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'TALK TO IRAN'? IT ALWAYS FAILS
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
August 31, 2006

August 31, 2006 -- 'TALK to Iran!" The phrase has become a mantra for all who fear the Kho meinist regime but are equally scared of challenging it.

The idea of talks is based on the assumption that every problem must have a solution - all we need to do is look for it.

Most people find unbearable the idea that a problem might defy solution in a given timeframe. Yet life, including international life, is full of problems that lack ready-made solutions at the time of our choosing. Thus, by recommending talks, we cling to the hope that the process might somehow produce a miracle.

The "Talk to Iran" party pretends that it has struck gold with an original thought. Yet this banal idea has been in circulation for a quarter of a century. President Jimmy Carter thought of it in January 1979, a month before the mullahs seized power in Tehran, when he established contact with the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then operating from a Paris suburb.

Once the mullahs were in control, the administration intensified the talks via the embassy in Tehran. Bruce Laingen, the charge d'affaire and a sincere supporter of the revolution, was a daily visitor to the foreign ministry. Six months after the establishment of the Islamic Republic, National Security Adviser Zbigniew Bzrezinski held a "summit" with Mehdi Bazargan, Khomeini's prime minister, to discuss a "strategic partnership."

The process ended when Khomeinist "students" raided the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took its diplomats hostage, Laingen among them.

Since then, all U.S. administrations, except the present one, have maintained some level of talks, often behind the scenes, with Tehran's leadership. Yet none managed to influence the Khomeinist strategy in any way.

Others who talked to the Islamic Republic fared no better. Hans-Dietrich Genscher, longtime West German foreign minister, built his career around the hope of bringing the Islamic Republic into the mainstream. He invented the phrase "critical dialogue" - which, in practice, ended up meaning a joint Iranian-European criticism of the United States. Most recently, Jack Straw, during his tenure as British foreign secretary, visited Tehran more frequently than Washington.

Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan have been talking to Iran to determine the status of the Caspian Sea for 12 years without getting anywhere. Turkey has talked to Iran since 1989 to persuade it to stop the flow of money and arms to Turkish-Kurdish rebels and the Turkish branch of Hezbollah - again to no avail.

In every case, the Islamic Republic has interpreted the readiness of an adversary to talk as a sign of weakness and, as a result, has hardened its position.

Two facts help explain Iran's behavior.

First, this is the last of the revolutionary regimes with universal messianic pretensions. It claims to have an alternative agenda for mankind, and is thus in no position to sacrifice its high ideals at the altar of mundane diplomatic considerations.

The second issue is rivalries among the Khomeinists. Because the overthrow of the shah came with unexpected ease, and in a short time, the vast majority of the new regime's personnel had no chance to secure a "revolutionary biography." So they've tried to acquire one after the fact, by talking and behaving in the most radical way possible.

Each group within the establishment is constantly watching rival groups for the slightest sign of lacking in revolutionary zeal. No Khomeinist leader can be seen making the slightest concessions to an outsider, let alone a coalition of "Infidel" powers, without risking political death. The regime's history is full of officials who committed political suicide by trying to play by international rules.

Khomeinist diplomacy is designed to seek total triumph for the Islamic Republic and total surrender from its negotiating partners on all issues. Anyone following the official media in Tehran would soon learn that the leadership can't conceive of a "win-win" situation: It must always win and its negotiating partners must always lose - for the regime defines itself as the only "truly Islamic government," and thus the sole representative of the Divine Will.

When Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered the release of the American hostages, he said he'd done so as a gesture of Islamic generosity towards their families, not because of months of talks with Washington. He released them when he no longer needed them - Carter had lost the election and been "punished" for brokering the Camp David peace between Egypt and Israel.

All this brings us to today's tension over Tehran's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment as a precondition for talks about a package of incentives from the the U.N. Security Council. It is obvious that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can't accept that precondition without risking political suicide: He has built his presidency on a note of defiance against the "Infidel," and promised to speed up, not suspend, Iran's nuclear activities.

Those who drafted the U.N. offer must have known this. It is thus surprising that they claim to be surprised by Tehran's response.

Since 1979, the real question with regard to Iran has been simple: Should the world kowtow to the Khomeinist regime or should the Khomeinist regime accept the global rules of the game? Maybe it is time to provide a clear answer.

Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.

 

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