by Zafar Bangash (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 8, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1434)
Despite much media generated excitement, it would be prudent to wait and see what the US is willing to do in order to ease tensions with the Islamic Republic of Iran, especially relating to the illegally-imposed sanctions.
The opening session of the United Nations General Assembly is an annual ritual that few take seriously. Leaders of various countries come to deliver speeches, more for audiences at home than to say anything meaningful to the world. Occasionally, some excitement is generated by the presence of a leader whose country has made a mark on the world stage. Among these, we can count such figures as Fidel Castro of Cuba, Nelson Mandela of South Africa and the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran have always been able to generate much excitement.
This year was no exception with the new Iranian President Dr. Hassan Rohani coming to New York. His September 24 address to the UN General Assembly was keenly anticipated. The air was filled with high expectation both because of what he had to stay and the “chance encounter” he might have with US President Barack Obama. This did not materialize because the Iranian delegation felt it was too contrived. On September 27, a desperate Obama, however, phoned as President Rohani was on his way to the airport to return home and the two spoke for 15 minutes.
The US cut off diplomatic relations with Iran soon after the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979. These deteriorated further because of relentless US hostility including attempts at internal sabotage, the assassination of Iran’s leaders, a vicious eight-year war launched through Iraq (1980–1988), a raft of illegal sanctions that have caused immense suffering to ordinary people, and the assassination of its top nuclear scientists, to name just a few.
Over the last few weeks, however, there has been intense diplomatic activity and much media hype about rapprochement, however limited, between Iran and the US. The handshake between President Rohani and Obama in the corridors of the United Nations would have been historic had it occurred. The Iranians, however, were looking for substance rather than symbols, and it was clear the Americans were not prepared to offer any such thing. Even so, two days later, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met US Secretary of State John Kerry as part of the P5+1 group of countries to discuss the modalities of resuming dialogue over Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.
There has been no official contact between representatives of the Islamic Republic and the US since 1980. The first tentative steps to interact at the UN must be evaluated against the backdrop of their divergent outlooks and expectations. Iran is an Islamic Republic; the US is a predatory imperialist power that recognizes no law and abides by no rules. Iran has not attacked any country in 250 years; the US has hardly spared any in the last 50. But it is their attitude toward each other that we must examine to assess whether there can be easing of tensions leading to resumption of diplomatic relations.
The US accuses Iran of pursuing a military nuclear program, a charge repeatedly denied by Tehran. Even the US intelligence chief James Clapper admitted as recently as March 2013 that Iran’s leadership had not decided whether to make the bomb. Yet based on false allegations, the US and its allies have imposed stiff sanctions on Iran. These include targeting Iranian companies, organizations, and individuals as well as banks. Further, other countries have been pressured to not pay for Iran’s oil in dollars. This has greatly affected Iran’s oil earnings. At least six million gravely ill Iranians, a majority of them children, cannot receive treatment because of lack of desperately needed medicines embargoed by sanctions.
The nuclear allegation is merely an excuse for US hostility whose roots lie elsewhere: Iran’s refusal to surrender to US hegemony. Washington refuses to accept the Islamic Revolution and has attempted to undermine it. The US also fears Iran’s influence on other societies — Muslim as well as non-Muslim. Despite the punishing sanctions, Iran has made great strides in the scientific and technological domains. This also irks the US because people elsewhere are beginning to develop the self-confidence to stand on their own feet. Latin American countries have emulated Iran’s example and are now standing up to US bullying.
Iran naturally wants an end to the illegal sanctions and recognition of its right to enrich uranium as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Further, it wants assurances that the US would stop undermining the Islamic Republic, something Washington had already agreed to in the Algiers Accord of January 1981. The US has also frozen $40 billion of Iranian assets (in today’s terms, $400 billion) and has not released this money despite promising to do so under the agreement.
Can the US be trusted? What about the Israeli lobby led by AIPAC that has a stranglehold on US politics? Almost every member of Congress is more concerned about Zionist Israel than America’s interests — as if they are Knesset members. Does Obama have the courage to stand up to Zionist blackmail? What about the neocons who thrive on endless war because this is profitable for them? How will Obama convince them to make peace with Iran?
Iran has a long list of grievances against the US starting with the CIA coup against Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh’s government in 1953, imposition of the Shah’s regime until 1978, creating the notorious Savak that tortured hundreds of thousands of Iranians and attempted subversion of the Islamic Revolution. After the events of 9/11, Iran helped the US in Afghanistan and offered to strike a grand bargain; instead, Washington branded Iran as part of the “axis of evil.” Will the US behave any differently now?
While Iran’s leadership must explore every opportunity to ease tensions and secure their rights through diplomatic means, it would be unrealistic to repose too much hope in American words. As the saying goes, when supping with the devil, use a long spoon.