United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Khazaee Welcomes U.S. Calls for Direct Talks

            On February 20, Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee welcomed recent U.S. calls for direct talks in remarks to the Asia Society. He claimed that the Obama administration has taken measures against Iran that could be considered “tantamount to war.” But negotiations are “not a red line for Iran, provided that the U.S. demonstrates in practice its commitment to dialogue on the basis of mutual respect,” the ambassador to the United Nations said.
            Khazaee also outlined steps the United States could take to prove its good faith, such as “discarding the two-track policy of pressure and engagement,” not intervening in Iran’s domestic affairs, and focusing on common interests. The following is an excerpt from Khazaee’s remarks, followed by link to a recording of the event.

            …Article 152 of the Iranian Constitution, upon which the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is based, stipulates the establishment of peaceful relationship with all nations, based on "mutual respect" and "legal parity". Thus, diplomatic negotiations and dialogue with the United States does not constitute a red line for my country, although it is only a part of the complicated and multilayer relationship between Iran and the U.S.
 
            However, the question is as to why the establishment of relationship between our two countries on a just and equal footing has so far been elusive… I feel I need to very briefly review the major developments that have affected the relationship between our two countries, hoping that it helps us better grasp the reason for the current mistrust and, therefore, better prepare to break the impasse:
 
            First, in principle, diplomatic ties between nations should not be cut off under almost any circumstances. Despite grievances and bitter experiences, mostly emanating from the gross intervention in Iran's domestic affairs—which, inter alia, led to the coup in 1953 against the Iran’s democratically-elected government and unwavering support for the 25-year dictatorship that followed it—the Islamic Republic of Iran did not initiate severing ties with the United States. The diplomatic rupture occurred in April 1980 on the initiative taken by the then U.S. administration. Despite the so-called U.S. Operation Eagle Claw in the same month, which constituted a blatant act of aggression against Iran, Tehran agreed, as a sign of goodwill, to take part in the negotiations that led to the signing of the Algiers Accords. Whereas, the U.S. Government –which had committed itself, according to the same accords, to respecting Iran's rights and to abstain from intervening and interfering in Iran's domestic affairs—not only failed to honor its commitment but also increased its intervention and, at times, its hostility.
 
            Second, In the course of the two decades following the Algiers Accords, more bitter moves were made by successive U.S. administrations against the Iranian people. They included lending support to Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran, attacking two Iranian offshore oil platforms in the Persian Gulf in 1987, shooting down an Iranian passenger jet airliner, killing 290 people in 1988, trying to disrupt Iran’s ties with its neighbors, allocating budget to destabilize the Iranian government, and the list goes on and on.
 
            The confidence building measures that Iran adopted during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Afghan War in 2001, and the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003, as well as the three rounds of talks between Iran and the United States on the U.S. status of forces in Iraq and Iran’s readiness for the fourth round, all, regrettably, met with disappointing answers by the United States—which included branding Iran as part of the so-called ‘axis of evil’, following Iran’s constructive approach on the Afghan front.
 
            Third, gaps between the U.S. declared positions and the actions against the Iranian nation have been widening in the past few years. Senator Barack Obama in an interview with the New York Times in 2007 envisioned forging a new relationship with Iran and stated that, if elected president, he would “engage in aggressive personal diplomacy” with Iran, by conducting talks at the highest level, offering economic inducements and a promise not to seek “regime change.” Nonetheless, the president-elect, in the first step, left unanswered the congratulatory message sent by the Iranian president.
 
            In his Nowruz [Persian New Year] message, in March 20, 2009, President Obama stated that: “My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us…” He stressed that, “instead of threats”, he would seek “engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.” The same themes also appeared in the letters President Obama sent to Iran’s Supreme Leader. They represented a new approach that the Iranians welcomed and the letters were replied to.
 
            As the Supreme Leader stated in his speech in March 2009 in the city of Mashhad, I also could assert that, had the Islamic Republic of Iran observed the slightest sign indicating a practical change in the U.S. Government behavior, it would have certainly reciprocated in kind. Here, allow me to refer to a few actions by the U.S. government that went counter to its ostensibly friendly gestures:
 
            Beginning from November 2009, the U.S. Government took a number of aggressive measures against Iran, which include signing into law at least four major acts and issuing nine executive orders that you are all aware of, and I don't need to detail them. It is just worth mentioning that, in comparison, the whole number of executive orders had been issued against Iran by the previous U.S. presidents in the preceding 25 years had not gone beyond 18.
 
            The above are only part of the destructive measures against Iran. I don’t want to take more time by detailing such confrontational measures as cyber warfare against Iran’s nuclear sites, the terrorist attacks against Iranian nuclear scientists by the Israelis, and removing a known terrorist group responsible for the killing of more than 16,000 ordinary Iranians from the terrorist list. The moves that I referred to consist definitely of economic war against the Iranian people if not tantamount to declaring war against a sovereign state.
 
            In sum, when the U.S. proposes negotiations in Munich and few days later gives effect to new and harsher sanctions against the Iranian people in Washington, how could anybody expect the Iranians not to be doubtful and not to ask for proof of the U.S. seriousness and goodwill? Each of these actions alone could cast serious doubt on the goodwill of the U.S. government in establishing a just relationship with Iran in the minds of the Iranians, who consider themselves victims of the U.S. policies.
 
            Fourth, in principle, the logic of the two-track policy of diplomacy and pressure is incomprehensible, as it constitutes a conflict in term. Regrettably, for some in the U.S., pressure has become an end in itself. The dual track was not even dual, as it relied on one track, and that was pressure. They naïvely believe that pressure and diplomacy complement each other. Some even wrongly attribute Iran’s readiness to participate in the forthcoming negotiations in Kazakhstan to pressures. The wrong perception maintaining that the time is not on Iran’s side should be rectified as well. Because, the ambiguous positions of the West in parallel with more pressure can only beget more distrust, leading Iran, in turn, to lose hope in a negotiated settlement.
 
            Regrettably, the facts on the ground and the U.S. behaviors are indicative of their miscalculations and inaccurate information about the realities of today’s Iran; their assumption that Iran would succumb to pressure is chief among these miscalculations. The unprecedented rally to commemorate the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution two weeks ago, in which millions of people took part across the country, was an additional sign indicating the people’s lack of confidence in the U.S. on the one hand and the futility of the economic pressure on the other.
 
            Consequently, the approach of the Islamic Republic of Iran to negotiation is different. On the one hand, Iran’s sensitivity towards such negotiations emanates from its concern over the conditions leading to negotiations and the result thereof. It should not be interpreted as opposition to negotiation per se, as we have repeatedly stated our readiness for negotiations. Iran’s concern over the result of negotiations arises from the realities and U.S. behaviors, which hang a serious question mark over negotiations per se.
 
            The Iranians believe that the U.S. follows the strategy of “negotiation for more pressure” or “more pressure for negotiation.” In the sense that it is not only assumed that Iran could be pressured into negotiation, but also negotiation is turned into a means to bring more pressure to bear on Iran. In a clearer term, as long as the U.S. leaders chose to base their policy towards Iran on ‘my way or the highway’, they should rest assured that Iran would not compromise on its basic rights under pressure or threat.
 
            Meanwhile, I understand that there are people, who seek to conclude that Iran opposes any negotiation and conclude that alternative options should be taken up. I must emphasize that they are totally wrong. Iran has never and does not oppose negotiation in any way. If the right conditions are created and we are reasonably confident that negotiations could come to fruition; undoubtedly, we consider them seriously.
 
            Accordingly, I believe that certain ingredients of appropriate conditions for negotiations are as follows: a real change in the current U.S. perception of negotiations; respect for Iran’s national sovereignty; non-intervention in Iran’s domestic affairs; discarding the two-track policy of pressure and engagement; the existence of good faith and political will for mutual understanding; valuing bilateral cooperation in the region and focusing on extensive common interests of the two countries.
 
            Also, it is a fact that there are third parties who feel that they would lose in the case of any détente between Iran and the U.S. Thus, they spare no effort in impeding the way towards any diplomatic interaction between Iran and U.S.
 
            Ladies and gentlemen, in view of the recent calls for negotiations between Iran and the U.S., as the Iranian high-ranking officials, including the Foreign Minister pointed out, we welcome these calls and consider them a step in the right direction and along the path of creating a trustful environment for dialogue—dialogue with a country that occupies a very important strategic location in the region and has a mostly young population of close to 80 million, an educated and skilled workforce and massive oil and gas reserves, thus possessing a huge potential for cooperating with the outside world. It is safe to assert that Iran is one of the most impactful countries in the world that could help the international community in tackling such global and regional crises and critical situations as stability and security in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Persian Gulf, Syria and combating extremism, terrorism, trafficking in illicit drug, the spread of weapons of mass destruction and piracy.
 
            Such nation, shored up by a rich civilization, is able and ready to play a constructive role in the international community. Our history has taught us to cooperate rather than confront. Nonetheless, there are instances in our history where the Iranians demonstrated their combativeness and resilience in the face of outside aggressions. Therefore, I would like to reiterate once more that negotiation is not a red line for Iran, provided that the U.S. demonstrates in practice its commitment to dialogue on the basis of mutual respect. In that case, our counterparts should rest assured that the Iranian people understand respectful behavior and reciprocate in kind.
 
            Allow me to conclude by reading out a passage from the latest speech by His Eminence Ayatollah Khamenei, which summarizes his perspective about the way out from the current situation. He says and I quote:
 
            "We are reasonable, our officials are reasonable, our people are reasonable, we understand reasonable deeds and accept reasonable views. The American should show that they do not try to threaten. They should show that they do not speak and act unreasonably. They should show that they respect the rights of our people, avoid flaring up conflicts in the region and do not intervene and interfere in Iran's domestic affairs. In that case, they will see that the Iranian political establishment is well-intentioned and our people are reasonable. This is the way to engage the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Americans should prove their goodwill. If they do, then, they will see that the Iranian people will answer in an appropriate way."
 
Click here to watch the discussion.
 

 

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