July 23, 2004

Latest on Iran

Iran's Foreign Ministry responds to allegations that al Qaeda members crossed their borders:

...Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, said any claim about Iran's direct or indirect links to the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States was "fabrication and fantasy."

He told the Iranian press agency, it is not strange that some people manage to slip through a country's borders illegally, what is funny is the fact that the country which has given them visas, residency permits, pilot training, and sabotage training is making such claims. ...

The article goes on to relate the country's concerns about relations with the U.S. and their policy towards al Qaeda. Then there's a new report [pdf] out by the Council on Foreign relations, led by Zbigniew Brzezinski, with new suggestions for U.S.-Iran relations:

Presenting the study in Washington, Brzezinski said the United States -- which has no formal relations with the Islamic Republic -- would be better served by increasing ties with Iran.

"Unless one wishes to stand up and advocate to do in Iran what we did in Iraq -- entirely on our own, without international support -- then one has to ask: What is also a more effective way of mobilizing international support?" Brzezinski said. "I think the policy we are advocating actually increases the likelihood that others would then be more cooperative."

The study argues for selectively engaging Iran on the most important issues and for Washington to use more "carrots" than "sticks" as it seeks concessions from Tehran. ...

However, Mr. Asefi is quoted in the above piece saying that their government feels it's moved past the point where it wants to be dealt with in terms of carrots and sticks. The CFR report basically states that Iran's current government isn't going anywhere, has good relations with its neighbors, and is strategically important.

The recommendations center around building trust and consensus by focusing on issues of mutual agreement (such as, perhaps, fighting opium smuggling on the border with Afghanistan), and dropping the language of regime change advocacy. The authors suggest that support can be offered for greater democracy in Iran without calling for an overthrow that isn't going to happen, or relying on sanctions that haven't worked. They make the obvious point that Iran is in a position to cause the U.S. a lot of pain in Iraq and Afghanistan should they believe an attack is imminent.

Areas they cite as possible points of cooperation, regarding goals that both governments have publicly supported at one time or another: Working to improve regional stability and apprehending members of al Qaeda. Dismantling the Mujahideen e-Khalq, a recognized terrorist organization particularly loathed by Iran for their violence against civilians. Discussing an arrangement to suspend Iran's nuclear fuel enrichment program in return for guaranteed access to market-rate nuclear fuel to be used in a transparent and well-monitored energy program. Resumption of a serious peace process in Israel and Palestine. And lastly, increasing Iran's participation in the global economy.

The report notes that Iran is too important for the U.S. to ignore it, and by its own hand, too involved in the world economy already to have as introverted a foreign policy as North Korea. However, current policies by both sides seem to perpetuate a vicious cycle of escalating rhetoric. This is ironic because, as the report says:

...In contrast to all of its neighbors - and to the prevailing stereotypes inculcated by its own vitriolic rhetoric - Iran is home to vigorous, albeit restricted, political competition and a literate, liberalizing society. Even after the recent political setbacks, Iran today remains a state in which political factions compete with one another within an organized system, where restrictions on civil rights and social life are actively contested, and where the principles of authority and power are debated energetically. ...

The authors note that in general, the current government is most concerned with preventing another revolution. But in the absence of this sense of threat, they've demonstrated a willingness to make concessions, and an interest in preserving a relatively calm atmosphere that supports trade and economic development. The rapid population growth since the 1979 revolution has contributed to growing unemployment, and Iran's government has demonstrated an interest in generating the needed jobs, though progress towards certain economic reforms is likely to remain slow.

In contrast to its increasingly moderate behavior towards its neighbors, this rift with the U.S. persists, to the benefit of neither country. Though the report states that, "The pragmatists who appear to be ascendant in Tehran have described dialogue with the United States as a course that is 'neither wine, nor prayer' - in other words, neither prohibited nor obligatory."

The nuclear issue will remain sensitive, but Iran has not behaved irrationally, or indicated an unwillingness to negotiate. Yet many onlookers say that the better bargaining position offered by the possession of nuclear weapons, and the sense that they should be at least as advanced as neighbors like Pakistan, will lead inevitably to a nuclear Iran. Provocative U.S. rhetoric only increases the value of nuclear weapon capability, by providing a reasonable claim of self-defense.

In my opinion, not that I'm anybody you should be listening to, it sounds like the only reasonable way to convince them to suspend development would be to accede to their most persistent demand: negotiate with respect and bargain fairly.

Beyond the question of whether one is 'anti- or pro-' Iran, which is simply meaningless, is the question of whether or not it's time for a dialogue and engagement. The U.S. has exhausted the useful extent of sanctions, to the point that Iran now makes much of what it used to import or buys it on the black market at highway robbery prices. The Ayatollahs have proved more resourceful and canny than any would-be coup plotters, which is more than can be said for the previous two Iranian governments. And a military option is laughable.

I'm not old enough to remember anything of the 1979 hostage crisis. I can read about it, but I don't have the palpable sense of alarm displayed by people in the U.S. who were paying attention to politics in the 80's, while I was deeply preoccupied with not getting hit during dodgeball (and I'd like a word with whoever came up with that exercise in public degradation). So all I see is a situation that isn't going away, isn't getting better for being ignored, and that has resisted solving by the world's Greatest Superpower (TM).

And the only thing I can think about it is that we have got to have better things to do with our time than continue a pissing contest that hasn't resolved anything at all over the last quarter century. Let them sort out their own internal politics, and let us sort out a constructive way to deal with them. Or to put it another way, having tried everything else, why not try something that stands a chance of working.

Posted by natasha at July 23, 2004 03:24 AM | International | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |

I voted for Reagan because of the Iranian crisis. I was very angry, and felt that Carter's actions were inexecusable - paltry and embarassing. I advocated direct assault, with public warnings that our guys damn well better be right there, in our embassy, or we would sweep the entire country, ala Sherman with air cover, in a search.
I was a Leftist then, and am a Leftist now.
Nowadays, I think Clinton was a Centrist, as is Kerry, and I support both.
But your blog today scared me into thinking that bush may OK an attack on Iran by Israel, real soon, before the election, but then give public OKs and try to grandstand. Deep behind him, there must be what is felt to be legitamate fear of a nuclear Iran, and the hit just HAS TO HAPPEN. Might as well get all macho about it.

Posted by: Richard W. Crews at July 23, 2004 07:09 AM

you too can make a bazillion dollars in the war industry racket!

Posted by: chaizzilla at July 24, 2004 06:03 AM

The Iranians have had a nuclear weapons program for almost 15 years now. It predates both Bush and Clinton. Remember, they're not the US. It takes them a little longer. They're almost there. This is not some new thing. This is a long festering problem, similar to North Korea.

Why do they want it? Well, they say they want nuke Israel off the map. That's what they say. Take em at their word?

BTW, Iraq would've had nukes around the 1990-1992 timeframe had the Israelis not bombed their reactor. Imagine Saddam with nukes. There's a nightmare for ya. Who sold Saddam a plutonium producing reactor? France, of course.

Posted by: Michael Hiteshew at July 27, 2004 08:04 AM