United States’ Promising Policy Towards Iran
By Hasan Abu Nimah
AMMAN ~ The Bush administration will establish the first official US diplomatic presence in Tehran before it leaves office, according to reports published last week.
A US interests section in the Iranian capital would be the first step towards restoring full diplomatic ties, severed since the 1979 hostage crisis amidst the tumult of the Islamic Revolution.
Tehran was informed of the US offer after rumors began to circulate about it last summer, The Seattle Times reported on 24 October, quoting senior US Bush administration officials. It also said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is believed to view this move with favor.
Although the final decision has not been taken by the United States, the search is already under way for a diplomat to head the mission.
This is a remarkable turn of events. While the Bush administration seems to have moved away from threats to attack Iran, some in Israel are still keen on seeing that happen, as are some of its avid supporters in Washington.
They certainly will do all they can to undermine any US-Iranian rapprochement.
For years, the region has been divided into two major currents. On one side are so-called “moderates”, whose position depends directly on American financial, political and military sponsorship and indirectly on American hostility towards Iran and its expanding influence in the region.
The opposing current consists of Iran and its allies – dubbed “extremists” by the United States – a club that includes Syria, Hizbullah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, and the Shi’a parties in Iraq and elsewhere.
Moderates, which include the Gulf and other Arab states, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and the Arab League, see Iran as a major strategic threat to the region. They accuse Iran of trying to spread its hegemony by supporting Shi’a groupings across the region. They also claim that Iran supports “terrorism” and “extremists” who oppose what would otherwise have been a successful peace process with Israel.
If Iran is all the terrible things the United States and its allies claim, why would it consider opening up to Tehran?
The answer is simple: it would not be a policy of choice, rather it would be a pragmatic and belated recognition of reality.
War with Iran, under any circumstances, would be disastrous. The United States knows this and so it has effectively been ruled out.
Even a mainstream commentator like New York Times columnist Roger Cohen urged on 23 October a complete rethinking of the US approach, given that “Ayatollah Ali Khamenei knows how much Iranian power has grown in recent years through the US removal of its arch enemy Saddam Hussein and the ushering of fellow [Shi’as] to power in Baghdad. He knows how stretched the [United States] is militarily.
He knows how popular the nuclear program is domestically as a symbol of Iran’s regional ambitions. And he knows that Israel has the bomb.”
The “lesson of the Bush years,” Cohen concludes, “is that dealing in illusions is unhelpful.”
An objective American assessment, unclouded by distorted history, nationalism and prejudice, would conclude that the only basis for enmity between the United States and Iran has been US interference in that country’s affairs, including overthrowing a democratic government, supporting the Shah’s regime, supporting Saddam Hussein’s 1980 invasion of Iran and fuelling the war that followed. Many of Iran’s actions, even the indefensible ones, like the hostage crisis, were reactions.
Iran never tried to overthrow a US government. Iran never invaded America’s neighbors. Iran never stationed aircraft carriers off the US coast.
Iran will be an adversary of the United States only as long as the United States keeps following unwise policies, which people see repeated time and again across the region (most recently, the overthrow of the elected Hamas-led Palestinian government).
Even if the moderates’ claims against Iran are all true, hostility and escalation would still not be the right answer. Iran is an integral part of the region. It has legitimate interests and ambitions, which it should be allowed to pursue reasonably and within balanced regional arrangements.
That possibility should be tested in a calm and cordial atmosphere, and reopening relations would be a good first step.
Iran – and obviously all its supporters in the region – no less than any moderates, has an interest in a just settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict in all its aspects, a region free of weapons of mass destruction, a stable and prosperous Iraq and normal and open relations across the region. War, confrontation and domination from outside the region will never achieve those goals.
Dialogue based on mutual respect and recognition might. Let it be tried as an alternative to military adventurism and diplomatic lawlessness.
Hasan Abu Nimah is the former ambassador of Jordan at the United Nations, a writer and lecturer.