Monday, September 25, 2006

Proxy Talks: Iran - USA

David Ignatius has invited Iranian bloggers to comment on Iran and USA proxy talks, and the signaling games between two countries. The issue has been addressed by several think tanks and the links are on David’s webpage. The reports are most informative about how Iran’s issue has been perceived in Washington DC and at Capitol Hill. Reading them for an Iranian is a great experience of the image that political strategists have in their mind.

We are in the post Iraq occupation, post name-calling, post Lebanon 34 days war. Now the violence in Iraq is escalating. The situation in Afghanistan seems fragile and Pakistan is letting Taliban go and is not happy with Kabul. Lebanon war demonstrated the limits of air strikes. Iran enjoys a sort of high peak in regional influence, suffers from economic problems and needs to secure alternative energy resources to sell more oil to address them.

Reading the reports it seems that no one has any clear idea about how political decisions are made in Iran. Far from being a dictatorship, Iran is a great example of a crude democracy. There are several groups and circles that influence the political decision making process in Iran. These groups oppose or support policies and options they find harmful or profitable. They also use foreign policies issues to make their point in a domestic issue. Their dynamics demands close attention.

Second many forget that Iran and USA have mutual interests. Iran needs a calm neighborhood to flourish economically and to open its borders to the regional trade much needed for its economy. USA desires a safe Iraq and a stabilized Afghanistan and secure flow of oil from region. Iran also does not share anything ideologically with either Taliban or Al-Qaedeh. Both proved to be most dangerous for Iran’s homeland security in the past.

It is a fact that the decision making circles vary in power and influence in Iran, They do not necessarily share the same interests. But they all have one thing in common. Most of them remember Iran-Iraq war clearly and its lessons. Should Iran be cornered again by the whole world, she must be able to defend herself. Surely readers recall that during 8 years of that war Saddam had the blessings of the White House, the funds of Arab leaders and the largest network of arms suppliers, Iran had to do with domestic products, engineers’ ingenuity and black market.

USA must appreciate those concerns dealing with Iran and address them with sincere guarantees and mutual respect. Yelling like a cop just prevents the other side from stopping and talking. Nobody is making an arrest here.

Although many believe in the “let’s shoot and then shoot some more and then shoot even some more” it is certain a military strike will fail to stop Iran. Any such folly would encourage more radicalism in Iran and would not achieve the psychological effect that makes such an idea appealing to neo cons. Thus this is the situation: Iran and USA are locked in a situation that neither can eliminate the other player and both need each other.

It is regrettable that administration turned down Iran’s 2003 offer, made by then President Khatami, however a grand bargain is not off the table. Iran could use its influence in Iraq and contribute greatly to stability in Afghanistan. Its 75 million strong population and their entrepreneurship abilities could transform this country’s economy to the engine of economic growth for Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. And thus they would deny terrorism the fertile ground of poverty and frustration. It is the greatest lesson of development in Africa that foreign aids do not build a national economy, regional trade does.

In return USA could face the hard days in Iraq with more confidence, could be sure that even if Pakistan closes its eyes on revival of Taliban Iran would keep fighting them and guarantee the security of Afghanistan western provinces. It also can be sure that Iran would become a potential ally to harness China’s economy and to challenge Russian influence in Central Asia. Iran would prove instrumental in securing peace in Southern Lebanon and this would force Syria into accepting a compromise.

So yes I believe the proxy talks have a chance and I do think it is time that Secretary Rice to engage in direct talk with Iran. Anything less would imply the absence of sincerity and lack of resolution for a peaceful outcome. USA has already left too much to others. If this is needed to be done then somebody need to do it. Let’s not forget how well Nixon aced in his foreign policy with China. Iran could be a similar success if diplomacy is given a serious chance.


Cyrus F. said...

On David Ignatius' page you wrote: "It seems too many people consider Iran a tyranny, without defining it. Relatively, compared to neighborhood, Iran is NOT a tyranny. Even if so do explain to me why USA could have relations with other tyranns and talk to them, but it cannot talk to Iran???
The point here is not to see selfrightousness, it is to solve a problem.

The definition is quite simple, and does not rely on locality or neighbourhood. There is a test called the "town square test" first formulated by Natan Sharansky, a dissident and prisoner of conscience for a decade in the Soviet Union, that distinguishes a tyranny from a free society. It says the following:

If a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society.

On this definition Iran's regime IS a tyrannical regime, simply because people cannot speak their mind on the issues that affect them without the fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm.

As to the US talking to tyrants, I am not against it if it is for the purpose of ending their tyrannies. Also, I cannot claim that the American foreign policy is now completely driven by a desire to end tyranny around the world. It is partly, but not completely. I hope it is more so in future.

Cyrus Ferdowsi, Liberal Iranian.

Ali said...

I agree with your definition, but according to that definition it is not much freedom here either. and for your information people talk about what they want whenever they want in Iran. Just take a cab ride in Tehran.
Overall my understanding is that many either exaggerate conditions in Iran or simply turn a blind eye to the other aspects of life in Iran. Iran IS a democrasy in transition. Iran IS much more tolerant than all other countries in the region. Iran IS not I repeat is NOT a tyranny. you definitely need to pay a visit to Egypt.