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Iran's Diplomatic Offensive Is Making Netanyahu More Nervous

Tehran Times Exclusive Interview with Arshin Adib-Moghaddam
By: Javad Heiraninia

A scholar from the University of London says President Hassan Rouhani pre-empted further movement towards confrontation between Iran and the United States through his “diplomatic offensive” and this led to “heightened nervousness amongst Netanyahu and his followers.”

“President Rouhani pre-empted further movement towards confrontation with his diplomatic offensive.The result is heightened nervousness amongst Netanyahu and his followers,” Arshin Adib- Moghaddam told the Tehran Times. Following is the text of the interview:

Q: What did finally prompt the United States and Iran to edge toward direct talks?

A: Iran and the United States have been entangled by a paradox which makes relations between the two countries inevitable. Despite the antagonism and suspicion since the revolution of 1979, both countries constantly refer to each other. In the Iranian imagination, the United States has appeared as the Great Satan and in the imagination of many Americans, Iran is a hostile country led by sword-swinging radicals. In other words, in the formation Iranian-American, there is strong dependence between self and other, even if this relationship has been framed in negative terms, it still binds the US and Iran together in a mutual tango. This creative dissonance is the topic of my newest book On the Arab Revolts and the Iranian Revolution: Power and resistance today. At some stage political elites in Iran and the United States seem to have realised that ignoring each other’s existence simply doesn’t work, exactly because in reality Iran and the United States continued to refer to each other at each twist and turn of the foreign policy rhetoric of both countries. For Iran, for instance, manifest independence from the United States will start once the country is not a factor in the self-identification of the revolution and its aims. This manifest independence can only be achieved if the “Great Satan” loses its prominence in the discourse of Iranian foreign policy. Normalising relations with the United States will exactly have this effect; it will turn America into a normal country for Iran. At that stage it will cease to be a giant (ghul).

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam

Q: Which lobbying groups in the U.S. support direct talks with Iran and which groups oppose? And how much did Iran’s regional and international clout entice the U.S. to seek rapprochement with the Islamic Republic?

A: The rapprochement between Iran and the United States is primarily driven by President Obama and the State Department. But there is also an underbelly of the US state, situated in US civil society which has lobbied decision-makers to give diplomacy a chance. A whole host of think tanks, academics, intellectuals from Iranian descent with an interest to bring about peace with their motherland, journalists and peace activists have been instrumental in both warding off movement towards war, and bringing about a change in perception of Iran which has now had an effect on the US public. The activism of Iranian-Americans as much as other Iranians in Europe should be singled out here. I know from my own experience how hard we have worked to battle the warmongers and to convey the realities about Iran even during the most severe crises situations. There is a new generation of intellectuals and scholars of Iranian descent who are undisturbed by the burden of history and who have a sober and analytical approach to the events in Iran, the Muslim world and world politics more generally. They have been instrumental, through their scholarly work and public activism, in containing myths about Iran. The well-managed trip of President Rouhani lodged into this pre-existent context that was geared towards peace. Hence its overwhelming success. Now, a recent poll has shown that the vast majority of Americans view Iran in a favourable light. That is the direct effect of the diplomacy pursued by President Hassan Rouhani and the activism of everyone interested in peace, and it is an important stride towards pacifying relations between Iran and the United States and furthering better communication with the European Union.

The proponents of confrontation are the same as ever: the pro-Israeli lobbying organisations such as AIPAC and their right-wing cronies, including members of the so called tea party on the fringes of neo-conservative politics in the country. The disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan have confined their impact, most Americans are tired of war and international crises, but they continue to be a force to reckon with, especially due to their influence over the US Senate. Hence, our fight for peace has to continue and as intellectuals, scholars and critical journalists we have to be constantly present at the battle front of truth to make the case against war and destruction. The force of public opinion in democracies should not be underestimated in that regard. After the Iraq experience, it is that much more difficult for any western leader to make a case for war, not at least because the moral and ethical standards of society cannot be fine tuned to confrontation any more. There seems to be, at least for the moment, a democratic consensus between states and societies, that war is not a real option. As we have seen, even with regard to the tragedy in Syria, western democracies have been reluctant to be dragged into the quagmire, not at least because of the repercussions it would have at the ballot box. No one wants a war in yet another Muslim country, not at least because there are many European-Muslims who are active against war. Angela Merkel in Germany, for instance, was quick to announce that the country would not be involved in any military action against Syria before the elections which brought her back to power, exactly because she knew that a vast majority of Germans would punish any involvement in foreign adventures. Similar dialectics for peace are visible in Britain and the United States. It seems that for the moment wars do not sell anymore. Conversely, wars loose Presidencies and Premierships.

Q: Which countries oppose and which countries back dialogue between Iran and the U.S.? And which countries’ interests will be jeopardized if relations between Iran and the U.S. see a thaw in relations?

A: There are several countries that stand to lose from closer relations between the United States and Iran and Israel is on top of the list. Since the revolution the Israeli right-wing has been busy selling the Iran threat to their constituencies especially in the United States. Iran never really found a strategy to counter this until recently when President Rouhani pre-empted further movement towards confrontation with his diplomatic offensive. The result is heightened nervousness amongst Netanyahu and his followers. There are voices in Israel that welcome rapprochement between Iran and the United States, many activists and oppositional politicians who are fed up with the right wing policies of Netanyahu and his followers and who are openly criticising the policy of occupation. But the core of the Israeli state has counted on the United States, at least since the 1960s and since 1979 the country has used the myth of an Iranian threat to global peace in order to foster even closer relations with the west and to keep Iran and America on a path towards war. President Rouhani derailed this tactic. Judging from my research into the international politics of the region, I deem it highly likely that the Netanyahu administration will do everything in its power to continue to represent Iran as a global threat. There will be arrests of “spies”, bomb plots that they will attribute to Iran and tales of assassination attempts. All of this is nothing new and fortunately for us and them, there are enough people out there revealing these accusations as mythical and fabricated. Again, this goes back to the responsibility towards truth that we as intellectuals have.

There is certainly suspicion among some of the Arab sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf as well. Yet I would not exaggerate this point. Saudi Arabia has always had an interest in stability in the region, not at least because of the country’s dependency on the free flow of oil. I expect that in a second step, Iran will re-assure the Persian Gulf states and extend the current diplomatic charm offensive to its immediate region. This will soothe fears in Riyadh and elsewhere about Iran’s security strategy.

Q: Can a rapprochement between Iran and the U.S. affect the balance of power in the region and the world and consequently cause a revision in Tehran’s dealings with Russia and China?

A: The absence of diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States in general and the sanctions regime in particular has benefitted all countries that are dealing with Iran at the expense of Iran’s national interests. Russia and China have had better and less expensive access to the Iranian markets, especially the oil and gas sector. I would go as far as to say that Russia and China have had an interest in jeopardising closer Iranian-western relations exactly because of the economic benefits that they gain from the US-led sanctions regime. But these are the superficialities of the matter. A deeper strategic analysis reveals that Iran’s aspiration to act as a regional power with global outreach cannot be fully fulfilled without some kind of diplomatic accommodation by one of the major poles of the emergent multi-polar world order, that is the United States. I can illustrate this with a simple example: If I would run around the SOAS campus and proclaim that I am Napoleon, I would have a hard time convincing anyone because my self-attribution is not legitimated/confirmed by others. In order to perform this role I would need to invite people to accept me as Napoleon in order to be able to exercise this role. If there is enough such social confirmation, me being Napoleon changes from a delusional self-attribution in my mind to a role identity accepted by society. I could then start to act upon my new role as emperor of the SOAS campus. A similar logic applies to international relations: If Iran seeks to be accepted as a regional powerhouse it can’t act in isolation from major players in international society. And if the United States is serious about playing a major diplomatic role in West Asia and North Africa, it can’t afford to ignore the influence of Iran. The diplomacy of both countries has been seriously impeded by an irrational aura of ignorance. Once both countries accommodate their self-perceptions, they will be able to enact their roles. At that stage, Iran will gain the international recognition that it seeks and deserves and the United States will be more effective in dealing with regional crisis from afar. I can envisage, allow me to dream a little, a regional order that would sustain peace for all countries concerned, if the current moment of hope is carried forward. In this scenario the future looks bright for Iran and the region.

* Original PDF of the interview on Tehran Times

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