By Amir Taheri
November 27, 2021
As the Biden administration prepares for the revival, in some form at least, of the controversial “nuke deal” with the Islamic Republic in Tehran, usual suspects in Washington are peddling an old theme: Bringing Iran in from the cold!
The argument is that the Islamic Republic is behaving badly because, “excluded” from the outside world, it feels like a threatened lone wolf and thus obliged to adopt an aggressive posture.
The argument was first formulated in the 1980s by the then German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. It was then taken up by French President Jacques Chirac and passed on to a string of British foreign secretaries, most notably Jack Straw who visited Tehran more than another capital during his tenure.
Over the years, numerous Western political figures have adopted it, among them Bill Clinton and his Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, British Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Dominic Raab, until recently foreign secretary in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet.
In the past four decades, supporters of “bring Iran in from the cold” have pinned their hopes on various figures in Tehran.
President Bill Clinton did all he could to build up President Mohammad Khatami’s stature and even claimed that he felt “ more at home” with “ moderates” in Tehran than politicians in Washington. A circle of British politicians, including Lord Mandelson from Labor, and Lord Lamont from the Conservative party, formed a bipartisan lobby to help Hojat al-Islam Hassan Rouhani become President of the Islamic Republic and, by resuming Khatami’s unfinished business, “bring Iran in from the cold”.
The most persistent peddlers of that bill of goods have been President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry. It is their efforts that Joe Biden and his secretary of State Anthony Blinken seem determined to resume.
But how true is the “exclusion” theory with regard to the Islamic Republic?
The answer is: not at all.
Far from trying to “exclude” the Islamic Republic almost every country, first among them the United States, have often gone out of their way to include and accommodate Tehran’s new rulers. Ayatollah Khomeini’’s seizure of power was instantly accepted by all members of the United Nations.
The US was even in a hurry to curry favor with Tehran’s new rulers. It never closed its embassy in Tehran and just months after the mullahs seized power sent National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski to Algiers to meet Mehdi Bazargan, the man named by Khomeini as the new regime’s prime minister.
The Carter administration quickly named Lloyd Cutler, the presidential legal advisor, as the ambassador-designate to Tehran and ordered the shipment of arms to Iran to be resumed. What happened was “self-exclusion” as a Khomeinist gang, with a nod and a wink from the ayatollah, raided the US Embassy in Tehran and took its diplomats hostage.
At another level, the Khomeinist regime committed “self-exclusion” by severing diplomatic ties with Egypt because of its decision to make peace with Israel.
Even before the first year of the new Khomeinist regime had ended the 108 nations with which Iran had diplomatic relations had resumed or tried to resume normal “inclusive” ties with what was soon named the Islamic Republic.
Contrast that with the refusal to recognize the seizure of power by the Taliban in Kabul in the 1990s or more recently last August. And that, not to mention ISIS, which at one point controlled an area the size of Switzerland with a population of over four million.
More importantly, it took most countries years if not decades to recognize the Bolshevik regime in the Soviet Union. Many countries, notably the US, took a quarter of a century to grant recognition to the Communist regime in Beijing. In the case of Cuba, it took the US more than five decades to extend some form of recognition to the Castrist regime in Havana.
US efforts to “include” the Islamic Republic reached a new level during Ronald Reagan’s presidency when channels of communication” were opened with rival Khomeinist factions in Tehran. With help from Israel, the US smuggled arms to Iran to help it halt Iraqi advances on the battlefield. A senior US negotiating team, that included a high-ranking MOSSAD officer, also paid a secret visit to Tehran for talks to “normalize” ties with Iran.
The “liberation” of Afghanistan and then Iraq provided further opportunities for “including “the Islamic Republic. Former Islamic President Hashemi Rafsanjani’s memoirs depict a working relationship between Tehran and Washington in pursuit of their shared aim of toppling the Taliban and Saddam Hussein.
The Islamic Republic was officially and publicly “included” in US-led plans to reshape Afghanistan. In Iraq, we were personally aware of joint Washington-Tehran efforts to install first Ibrahim al-Jaafari and then Nuri al-Maliki as prime minister in Baghdad.
Former Islamic Foreign Minister Muhammad-Javad Zarif boasts that it was thanks to his efforts that the US vetoed the return of monarchy to Afghanistan and agreed that the new US-backed regime in Kabul be baptized “Islamic Republic”.
The “include Iran” lobby forgets the fact that it has been the Islamic Republic with its negative attitude and hubris that has excluded Iran from normal international life.
For Obama and Biden the “nuke deal” is the surest path to Iran’s “inclusion”. The so-called “JCPOA”, however, is itself a symbol of Iran’s exclusion because it makes Iran the only country in the world to be subjected to a unique regime of industrial, scientific, economic, and trading rules. In exchange, it hopes to impose a halt on Iran’s nuclear project.
Almost 20 years ago, former Foreign Minister of Iran Ardeshir Zahedi, the Iranian diplomat who had helped shape The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) exposed the futility of that pursuit. In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in May 2003 he argued that “Iran cannot unlearn what it has learned in the nuclear field since the 1950s.”
He added: “By mid-1970s, Iran had a well-educated and motivated corps of nuclear scientists who, backed by substantial financial resources, from the government, undertook research into all aspects of the new technology, including its military applications.”
Zahedi passed away in exile in Switzerland last week. But his message is still worthy of scrutiny as the Biden team prepares for new talks with Tehran.