Washington DC – “U.S.-Iranian relations are not a matter of foreign policy but a matter of domestic policy” said Ali Ansari, author of the new book Confronting Iran: The Failure of American Foreign Policy and the Next Great Conflict in the Middle East, at a Middle East Institute event entitled A Conversation on Iran: U.S.-Iran Relations.
Absent standard channels of communication, leaders of both countries have made policy overtures regarding one another as a means of appeasing their base and solidifying their support domestically, Ansari said.
Najmeh Bozorgmehr, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute and a journalist for the London-based Financial Time in Tehran, addressed the critical events which have molded US-Iran relations under the Clinton and current Bush administrations.
Bozorgmehr described the 2003 proposal by Iran to enter into talks with the United States as a missed opportunity, which would have covered multiple issues including terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and the war in Iraq. She viewed the United States as overly confident, coming off of what was perceived as an easy victory in Iraq, and misreading the Iranian proposal as a reaction to increased U.S. power in the region.
According to Bozorgmehr, when she questioned a U.S. official about reasons for the 2003 proposal’s rejection, the response was, “because Iran was perceived as being in a position of weakness.” Then when asked why the United States was reluctant to enter into talks with Iran now the official commented, “Because now Iran is strong and we are in a position of weakness.”
The irony of the statement by this U.S. official simply indicates the complexity of the situation and the desire by both Iran and the United States to come out of the crisis with the perception of victory, according to the speaker.
Bozorgmehr commented that both the United States and Iranian media have approached the situation with historical points of contention between the two nations fresh in mind. The problem comes with the inability of either side to look at the entire historical picture. Ansari pointed out that Iranian media portrayals of the current confrontation drew parallels to the 1953 CIA coup against the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosadegh while the U.S. media used the U.S. embassy/hostage crisis as their own backdrop to the crisis.
Regarding the current fighting in Lebanon, both speakers were in agreement that contrary to media portrayal, Iran has little to gain from provoking Israel into military action. Hezbollah, although aided by Iran, was a means of deterrence against any Israeli air strike on Iranian nuclear sites. They suggested that the outcome of the current situation could only be a diminution of Iran’s deterrence force and a greater vulnerability to possible military action.
They also indicated that while it has become an accepted fact in current U.S. media coverage, there has been no evidence offered to prove Iranian influence in the abduction of Israeli soldiers and the subsequent war.
With regards to Hezbollah, an audience member affiliated with the World Affairs Council stood up and stated, “I would like to correct you when you stated that the war was against Lebanon. Israel is fighting Hezbollah, not Lebanon.”
The host responded that, “The Beirut airport is not Hezbollah’s. The bridges and roads are not Hezbollah’s. The water and power are not property of Hezbollah. The war is against Lebanon.”
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