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THE UNITED STATES AND IRAN:

TIME FOR DIALOGUE?

"...nothing should prevent dialogue and understanding between two nations."

President Mohammad Khataml- Interview with Amanpour January 7,1998

"..talk with the United States have no benefit to us. We don't need any talk or relations with U.S. "

The Dialogue Atmosphere

Within the past several months there has been a strong undercurrent, specially within certain commercial circles and government officials in the United States for a "Dialogue" with Iran. Most of the impetus, by a large margin, for a hoped for dialogue comes from the election of Seyed Mohammad Khatami, as President of Iran. For many of the proponents of dialogue, Mr. Khatami is seen as "the peoples' choice" and a "moderate"- just the right type of leader whom the Americans could deal with. It should be remembered that the American pursuit of a "moderate" Iranian leader did not originate with Khatami. In the mid-1980s certain officials in the Reagan Administration fervently believed that they could do business with a "moderate" Iranian leader, Rafsanjani, in the effort to free Western hostages in Beirut. Ultimately, the American initiative collapsed as the clerical hardliners refused to support Rafsanjani's effort in the "arms for hostages" deal. The lesson here which the current supporters of the negotiations must bear in mind is that the same hardline clerical clique still maintain the power of veto over any decision or policy undertaken by any government official (including President Khatami).

The motives for a dialogue with the reputed "moderate" Khatami differs completely from that of the "arms for hostages" deal of the last decade. This time, the major objectives of the advocates of dialogue in the U.S. government, are, renunciation of state sponsored terrorism by word and action and refraining from: development of weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, nuclear), and undermining the peace process in the Middle East. Moreover, the non-governmental advocates of dialogue are most likely motivated by commercial/financial gain which are supposedly achieved by doing business with Iran. President Khatami, in his recent CNN interview said nothing that could in any way encourage any of the aforementioned advocates of dialogue . Rather, he dedicated most of his interview, defending the regime's position vis a vis the United States and criticizing that country for what he believes, to be "illegal" and "aggressive" acts against Iran. Nothing was said about opening a dialogue with U.S. officials or even desiring commercial relations with American trade and industry representatives. In fact, he emphasized the notion that Iran did not need to do business with the United States, it had "other sources" to satisfy its economic and commercial needs.

With regard to clerical regime's role in sponsoring terrorism and subverting the Middle East peace process, essentially important to U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, in effect he noted that "one man's terrorist was the other man' (i.e. Iran of clerics) liberator" and of course all the problems of peace are due to Israel and America's support of the "Zionist State".

President Khatami did, however, open the door to dialogue, but with representative of the American intellectual, academic, cultural and similar establishments. In other word, people who are less likely to criticize or object to, the nature and practices of their oppressive hosts. One is reminded here of visitors to Genriany and the Soviet Union during the 1930s who reported how well and efficient things were in those countries. This is perhaps what President Khatami has in mind for the visitors of the present day Iran.

The Current Political Environment In _Iran

The advocates of immediate dialogue with the Islamic Government may not be fully aware of the complexity of the political dynamics now underway in Tehran. In brief, the complex political situation revolves around the struggle for power and ultimate authority by the Iranian people, the ruling clerical hierarchy headed by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the elected president of the Republic, Mohammad Khatami. At minimum, the existence of those highly dynamic inter-factional conflicts is a clear indication that any dialogue now undertaken would be premature. The question posed here, would be - with which contending faction should the U.S. maintain dialogue when the situation in Iran is in such flux? There is no great impelling need at this time for a dialogue given the above-discussed political factionalism in Tehran.

The dynamics of the on-going political/factional conflicts in Iran (i.e. including the people, Khamenei, Khatami) are described below.

The Goals/ Objectives of Each of the Conflicting Factions

The People of Iran: The people of Iran desire nothing than their personal freedom and basic liberties which are fundamental to any democratic state but yet have been denied to them. They want an end to the absolute rule of the Supreme Theologian( Velayat-e-Faghih) and the establishment of a secular government in Iran. Two recent developments give credence to their increasing unhappiness and frustration over the repressive policies
of the rul~ng clerics: The election of the least objectionable candidate for president, Khatami, and the greater displays in public resistance and militancy against the regime. It should be emphasized that the Iranian people have a great respect, admiration for the American people. They wish to establish the interrupted relationship with the United States under a secular and democratic regime . Therefore, their struggle will continue till the return of the ruling clerics to mosque.

• The Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei: Above all other considerations, Khamenei and his ruling clique desire to hold power for all the benefits, rewards, and personal prestige that power provides. In more real world terms, the Khamenei leadership needs to achieve three major objectives; they include financial/economic/commercial, non-military / military state-of-the an technology. Most importantly, regime's legitimacy and international standing through diplomatic recognition, and normalization of the relations, but on their terns, so that it may serve to strengthen their shaky base. Khamenei's regime needs this recognition and help to get out of economic and political mess.

Despite Tehran's denials to the contrary, the U.S.-imposed sanction have significantly affected Iran's financial condition, especially in its access to international credits and trade with the United States (especially oil exports). Iran's economy is in a very bad shape. It needs $100 billion for the next ten years despite its current and foreseeable oil exports (assuming oil price to remain relatively stable); its debt amounts to over $35 billion and is increasing in principal and interest. The United States holds the key to Iran's economic well-being through its influence in the international financial and banking institutions. The U.S. financial assistance to Mexico and East Asia should serve as example to Tehran of the American impact in the international finance and economy. Iran's industrial and military infrastructure, much of it not rebuilt and upgraded since the war with Iraq, needs a significant infusion of material and technical assistance. Since much of the basic industrial and military infrastructure components originated in the United States ( notably oil extracting and processing equipment, armor and civil/military aircraft ,etc.) the United States is the best situated , both financially and technically, to fulfill Iran's needs. The ruling clerics would never admit those mentioned realities, because they want to convince both the domestic population and the international community, that their policies are sound and they care for the interests of the people. In reality, the clerical leadership must realize that by seizing power in a revolutionary coup in 1979, its rule is without the consent of Iranian people; they did not

(nor were they asked) to approve the *rile by clerics*. What indeed the regime seeks, no matter what publicly it says, is, to have diplomatic recognition and normalization of relations with the United States confirming its legitimacy and respectability in order to continue its rule without check and balance. Such recognition would also provide the additional bonus of removing the Tehran government's role as a terrorist state and allow it to uplift itself to a legal status in the international community. The importance of recognition by the United States must not be underestimated for its value to the Ayatollahs regime.
• President Mohammad Khatami: President Khatami desires all the financial, technological, and other benefits discussed above for the regime but with a greater need for recognition of the legitimacy and credibility of his presidential status and for fulfilling his promises to the people during the election campaign. Since (as will be discussed in greater detail later) his authority is circumscribed by the radical clerics headed by Ayatollah Khamenei, thus the recognition by the United States is paramount (although it could be fatal simultaneously ). As the recognized state's chief executive, he could receive the dignity of that office. The impact to his domestic constituents and the international community of President Khatami in the White House next to the American president does not escape Khatami (nor for that matter Khamenei).

The Reality of the Political and the factional conflict for power and leadership - The Meaning for the United States.

The United States cannot undertake a meaningful state-tostate dialogue with Tehran' nil ing hierarchy. Until the following conflicts are resolved, whether favorable or not for U.S. national interests, the risks of failure and other negative consequences for the Iranian people exceed the benefits of an impulsive and hasty dialogue now actively promoted. These conflict situations include: (a) between the people and oppressive clerical leadership; (b) between the ruling clergy and non-ruling clergy, and (c ) between the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Khatami.

Conflict Between The Iranian People And The Oppressive Clerical Leadership
The struggle of the Iranian people for their deserved freedoms and human rights must assume prominence in any American dialogue with the Iranian officialdom. The Iranian people within the past year or more, have persistently escalated their protest over the unlimited power of the Supreme leader which is based on an undemocratic and even un-Islamic philosophy of the Supreme Theologian,(Velayat-e-Faghih). The system with little acknowledgment and willingness to relent its authoritarianism to the will of the people. Dialogue with the clerics regime without taking human rights and freedom of the Iranian people into consideration will indeed prove to be fruitless. Moreover, such a dialogue with this Government wherein all power is concentrated in the hands of Khamenei could ultimately prove harmful to the Iranian people; it could raise their expectations for promises which would not be kept - a demoralizing prospect for their hopes. The rift between the people and the clerical government is so wide that it could not be filled. Current ruling clique is so out of touch with political realities and indifferent to the needs of the people, and the people arc so frustrated that an explosion could occur at any time. We must understand that a new powerful social and political force is taking shape in Iran. We are recently witnessing protests and demonstration of university students in Tehran, Tabriz and Mashad. Keen observers conclude that present myopic clerical rulers are indeed sitting at the top of a very active volcano.

Conflict Between The Ruling Clerics And The Non-ruling Clerics

The on-going struggle between the ruling clerics and nonruling/dissenting clerics is not as much for power as it is against the power of the ruling clerics, their misinterpretation of Islam and especially the personal authoritarian power of the Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Unfortunately Little is publicized or discussed regarding this subject in the U.S. media and government circles. This conflict can have great significance for the future course of political events in Iran. The dissenting clerics could well have the decisive word in the downfall of the ruling clerics and the Supreme Leader Khamenei. It should be maybe noted that there are an estimated 150,000 clerics in Iran with less than 10 percent involved in politics and government. The remaining clerics represent a big potential for opposition to the government if effectively led. To date, it is believed that about 300 clergy dissenters have been executed and over 1,000 are imprisoned. Most notable dissenters are Ayatollahs Mar'ashi Ghomi, Hussein Ali Montazeri, Azari Ghomi, and Rouhani, who are all under house arrest. There have been reports of physical maltreatment and humiliating conditions of house arrest after Ayatollahs, Montazeri and Azari Ghomi published statements criticizing Ayatollah Khamenei and his dictatorial rule. For the United States those non-ruling/ dissenting clerics should represent an important issue in human rights violation and thus presented before the international community for condemnation. Any dialogue must certainly take the fate of those prisoners of conscience and others a matter of high priority .
Conflict Between Supreme Leader Khamenei And President Khatami

There are two theories in this regard. One is that the differences between the Supreme Leader and president Khatami are not substantive and all government policies will be executed with approval of the leader. Mr. Khatami is part of the system who would like some reform that enable the Islamic system to continue its rule and therefore his programs and policies are in accord with the system. Even his latest interview with CNN has been arranged with the approval of Ayatollah Khamenei. In this interview, Mr. Khatami also followed the basic anti-U.S. government rhetoric characteristic of Tehran regime since 1979. Also in a speech at the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini in January 19, Mr. Khatami turned to anti-US rhetoric and said, "...We have seen the most harm from the United States before and after the revolution. we do not need for America to get along with us and help us".

Another theory is that differences and conflict between the President and radical clerics headed by the Supreme leader are growing tense and confrontation is inevitable. It could be argued that the ultimate foreseeable fate of the Iranian people and nation depends on the outcome of the emerging struggle for power and the leadership between Khamenei and Khatami. Although Khatami was "democratically" elected as the least objectionable among the electoral candidates, he more or less represents the democratic faction's "best hope". The final assessment of the status of president Khatami vis a vis the Supreme leader Khamenei remains to be seen in the future. However, what is apparent is that a struggle for power and leadership in Tehran is underway. The critical question is how far will Khamenei and the clerical ruling clique allow Mr. Khatami to exercise his presidential authority. Will they permit Khatami to appeal to the Iranian people for support? How far will Khatami reach for support from the Armed Forces or the Revolutionary Guard? At best, it can be said that Khatami is " playing close to the Chest". Historically, we must accept that in the struggle for power, the role of the armed forces, namely to remain partial or impartial, had been quite decisive. Also conspiratorial role of Mr. Ali Akbar Rafsanjani former president and current chairman of Council Of Discernment for Expediency should not be
underestimated.

Khatami's actions, up until now, indicate a very cautious agenda and behavior on the surface. Beneath that surface ties the turbulence of conflict between the two factions supporting Khamenei and Khatami. At some point, using this metaphor, the conflict will rise to the surface in to what may turn out to be a contest for the Future of Iran. The outcome of this conflict is most important for the United States. Simply put, it should determine whether a dialogue indeed could (and ought) to be held. If Mr. Khatami proves the victor the prospects for a more favorable dialogue outcome are likely. Should Khamenei and his clique prevail, the chance of any successful dialogue are nit. The uncertainty of the outcome of the Khamenei-Khatami conflict makes it more imperative that any official dialogue be delayed until greater certainty of the conflict's outcome has made itself apparent. The present reality for advocates of (dialogue now) must ask the question, "dialogue with whom?"- the wrong choice may prove to be decisive for Iran's future and the _role of the United States in that future.

The Options For The United States

The options for the United States are circumscribed within the bounds of what has already been made public by government and the media which include, renunciation of terrorism and the active opposition to the Middle East peace process, reduce, if riot end search/development in weapons of mass destruction. But unfortunately no demand or a lesser demand for recognizing and respecting the fundamental human rights of the Iranian people. As for the quid pro quo which the United States can offer to a reasonable Iranian leader (perhaps Khatami), it should be economic, financial, and infrastructural in nature, as already discussed above.

The options for the United States must include unqualified demands that the future Iranian government adhere strictly to its agreements made with the United States or in the event of failure to do so, all assistance from the United States will cease. The one condition for any future negotiation which the United States must insist on as a starter is the granting of unconditional human rights and liberties to the Iranian people, without that initial agreement there can be no future negotiations. This must be the American unambiguous and absolute policy towards Iran: no human rights, no normalization of relations.

 



 

 

 

 


 

 






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