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Talking to Iran

Reza Pahlavi
5 December 2006

Public frustration with the stalemate in Iraq in the United States, reflected in the mid-term elections on 7 November, has now reshaped Congress, heralding a new era. The current strategy is being rethought and in anticipation, President Bush has commissioned two prominent Americans, James A Baker and Lee Hamilton, to lead the bipartisan Iraq Study Group to produce a fresh approach.


Also in openDemocracy on Iran, its foreign policy and relationship with the United States:

V.K., "'Rogue state' bites back" (30 August 2001)

Mamoudreza Golshanpazhooh, "Listening to Iran" (30 January 2006) 

Fred Halliday, "Iran vs the United States – again" (14 February 2006)

Bahram Rajaee, "Iran's nuclear challenge" (14 February 2006)

Kaveh Ehsani, "On the brink: the Great Satan vs the Axis of Evil" (3 May 2006)

Trita Parsi, "The United States's double-vision in Iran" (9 May 2006)

Hazem Saghieh, "Iran's politics: constants and variables" (12 May 2006)

Behrad Nakhai, "Iran, the US, and nuclear plans: pen and sword (18 September 2006)

Hooshang Amirahmadi, "Iran and the international community: roots of perpetual crisis" (24 November 2006)

If, by contrast, Tehran seeks from any engagement a grand strategic bargain - encompassing (as well as the nuclear issue) Hizbollah, Hamas, jihadis, non-belligerence towards Israel, and a Palestinian settlement - then a different set of questions comes to mind.

In May 2003, the clerical regime signalled its willingness to come to terms with reality. The move's timing - barely a month after the lightning defeat of Saddam Hussein - speaks volumes about the motivations of Tehran's Islamist leadership. Now, circumstances have changed dramatically. The "awe" inspired by the United States blitzkrieg is replaced by contempt, meted out on a daily basis by Islamist president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad, unlike his predecessor Mohammad Khatami, is a revolutionary revivalist. His powers are limited but his rhetoric has enthralled the ultra-conservative clerics and tied the hands of the more pragmatic elements. The notion of the Great Satan, in the psyche of genuine Khomeini disciples, is ideological. For them, America is the embodiment of corrupting influences that are detrimental to Islam's flourishing.

America is also seen as the architect and protector of the Jewish state and its perceived mortification of (Muslim) Palestinians. The feud against Israel, extending to holocaust-denial, has set the regime in a hostile mould. Only compelling reasons of self-preservation will alter this. Moreover, with the Islamic Republic in its current mindset, secure in cost-free intransigence, any dialogue - particularly one wishfully aimed at cushioning America's difficulties in Iraq - will achieve nothing other than to bestow unwarranted recognition and legitimacy to a rogue regime.

There is another side to such engagement. For twenty-seven years this theocracy has cast a pall over Iran. Its young population has been robbed of the chance to live the epoch in which they are born. A full generation has been traumatised, prisoners of conscience executed and dissidents murdered in their homes or forced to flee.

George W Bush has repeatedly pledged America's support of Iranians in their struggle for freedom and democracy. To engage with the current Islamic Republic in these circumstances would render America's moral pact hollow and meaningless. It would be a further tragedy if, after failing to introduce democracy by force in Iraq, Washington now underwrites tyranny by diplomacy in Iran.

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