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US-Iran: Inching Towards Détente

By Mahmoud Reza Golshanpazhooh* | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

TEHRAN (IDN | Iran Review) -The pace of developments in Iran’s foreign policy has been very high during the last week of September 2013. Iran’s effort to take the best advantage of the general atmosphere at the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly led the new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to put his power and the power of his foreign policy team in the area of bilateral and multilateral relations, especially public diplomacy, to the first test. Many domestic and foreign analysts believe that he has successfully passed that test.

Giving a moderate account of political developments inside Iran, especially about the recent presidential elections in the country; providing powerful support for the intrinsic rights of the Iranian nation for taking advantage of peaceful nuclear energy; clear and unequivocal expression of the principles governing Iran’s national interests and emphasizing that Iran’s interests and the country’s insistence on its national rights pose no threat to international peace and security; proposing a global struggle against violence and war; expounding the principles and dimensions of global moderation as opposed to extremism; making direct references to his hope for suitable management of the existing differences between Iran and the United States, and putting renewed emphasis on the need to replace interaction for confrontation were among the most important highlights of Mr. Rouhani’s address to the UN General Assembly session.

On the other hand, the remarks made by the US President Barack Obama during his address to the General Assembly, which took place before Rouhani’s speech, contained telltale signs – at least on the surface – of considerable change in the US administration’s approach to the “new Iran.” However, the fact that the two presidents refrained from a face to face encounter despite high expectations created by the media in this regard, clearly proved the existence of a calculating and patient rationality behind the scenes.

Instead of focusing more on the value of such a meeting for propaganda purposes, that rationality sought to achieve tangible results while leaving the logical course of the existing political puzzle undisturbed. In this way, both sides indicated their willingness for “step-by-step elimination of the existing problems and issues instead of taking a purely emotional approach.”

The resumption of talks between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers on the level of the two sides’ foreign ministers following eight years [after the last ministerial meeting], as well as direct talks between the foreign ministers of Iran and the United States after the lapse of 34 years have been considered as natural outcomes of this logical course.

That logical course reached its acme on September 27, when the two countries’ presidents took part in a 15-minute direct conversation on the phone, thus, reminding all the observers of the forgotten value of patience, decorum, logical insistence on one’s positions, and avoidance of media shows while having hope in basic change in the course of events, regardless of how difficult it may seem to be.

Main advantages

Now, Mr. Rouhani’s trip to the United States is over and he is back in Iran. What have been the main advantages of this trip?

1. The value of the glorious [presidential] elections in Iran which were held in June was demonstrated in the most elegant way. In fact, all these developments were made possible with the mandate that came out of a democratic and peaceful election in the most turbulent region of the world. In fact, the West came to its senses and noticed that it had to make a basic revision in its clichéd attitudes and literature when it comes to dealing with the most stable country in the Middle East.

2. The unprecedented support of all domestic political forces – especially such powerful institutions as the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps or the Friday Prayers leaders – for the positions taken by Mr. Rouhani during the UN meeting, has created a golden opportunity for fostering empathy and unity inside the country. If this opportunity is accompanied with patience and foresight, it is sure to greatly increase Iran’s power and might in the international arena.

3. Mr. Rouhani’s speech in the UN was only boycotted by the Israeli delegation. However, it was Israel which was actually boycotted and isolated at the world body because no other country followed suit with the Israeli delegation. On the contrary, participating officials from many countries put supporting the people of Palestine and urging Israel to comply with international resolutions and recognize the rights of the Palestinian nation on top of their agendas during the General Assembly meeting. Israel also faced similar requests and criticism in discussions which took place during the 24th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, when the member countries were going over the Council’s Agenda Item 7.

4. Apart from who has requested the phone call [between the presidents of Iran and the United States], the action was per se a demonstration of the two sides’ willingness to improve relations. Since the outset of Mr. Rouhani’s US trip, the American officials had indicated their unequivocal and transparent willingness for direct contact between the two presidents. Although this did not happen in early stage of his trip, Mr. Rouhani did not appear unwilling to do so throughout his various press conferences and interviews in New York. As a result, regardless of the way that the phone call came about and its contents, the measure was very valuable and many positive consequences will come from it for both sides.

5. In the midst of diplomatic exchanges, the cultural measure taken by the United States for giving the historical Silver Griffin back to Iran was also a symbolic step taken to demonstrate Washington’s goodwill which should not be easily ignored.

Just a beginning

6. During the entire past 34 years, contacts between the two countries did not go beyond insignificant cultural exchanges, encounters in sports fields, or sitting at the same table for indirect negotiations, which were also limited to the two countries’ ambassadors or deputy ministers (and even that took place only once). A comparison between the recent developments and what happened in the past will clearly reveal the huge importance of the recent steps taken to shatter this age-old taboo. However, there is no doubt that this is just a beginning and nobody should forget the dire threats that lay in ambush to abort these positive developments. Some of those threats include:

a. Certain parts of the US government, especially in the Congress, are opposed to this process of détente and have already started rallying support for the intensification of the existing sanctions or approval of new sanctions against Iran. Even if such steps do not go beyond a media show, they will have a very negative effect on the Iranian side. Also, any effort made by the American officials to shift their pressures on Iran from the nuclear case to the issue of human rights and repeating past claims against Iran will further serve to exacerbate suspicions on the Iranian side. This is especially true taking into account that the General Assembly’s Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee (also known as the Third Committee) will be holding its session in the near future. Let’s not forget that as the presidents of both countries have frequently pointed out in recent days, the sediments of hostilities and suspicions that have governed the two countries’ relations in the past 34 years, cannot be washed away overnight. In fact, as a general atmosphere of optimism grows between the two sides, huge potentials are being created by the opponents of both administrations who persistently argue that “we told you, they cannot be trusted.” As a result, both countries’ officials should move very cautiously and smartly in order to defuse such potentials.

b. Sharp remarks made by certain American officials, which are meant for propaganda purposes and are aimed at consoling Israel or initiating a new round of arms sales to regional states, can also increase suspicions and pessimism on the side of Iranian officials. The forthcoming visit to the United States by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which has been scheduled for next week, will probably pave ground for such remarks. It is now incumbent on Obama and his foreign policy team to try to manage such negative efforts in the most appropriate way.

c. Another case which can torpedo recent developments is any measures taken against the national interests or security of Iran, especially by radical armed groups that oppose the Islamic Republic. For years, the Iranian officials have been gathering documents which prove that certain parties in the United States have been supporting such groups.

Both the Iranians and Americans did their best in the last week of September to “hack” the hostile relations that have existed between them for the past 34 years. They have made an effort to find the main problem and solve it by using an innovative and unconventional method. At least, up to the present day, this effort has succeeded to change the “atmosphere of bilateral relations” and facilitate contacts. The important point now is the continuation of this process. Both sides should try to prevent any person or incident from totally unplugging this machine.

*Mahmoud Reza Golshanpazhooh is Executive Editor of Iran Review. This article is being reproduced by arrangement with Iran Review which carried it on September 29, 2013 with the headline Hacking Iran-US Hostile Relations [IDN-InDepthNews – September 29, 2013]

2013 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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