Why US Is Hesitant in Opening an Interest Section Office in Iran?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ebrahim Mottaghi

The issue of setting up an interest section office in Tehran by the United States raised in July 2008 has attracted the attention of Iranian and American officials. The topic has also triggered reactions from media groups in Iran and the United States. In the meantime, various interpretations have been offered by different groups on the need to reopen the US diplomatic mission in Iran. This shows that social groups in both countries expect a real development in bilateral diplomatic relations.

The origin of such expectations can be sought in some “common interests” or “parallel interests” in foreign policy domains of Iran and US: topics such as the Iraqi crisis, military and security confrontations in Afghanistan as well as the political instability in Pakistan.

The realities in the region have been shaped in a way that creation of multilateral conflicts and mounting disputes in Iran-US relations would have no benefit for the countries involved in the regional war in the Middle East or the extremist NeoCons in US foreign policy. Generally speaking, in situations of regional and international crises it is imperative to revise some security and foreign policy issues and priorities.

This trend can be traced in certain security issues between Iran and US in Southwest Asia during 2001-8. Military threats against Iran in 1980s and 1990s were discontinued. This was the outcome of the complicated national security conditions in the Middle East. On the other hand, the scope of Iran’s security borders has been synchronized with US strategic and security requirements in 2001-8. Although some of the political and security issues between the two countries are in conflict but the present political-security realities show that the general climate in strategic relations and requirements between the two countries are not restricted to “security cooperation” or “strategic conflict”. This trend would not result in positive developments in analyzing the regional security issues.

Under conditions that political units enjoy certain common or parallel security interests their need for coordination in domains related to common interests and security would increase too. This is an indisputable reality in international politics. By understanding the security needs of the country, Iranian executive officials too have tried to provide for promotion of cooperation areas. On this basis, they announced Iran’s readiness to improve diplomatic cooperation within the proposed interest section.

It is to be noted that right now a form of interest section is active in Tehran and Washington. The US behavioral pattern was of indirect nature and they have refused to send an official political representative to Iran. The reason was a decision made by Jimmy Carter in March 1980. He issued a directive for rupture of diplomatic relations with Iran but Iranian officials without adopting a practical reciprocal policy only practiced the literature of reciprocal behavior. In the meantime, Iran’s interest section in the US is run directly by Iranian diplomats. The Pakistani embassy is merely playing a ceremonial role within the protocol and all the issues are handled by Iranian executives. The Americans had not voiced an interest to dispatch a diplomatic delegation to Tehran so far. But the new stance taken by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the need to reopen the US interest section in Tehran has created some problems for the US diplomatic structure. For the Americans to send diplomatic representatives to Tehran they would need to improve the level of bilateral relations. This would require new instructions by the US president which would be taken in line with Washington’s strategic interests.

The refusal by the US executive officials to make transparent and clear decisions about an interest section office in Tehran originates from a “lack of strategic decision making” on behalf of the US towards IRI. If the Americans arrive at the conclusion that the possibility to forge formal cooperation with Iran does not exist for them this is because of political and structural rivalry in the decision making centers. Certain American political groups still underline the need for “widespread confrontation” or “all-out pressures” against Iran. This means that any initiative of cooperation with IRI could cause them new risks in the domain of internal politics. In that case, the Americans would have less power in putting pressure on Iran.

Indicators on Washington’s political relations with the regional countries show that they feel more need for Iran’s cooperation on regional issues. Right now, the Americans are faced with disputes and instability in political domains in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The only way for them to fix this situation is through expansion of regional cooperation.

Iran enjoys a decisive and special place among the countries of the region and the next administration in the United States will have no choice but to reconstruct its relations with Tehran. Any resolve to rebuild diplomatic relations with IRI would require the Americans to show more flexibility vis-à-vis Tehran. In other words, they should use polite political literature, reduce the restrictions against Iran and even drop Iran from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism. To accomplish this requires taking strategic decisions.


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