An Iranian offer that America must heed
Varadarajan (Originally published by The
The Ahmadinejad letter is
as much an invitation to dialogue as a reminder to the world of the dangers
posed by the Bush administration's policies.
The montage of the two presidents
WITH THE exception of one highly regrettable
sentence implicitly questioning the historicity of the Nazi holocaust against
the Jews and another hinting at the complicity of U.S. intelligence agencies in
9/11, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's 18-page letter to his American counterpart, George W.
Bush, is a tour de force of the kind the world of
diplomacy has not seen for a long time.
This extraordinary document —
cleverly drafted in the religious idiom that Mr. Bush and his neoconservative
advisers allegedly believe in, complete with a reference to Judgment Day — is
the first official communication from the head of the Iranian government to an
American President since the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah. It is also
a masterpiece of political clarity and philosophical opaqueness, which will
frustrate and provoke Washington. The world sees the well-timed letter as a
diplomatic opening — which it most certainly is — but the Bush administration is
not interested in diplomacy. Nor does it look kindly upon those who seek to
suggest that the recent crescendo of allegations against Iran resembles the lies
Washington told about weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to its
disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The experience of Iraq is the single
most important argument the Iranian President marshals to make the point that
the Bush administration's policy towards Iran is misconceived and dangerous. And
he urges the American President to change course lest he be judged harshly by
three separate courts: of God, of history and of his own people.
of the possibility of the existence of WMDs in Iraq, Mr. Ahmadinejad's letter
notes, the country was occupied, "around one hundred thousand people killed, its
water sources, agriculture and industry destroyed, close to 180,000 foreign
troops put on the ground, sanctity of private homes of citizens broken, and the
country pushed back perhaps fifty years ... Lies were told in the Iraqi matter.
What was the result? I have no doubt that telling lies is reprehensible in any
culture, and you do not like to be lied to."
The letter is formally
addressed to Mr. Bush but its arguments are all aimed at a wider audience,
particularly in Europe, West Asia, and the U.S. To the people of the United
States, Mr. Ahmadinejad offers a reminder of the high price they are paying
thanks to the Bush administration's lies in Iraq: "Hundreds of billions of
dollars spent from the treasury of one country and certain other countries and
tens of thousands of young men and women — as occupation troops — put in harm's
way, taken away from family and loved ones, their hands stained with the blood
of others, subjected to so much psychological pressure that everyday some commit
suicide and those returning home suffer depression, become sickly and grapple
with all sorts of ailments; while some are killed and their bodies handed to
Post-9/11, Mr. Ahmadinejad writes, the American people
have been made to feel less secure thanks to their government's policies. And
the U.S. administration has thrown all principles of human rights out of the
window by incarcerating people indefinitely without trial and maintaining secret
prisons. In a direct reference to Mr. Bush's much-publicised religious beliefs,
the Iranian President asks how all of this can be reconciled with someone being
"a follower of Jesus Christ, the great Messenger of God."
But there is
more to the letter than mere rhetoric. In directly addressing the U.S.
President, Mr. Ahmadinejad is reprising a tradition as familiar to Iranian
statecraft as its experience with `regime change.'
Under pressure from
the same Anglo-American powers ranged against Teheran today, Mohammed Mossadegh,
who was Prime Minister of Iran until being forcibly overthrown in 1953, wrote a
number of letters to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Mossadegh had asserted
Iran's independence against the British by nationalising its oil and was being
subjected to punitive action by Britain and the U.S. "Although it was hoped that
during Your Excellency's administration attention of a more sympathetic
character would be devoted to the Iranian situation," Mossadegh wrote to Eisenhower on May 28,
1953, "unfortunately no change seems thus far to have
taken place in the position of the American Government." He also complained that
Iran had made numerous proposals for the amicable settlement of its dispute with
the Anglo-American oil companies but these had not been responded
Unlike President Bush, who got Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to
reject Mr. Ahmadinejad's letter, Eisenhower gave Mossadegh the courtesy of a
reply. But he was also dishonest and misleading. The plot hatched by the Dulles
brothers for Mossadegh's overthrow was already under way. On August 19, 1953,
Iran was brought back kicking and screaming into the Free World.
former teacher, Mr. Ahmadinejad knows Iran's history well. He also knows
Mossadegh erred in not correctly reading the intentions of the U.S. and in being
reactive. Elected to the presidency last year, Mr. Ahmadinejad quickly — and
correctly — concluded that there was no way the Bush administration would give
up its goal of `regime change' in Iran. After all, the opening to Washington
attempted by his more liberal predecessor, Mohammed Khatami, had not only been
summarily rejected but rewarded by Iran's inclusion in the `axis of evil.' Mr.
Ahmadinejad was equally certain that no matter what concessions Teheran made to
provide its European interlocutors "objective guarantees" of its peaceful
nuclear intentions, Washington would never accept the development or retention
of safeguarded fuel cycle activities by Iran.
Sitting in his Teheran office in August 2005, Mr.
Ahmadinejad could be forgiven for believing in the inevitability of American
sanctions and eventual use of force. The hopes in liberal Iranian circles that
France, Germany, and Britain would come up with a credible formula for the
resolution of the nuclear question were dashed when the E-3 produced their limp
proposal of August 5. Rather than sitting back and allowing Washington to
calibrate the pace and extent of crisis escalation, President Ahmadinejad
probably surmised that Iran's best chance of avoiding the fate that befell Iraq
lay in escalating the crisis on its own terms.
The rhetoric against
Israel last fall, the resumption of enrichment experiments in January this year,
and the declaration that Iran has mastered the technology and is now a "nuclear
nation" would have made no sense to a Mossadegh. But to a leader convinced about
the inevitability of an American military attack, it was a high-risk gamble that
appears to have paid off. By bringing the crisis to a boil at a time when
Washington has neither the military nor diplomatic capability to launch an
attack — let alone persuade the world to impose sanctions — President
Ahmadinejad has, paradoxically, increased his country's room for manoeuvre. His
letter to Mr. Bush is part of the same strategy, except that it comes as a
soothing unguent to the high octane grandstanding of the past few months.
Certainly, the international oil bourses have taken it that way.
should the Bush administration do? It should heed the advice of its friends and
allies and grasp the diplomatic nettle that Mr. Ahmadinejad has thrust into its
unwilling hands. Contrary to Washington's deafening propaganda, Iran has not
crossed the nuclear weapons rubicon and it is not at all clear that it even
wishes to do so. In any case, if the Iranian leadership decides to build nuclear
weapons, there is absolutely nothing the U.S. or the world can do to force it
not to do so. The key, then, lies in making sure Mr. Ahmadinejad and his
colleagues — and the wider Iranian clerical-corporate establishment of which
they are a part — continue to have no incentive to go down that path. Imposing
sanctions and threatening military action are not disincentives; if anything,
they will strengthen the hands of those in Teheran who argue nuclear weapons are
needed as the ultimate deterrent against `regime change.' Mr. Ahmadinejad's
letter has raised issues about American policies that are shared by countries in
the region and the wider world. These are also issues that are being keenly
debated inside the U.S. itself. President Bush should do himself and the world a
favour and enter into a dialogue with Iran on these.
As far as the
nuclear issue is concerned, Iran has said it will provide time-bound answers to
all outstanding questions raised by the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) provided its dossier is transferred back from the U.N. Security Council
to the IAEA. This proposal should be accepted. There can also then be a speedy
resumption of Iran's Additional Protocol obligations, including surprise
complementary accesses to sites international inspectors wish to visit.
Technical fixes like inspections are necessary to assure the world about the
peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme. But they have to be supplemented by
a political approach that addresses Iran's security concerns. Mr. Ahmadinejad
has provided a rational and cogent outline of what these concerns are. Nowhere
in the letter does he call for the destruction of Israel or any other state.
Peace in the region requires a change of course by Washington. It is up to the
rest of the world to push for such a change.
... Payvand News - 5/15/06 ... --