FP: Hassan Daioleslam, welcome back to Frontpage Interview.
Daioleslam: My pleasure to be back.
FP: There have been controversial calls by many in the US, including some presidential candidates, for negotiation with Iran. Why is this controversial? What is wrong with negotiation with Iran?
Daioleslam: From an abstract point of view, and isolated from the past history, and who the negotiating parties are, nothing is wrong with that. In fact, any school student can write a beautiful composition about how nations must resolve their differences through negotiation rather than conflict. Unfortunately the real world is far more complex than that, and those who ignore the complexity of the situation, are either naïve, or have ulterior motives.
FP: Are you suggesting that we should choose conflict over negotiating with Iran?
Daioleslam: By no means. Nothing could be more disastrous for the United States and the Iranian people than a war between the two countries. However, by negotiating now, not only we will not avoid a military conflict, but we increase its chances tenfold.
FP: This is a pretty strong statement. How can you rationalize it?
Daioleslam: The best rationalization comes from understanding the lessons learned from our past dealings with Iran. In a nut shell our past engagements with Iran have resulted in an emboldened Iran, or as Iran’s Ahmadinejad calls it a train without breaks! These negotiations have bought the theocratic regime in Iran time to pursue their malice, and have weakened the United States’ position in dealing with them. These seemingly American peaceful gestures have significantly augmented the risk of confrontation.
Politicians who have been involved in these engagements must candidly and explicitly share their experience with Americans. They owe a straightforward and transparent report to the American people. Past and present administrations must openly describe the incentives they have offered to Iran, when they offered them, whom they offered them to, and whether they received anything in return.
FP: Wait a minute. Have we ever negotiated with Iran?
Daioleslam: Yes. We have negotiated with Iran. One way negotiation! The United States policy towards Iran has been compounded with confusion, lack of direction, naivety and weakness. We need to discuss this honestly and frankly. The price of confusion in our policy towards Iran has been far too high to be shy about accepting our mistakes. Naïve and inexperienced politicians, as well as the Iranian lobby in the US argue that thirty years of non-negotiation has failed and now we have to change course and negotiate with Tehran’s mullahs. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have attempted to negotiate with Iran, many times and under different US administrations.
FP: When and how did the US negotiate with Iran?
Daioleslam: Sending flirting signals to Iran, or more politely extending secret olive branches, have been continuously going on since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran. But naïve and wishful thinking of Carter and Reagan and Senior Bush administrations turned into uncontrollable aroused excitement under Clinton administration, where several rounds of front and backdoor negotiations inside and outside Iran were going on. Clinton Administration unilaterally awarded Iranians a series of inducements, some dearly costly to the United States. Let me read some quotes for you:
Kenneth Pollack (Director for Persian Gulf affairs at the National Security Council) told the Saban Center on November 23, 2004 that:
“In the Clinton Administration in 1999 and 2000, we tried, very hard, to put the grand bargain on the table. And we tried. We made 12 separate gestures to Iran to try to demonstrate to them that we really meant it, and we were really willing to go the full nine yards and put all of these big carrots on the table if the Iranians were willing to give us what we needed. And the Iranians couldn't.”
Mr. Pollack and others who were involved, must tell us what these 12 gestures were, and what did they get in return. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright delivered an apologetic speech in Asia Society in March 17, 2000:
"Surely the time has come for America and Iran to enter a new season in which mutual trust may grow and a quality of warmth supplant the long, cold winter of our mutual discontent … This morning on behalf of the government and the people of the United States, I call upon Iran to join us in writing a new chapter in our shared history. Let us be open about our differences and strive to overcome them. Let us acknowledge our common interests and strive to advance them. Let us think boldly about future possibilities and strive to achieve them, and thereby turn this new year and season of hope into the reality of a safer and better life for our two peoples. To that mission I pledge my own best efforts this morning. And I respectfully solicit the counsel and understanding and support of all. Thank you very much. … The US is prepared to take things slowly and step-by-step, or to engage in fast track diplomacy towards rapprochement via direct dialogue. Given Leader Khamenei’s strong statements, it is clear that the fast track route is not a realistic option”.
Albright even hinted that the human rights abuses are not an obstacle for the relation with Iran:
“Certainly, in our view, there are no obstacles that wise and competent leadership cannot remove. As some Iranians have pointed out, the United States has cordial relations with a number of countries that are less democratic than Iran.”
After her speech, one of the Iranian participants, said:
“If I wrote Albright’s speech myself, I would have neglected to include some of the gestures that she did!"
FP: These are gestures by the US administration. But are there any indications that Iran responded favorably and entered negotiations?
Daioleslam: This is a very good question. I have the same question from those who were involved. Tehran’s mullahs are masters in playing a complex game of deception with the US. Typically, they send all sorts of flirting signals through their lobby circles, third party delegates or even more directly by governmental figures. US falls for this ploy and in preparation for the rendezvous starts extending all sorts of olive branches.
FP: And how does Iran respond?
Daioleslam: This is the heart of the matter. Iran has never intended to negotiate. They know very well that they cannot get their wishes from the US through negotiations. And they cannot trim down their wish list either. It is an ideological issue to them. Therefore Iran always turns the game masterfully so that the US, who is busy making gestures, would come across as the party who does not want to engage peacefully. Meanwhile, mullahs enjoy the incentives and use them to advance their ill will. As Abbas Maleki, the former deputy foreign minister and advisor to the Supreme Leader admitted recently, the United States for the past three decades has been willing to bring Iran to the negotiation table but Iran has refused.
FP: But what is it that the Iranians want and you suggested that they themselves know they cannot get from the US.
Daioleslam: Power. They want radical and fundamentalist Islamic hegemony in the Middle East. As one of their chief lobbyists in the US suggested last month, they want the US to share the Middle East with them. Obviously the sharing part of it is only the first step. They are more ambitious than that. And the US administration, regardless of their party affiliation, will not negotiate the national security away.
FP: Can you be more specific about past engagement experiences with Iran?
Daioleslam: The past three decades of engagement with Iran can be symbolized by three, embarrassing and bitterly humorous unilateral initiatives by the United States towards Iran. Although there were many other attempts to deal with Iran, those three are clear indications of the US naivety and disconnection from reality.
The first episode was during the Reagan administration. In 1986, after several years of secret dealings through third parties, the administration decided to engage Iran directly. Robert McFarlane, the National Security advisor secretly went to Tehran, to deliver the missiles that Iranians had demand. He also took with him a cake shaped as a key, hoping that it symbolized the opening of a new chapter in US-Iran relations. In return, the US got nothing but utter humiliation and the mullahs’ snub.
The second experience was under Clinton. Again, after a long period of back door negotiations, the apologetic remarks by Madam Albright, and US numerous unilateral gestures, President Clinton who had addressed the UN general assembly in 2000 was hoping for a friendly encounter with the Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami. The idea was to break a taboo and melt the ice. What happened next was humiliatingly bizarre. While Clinton was waiting in the UN hallways to shake hands with the Iranian president, Khatami hid in the men's room refusing to come out.
The last and probably the most catastrophic chapter of secret dealings with Iran happened under President Bush and with respect to Iraq. US was involved in secrete dialogues with Iran prior to invading Iraq. US was well aware that the Iraq’s future, at least for several years, would be under the Iranian influence. Prior to May 3rd, 2003, when the last meeting was held between the two countries in Geneva, US had bent backwards to appease Tehran’s rulers, hopping that in return, Iran will be less intrusive in Iraq’s affairs. We now know that it was a futile wish. Iran even refused to provide intelligence on Al-Qaeda. Let me read a paragraph from a report by the American Iranian Council, who were directly involved in these dealings 1-2:
"During the May 3rd meeting, Khalilzad tells Zarif that the US has learned that a terrorist bombing incident is planned to happen in the Persian Gulf area. He asks that Iranian Government utilize members of Al-Qaeda in Iranian prisons for information on the planned incident. The incident happened on May 12 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia."
The US attributed the attacks to al-Qaeda operatives, working from Iran. One more time, Iran took everything and in return, snubbed the US administration. This one was costly.
FP: What was the cost?
Daioleslam: The cost is always the lives of the American soldiers and the innocent civilians. The cost is undermining the security of the region. The cost is so high that any logical mind would reach the conclusion that negotiating with Iran is more than a naïve practice; it is participating in crimes against humanity, as it buys time and helps the Iranian regime advance its power in the region and jeopardize the peace and prosperity for generations to come. Meanwhile, As Albright said, we close our eyes to the barbaric treatment of the Iranian people by the theocratic rulers.
FP: These are pretty strong statements.
Daioleslam: Am I too far-reaching in predicting failure in future negotiations with Iran? Let me quote one of the most respected Iran experts, who by no means could be labeled an anti Iran individual. Dr. Gary Samore, VP and Director of Studies of Council on Foreign Relations, during his speech at Woodrow Wilson center on January 11th, 2008, after emphasizing the failure of US current policy toward Iran, declared 3:
"There is a growing argument here in the United States that the U.S. should offer to speak to Iran across the board on a full range of issues without any condition... It is quiet likely that the next administration is to at least try to engage with Iran directly without demanding the suspension as a condition.... I have been thinking to see how to make such an approach successful. I start by asking to be very skeptical by recognizing that such approach is fraud with challenges and problems. .... I am not sure that a deal with Iran is possible. … There is no doubt that there is some people in Iran who would see the kind of incentives the US could put on the table as attractive. But I think the significant part of Iran's power establishment who would find those kinds of carrots to be very unattractive. They would be poisoned carrots because they (Iranian leaders) build their political situation on hostility with the US. And for them, a better relation with US represents a cultural clash and will also weaken their domestic political position."
FP: But what is really the cost other than failing to get results out of negotiations?
Daioleslam: A good example of the true cost comes from the US dealings with Hezbollh in the 1980s. I was recently reading from the Ayatollah Montazeri's memoir. He was Khomeini's designated successor before being disgraced. In his memoir, he gives details of how in the 1980s, US accommodated Hezbollah's kidnappers and positively responded to Tehran's ransoms. Besides being a chillingly humiliating experience for US, 25 years later, Hezbollah has grown to a major threat to the Lebanon and the entire region, demanding ransoms orders of magnitude higher.
Let quote someone who was directly involved in confronting this game of shame in appeasing Tehran’s mullahs and their regional cohorts. I read portions of what Louis Freesh, the FBI director from 1993 through 2001 told the wall street journal in 2006 4:
“Ten years ago today, acting under direct orders from senior Iranian government leaders, the Saudi Hezbollah detonated a 25,000-pound TNT bomb that killed 19 U.S. airmen in their dormitory at Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The blast wave destroyed Building 131 and grievously wounded hundreds of additional Air Force personnel. It also killed an unknown number of Saudi civilians in a nearby park…….... It soon became clear that Mr. Clinton and his national security adviser, Sandy Berger, had no interest in confronting the fact that Iran had blown up the towers. This is astounding, considering that the Saudi Security Service had arrested six of the bombers after the attack. As FBI agents sifted through the remains of Building 131 in 115-degree heat, the bombers admitted they had been trained by the Iranian external security service (IRGC) in Lebanon's Beka Valley and received their passports at the Iranian Embassy in Damascus, Syria, along with $250,000 cash for the operation from IRGC Gen. Ahmad Sharifi………...Meanwhile, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Mr. Clinton ordered the FBI to stop photographing and fingerprinting Iranian wrestlers and cultural delegations entering the U.S. because the Iranians were complaining about the identification procedure. Of course they were complaining. It made it more difficult for their intelligence agents and terrorist coordinators to infiltrate into America. I was overruled by an "angry" president and Mr. Berger who said the FBI was interfering with their rapprochement with Iran…….Sadly, this fits into a larger pattern of U.S. governments sending the wrong message to Tehran. Almost 13 years before Iran committed its terrorist act of war against America at Khobar, it used its surrogates, the Lebanese Hezbollah, to murder 241 Marines in their Beirut barracks. The U.S. response to that 1983 outrage was to pull our military forces out of the region. Such timidity was not lost upon Tehran. As with Beirut, Tehran once again received loud and clear from the U.S. its consistent message that there would be no price to pay for its acts of war against America. As for the 19 dead warriors and their families, their commander in chief had deserted them, leaving only the FBI to carry on the fight.”
FP: Thank you Mr. Daioleslam. We have run out of time now. But must also discuss alternatives to war and negotiation. We hope to have you back soon to talk about that.
Daioleslam: Thank you for inviting me.
1- The Grand Bargain, American Iranian Council: http://www.american-iranian.org/pubs/articles/The_Grand_Bargain_April-May_2007.pdf
2- The Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report on Iran, July 2004, (p. 29)
"U.S. concerns about Iran’s posture (regarding Al-Qaeda) intensified after the May 2003 attacks on expatriate housing complexes in Saudi Arabia that were attributed to al-Qaeda operatives, possibly working from Iran. As a result, Washington suspended the quiet constructive dialogue between the two governments that had developed after 9/11 on a limited range of regional issues."
3- Two presentations by Dr. Samore:
I- Prospects for an Iranian Nuclear Deal. http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=events.event_summary&event_id=358734#
II- Options for Preventing a Nuclear-Armed Iran. Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates December 5, 2007