Iran and the US

Via here, there’s a long piece in the New Yorker by Dexter Filikins that you will want to read before you decide if the US should work with the new leader of Iran. One of the things to know is that Iran has done a lot to hurt the US:

At the funeral, the mourners sobbed, and some beat their chests in the Shiite way. Shateri’s casket was wrapped in an Iranian flag, and gathered around it were the commander of the Revolutionary Guard, dressed in green fatigues; a member of the plot to murder four exiled opposition leaders in a Berlin restaurant in 1992; and the father of Imad Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah commander believed to be responsible for the bombings that killed more than two hundred and fifty Americans in Beirut in 1983.

The other thing to consider is the reason:

As Revolutionary Guard commanders, he and Shateri belonged to a small fraternity formed during the Sacred Defense, the name given to the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted from 1980 to 1988 and left as many as a million people dead. It was a catastrophic fight, but for Iran it was the beginning of a three-decade project to build a Shiite sphere of influence, stretching across Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean. Along with its allies in Syria and Lebanon, Iran forms an Axis of Resistance, arrayed against the region’s dominant Sunni powers and the West.

You really want to know some of the history of their relation with the US;

Iran’s leaders took two lessons from the Iran-Iraq War. The first was that Iran was surrounded by enemies, near and far. To the regime, the invasion was not so much an Iraqi plot as a Western one. American officials were aware of Saddam’s preparations to invade Iran in 1980, and they later provided him with targeting information used in chemical-weapons attacks; the weapons themselves were built with the help of Western European firms. The memory of these attacks is an especially bitter one. “Do you know how many people are still suffering from the effects of chemical weapons?” Mehdi Khalaji, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said. “Thousands of former soldiers. They believe these were Western weapons given to Saddam.”

and:

The Iranian regime regarded the Taliban with intense hostility, in large part because of their persecution of Afghanistan’s minority Shiite population. (At one point, the two countries nearly went to war; Iran mobilized a quarter of a million troops, and its leaders denounced the Taliban as an affront to Islam.)

n the chaotic days after the attacks of September 11th, Ryan Crocker, then a senior State Department official, flew discreetly to Geneva to meet a group of Iranian diplomats. “I’d fly out on a Friday and then back on Sunday, so nobody in the office knew where I’d been,” Crocker told me. “We’d stay up all night in those meetings.” It seemed clear to Crocker that the Iranians were answering to Suleimani, whom they referred to as “Haji Qassem,” and that they were eager to help the United States destroy their mutual enemy, the Taliban. Although the United States and Iran broke off diplomatic relations in 1980, after American diplomats in Tehran were taken hostage, Crocker wasn’t surprised to find that Suleimani was flexible. “You don’t live through eight years of brutal war without being pretty pragmatic,” he said. Sometimes Suleimani passed messages to Crocker, but he avoided putting anything in writing. “Haji Qassem’s way too smart for that,” Crocker said. “He’s not going to leave paper trails for the Americans.”

The coöperation between the two countries lasted through the initial phase of the war. At one point, the lead negotiator handed Crocker a map detailing the disposition of Taliban forces. “Here’s our advice: hit them here first, and then hit them over here. And here’s the logic.” Stunned, Crocker asked, “Can I take notes?” The negotiator replied, “You can keep the map.” The flow of information went both ways. On one occasion, Crocker said, he gave his counterparts the location of an Al Qaeda facilitator living in the eastern city of Mashhad. The Iranians detained him and brought him to Afghanistan’s new leaders, who, Crocker believes, turned him over to the U.S. The negotiator told Crocker, “Haji Qassem is very pleased with our coöperation.”

The good will didn’t last. In January, 2002, Crocker, who was by then the deputy chief of the American Embassy in Kabul, was awakened one night by aides, who told him that President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union Address, had named Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil.” Like many senior diplomats, Crocker was caught off guard. He saw the negotiator the next day at the U.N. compound in Kabul, and he was furious. “You completely damaged me,” Crocker recalled him saying. “Suleimani is in a tearing rage. He feels compromised.” The negotiator told Crocker that, at great political risk, Suleimani had been contemplating a complete reëvaluation of the United States, saying, “Maybe it’s time to rethink our relationship with the Americans.” The Axis of Evil speech brought the meetings to an end. Reformers inside the government, who had advocated a rapprochement with the United States, were put on the defensive. Recalling that time, Crocker shook his head. “We were just that close,” he said. “One word in one speech changed history.”

Now add in that the US helped to topple a democratically elected leader in Iran in the 1950s and replace him with a dictator, the Shah, who we supported until he was toppled in 1979 and you might see why Iran is suspicious of the US (and yeah, thanks President Bush for making sure Iran stays an enemy). Given this history, the US does need to be careful in negotiations but we also need to negotiate (if nothing else, for all the harm we have caused Iran).

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Reformists in Iran | Petunias

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