By Muhammad Sahimi
Presidential candidate Barack Obama promised during
his campaign that his administration will take a new approach to the crises in
the Middle East and, in particular, to the long-standing confrontation with
Iran. He promised that his administration would negotiate with Iran without any
preconditions. Most recently, President Obama told the al-Arabiya TV, "If
countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an
extended hand from us."
Notes on the Iran/Persia Conflict: A
Travelogue -- Part Three
By Eric Lurio, Huffington Post
Part Three: Journey to a Lost World
When people think of Iran,
they think of evil Ayatollahs with nukes, when people think of
Persia, they think of a lost world of biblical mystery...or that SM
guy from the movie 300...but first, let us consider the miracle of
clean drinking water.
Iran sends positive signal on US talks
By Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran, Financial Times
President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad on Tuesday sent a positive signal to the new
US administration when he said Iran was ready to have talks with the US provided
they were held in a fair and respectful atmosphere
'ready' to talk with America
By Scott Peterson | Staff writer of
The Christian Science Monitor
Tehran, Iran - Determined chants of "Death to America" rang out in city
after city in Iran Tuesday, even as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a mass
rally in Tehran that Iran was "ready" to talk to its arch-enemy if the US showed
Speaking as Iranians marked the 30th anniversary of
the Islamic revolution, Mr. Ahmadinejad declared Iran to be "officially ... a real
and genuine superpower," and that the "shadow of threat has been removed
forever" from the Islamic Republic.
MADRID, Spain (CNN) --
Iran's powerful parliament speaker said Monday the Islamic nation hopes the
United States changes its approach to the Middle East, and called the Obama
administration "an exceptional opportunity for Americans."
"I don't want to be pessimistic. I hope the Americans change their strategy and
respect the nations," said Ali Larijani in a wide-ranging interview with CNN
affiliate Cuatro TV in Spain. "That doesn't just depend on us."
UN chief encourages Obama to talk to Iran soon
UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday he is "very
optimistic" about President Barack Obama's swift engagement on key international
issues and encouraged the United States to start talking to Iran to resolve the
dispute over its nuclear program as soon as possible.
Like all of his predecessors, however, Obama is
not explaining to the American public why Iran's fist is clenched in the
first place. If the reason for this were understood and put in the proper
context, it would represent a quantum leap toward resolving most, if not all, of
the important issues between Iran and the United States, which would then
contribute greatly to stability and peace in the Middle East. It all comes down
to Iran's historical sense of insecurity, and U.S. policy toward Iran since
A glance at history tells us why Iranians have a
long-lasting sense of national insecurity. Iran is in one of the most strategic
areas of world. This was as true 2,000 years ago as it is today. Because of its
location, as well as its natural resources, Iran has been invaded and occupied
many times by foreign powers, from Alexander the Great and his army to the
Arabs, Moguls, Turks, Russians, and British. Over the last 200 years alone,
Russia, Britain, and the U.S. have tried to control Iran.
Two Russo-Persian wars that resulted in the
Treaty of Gulistan in 1813 and the Treaty of Turkmenchay in 1828 enabled Russia
to separate and occupy a large part of Iran in the Caucasus region (the present
Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia), and the British empire ended Iran's political
influence in Afghanistan through the Treaty of Peshawar in 1855. In the late
1800s and early 1900s Russia and Britain divided Iran into their spheres of
influence. Russia supported the forces that were opposed to Iran's
Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1908, and it opposed the industrialization of
Iran, in particular, the construction of railways. Britain played the key role
in the 1921 coup that brought Reza Shah to power in Iran and established his
dictatorship. British and Russian forces invaded and occupied Iran during World
War II. The CIA-sponsored coup of 1953 overthrew Iran's democratically elected
government of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh and started the era of U.S. influence in
Iran. The U.S. helped establish and train the SAVAK, the shah's dreaded security
services. These events ultimately led to the revolution of 1979.
The hostage crisis of November 1979-January 1981,
during which 53 American diplomats and embassy staff were taken hostage by
Iranian students, should be viewed in light of Iran's bitter experience of the
1953 CIA coup. As one of the student hostage-takers told Bruce Laingen, chief
U.S. diplomat in Tehran at that time, "You have no rights to complain, because
you took our whole nation hostage in 1953."
The history of Iran-U.S. relations since the
resolution of the hostage crisis in 1981 shows that the U.S.' goal has been to
hamper Iran's economic development and prevent its integration with the rest of
the Middle East. This has meant only one thing to Iranian leaders: the U.S. has
never recognized the legitimacy of the 1979 revolution and has always been
intent on overthrowing their government. This perception, backed by
Iran's historical sense of insecurity, is not difficult to understand.
The U.S. directly encouraged Saddam Hussein to
invade Iran in September 1980, hoping that the invasion would topple Iran's
revolutionary government. When the war started, the U.S. refused to supply Iran
with the spare parts for the weapons that it had sold to the shah of Iran, even
though Iran had already paid for them (the funds paid to the U.S., lawfully
Iran's, are still frozen after 29 years). After the war began, the U.S.
prevented the United Nations Security Council for several days to convene an
emergency meeting, and after the UNSC finally met, the U.S. prevented it from
declaring Iraq the aggressor, or even calling for a cease-fire. Only after
Iranian forces pushed back Saddam's army out of most of Iran in the spring of
1982 did the UNSC call for a cease-fire. President Ronald Reagan imposed
economic sanctions on Iran in 1983, in violation of the Algiers Agreement of
January 1981 that ended the hostage crisis.
The U.S. dropped its pretense of neutrality in
December 1983 when President Reagan sent Donald Rumsfeld to Baghdad to offer
Saddam U.S. support. It kept silent as Iraq showered Iranian troops with
chemical weapons. While Iraq was attacking Iran's oil installations in the
Persian Gulf, the U.S. and other members of NATO sent their naval forces to the
Persian Gulf to protect Arab oil tankers that had provided Iraq with $50 billion
in aid to keep fighting Iran. The U.S. destroyed a significant part of Iran's
navy in the Persian Gulf, as well as several of Iran's offshore oil platforms.
The U.S. intervention in the war culminated with
the shootdown of Iran Air's Airbus A300B2 on Sunday July 3, 1988, by the USS
Vincennes. The civilian aircraft, which was flying from Bandar Abbas to
Dubai, was carrying 290 passengers and crew, including 66 children, and was
flying within Iranian airspace, while the Vincennes was in Iranian
territorial waters in the Straits of Hormuz. All 290 passengers were killed.
The war finally ended in July 1988, with 1
million Iranian casualties (at least 273,000 dead) and $1 trillion in damage to
Iran's economy and infrastructure. At the same time, Iran's extreme Right used
the war to suppress progressive forces, stopping Iran's evolution toward
When it came to compensating the Vincennes
victims' families and showing remorse, the Clinton administration exhibited
utter contempt for any sense of justice. Although the U.S. agreed in 1996 to pay
$61.8 million as compensation for the Iranians killed, it never accepted
responsibility nor apologized for the shootdown. In addition, the compensation
paid to the Iranians should be compared to what the U.S. forced Libya to pay for
the victims of Pan Am Flight 103, which was destroyed on Dec. 21, 1988, over
Lockerbie, Scotland: $10 million for each victim.
But the hostility of the U.S. government toward
Iran did not end with the conclusion of the Iran-Iraq war. Every subsequent move
toward Iran - small or large - has been meant to either strangle Iran's economy
or prevent Iran from making political gains in the region. Consider, for
example, the U.S. government's refusal, in violation of its international
obligations, to supply the spare parts for the civilian aircraft that it sold to
Iran. The U.S. has also prevented the European Union from selling civilian
aircraft to Iran. As a result, Iran's civilian fleet consists mostly of old and
obsolete Russian aircraft, many of which have crashed, resulting in high
While preaching that Iran does not need nuclear
energy because it has vast oil and natural gas reserves, the U.S. has made every
effort to prevent foreign companies from investing in Iran's oil and gas
industry and helping Iran develop its untapped natural gas reservoirs. The U.S.
also prevented the transportation of Azerbaijan's oil by a pipeline through Iran
and instead pushed for a
political pipeline through Georgia and Turkey.
Whereas, according to every report by the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran has abided by its obligations
under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its Safeguards Agreement, the
U.S. has repeatedly, and without presenting any credible evidence, accused Iran
of having a secret nuclear weapons program, even though its own latest National
Intelligence Estimate from November 2007 stated that Iran stopped its weapons
program in 2003 (and there is actually no evidence that Iran had such a program
even prior to 2003). In violation of the IAEA Statute, the U.S. forced its Board
of Governors to demand the suspension of Iran's legal uranium enrichment
program. The Board of the IAEA has no legal authority to make such a demand.
Such baseless accusations, together with the
U.S. blackmail of
some members of the IAEA Board, were the primary reasons for sending Iran's
nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council (UNSC). But, this was illegal,
because it was against Article 12(c) of the IAEA Statute, which clearly states
the conditions under which a member state's nuclear dossier should be sent to
the UNSC. As Michael Spies of the International Association of Lawyers Against
Nuclear Arms has
"Verification and enforcement of the
non-proliferation objectives contained in the NPT are limited, in part to
maintain the balance of rights and obligations of state parties. NPT Safeguards,
administered by the IAEA, are limited to verifying that no nuclear material in
each non-weapon state has been diverted to weapons or unknown use. These
safeguards allow for the IAEA to report a case of non-compliance to the Security
Council only if nuclear material is found to have been diverted."
According to every report of the IAEA, such a
diversion has never occurred in Iran's case. As a result, even the legality of
the three UNSC resolutions against Iran is in doubt, because they are based on
the illegal actions of the IAEA Board. Regardless, not only has the U.S.
pressured others to enforce the resolutions, it has also imposed unilateral
sanctions and blackmailed others to do the same. Moreover, the U.S. has opposed
Iran's membership in the World Trade Organization, hence preventing integration
of its economy with the rest of the world.
Iran provided crucial help to the U.S. to
overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan, but the Bush administration rewarded it by
making Iran a member of the "axis of evil." The Shi'ite groups that spent their
exile years in Iran, and were supported and funded by it, are now in power in
Iraq and are considered allies of the U.S. But, instead of recognizing and
appreciating this fact, the U.S. has accused Iran of aiding "special groups" in
Iraq, meaning extremists and radicals. And in a show of force, in addition to
surrounding Iran with the U.S. forces on three sides, the Bush administration
dispatched two carrier battle groups to the Persian Gulf in May 2007. Dick
Cheney used the deck of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis to
threaten Iran: "We'll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear
weapons and dominating the region. We'll stand with our friends in opposing
extremism and strategic threats."
The U.S. has also pushed for the formation of
regional alliances against Iran, such as the Gulf Cooperation Council, and has
sold tens billions of dollars' worth of weapons to the Council's members,
weapons that they neither have the capability nor the need to ever use.
Even now that the supposedly realist Obama
administration has taken over and the president is looking for Iran's unclenched
fist, the threats have not stopped nor changed in nature. Asked if the military
option was still on the table with regard to Iran, White House spokesman Robert
Gibbs said on Jan. 28, "The president hasn't changed his viewpoint that he
should preserve all his options. We must use all elements of our national power
to protect our interests as it relates to Iran."
Given decades of hostility, sanctions, threats,
and attacks, is it any wonder that Iran's fist is still clenched? How is Iran
supposed to forget 55 years of hostility without even a simple apology by the
U.S. for its misdeeds?
About the author:
Muhammad Sahimi, professor of chemical engineering and materials science,
and the NIOC professor of petroleum engineering at the University of Southern
California in Los Angeles, has published extensively on Iran's political
developments and its nuclear program.
Related articles by Muhammad Sahimi:
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