in the fall of 2011 to make Tehran give up its enrichment program by imposing the toughest sanctions on Iran, including by getting the European Union in line [with Iran sanctions], they hoped that the Iranian government would give in to pressures when its economic integrity is at jeopardy. Of course, I must add that what happened [in Iran] following [presidential election] in 2009 greatly influenced that decision. Such influential thinkers as Richard Haass, who heads the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, and Ray Takyeh, a prominent member of the same council, who talked about compromise with Iran before those incidents, suddenly made a U-turn. They started writing articles about the so-called Green Movement noting that the Iranian government has been weakened and can be forced to its knees through serious sanctions. In practice, however, their project proved wrong. Prominent scholars such as George Perkovich (not to be mistaken by Jacob Bercovitch about whom I have already talked), who specializes on Iran issues and nuclear disarmament and has been also a staunch supporter of Iran sanctions, announced a few months ago that the nuclear issue has been so integrated into the Iranians’ sense of national pride that it cannot be stopped anymore. By and by, there were more doubts about effectiveness of sanctions. I have asked Americans in, at least, ten articles “what is your other alternative?” “What are you going to do if sanctions proved futile, which is sure to happen?” The answer is clear. [The two parties, namely, Iran and the US] must either sit [at the negotiation table] and talk, or opt for war. There is no third alternative. During the last year, many research articles have been published by various American research teams on how Iran's nuclear issue should be dealt with.

Not even one of them has pointed out that a possible war can put an end to Iran's nuclear energy program. They have, on the opposite, argued that in a best case scenario an attack on all nuclear facilities of Iran can put off the Islamic Republic's program only four years at the very most. Let’s not forget, and this is very crucial for making any possible decision, that when it comes to Iran's nuclear energy program, we are not faced with a single America, but there are [in fact] two Americas. One [America] is led by the White House and is by no means willing to enter into war against Iran while another one, which is lead by radical elements of the US Congress and Senate from both parties, seeks military confrontation with Iran.

The anti-war faction has reached the conclusion that the faceoff should be stopped through negotiation. On the other hand, the warmongering faction argues that the first group’s efforts are in vain because Iran is not ready to solve the issue through negotiation and diplomacy. Rejection of negotiation by Iran will only play into the hands of the second group, allowing them to keep mounting pressure on Iran which will ultimately end in war. This dichotomy is the main reason why the White House has opposed the new Senate decision for the intensification of sanctions against Iran, or resists Netanyahu’s request for drawing a red line for Iran's nuclear energy program. In fact, as I said before, the US Congress and Senate are controlled by Israel’s supporters and the Likud Party is currently setting the stage for confrontation with Iran. Iran can take the best advantage of this dichotomy through vigilance and a well-informed approach.

*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:

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

More By Shahir ShahidSaless:

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

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

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