Sunday, February 20, 2005


US-Iran Relations: Is Confrontation Necessary? (Hooshang Amirahmadi - from AIC site)

The following essay was originally written by Hooshang Amirahmadi in 2002 following President George W. Bush’s State of the Union speech that characterized Iran as a member of the ‘axis of evil’. However, the ideas are as pertinent today as they were three years ago. The essay has been slightly adapted and updated to reflect current events.

US-Iran Relations: Is Confrontation Necessary? Hooshang Amirahmadi - from AIC site)

What the carrot pile should include can be debated. It must begin with building mutual trust between the two governments regarding their intentions. One sure measure towards this end is reciprocal and simultaneous public announcements that Tehran and Washington are ready to reestablish diplomatic relations within the framework of a pre-negotiated agenda for formal talks to follow. These announcements can be mediated by the United Nations or another mutually trusted third party. After all, lack of diplomatic relations even between countries at war is against the established norm of international relations.

Another tool of trust building is a reciprocal acceptance of interests and role. Tehran must acknowledge the legitimate American global interests and role. The United States should reciprocate by acknowledging the legitimate Iranian regional interests and role. This reciprocity should not infringe upon the legitimate interests and role of other states. US-Iran relations have no real friend in the region. The two administrations must lobby these states to enlist their support. Most governments have a strong interest in regional political stability. Cooperation is the key to regional trust building and creating a win-win situation.

To help build trust and confidence, both sides must broaden their perspectives of each other’s concerns, deeds, intentions and capabilities. American officials have stressed Iran’s strategic significance, but this is often done to underscore its potential for aggression. The presumption that “a weaker Iran is a better Iran” was the basis of the “dual containment” policy, now expanded into an “axis of evil” policy. Yet, in the last 150 years, a strong Iran has never initiated any hostility toward its neighbors. In contrast, whenever Iran has been weaker, as in the post-1979 period, wars have been imposed on it and regional instability has followed.

The fight against terrorism and fundamentalism, peace in the Middle East, and confidence building in nuclear matter can be coordinated in the best interests of the two nations and the states in the region. Iran lives in a dangerous neighborhood, and partnership with the United States can allay Iran's anxiety and provide it with a protective umbrella. While rich in oil and gas, geography, and human resources, Iran lacks the required capital and technology, shortcomings that the United States can uniquely help to mitigate. Partnership with the U.S will also make Iran a natural “pivotal” or “anchor” state for regional peace and development.

The big carrot pile should also include specific incentives. The United States must repackage its previous offers to Iran and add new strategic incentives immensely attractive to Tehran. US carrots can be designed to serve US strategic interests. A global settlement of Iranian assets, opening to pipelines through Iran, and other energy investments will bear considerable fruit. While US firms continue to be barred from investing in Iran, European companies have used the relative calm in the relations, rushed into Iran and imposed monopolistic deals on the country, thanks also to the unilateral sanctions and an ineffectual ILSA legislation.

But the carrots must be offered with clearly delineated and realizable objectives. Paramount among such objectives for the United States is to see Iran become a strategic partner, along with Israel. This requires that the two countries develop a common language, purpose and action plan on terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, the Middle East peace, regional security, and safe flow of oil from the region. Washington particularly wants Iran to help in the fight against Islamic fundamentalism and for the stabilization of Afghanistan. While the United States has economic interests in Iran, they are far less important than its strategic and geopolitical interests.

Iran must deal with Israel as a reality and help change Israel’s perception of Iran as a threat. Rhetoric has had an important role in the creation of the threat perception. Iran must understand and change this. The Islamic Republic has said that it will not interfere with the peace process and accepts any settlement reached between the Palestinians and Israelis. This is not enough. Iran must help craft a just peace, since the lack of peace is an obstacle to the rapprochement between Iran and the United States. To play a positive role toward establishment of a Palestinian state, Iran must reduce tension with Israel.

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