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The deceit they call US-Iran talks

By Jalal Alavi


The George W. Bush administration and the Islamic Republic of Iran have agreed to meet on May 28 for talks surrounding Iraq’s stability.  Both the United States and Iran have made it clear right from the outset that the meeting(s) will solely deal with the security situation in Iraq, thus barring from the discussions such other issues as the Iranian regime’s nuclear standoff with the West, appalling human rights record, and opposition to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  What’s more, it seems, in order to undertake such negotiations with that “central banker for terrorism,” Iran, the Bush administration has had to also abandon its purported principle of not negotiating with terrorists or states that support terrorism in one way or another.  What are we to make, therefore, of the above conundrum, in light of the two countries’ ongoing antagonism towards each other?


The nature or efficacy of such talks notwithstanding, there is no doubt that the Iranian regime has felt the pressure of the first round of UN-imposed sanctions on Iran’s economy, or else it would not have agreed to such talks with the US for fear of losing face as well as followers.  Added to this, of course, is the prospect of further sanctions by the United Nations Security Council, the spectre of which has been haunting the Iranian regime for some time now.  The Bush administration’s decision to engage Iran in direct talks, however, can be seen as a shrewd way of silencing domestic calls for such direct contacts (e.g. the Baker-Hamilton report’s recommendation of such talks), as well as a way of removing what may be considered the last obstacle to a potential military attack by Bush before the end of his tenure in 2008.


Considered from the vantage point above, it becomes clear that if the incumbent US president decided to go to war with Iran, it would have to be some time after what should appear to others as the full exhaustion of the diplomatic phase or else he would have to encounter much domestic as well as international pressure.  Attacking Iran without engaging it first in some sort of direct negotiations would have the domestic effect of alienating the US electorate and thus robbing the Republicans of the chance to win the White House again.  Internationally, it would alienate entire governments and world leaders, some of whom have hitherto been staunch US allies in the “war against terror,” thus reducing Bush’s capacity for forming yet another “coalition of the willing.”


As for the Iranian regime, there is little doubt that it is being drawn into a situation the outcome of which would surely be the clerical regime’s rapid loss of its ideological and thus political base in the region.  The domestic ramifications of the above situation would perhaps be even greater for the regime, as the rigid but highly fragmented nature of the Islamic Republic will, just as it has many a time before, force it to consider purging those in favor of such direct contacts with the United States.  The recent incarceration of the Wilson Center’s Haleh Esfandiari (and that of other academics and non-academics linked to the US before her) is a good case in point here: negligent, as she must have been, of the serious nature of the ongoing power struggle in Iran, she credulously sets out to promote dialogue and direct contact between the Islamic Republic and the United States, little realizing all along that she will soon fall victim to the regime’s ever-intensifying internal rivalries.


Alas, what can be said of the present situation and the recent US overture towards Iran, is that it will most probably serve as a way of invalidating the idea behind, and the practicality of, direct talks with the Iranian regime, thus preparing the ground for potential military attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities if need be: two interrelated aims, the achievement of which would highly depend on the masterful concealment of the fact that Iraq’s lack of security and high levels of violence are due mainly to the US occupation of that country and post-colonial ethno-religious rivalries previously curbed by Saddam Hussein, and, thus, far beyond Iran’s capacity to solve or even mitigate.  Assuming for a moment that Iran could actually help the US in calming the situation in Iraq, it would then logically follow that the US would have to offer some important concessions to the Islamist regime in return: a compromising situation hardly acceptable to the United States.


The Islamic Republic, on the other hand, faced with massive internal as well as external pressures (mostly of its own making), is desperately hoping that such direct contacts with the United States will somehow safeguard it from sudden or eventual collapse, especially since Russia, for political and commercial reasons of its own, has proven to be an unreliable partner when it comes to protecting its quasi-client states.  Of course, this same sort of mentality was behind Iran’s almost immediate release of the British naval crew, who, only a few weeks ago, were arrested while in Iranian waters. One or two gestures of goodwill, the clerical regime has figured, cannot remain unreciprocated for long, especially since Bush and Tony Blair of Britain will soon be on their way out of office.  Let us just hope that if and when such concessions have to be made, they will not empower the totalitarian regime at the expense of the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people.


About the author: Jalal Alavi is a sociologist and political commentator residing in Britain.


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