The Need for Diplomatic Reconciliation with Iran

Tension has strained the muscles of the international community since February of 2003 when Iran revealed its nuclear program to the world. Iran has said its intentions are peaceful, an assertion that the United States vehemently distrusts. The issue, however, is not the intent of the program, but that for almost three years negotiations between Iran and the West have been stagnant. There is no resolution to the problem because the solution is hindered by a grudge that dates back nearly twenty-five years. Stimulating a spark of modern culture in the Middle East – mainly for the purposes of oil – the American-Iranian relationship began in 1953. Overthrown by a Central Intelligence Agency-backed coup, Dr. Mohammed Mossadeq, the prime minister of Iran was ousted and replaced by Mohammed Reza Shah. He gave Iran, a country long misunderstood by the West, a modern and royal image. For twenty-six years, that reflection was seen in a healthy and dynamic relationship with the United States. The tie seemed as if it would never be broken, even as late as 1975 Gerald Ford spoke of Iran as an important ally in the east, “The facts speak volumes for the continuity and the duration of our bilateral relations and the importance that we attach to the broadening and the deepening of those ties and those interests of peace and progress throughout the world. These are objectives to which the United States remains deeply committed. These objectives Iran shares with us.” Only four years later relations ceased as the Iranian Revolution of 1979 polarized the two countries. Since then, direct contact has been scarce, almost nonexistent. Communicating through a third party to mend any relationship is by no means effective. But for twenty-six years this has been the hollow approach of each country. Since the revolution there have been a few instances that warranted the possibility of dialogue between the two countries, the most recent in 2003 when the US sent emergency crews to the historic city of Bam, the epicenter of an earthquake that killed over 30,000 people. Sadly, any hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough were lost among the rubble. As with the Bam situation, dialogue has not been possible due to an intense nationalistic pride of the Iranians, a feeling that is only countered by an American image of Iran as an Islamic state that breeds terrorism and is ignorant to the world. Non-Arabs in the middle of the Arab world, Iranians certainly take an immense amount of pride in their culture, and that pride gets in the way when the international community tells them they are unworthy of developing nuclear energy. The Iranians must get past their self-centered view and realize the magnitude of becoming a nuclear state. It is a powerful and potentially dangerous asset that the international community has concerns about. The current generation of Americans has seen Iran as a nation that is ruled by Hammurabi’s code, where only the law of the land exists and everyone is merely a puppet revolutionary of the Ayatollah. If the US looks beyond its stonewall assumption of Iran, it will see that many Iranians, inside and outside the government, are willing to cooperate with the US and the world. No Iranian wants to get involved in another war, such as the eight-year war with Iraq that killed over a million people. We are now brought to the present when, after approved for a visa in August-a visa that was granted hesitantly by the US, despite the fact that UN territory is international ground-the ultra-conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke on Iran’s nuclear intentions three weeks ago at UN headquarters in New York. He stated Iran’s “inalienable right” to nuclear energy, a right that could be disputed as inalienable, but is, however, granted by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. After his speech, it was clear to the world that Iran was not willing to abandon their nuclear program. So in turn, citing “many failures and breaches” with Iran, this past week the European Union pushed the International Atomic Energy Agency to pass a declaration that would allow for Iran to be referred to the UN Security Council, a step that would severely hurt if not end hopes for diplomacy. Iran has always played a strategic game with the West; to the naked eye, they have abandoned EU negotiations and incentives on a whim, but these were calculated and premeditated moves at crucial times. A referral to the Security Council could result in sanctions against Iran, but this is highly unlikely. Russia and China, who both have permanent terms on the UN Security Council, are likely to veto any referendum for sanctions. Each country is a vital business partner of Iran. China has high energy interests in Iran and for several years, Russia has helped build an atomic plant in southern Iran. Furthermore, if Iran was referred to the Security Council, any ground, trust, or respect created in negotiations would be lost and there would be no possibility for future diplomacy. “If you want to use the language of force, Iran will be left with no choice to get out of the framework,” said Ali Laijani, Iran’s chief negotiator. The situation dragging, we have only seen members of the EU-specifically the EU3, France, Germany, and Britain-sit down and talk with the Iranians; this is the root of the problem. No headway in this situation will be made through the Europeans. This is an American-Iranian dilemma. The Iranians are not scared of any British, German, or French authority; but they fear the immense influence America has on these countries. The Europeans and the international media have been the only medium for contact between the two divorced states. The time to sit down face-to-face has come. Former officers from both the Iranian and American governments agree that the only way headway can be made on this issue is through direct negotiation. Former Iranian ambassador Mansour Farhang, now a professor at Bennington College says, “Only the United States can provide Iran with the kind of security and diplomatic incentives that could persuade the Iranian authorities to respond to the international concerns about their nuclear program.” And so, security being the primary concern of any country, Iran would engage in direct conversation as long as the United States makes the first move. Currently in a defensive and survival mode, there is no way Iran would act first. Thus, it is the sole responsibility of the US to articulate their interest of diplomacy directly to the Iranians. Coming to a resolution about nuclear means will require each country to take giant steps, but this is not an impossible task. Countries will go above and beyond their limits to ensure security, so envisioning these long lost friends talking again is not so far-fetched.