Iran’s Would be American Interlocutors

By Franklin Lamb- Beirut

On November 4, 2009, the 30th anniversary of the student takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini gave a speech which is being much discussed in Washington DC.

The source of some of the angst at the While House and the State Department according to Congressional sources was that “the speech suggests  that the Iranian government may be doing what it’s done many times over the past seven years.  Which is to say that Iran may appear to agree, then hedge, then disagree, then appear to agree again somewhat, then pull back again, then ask for more time to consider details of the proposal, then finally present a counter-proposal, then say it wants cooperation but has serious doubts about the reliability of the other side and then say it will never give up on its rights, and on and on its goes.”

Iran’s Complaint

While omitting Iran’s take on recent events, some on Capitol Hill wondered if Iran’s Wali al Fique (supreme leader) was playing to his base or was using the speech to communicate directly and seriously with the Obama administration. Presumably he was doing both.
Aytollalh’s Khameni’s words were pointed and clear.  He declared that Tehran may reject any talks backed by Washington because it is not to be trusted. He acknowledged that the US wanted to negotiate with Tehran “but its talks were full of threats."… "Every time they have a smile on their face, they are hiding a dagger behind their back.”… "Iran will not be fooled by the superficial conciliatory tone of the United States…This new American president repeatedly sent us oral and written messages to come and change the page-to come and cooperate in solving the problems of the world. We said we will not pre-judge. We will see their action and see what they do about the change…But in the past eight months what we have seen is contradictory to what they say. They are telling us to negotiate, but alongside the negotiation there is a threat that if the negotiation does not bear the desired results, then we will do this and we will do that…We do not want any negotiations, the result of which is pre-determined by the United States," he said, adding that Tehran will always pursue its "scientific and technological rights and freedom,” and does not want a “sheep and wolf relation” with those with “ill-intentions” against Iran. 

“Why don’t the Iranians trust us on the nuclear issue?” asked a staff member the House Foreign Affairs committee, who conceded he had not read the widely reported speech but he added that “Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced on 11/2/09 in Marrakech that the U.N. nuclear deal could not be altered so it is unclear what is left to negotiate about.”

Some American analysts have argued that Iran is quite right to be suspicious of US intensions and have identified a pattern of recent events that undermine the credibility of the Obama administration since the Presidents June “open hand-clinched fist” speech in Cairo. A pattern that Iran’s leadership no doubt analyzes as it recalls, and resolves not to continue the half century of Arab-Muslim gullibility when it comes to American and Western promises and inducements.
Some recent examples come to mind:

•  Clintons’ flip flop on US demands for an Israeli settlement freeze and her throwing in the towel on the Obama administration assertion that Zionist settlement construction must stop.  Her “Israel’s has made unprecedented concessions” statement was an obscenity to the ears of Palestinians and to much of the world including Iran. And it led to the 11/05/09 announcement by Mahmoud Abass that he would not seek reelection as President of the Palestinian Authority.  All the White House could do was send its spokesman, Robert Gibbs, to the press room to praise Abass as a “true partner for the United States and Israel.”

• The October 21, 2009, “Juniper Cobra 10” launching of the largest ever joint US-Israel of  joint military maneuvers employing more than 1000 military personnel and 17 U.S. warships clearly aimed at  threatening Iran which is to be targeted by Arrow, Patriot and Aegis missiles in case of conflict. Coupled by the obtuse comment of a US naval commander that the US navy will defend Israeli occupied Haifa and if it were San Diego.  Many Americans voiced their opposition to this pledge which once again appears to put Israel’s interests before American security interests which includes serious negotiations with Iran.

• The Obama administration has conspicuously refused to put the "Jundallah" (God’s soldiers) group on the US State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations while keeping Lebanon’s Waad and Jihad al Binna constructions companies on the T list alongside one of the 21st Centuries pre-eminent religious leaders and  most admired humanitarians, Lebanon’s senior Shia cleric, Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. 

In May 2009, “Jundallah” claimed responsibility for the killing of civilians in a mosque in Zahedan, the provincial capital of Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province. Last month, a Jundallah suicide bomber blew himself up at an Iran supported gathering which was meant to foster closer community relations between Sunnis and Shi’ites in the area. What confidence can Iran’s leaders have in an Obama administration that continues the Bush-Cheney never-ending war on terror with its wrongheaded logic of "my enemy’s enemy is my friend?  

• What message does this week’s House Congressional Resolution on the Goldstone Report send to Tehran and the World?   

By a margin of 344-36, the US House of Representative quickly passed HR 867, an Israeli lobby resolution, crafted by AIPAC and staff members of Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen that condemned the UN Goldstone report which today was endorsed by the UN General Assembly with a vote of 114 to 18. The Goldstone Report now moves to the UN Security Council and perhaps the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

But according to the US House of Representatives and the vicious attack by the Anti-Defamation League hate group and its Director, Abe Foxman, the Report on wars crimes committed by Israel and Hamas is “irredeemably biased and unworthy of further consideration or legitimacy.”  Many in Congress, who are strong advocates of an American Israel-centric foreign policy, appeared to compete with one another to demonstrate obeisance to Israel, not America. They urged President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton "to strongly and unequivocally oppose any discussion of the report or action on its findings in any international setting”, despite the fact that Judge Goldstone exposed many errors in Congressional criticism of the UN Report.

Ignoring Goldstone’s rebuttal to Israeli lobby attacks on the UN Report, Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer proclaimed:"I think the UN Goldstone report is unbalanced, and unfair, and inaccurate," yet he refused to offer any facts to support his broadside attack while adding that “the UN is totally biased against Israel, which is as careful a government as there is in terms of prosecuting its own defense officials.” Hoyer and his colleagues apparently do not credit the work of B’tselem, who the day before the rushed passage of HR 867 documented that as of 11/04/09 not one Israeli government investigation has been opened regarding Israel’s policy during “Cast Lead” with respect to the selection of targets, the open-fire orders given to soldiers, the legality of the weapons used, the balance between injury to civilians and military advantage.  Additionally, more than half of 23 cases of Palestinians being killed while holding white flags and all the cases where Gazans were used as human shields were exposed by B’tselem not the Israeli military, whose position, like Hoyer and Ros-Lehtinens   is that these crimes did not happen despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Hoyer and Ros-Lehtinen are pillars of the fake US Congressional  Human Rights Caucus, founded in l983 which in its quarter century of self congratulatory investigations of Human Rights abuses has yet to find a single human rights abuse by Israel irrespective of how many murders, slaughtering of innocents, home demolitions, political incarcerations, religious bigotry, illegal use of American weapons, illegal siege of Gaza,  and serial invasions of Lebanon, and the  continuing theft of Syria’s Golan heights. Over the past few years the CHRC has become an Iran bashing forum for all manner of Zionist zealots and kooks spreading falsehoods and defamations against Islam and the Islamic Republic.

According to Ros-Lehtinen, "The Goldstone Report illustrates the anti-freedom, anti-Israel bias which deeply pervades the UN system, and it does not deserve consideration or legitimacy from responsible nations. Israel took every reasonable measure to minimize the risk of civilian casualties. It is clear that Israel had every right and duty to defend its citizens from the onslaught of rocket and mortar attacks from Hamas and other militants in Gaza,"

Both Hoyer and Ros-Lehtinen could have been deterred by the White House from creating this latest anti-Arab, anti-Islam House Resolution but they were given a green light by the Obama administration to push their screed. Obama joined in condemning the  Goldstone’s Report and not much appears to be left of his pledge to break from the past and open a new chapter of civility with Iran.

Human Rights Watch which had urged lawmakers not to back the resolution, said that "Instead of denouncing the Goldstone  report, the US Congress should urge Israel and Hamas to break the cycle of abuse and impunity, which for too long has fueled hatred and hindered efforts at peace.” Just as an increasing number of Americans reject Israel first hysterical extremist often  nonsensical pro-Israel ‘Congressional Resolutions” one can hardly expect Iran to believe that these US policy makers should be taken seriously or have any interest to advance their country’s interests rather than Israel’s.

Questions of credibility rest more at the door of Barack Obama’s White House that at Iran’s Shura and Majlis.  After declaring recently that the US wanted to let bygones be bygones and move beyond the past, brought up the student seizure of the US embassy 30 years ago as causing sustained suspicion, mistrust, and confrontation Obama then stressed support for the Iranian governments domestic opponents appearing to foster civil unrest with his presumably carefully chose language that “the world continues to bear witness to the Iranian people’s "calls for justice and their courageous pursuit of universal rights."  He used a photo op to announce that “We have heard for thirty years what the Iranian government is against; the question, now, is what kind of future it is for”. "Iran must choose," he warned.  Obama’s  accusatorial language  ignores  the fact that Iran has repeatedly made clear what it is for- friendly relations with the US and the West based on mutual respect, non-interference in the internal affairs of the others, and cooperation to raise the  quality of life for all countries in the Middle East and beyond.

With our American Middle East policy clearly in disarray, from Iraq to Palestine, it behooves the Obama administration to demonstrate to the American people and to the international community that it can change course and become a credible interlocutor with Iran and others in the region. Time is running out if Obama’s claimed vision of dialogue on the basis of mutual respect and equality does not collapse into complete derision and caricature.  For Americans our work is to convince our government that both short and long term US strategic interests require efforts to demonstrate seriousness, reliability, and the willingness to dialogue on the basis on mutual respect and equality and a willingness to disconnect from the remaining 20th Century colonial enterprise which increasingly is fomenting strife in the Middle East and beyond. 

– Franklin Lamb is Director of the Washington DC-Beirut Lebanon based Sabra Shatila Foundation.  He contributed this article to Contact him at:

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