July 10, 2008
- Israel launches huge air offensive on Iranian nuclear sites.
- Iran attacks US shipping in the Gulf.
- Strait of Hormuz blocked.
- Widespread attacks on US civil installations in the Middle East and Europe.
- Oil price passes $200.
- George W Bush brings air and naval forces into the conflict.
Alarmist thinking? No. Ask yourself: is there a reasonable possibility? And if there is, what is being done to prevent such an horrific scenario? The rhetoric is hotting up and this in some quarters produces a certain complacency. But remember Aesop’s shepherd boy who cried “Wolf!”.
The recent news suggests that direct talks could shortly start, but we don’t really know. I lived three years in Iran many years ago, negotiating with and for Iranians. One must not fall into the trap of analysing Iranian words and actions in western terms. I’m convinced that the underlying strategy of Iranian negotiators is to confuse: in confusion, the Iranians will have a negotiating advantage. Do you recognise this? Of course, there are differing and indeed conflicting political views in Iran. Hitherto the most extreme rhetoric has come from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whereas the ultimate say is that of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini.
What is holding up the opening of talks? Europe still demands at least a temporary freeze on uranium enrichment before talks can begin? Why? What is its relevance, other than being a classic western negotiating approach, a relic of the epoch when the West rules the world? Why make the opening of talks more difficult by imposing a pointless condition which gives the Iranian leaders a domestic problem to overcome? Talk of good faith is inappropriate. There is no trust. Trust comes from working together. Working together is facilitated by increasing mutual understanding.
We all know why we do not trust the Iranians. Do we know why they do not trust us?
- 1953: Prime Minister Mossadegh was removed from power and the Shah reinstated by a coup d’état, supported and funded by the British and US governments.
- 1953-1979. The Shah ruled with extensive US military support.
- 1980: Since then, the US has had no diplomatic relations with Iran.
- 1980-1988: The US actively supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, which began with Iraq invading Iran, notwithstanding the use by Saddam Hussein of chemical warfare.
- 1987: New US import embargo on Iranian-origin goods and services.
- 2003: The US ignores Iranian proposal for wide-ranging negotiations to settle all issues
Washington is now considering entering into direct talks with Tehran, a huge reversal in policy and climbdown. It is time that we recognise that direct talks must begin immediately and without pre-conditions. Of course, they won’t progress quickly. Of course, there remains the risk of an Israeli attack, because Tehran knows that such an attack could well be unimaginable after this year: implicit US acceptance is vital for such an attack. It is also time to accept that effective sanctions will not work because of the positions taken by China and Russia. What do the Iranians want?
I see two main aspirations: to return to their status as the leading regional power (which the West supported until 1959); and to be accepted back into the international community. We need to concentrate on the second, so as to reduce their emphasis on the first which could be dangerous.This is a big step to take and such a transformed relationship with the international community, including the United States, involves the US reversing its 27-year policy towards the country. But it’s time to admit that in today’s world, confrontation does not work and the only chance is integration.
A final note: We still do not know whether Iran really wants to build a bomb or merely the ability to build one.Author : Stanley Crossick