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BETWEEN WASHINGTON & TEHRAN

 December 1996

PURSUING MIRAGES & CONFRONTING REALITY

"In a scheme of policy which is devised for a nation, we should not limit our views to its operation during a single year, or even for a short term of years. We should look at its operation for a considerable time, and in war as well as in peace."

Henry Clay (American Statesman 1777- 1852)

Recently, US officials formally declared that the United States is interested in establishing communications, and even rapprochement, with the Islamic Republic of Iran. In late October 1996, while on an official visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Assistant Secretary of State Robert Pelletreau expressed hope that the US and ban will revive communications during President Clinton's second term in office. "We are open to dialogue with the Government of Iran," Pelletreau declared. Asked about the Clinton Administration's attitude toward the current policy of containment and isolation, Pelletreau stated: "Nobr* thinks this is a perfect situation." Meanwhile, in private communications, Washington once again asked Persian Gulf governments which maintain good relations with Iran, to intercede with Tehran in order to open up venues of" dialogue" with Washington.


Washington's Illusions

to improving relations with the regime in Iran. Significantly, at the very same time, the US hardened its declared position against Iran, putting pressure on such allies as Germany and Japan to reduce the volume of their commercial relations with Iran. Given the contradictory messages, little wonder that Tehran was confused about the sincerity of the Clinton Administration. Moreover, concurrent Iranian strategic studies reaffirmed Tehran's conviction that the unfolding regional and global strategic dynamics was pushing the US and Iran to an inevitable confrontation over the future of the Middle East and the Muslim World as a whole.

Tehran assumed, and not without reason, that Washington was fully aware of this reality. Hence, Iranian officials reasoned, there was something sinister in the American initiatives -- a conspiracy to undermine the Mullahs' regime. Therefore, Tehran chose to ignore the American communiqus delivered by allies during the spring of 1996. Undaunted by the Iranian rebuff, the Clinton Administration sought new ways to convince Tehran of its sincerity. In the early summer, the White House decided to go public with the US desire to improve relations with Iran in an effort to reassure Tehran. In mid June, President Clinton gave an interview to Al-Sharq al-Awsat - a Saudi-owned newspaper published in London - in which he invited Tehran to a dialogue with his Administration. Washington was "prepared at any time to have a full and frank dialogue" with Tehran, the President stated, as long as these contacts were with an authoritative and official representative of Tehran. President Clinton went further to assure Tehran of Washington's good intentions. He stated that the US "does not seek to overthrow the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nor do we seek a military confrontation with Iran." The President's message was aimed not only at the Iranians - the obvious objective of these statements --but also at the Saudi Government President Clinton now openly stated what the Administration had been telling Riyadh and other Persian Gulf states for a few months then. With the elections campaign peaking and the President's foreign policy under sharp attack, the Clinton Administration concluded that the paralysis of the key initiatives must end. Hence, the obstacles to both the peace process in the Middle East and the implementation of the Dayton Accords in Bosnia-Herzegovina must be removed virtually at all cost. Thus, it became imperative to break the ice with the Mullahs in Tehran and find ways to communicate in order to provide the President with the "foreign policy achievements" he needed so badly.


The Logic Behind the Initiative

By now, the Clinton Administration had to justify the drastic change in its Iran policy. The official explanation was that this initiative was motivated by Washington's own realization that the policy of all out "containment" of Iran had failed. The US has failed to isolate the clerics in Iran, or disrupt the latter's economic connections with the rest of the world. Meanwhile, several American journalists and columnists, including some very close to the Administration, visited Iran and returned with tales of growing pragmatism, and even moderation, of the regime. In a series of columns and articles, they have urged rethinking of Washington's present policy toward Iran and putting an end to the all out confrontational attitude. Essentially, these articles and columns provided public reinforcement for the preferable policy of the Clinton Administration.

The Clinton Administration also seeks to justify the policy changes by citing the urging from some of America's closest allies -particularly Germany and Japan - to weaken the embargo in order not to harm their own trade practices. Washington points out that several Arab states, especially in the Persian Gulf, are also urging the reduction of the level of tension between the US and Iran given the extent of the clerics' threat -- both outright military and Islamist subversion and terrorism -- they are facing. The European and Arab allies insist that the policy of isolation and containment is a relic of the Cold War and no longer fit the posture of the "New World Order". Instead, the allies argue, the behavior of even the most rogue states can be best amended through the combination of "constructive engagement" and economic incentives. Consequently, the Clinton Administration can portray its initiative as a reaction to pressure from allies and advise from experts.

Given the dire implications to its overall policies, the Clinton Administration feels compelled to break the deadlock in the US relations with Iran. "toward the end of 1996, there emerged an urgent need in Washington to prevent 'Tehran from toppling one key foreign policy "achievement" of the Clinton Administration after another. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Tehran and its allies prevent the implementation of the Dayton Accords. In the Persian Gulf, the Mullahs and their local allies destabilize the region to the point of near collapse of several governments allied with the US. Elsewhere in the Middle East, the Islamic Republic is behind the wave of terrorism that led to the downfall of Shimon Peres, President Clinton's favorite in the Israeli elections, and the virtual collapse of the Arab-Israeli peace process. Tehran-sponsored terrorists are subverting Egypt and threatening the Mubarak administration. The Mullahs' surge into Central Asia and their influence over Turkey is growing. Islamic Republic has been implicated in numerous acts of terrorism against the US, such as the recent bombings in Saudi Arabia. Tehran was also implicated in a series of political assassinations throughout Western Europe. Indeed, in the Fall of 1996, the US initiative policy was defined and articulated to both the European allies and the states of the Persian Gulf as a measure of last resort. In view of the temporary failure of the confrontational containment and attempts to impose international isolation, there remains perhaps a futile goal that economic incentives and legitimization through communications will reduce militancy of the Mullahs.

Tehran's Resolute Position

The only thing missing from this political initiative of the Clinton Administration is comprehension of Tehran's position. From the very first days of the Islamic Revolution, the essence of the Mullahs' stand vis-a-vis the US has been that of a profound confrontation that cannot be reconciled. The Mullahs' Tehran has never sought to abide by the norms and logic of international relations. The mere fact that terrorism constitutes a cornerstone of Iran's international policy illustrates this point. The Mullahs need to make a 180 degree turn in the tenets of the Islamic Republic's political doctrine before they could even begin to react positively to the American initiative. And Tehran has made no such turns, neither has it demonstrated even a slight inclination to do so. Not that Tehran ignored the US efforts. Tehran could not miss both the US initiative and the underlining logic behind them. Indeed, in recent weeks, clerical leaders reiterated their objection to any rapprochement with Washington. Starting early November, Iranian media and other government circles, have repeatedly stressed not only their objection to any rapprochement with Washington, but emphasized that such a move will prove harmful to the vital interests of the Islamic Republic.

In mid November, an editorial by'Ali Akbar Dareini in the English language KAYIIAN INTERNATIONAL provided an authoritative reaction to Secretary Pelletreau's invitation for a dialogue. Tehran examined Pelletreau's statements in the context of the overall duplicity. Dareini explains that "Washington s policy toward Iran has two distinctive faces" aimed to contribute to the weakening of the Mullahs' regime. One' face" is an effort to establish rapprochement in order to neutralize Iran, and the other is a commitment to pressuring Iran through confrontation. Hence, the US initiative was but one facet of an on going policy.

Indeed, Dareini argues, Pelletreau's initiative was balanced by threats from Washington over the Iranian conduct of International terrorism. "Last month, the US Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East Robert Pelletreau called, during a visit to UAE, for a dialogue with Iran. And it has been confirmed recently that the US Administration has written a letter to Iran threatening to take action against Tehran if it continued what is says '.support for terrorism'." Daremi concludes that the common denominator of these two essentially contradictory approaches toward Iran is that they are driven by the collapse of the regional policy of the Clinton Administration. "While willingness to open dialogue with Iran is viewed as Washington accepting its Middle East foreign policy failure without recognizing Iran's rights, the anti-Iran rhetoric like the recent letter is nothing but a sign of frustration."

A very confident and assertive Tehran even warned the Persian Gulf governments against taking part in this US political initiative. This message was delivered by Iranian Interior Minister Mohammad'Ali Besharati during his mid November visit to Doha, Qatar. Besharati dismissed Washington's accusations against Iran for sponsoring terrorism as yet another effort to exert pressure on Iran. "That is not new. The United States always says that, but we are strong," he explained. Besharati concurred that the growing American frustration with the failure of its Iran policy might push the Clinton Administration into a military confrontation in the Persian Gulf. Tehran, he said, was ready to confront any US move against Iran. "There is no problem in this context, and we feel there is no problem with regard to confrontation, but the region cannot bear such talk." .

Besharati stressed that Tehran was convinced that the recent US initiatives -- both the desire to establish a dialogue and the threats concerning terrorism sponsorship -- were expressions of despair because of the total collapse of the Clinton Administration's policy. "They [the Americans] have suffered enough failures in their foreign policy, and Europe is now confronting the United States. It decided against a US decision to boycott us economically. And the world opposed the United States in this connection." Tehran, Besharati assured, had no intention what so ever to assist the United States. Instead, Tehran invited its Arab neighbors to join in a joint regional security system that will not include or permit the presence of US and other foreign forces in the Persian Gulf area. By late November, Tehran hardened its position. Iranian officials now expect that the confrontation between the U.S. and Iran will continue during
the second term of President Clinton. In an interview with AL-WASAT -- a Saudi-owned weekly published in London -Ayatollah Mohammad'Ali Taskhiri. the Iranian presidential advisor on international relations and supervisor of Iranian cultural centers worlwide, was extremely harsh in his attacks on President Clinton. "I believe that President Clinton is under the control of the Jewish lobby up to his ears. The positions taken publicly and in practice prompt me not to expect any change in his attitude after reelection." Ayatollah Taskhiri stressed that Tehran considers the recent US initiatives to be a part of a plot against Iran. "We question US political intentions and we know that they are hostile to us. That is why we interpret any proposal for contact and rapprochement as a mere maneuver because we know the American methods and schemes to strike at the lslamic revolution everywhere and in all directions." In view of the continued American threat to the Islamic Republic, Ayatollajh Taskhiri concluded, there is no alternative to the continuation of the resolute struggle against the i 1S.
Preserving Khomevni's Legacy
Further more, despite the lure of economic gains from a rapprochement with the United States, Tehran left no doubt that such a move is out of the question because it constitutes a profound deviation from Khomeyni's teachings. Writing in RESAALAT, Alireza Shemirani elucidated Tehran's approach to dealing with the United States.

"If one examines the practical and pragmatic aspects of potential US-Iranian relations, it is possible to assume that under certain conditions Iran might reduce hostility) toward the US. The conclusion of such a view is that the hostili4 , between Iran and America will not be permanent and it could even be claimed that the establishment of relations with America is not an impossibility." But under present conditions, Shemirani is quick to point out, this only a theoretical issue. Presently, "while the Americans are hostile to our people and country, we will continue to confront them and defend ourselves. In this case, negotiating lvith America or establishing ties with it will be unxvise and against our national interests." But this overall approach to relations with the US is based on the notion that both Iran and the United States are just ordinary countries motivated by the evolution of their respective interests. This perception, Shemirani argues, is a gross mistake. Nobody can and should ignore that Iran is an Islamic Republic and not an ordinary state. Therefore, Tehran must take this unique ideological character into consideration when formulating policies. Shemirani emphasizes that nobody in Tehran should forget "that our revolution is a religious one, based on Islamic values, and that Islam is a global religion and not confined to a specific geographical location or

 



 

 

 

 


 

 






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