Iran, US: Bury the Past!

There seems to be no end to the exchange of rhetoric between Iran and the U.S. Both blame each other for being the cause of Mideast instability and part of the regional problem.

One would have expected a mutual change of tone, if not approach, following their continuing landmark talks and cooperation on Iraq. Instead, President George W. Bush recently launched the arms-for-allies plan and sent his secretaries Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates on a Middle East tour to counter the so-called Iranian threat and achieve regional stability.

It’s difficult to understand how pitting the Arabs against Iranians can stabilize the already volatile region.

In fact, the U.S. is replaying the 1980 scenario wherein it mobilized Arab support for Saddam Hussein’s regime to attack Iran by exaggerating the same threat. At that time, most Arab and Western states allied with Iraq and only Syria backed Iran.

Although the eight-year war caused tremendous human and material losses to both Iran and Iraq, subsequent events, including the current disastrous embroilment of American forces in Iraq, show that the scenario has come home to roost.

Today, the U.S. is losing not only its troops but also its prestige in waging an unwinnable war in Iraq.

When the Bush administration sells arms by exaggerating the Iranian threat, then expects Iran to help extricate the U.S. from the Iraqi mess, well, that’s quite a paradox.

Shouldn’t Russia and China, which are geographically near Iran, be more concerned about the Iranian threat than the U.S.? But this is not the case, as Moscow and Beijing are boosting their economic ties with Tehran.

So it is apparent that the latest U.S. initiative is more about selling arms and less about the Iranian threat.

And if the U.S. is serious about promoting Middle East stability, it should expand the agenda of its ongoing talks with Iran and address other acrimonious issues that are impeding the normalization of ties.

Iran’s nuclear program is the cause célèbre but not the real impediment, since even a nuclear deal with the West would not change the U.S.-Iran equation. Iran and the U.S. need to go to the root of the problem to bury the hatchets wrecking all prospects of reconciliation.

The two arch-foes have been at loggerheads ever since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and their animosity has only kept their nations stuck in hostile mode.

Their mindsets are seared with mistrust and resentment, which keep on looking for pretexts to settle that entrenched historical score. What should be done?

The officials and media on both sides of the divide must address the underlying causes that fuel the decades-old hostility. And they can achieve that by placing their disputes in the right historical perspective.

The 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran continues to rankle Americans, but they should recall that the U.S. had rejected the demand of Iranian revolutionaries to extradite the shah – who was brought back to power in the first place via the 1953 American coup against the nationalist government of Mohammad Mossadegh.

American theoreticians link their country’s aggressive anti-Iran stance to what happened more than 27 years ago. Yet they refuse to accept that the Iranian action in 1979 was the explosion of anger pent up since 1953 – precisely 26 years. Even by logical standards, the Americans have prolonged this brawl a tad longer.

Americans keep on and on about the threat posed by Iran to the international community. But the fact is that the U.S. forces have come from half the world away to encircle Iran – there are American bases in Iran’s neighboring countries and American battleships in regional waterways.

Is it logical to threaten Iran with nuclear weapons and expect it to give up its nuclear program?

Consider the precondition set for breaking the nuclear deadlock. It cannot be met unless the two sides keep the focus on the core issue – ensuring the non-deviation of Iran’s nuclear program toward weapons production.

In this context, the Iranians should be allowed to enrich uranium only for producing nuclear fuel, and the Americans should accept this as "suspension" of the enrichment program for producing nukes. After all, the Nonproliferation Treaty permits member states to produce nuclear fuel for running power plants.

Iran has also made other proposals to Western countries, namely forming a consortium for implementing Iran’s nuclear projects and increasing monitoring to guarantee its compliance with the regulations of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Let’s face it: There will be no paradigm shift if the U.S. expects the Iranians to ignore their national interests and toe the American line.

A little respect and a pinch of trust can turn the situation around and help ease bilateral friction.

The administration of President George W. Bush should realize that détente with Iran can also improve the Republicans’ electoral prospects.

Listening to Americans who were in Iran recently for the International Physics Olympiad gushing about the friendly host rekindled hope that the world could once again see the two nations as partners and not adversaries.

Hence, any opportunity to come face-to-face is welcome. The Iranians have expressed their interest in bilateral talks, and now it’s the U.S. government’s turn to respond.

Everybody agrees that the benefits of Iranian-U.S. reconciliation far outweigh the advantages of continuing recriminations.

To prepare the ground for such a constructive turnaround, Iran and the U.S. should avoid actions that exacerbate tensions. And one of the first things they should do is stop the exchange of overheated rhetoric.