Presidential candidate Barack Obama promised
during his campaign that his administration will take a new approach to the
crises in the Middle East and, in particular, to the long-standing confrontation
with Iran. He promised that his administration would negotiate with Iran without
any preconditions. Most recently, President Obama told the al-Arabiya TV, "If
countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended
hand from us."
Like all of his predecessors, however, Obama is not explaining to the American
public why Iran's fist is clenched in the first place. If the reason
for this were understood and put in the proper context, it would represent
a quantum leap toward resolving most, if not all, of the important issues between
Iran and the United States, which would then contribute greatly to stability
and peace in the Middle East. It all comes down to Iran's historical sense
of insecurity, and U.S. policy toward Iran since 1979.
A glance at history tells us why Iranians have a long-lasting sense of national
insecurity. Iran is in one of the most strategic areas of world. This was as
true 2,000 years ago as it is today. Because of its location, as well as its
natural resources, Iran has been invaded and occupied many times by foreign
powers, from Alexander the Great and his army to the Arabs, Moguls, Turks,
Russians, and British. Over the last 200 years alone, Russia, Britain, and
the U.S. have tried to control Iran.
Two Russo-Persian wars that resulted in the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813 and
the Treaty of Turkmenchay in 1828 enabled Russia to separate and occupy a large
part of Iran in the Caucasus region (the present Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia),
and the British empire ended Iran's political influence in Afghanistan through
the Treaty of Peshawar in 1855. In the late 1800s and early 1900s Russia and
Britain divided Iran into their spheres of influence. Russia supported the
forces that were opposed to Iran's Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1908,
and it opposed the industrialization of Iran, in particular, the construction
of railways. Britain played the key role in the 1921 coup that brought Reza
Shah to power in Iran and established his dictatorship. British and Russian
forces invaded and occupied Iran during World War II. The CIA-sponsored coup
of 1953 overthrew Iran's democratically elected government of Dr. Mohammad
Mossadegh and started the era of U.S. influence in Iran. The U.S. helped establish
and train the SAVAK, the shah's dreaded security services. These events ultimately
led to the revolution of 1979.
The hostage crisis of November 1979-January 1981, during which 53 American
diplomats and embassy staff were taken hostage by Iranian students, should
be viewed in light of Iran's bitter experience of the 1953 CIA coup. As one
of the student hostage-takers told Bruce Laingen, chief U.S. diplomat in Tehran
at that time, "You have no rights to complain, because you took our whole
nation hostage in 1953."
The history of Iran-U.S. relations since the resolution of the hostage crisis
in 1981 shows that the U.S.' goal has been to hamper Iran's economic development
and prevent its integration with the rest of the Middle East. This has meant
only one thing to Iranian leaders: the U.S. has never recognized the legitimacy
of the 1979 revolution and has always been intent on overthrowing their government.
This perception, backed by Iran's historical sense of insecurity, is not
difficult to understand.
The U.S. directly encouraged Saddam Hussein to invade Iran in September 1980,
hoping that the invasion would topple Iran's revolutionary government. When
the war started, the U.S. refused to supply Iran with the spare parts for the
weapons that it had sold to the shah of Iran, even though Iran had already
paid for them (the funds paid to the U.S., lawfully Iran's, are still frozen
after 29 years). After the war began, the U.S. prevented the United Nations
Security Council for several days to convene an emergency meeting, and after
the UNSC finally met, the U.S. prevented it from declaring Iraq the aggressor,
or even calling for a cease-fire. Only after Iranian forces pushed back Saddam's
army out of most of Iran in the spring of 1982 did the UNSC call for a cease-fire.
President Ronald Reagan imposed economic sanctions on Iran in 1983, in violation
of the Algiers Agreement of January 1981 that ended the hostage crisis.
The U.S. dropped its pretense of neutrality in December 1983 when President
Reagan sent Donald Rumsfeld to Baghdad to offer Saddam U.S. support. It kept
silent as Iraq showered Iranian troops with chemical weapons. While Iraq was
attacking Iran's oil installations in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. and other
members of NATO sent their naval forces to the Persian Gulf to protect Arab
oil tankers that had provided Iraq with $50 billion in aid to keep fighting
Iran. The U.S. destroyed a significant part of Iran's navy in the Persian Gulf,
as well as several of Iran's offshore oil platforms.
The U.S. intervention in the war culminated with the shootdown of Iran Air's
Airbus A300B2 on Sunday July 3, 1988, by the USS Vincennes. The civilian
aircraft, which was flying from Bandar Abbas to Dubai, was carrying 290 passengers
and crew, including 66 children, and was flying within Iranian airspace, while
the Vincennes was in Iranian territorial waters in the Straits of Hormuz.
All 290 passengers were killed.
The war finally ended in July 1988, with 1 million Iranian casualties (at
least 273,000 dead) and $1 trillion in damage to Iran's economy and infrastructure.
At the same time, Iran's extreme Right used the war to suppress progressive
forces, stopping Iran's evolution toward democracy.
When it came to compensating the Vincennes victims' families and showing
remorse, the Clinton administration exhibited utter contempt for any sense
of justice. Although the U.S. agreed in 1996 to pay $61.8 million as compensation
for the Iranians killed, it never accepted responsibility nor apologized for
the shootdown. In addition, the compensation paid to the Iranians should be
compared to what the U.S. forced Libya to pay for the victims of Pan Am Flight
103, which was destroyed on Dec. 21, 1988, over Lockerbie, Scotland: $10 million
for each victim.
But the hostility of the U.S. government toward Iran did not end with the
conclusion of the Iran-Iraq war. Every subsequent move toward Iran – small
or large – has been meant to either strangle Iran's economy or prevent Iran
from making political gains in the region. Consider, for example, the U.S.
government's refusal, in violation of its international obligations, to supply
the spare parts for the civilian aircraft that it sold to Iran. The U.S. has
also prevented the European Union from selling civilian aircraft to Iran. As
a result, Iran's civilian fleet consists mostly of old and obsolete Russian
aircraft, many of which have crashed, resulting in high casualties.
While preaching that Iran does not need nuclear energy because it has vast
oil and natural gas reserves, the U.S. has made every effort to prevent foreign
companies from investing in Iran's oil and gas industry and helping Iran develop
its untapped natural gas reservoirs. The U.S. also prevented the transportation
of Azerbaijan's oil by a pipeline through Iran and instead pushed for a purely
political pipeline through Georgia and Turkey.
Whereas, according to every report by the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA), Iran has abided by its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty and its Safeguards Agreement, the U.S. has repeatedly, and without presenting
any credible evidence, accused Iran of having a secret nuclear weapons program,
even though its own latest National Intelligence Estimate from November 2007
stated that Iran stopped its weapons program in 2003 (and there is actually
no evidence that Iran had such a program even prior to 2003). In violation
of the IAEA Statute, the U.S. forced its Board of Governors to demand the suspension
of Iran's legal uranium enrichment program. The Board of the IAEA has no legal
authority to make such a demand.
Such baseless accusations, together with the U.S.
blackmail of some members of the IAEA Board, were the primary reasons for
sending Iran's nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council (UNSC). But, this
was illegal, because it was against Article 12(c) of the IAEA Statute, which
clearly states the conditions under which a member state's nuclear dossier
should be sent to the UNSC. As Michael Spies of the International Association
of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms has explained
"Verification and enforcement of the non-proliferation objectives
contained in the NPT are limited, in part to maintain the balance of rights
and obligations of state parties. NPT Safeguards, administered by the IAEA,
are limited to verifying that no nuclear material in each non-weapon state
has been diverted to weapons or unknown use. These safeguards allow for the
IAEA to report a case of non-compliance to the Security Council only if nuclear
material is found to have been diverted."
According to every report of the IAEA, such a diversion has never occurred
in Iran's case. As a result, even the legality of the three UNSC resolutions
against Iran is in doubt, because they are based on the illegal actions of
the IAEA Board. Regardless, not only has the U.S. pressured others to enforce
the resolutions, it has also imposed unilateral sanctions and blackmailed others
to do the same. Moreover, the U.S. has opposed Iran's membership in the World
Trade Organization, hence preventing integration of its economy with the rest
of the world.
Iran provided crucial help to the U.S. to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan,
but the Bush administration rewarded it by making Iran a member of the "axis
of evil." The Shi'ite groups that spent their exile years in Iran, and
were supported and funded by it, are now in power in Iraq and are considered
allies of the U.S. But, instead of recognizing and appreciating this fact,
the U.S. has accused Iran of aiding "special groups" in Iraq, meaning
extremists and radicals. And in a show of force, in addition to surrounding
Iran with the U.S. forces on three sides, the Bush administration dispatched
two carrier battle groups to the Persian Gulf in May 2007. Dick Cheney used
the deck of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis to threaten Iran:
"We'll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons
and dominating the region. We'll stand with our friends in opposing extremism
and strategic threats."
The U.S. has also pushed for the formation of regional alliances against Iran,
such as the Gulf Cooperation Council, and has sold tens billions of dollars'
worth of weapons to the Council's members, weapons that they neither have the
capability nor the need to ever use.
Even now that the supposedly realist Obama administration has taken over and
the president is looking for Iran's unclenched fist, the threats have not stopped
nor changed in nature. Asked if the military option was still on the table
with regard to Iran, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Jan. 28, "The
president hasn't changed his viewpoint that he should preserve all his options.
We must use all elements of our national power to protect our interests as
it relates to Iran."
Given decades of hostility, sanctions, threats, and attacks, is it any wonder
that Iran's fist is still clenched? How is Iran supposed to forget 55 years
of hostility without even a simple apology by the U.S. for its misdeeds?