Iran debates, rejects talks with U.S.

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  • 3 decades successive #American administrations have reached out to the Islamic Republic to no avail.

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  • #Iranian leadership may not understand that #terrorism directed at Western capitals is a redline they should not cross

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  • #Iran is unprepared to cut off assistance to any proxy group for the sake of better relations with the West.

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Editor's Note: FMSO’s Operational Environment Watch provides translated selections and analysis from a diverse range of foreign articles and other media that analysts and expert contributors believe will give military and security experts an added dimension to their critical thinking about the Operational Environment.

Source: “Ida’ha-ye Hashemi ba Haqayeq-i tarikhi kamalan tanaqez darad,” (“Hashemi’s Claims are Completely Inconsistent with Historical Fact,” Alef (A, the first letter of the Persian Alphabet). 7 April 2012.

Michael Rubin: For more than three decades successive American administrations have reached out to the Islamic Republic. While the 1979 hostage crisis inaugurated the diplomatic standoff which continues to the present day, the fact that the United States had an embassy in Tehran nine months into the Islamic Republic is a testament to the Carter administration’s desire to continue relations. President Reagan also tried to reach out to Iran. The Iran- Contra scandal may be remembered mostly for the illegalities of bypassing Congress to fund the Nicaraguan contras, but at its genesis it was an attempt to establish relations with regime pragmatists in Iran in order to develop leverage to affect the eventual succession to Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini. President George H.W. Bush used his inaugural address, in part, to propose rapprochement with the Islamic Republic, and President Clinton pushed aside debate about Iran’s culpability in the Khobar Towers bombing in order to seize an opening provided by Iranian president Mohammad Khatami’s ‘dialogue of civilizations.’ Finally, beyond the harsh rhetoric of the ‘Axis of Evil,’ the George W. Bush administration authorized more senior meetings with Iranian officials than any predecessor since Carter. President Obama pushed rapprochement with Iran to the front of his diplomatic agenda when he offered an outstretched hand.

It takes two to tango, however. While American officials debate outreach, seldom do they consider the corollary Iranian discussion. Debate regarding engagement with the United States is a recurrent political football inside Iran. Former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s suggestion this month that the Islamic Republic need not be in permanent enmity to the United States reignited controversy as Iranian hardliners fell over themselves to condemn and discredit his remarks. It is in this context that Alef’s interview with Abbas Salimi-Namin, director of the Office for Iranian Contemporary Historical Studies and a prolific columnist, is important. Salimi’s pedigree among hardliners is unquestioned, and even if current Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is on the outs with regime conservatives, Salimi remains an ally of the Supreme Leader.

His interview suggests that hardliners surrounding Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei see Iranian acceptance of American outreach as a non-starter. That the tone of the interview is full of vitriol for Rafsanjani suggests that, even if the former president’s position of the Assembly of Experts has been restored, he remains a nearpariah within the regime’s most powerful circles.

Salimi’s interpretation of details is also important. Just as American jurists debate the intent of the Founding Fathers, Iranian regime officials argue about Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s intent. Rafsanjani suggested Khomeini was amenable to U.S. relations; Salimi’s ridicule of the notion suggests that no matter what olive branch the United States offers, the current Iranian leadership believes continued enmity is in their ideological interest.

Close followers of Iranian politics will also find Salimi’s treatment of details instructive. He rewrites the history of the Mykonos trial, in which a German court found direct Iranian culpability at the highest levels for the assassination of Kurdish dissidents in Berlin. The German court concluded that a special committee composed of the Supreme Leader, Minister of Intelligence, Foreign Minister, and President had met to order the assassinations shortly after German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel offered Iran an olive branch. If, however, Salimi and those whose views he represents believe that the West had let Iran off-the-hook for lack of evidence, then this suggests that the Iranian leadership does not understand that terrorism directed at Western capitals is a redline they should not cross.

Likewise, the unapologetic discussion of the Iranian leaking, which undermined U.S. outreach in the 1980s, serves as a warning for those who would engage in secret talks with Iran today. Simply put, so long as the Iranian regime remains volatile, American diplomatic outreach is more likely to backfire than ameliorate.

Lastly, Salimi’s condemnation of Rafsanjani’s desire to use Hezbollah as a means to an end and then dispose of the group, coupled with his assessment of Hezbollah power today, suggests that the Iranian regime is unprepared to cut off assistance to any proxy group for the sake of better relations with the West.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at AEI.

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