Frontpage Interview's guest today is Hassan Daioleslam, an Iranian human rights activist and political scholar.
FP: Hassan Daioleslam, I want to welcome you back to FrontPage Interview.
Daioleslam: I am delighted to be back. I am also grateful to your readers for their very useful comments after my previous interviews with you.
FP: One of the most important events in U.S.-Iranian relations since the last time we talked was a speech by the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, that referred to the futility of engagement with Iran. At the same time, five former Secretaries of State have recently advised the next president, whoever he might be, to negotiate with Iran. Your view of these seemingly conflicting positions?
Daioleslam: You are hitting the heart of the matter. On the surface, the advice by the former Secretaries of the State comes across as if there is a general consensus on the need for direct negotiation with Iran, without the precondition of suspending uranium enrichment. In reality, however, the appeal of the former Secretaries of State, as well as the speech by Secretary Gates, has a more profound and alarming message. These reflect the U.S. disarray toward Iran.
FP: What do you mean by disarray?
Daioleslam: Let’s look at some specific comments. On one side, Madeleine Albright, an ardent defender of engagement with Iran, has said: "We need to engage with Iran. You have to deal with countries you have a problem with."
On the other hand, you referred to the Defense Secretary Robert Gates's speech at National Defense University on September 29th. He said:
"I have been involved in the search for the elusive Iranian moderate for 30 years. (Laughter.) I was in the first meeting that took place between a senior U.S. government official and the leadership of the Iranian government in Algiers at the end of October, 1979.
Every administration since then has reached out to the Iranians in one way or another and all have failed. Some have gotten into deep trouble associated with their failures, but the reality is the Iranian leadership has been consistently unyielding over a very long period of time in response to repeated overtures from the United States about having a different and better kind of relationship.
I just think this is a case where we have to look at the history of outreach that was very real, under successive presidents, and did not yield any results. I think until the Iranians decide they want to take a different approach, to the rest of the world, that where we are is probably not a bad place."
FP: But wait, the 30 year span that Robert Gates talks about includes the tenure of the former Secretaries of State who are advocating engagement, right?
Daioleslam: Right, except for Kissinger. All the rest have been directly involved in attempting to engage Tehran and they have failed. Madeleine Albright and Collin Powel were both deeply involved and should be intimately familiar with its details.
FP: So why do the former State Secretaries call for the repeat of a failed policy?
Daioleslam: Ignoring the past failures and continuing to negotiate with the Iranian authorities to resolve the ongoing problems between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic has been the policy adopted by the West in general and the US in particular; as if they keep trying their magic wand hoping it will work.
The West is unwilling to pay the required price to resolve the Iranian problem. This refusal has inflated the price to settle the issues and will continue to do so until such point that it becomes unaffordable.
FP: Please elaborate on this. What price should the US pay?
Daioleslam: Currently the major issue between the U.S. and Iran is the nuclear program. Iran wants the bomb and the U.S. does not want Iran to have it. The US and its allies have been offering all sorts of carrots to Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions. But the West is naively miscalculating the effectiveness of these incentives.
Just examine what Iran has invested in its program for over two decade. Also consider the potential prize Iran hopes to grab by having the bomb. Does anyone honestly think these incentives are a match for Iranian ambitions?
FP: Then what do you think the Iranians want? What is the price of peace with Iran?
Daioleslam: Trita Parsi, the Iranian lobbyist in Washington made it crystal clear: The US should share the Middle East with Iran. And this is just the beginning.
FP: But this is a fundamental threat to U.S. strategic interests in the region and subsequently in the world, no?
Daioleslam: Of course. You are right. This is a very high price. One that the U.S. cannot afford to pay. But it seems that the West has been piling up more and more carrots on the table, and so far Iran is not attracted. The question is: when do we stop?
Let me give you an example to demonstrate the disarray within US politics. In July, US deputy Secretary of State Burns, along with the European, allies met the Iranian delegation in Geneva; a package of incentives was offered to Iran. A deadline was fixed for the Iranian response.
The deadline passed and Iran mocked it. Then the European delegation team stepped forward and told the Iranians that the deadline was not for Monday but a few days later. What has come of that deadline?
FP: So what happened with sanctions?
Daioleslam: Do you mean the current UN sanctions? Do you really think Iran will stop its ambitions with such sanctions?
As is the case with carrots, the sticks should also be at the level of the Iranian ambitions. Iran considers these sticks, (sanctions in this case) childish and the resulting hardships insignificant compared to the prize of being a nuclear power.
Let's hear from one of the most prominent experts on this issue, Gary Samore, the head of the Council on Foreign Relations Think Tank. He recently told an audience that:
"And I'm absolutely convinced, whatever you think about the wisdom of using military force as a last resort, unless the Iranians believe that's a real, serious possibility, I just don't think diplomacy can be effective. That doesn't mean that we should be threatening them publicly, but as they sit and calculate the odds, unless they believe that that's a real danger, I think whatever we put on the table by way of carrots and inducements is not going to be effective"
FP: What is the main reason for the U.S. and its allies' unwillingness to impose serious sanctions on Iran?
Daioleslam: Because real and serious sanctions which could make Iranians seriously re-think the cost of their nuclear ambitions, are at the same time painful and costly for the West. The U.S. and its allies are afraid of paying this price. Like dogs, Tehran’s mullahs read the fear in their opponents’ eyes. Iran is betting that the U.S. will never become serious about the sanctions.
FP: Are you suggesting that the West will never apply the sanctions?
Daioleslam: Under the current policies, no. Look at the level of trade between Iran and the West. The political will in the U.S. to apply even the existing vain sanctions, is lacking.
The U.S. has passed laws to forbid American corporations from doing business with Iran. However, the huge loophole is that these companies’ foreign subsidiaries can continue to have commerce with Iran. This is laughable.
FT: Why would the U.S. have this ineffective policy on sanctions?
Daioleslam: Two reasons; first, the influence of the business interests and their well oiled lobby machinery that works in tandem with the Iranian lobby in the U.S. Second reason, and a more important one, is the fundamentals of the U.S. policy toward Iran.
The US has been constantly hoping for Tehran’s behavioral change. The mysterious search for the moderate mullahs, as Secretary Gates admits it, has been a futile one. Tehran recognizes that such hope has been the driving force of the American policy, and hence masterfully feeds it.
FP: Can you give us an example?
Daioleslam: In 1996, Iran masterminded the terrorist attack of the U.S. Marin barracks in Saudi Arabia. When Mohammad Khatami, the so-called reformist mullah, became president in 1997, President Clinton hoped to have an overture with him. So he decided not to punish Iran and therefore stopped the inquiry into this terrorist act. Louis Freesh, the FBI director from 1993 through 2001, left no doubt that the U.S. was aware of Tehran’s involvement in this act. He also did not hide his disappointment at the administration for ordering the cease in the FBI’s inquiry.
A similar event occurred again in 2003 in Saudi Arabia. This time, Iran let Al Qaida's leaders residing in Iran to lead the operation. President Bush acted exactly in the same manner as Clinton did. Iran was unpunished. The same illusive hope of reaching out to Tehran was the reason behind Bush's inaction.
FP: What are alternatives policies that the U.S. might consider?
Daioleslam: Simply raise the stakes. Nothing short of the threat of regime change will influence Tehran’s behavior. Iran should realize that if they continue their mischief in the region and their ill intentioned nuclear programs, the West will intently and seriously adopt the irreversible policy of regime change in Iran. Anything short of that will not deter Iran.
The natural consequent of continuing the current policy is that the price for the U.S. goes up. A few years ago, the price was mainly the negative economic impact on the subsidiaries of the American companies. Before long, if the current policy continues, the price of stopping Iran will be a costly and destructive war.
I call it America’s Sophie's choice. Any decision comes with a painful price. And the price increases with inaction.
FP: Thank you Mr. Daioleslam.
Daioleslam: Thank you for inviting me.