Small World: Talking to Iran, despite hard liners

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht
BN Columnist
For over three decades, it seemed impossible for Iran and America to swap even the mildest of pleasantries with each other. Then some months ago, they started exchanges on Iran’s nuclear program. Now, it seems they can’t stop talking as the negotiations about preventing a supposed atom bomb have been extended for seven months. Then what? A return to frozen times or another chilly Middle Eastern Spring?
While waiting for the next stage to take on momentum, we might consider a couple of facts or impediments that rarely get discussed by those who know all and happily share their wisdom with us mere readers and recipients of authorized truths.
First, it is commonly said that “hard-liners on both sides” account for the inability of the reasonable negotiators to come to agreement. In Iran’s case, that means those benighted clerics and cheerleaders of the “Death to America” gangs. There are, to be sure, some thoughtful men who have grown up with the doctrine that Washington is not to be trusted. “Imperialists by nature seek to dominate,” they declare. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, is probably, on most days, a member of this cynical bunch, although he has endorsed the negotiations. President Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Zarif are open and liberal in their approach — so far.
The mass of the enlightened Iranian middle class seems, while unswerving in their nationalism, eager for a deal, which will preserve nuclear power for Iran and also allow it to integrate into the world beyond its borders. Khamenei has to recognize the impulse of these modern people if Iran is to avoid divisive civil strife.
It would appear in the American interest also to respond positively to this progressive element. The U.S. alternative is a tough line that will alienate them and lead to a loss of the widespread popularity we now enjoy in Iran. (More pronounced than in any other Middle Eastern Moslem state.)
Second, in our own country the “hard line” folks are largely made up of two groups, often joined in purpose. One is the lobby for defense industries and the Pentagon. They obviously require an enemy, better if more than one. Joining them are the neo-conservatives who revere the projection of American power, especially when linked to Israel’s perceived needs. They were the authors of our invasion of Iraq and prolonged occupation of that country and Afghanistan. You can still find them tooting the same tunes on Sunday talk shows and in OpEd columns.
The second group of American hard-liners are the followers of the fanatic right wing of Israeli politics. They have found comfortable perches in the Congress where financial contributions to members garner them favorable votes. It is this group which, mouthing the dire warnings of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, are certain that Iran will out-fox President Obama and suddenly confront the world with a nuclear weapon. Among this group one never hears that Israel hides an arsenal of maybe 200 nukes that, unlike Iran’s nuclear facilities, are not subject to IAEA inspections. The arsenal had its origins in the 1960s when Israel lied to Washington about what it was up to in Dimona, a secret facility in the desert where work on nukes is carried out.
These senators and representatives, who are determined to maintain hostility with Iran, and defeat administration initiatives of a positive sort, are certain that Iran seeks to manufacture an atom bomb and the means of delivering it against us. Their certainty is unquestioned despite the findings of our intelligence agencies that have concluded that Iran has had no weapons program since 2003. So much for the value of the billions invested in the CIA budget. Senators know better.
Although you would never know it from the mainstream media, the charge that Iran is seeking a bomb is conjectural. The Iranians repeatedly deny such intentions and there is no — repeat no — evidence to contradict them.
You have to wonder at a Congress that takes its leadership from foreigners (Israeli and Saudi) rather than from the American electorate. In other circumstances, we would question the patriotism of those whose politics begins beyond the waters’ edge.
Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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