Foreign Service Journal - June 2013 - page 15

JUNE 2013
s Iran appears to be rushing
to obtain nuclear weapons—
less for prestige than as a
deterrent against potential
attack—President Barack Obama starkly
warns that he will not permit it to do so.
Yet even though the on-again, off-again
negotiating process continues to floun-
der, buying time for Tehran to pursue
that goal, there is still a perfectly sane
way to avoid this looming train wreck.
First, Iranian policymakers must
overcome their fears and grasp the real-
ity that America has not tried to reverse
its revolution, now 34 years old. They
must also accept that it makes no sense
to seek a nuclear deterrent that raises
international alarm and, in the final
analysis, will not deter.
Iran’s rulers will also have to con-
front the fact that Israel’s security is a
major factor in American politics and
foreign policy. Given that Iran has no
permanent conflicts of interest with
the Jewish state, it must stop the pro-
vocative threats that have characterized
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government.
Even when rhetoric is not backed up by
action, it can still have serious conse-
Finally, while Tehran cannot aban-
don its long-time support of Shiites
in Lebanon, dating back to the shah’s
reign, it can counsel Hezbollah against
military attacks on Israel and withhold
assistance for them. Such an approach
would not necessarily entail withdraw-
ing general political support for Pales-
tinian and other Arab grievances.
For their part, American policymak-
ers must be prepared to give explicit
assurances that they will not try to
overthrow Iran’s regime, and will end
all sanctions, in return for credible
evidence that Tehran is abandoning
all nuclear development that is not for
legitimate peaceful uses. (The details of
fuel production, inspections and other
safeguards can be left for the negotia-
tors to work out.)
In addition, Congress and the
Obama administration will have to rec-
ognize that the future of Iran’s govern-
ance must be left to the Iranians them-
selves. There can be no repeat of inter-
ventions such as the 1953 coup, which
rankles most Iranians to this day.
A deal along these lines will become
possible after Iran holds national elec-
tions this month, allowing a new, hope-
fully more unified, government to face
up to the nuclear issue. No matter who
leads it, he, his supporters and, most
importantly, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,
who will remain as Iran’s Supreme
Guide, must accept the fact that time is
running out.
To conduct meaningful negotiations,
however, Tehran and Washington must
put aside the less-important irritants,
provocations, “Great Satan” name-call-
ing and pervasive mistrust that contrib-
ute to derailing a peaceful resolution
of the nuclear issue. And they need to
recognize that, even after that dispute
is decided, important differences will
persist on many issues.
A Short Review of
Recent History
Lest this perspective seem to be
coming from cloud cuckoo land, let us
remind ourselves that since Iran’s 1979
revolution, the United States has made
no serious moves to overthrow Ayatol-
lah Khomeini’s Shiite Islamic regime.
As Iran’s revolution was building
up momentum in late 1978, the U.S.
embassy in Tehran and the Department
of State were well aware of how bit-
terly most Iranians resented the covert
American intervention of a quarter-cen-
tury earlier, which restored the shah to
his throne and ended what many Irani-
ans still see as their best opportunity to
create a viable democracy. The decision
to let events unfold was facilitated when
the shah confided to the American and
British ambassadors (and probably to
others) that he would under no circum-
stances turn his formidable army on his
own people to cling to the throne.
The Carter administration tried sev-
eral times to establish communications
with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini: first
Iran and the United States: Getting to Yes
George B. Lambrakis was a State Department Foreign Service officer from 1956 to 1985, after
spending two years with the U.S. Information Agency in Vietnam and Laos. He was counselor
for political affairs in Tehran at the time of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and also served as
chargé d’affaires in Beirut, Bissau and Mbabane, among many other assignments. A professor
of international relations and diplomacy, he now teaches international negotiation in London.
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