Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Taheri On Talking With Mullahs

I wrote a post several days ago (see here) on the many naive aspects of Obama's "new" plan to unilaterally and unconditionally - but with preperation - engage Iran's theocracy. Iranian columnist Amir Taheri weighs in on the same topic today, making many of the same points.


This from Amir Taheri in the WSJ today:

In a report released this week, the International Atomic Energy Agency expressed "serious concern" that the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to conceal details of its nuclear weapons program, even as it defies U.N. demands to suspend its uranium enrichment program.

Meanwhile, presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama – in lieu of a policy for dealing with the growing threat posed by the Islamic Republic – repeats what has become a familiar refrain within his party: Let's talk to Iran.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with wanting to talk to an adversary. But Mr. Obama and his supporters should not pretend this is "change" in any real sense. Every U.S. administration in the past 30 years, from Jimmy Carter's to George W. Bush's, has tried to engage in dialogue with Iran's leaders. They've all failed.

Just two years ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice proffered an invitation to the Islamic Republic for talks, backed by promises of what one of her advisers described as "juicy carrots" with not a shadow of a stick. At the time, I happened to be in Washington. Early one morning, one of Ms. Rice's assistants read the text of her statement (which was to be issued a few hours later) to me over the phone, asking my opinion. I said the move won't work, but insisted that the statement should mention U.S. concern for human- rights violations in Iran.

"We don't wish to set preconditions," was the answer. "We could raise all issues once they have agreed to talk." I suppose Ms. Rice is still waiting for Iran's mullahs to accept her invitation, even while Mr. Obama castigates her for not wanting to talk.

The Europeans invented the phrase "critical dialogue" to describe their approach to Iran. They negotiated with Tehran for more than two decades, achieving nothing.

. . . The Islamic Republic does not know how to behave: as a nation-state, or as the embodiment of a revolution with universal messianic pretensions. Is it a country or a cause?

A nation-state wants concrete things such as demarcated borders, markets, access to natural resources, security, influence, and, of course, stability – all things that could be negotiated with other nation-states. A revolution, on the other hand, doesn't want anything in particular because it wants everything.

. . . The problem that the world, including the U.S., has today is not with Iran as a nation-state but with the Islamic Republic as a revolutionary cause bent on world conquest under the guidance of the "Hidden Imam." The following statement by the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the "Supreme leader" of the Islamic Republic – who Mr. Obama admits has ultimate power in Iran -- exposes the futility of the very talks Mr. Obama proposes: "You have nothing to say to us. We object. We do not agree to a relationship with you! We are not prepared to establish relations with powerful world devourers like you! The Iranian nation has no need of the United States, nor is the Iranian nation afraid of the United States. We . . . do not accept your behavior, your oppression and intervention in various parts of the world."

So, how should one deal with a regime of this nature? The challenge for the U.S. and the world is finding a way to help Iran absorb its revolutionary experience, stop being a cause, and re-emerge as a nation-state.

Whenever Iran has appeared as a nation-state, others have been able to negotiate with it, occasionally with good results. In Iraq, for example, Iran has successfully negotiated a range of issues with both the Iraqi government and the U.S. Agreement has been reached on conditions under which millions of Iranians visit Iraq each year for pilgrimage. An accord has been worked out to dredge the Shatt al-Arab waterway of three decades of war debris, thus enabling both neighbors to reopen their biggest ports. Again acting as a nation-state, Iran has secured permission for its citizens to invest in Iraq.

When it comes to Iran behaving as the embodiment of a revolutionary cause, however, no agreement is possible. There will be no compromise on Iranian smuggling of weapons into Iraq. Nor will the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps agree to stop training Hezbollah-style terrorists in Shiite parts of Iraq. Iraq and its allies should not allow the mullahs of Tehran to export their sick ideology to the newly liberated country through violence and terror.

As a nation-state, Iran is not concerned with the Palestinian issue and has no reason to be Israel's enemy. As a revolutionary cause, however, Iran must pose as Israel's arch-foe to sell the Khomeinist regime's claim of leadership to the Arabs.

As a nation, Iranians are among the few in the world that still like the U.S. As a revolution, however, Iran is the principal bastion of anti-Americanism. Last month, Tehran hosted an international conference titled "A World Without America." Indeed, since the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, Iran has returned to a more acute state of revolutionary hysteria. Mr. Ahmadinejad seems to truly believe the "Hidden Imam" is coming to conquer the world for his brand of Islam. He does not appear to be interested in the kind of "carrots" that Secretary Rice was offering two years ago and Mr. Obama is hinting at today.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is talking about changing the destiny of mankind, while Mr. Obama and his foreign policy experts offer spare parts for Boeings or membership in the World Trade Organization. Perhaps Mr. Obama is unaware that one of Mr. Ahmadinejad's first acts was to freeze Tehran's efforts for securing WTO membership because he regards the outfit as "a nest of conspiracies by Zionists and Americans."

. . . The Islamic Republic might welcome unconditional talks, but only if the U.S. signals readiness for unconditional surrender. Talk about talking to Iran and engaging Mr. Ahmadinejad cannot hide the fact that, three decades after Khomeinist thugs raided the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, America does not understand what is really happening in Iran.

Read the entire article.

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