Engage secular Iran
BY: Fariborz Ghadar and S. Rob Sobhani
The Christian Science Monitor
March 5, 2001
WASHINGTON As the "rent-a-crowds" of the clerical regime in
Tehran wind down the celebrations of the 22nd anniversary of the Islamic
Republic by chanting their customary "Death to America," US policymakers
are grappling with a continuing problem: how to deal with Iran.
Since radicals took over the US Embassy in November 1979, America's
Iran policy has moved from hostility to appeasement to dual containment
to apologizing to the hostage-takers for Washington's "past mistakes."
The United States should not invest its diplomatic and political energies
on apologizing for "mistakes" in exchange for normalization of
relations with Tehran. Instead, Washington must lend its moral support
to Iran's nascent reform movement, much like we did with dissident movements
in the Soviet bloc.
The historic election of 1997, in which Iranians voted for a substantially
more moderate government, was a clear signal to the clerical establishment
that Iranians want the freedom to live and prosper under secular rule and
want an end to their country's international isolation. A policy of engagement
with those forces inside Iran whose ultimate goal is to restore secularism
and democracy would serve both countries' long-term interests.
Within Iran, the youths who make up a majority of the population, journalists
of reformist newspapers, junior clerics who question the legitimacy of
clerical rule, and women are at the forefront of defying the ruling theocrats.
They are Washington's natural allies.
President Bush should use the coming Iranian New Year (March 20) to
outline his vision of engagement and collaboration between these groups
and America. A secular and democratic Iran would once again be a partner
with America, united by their many shared geopolitical interests in the
First, the containment of Saddam Hussein's pursuit of weapons of mass
destruction and his menacing policy toward oil-rich Kuwait and Saudi Arabia
are of paramount importance.
Second, Afghanistan's Taliban regime also must be contained, because
it threatens to spread its brand of radical Islam into the energy-rich
former Soviet republics in Central Asia.
Third, Pakistan's increasingly radical Islamic movement, which is close
to declaring itself an Islamic state, must be contained in the combustible
Southeast Asia nuclear zone.
Fourth, Iran can become a stable corridor for the transport of Caspian
oil and gas to international markets. The US's multiple pipeline policy
would be enhanced by including Iran.
Fifth, by working together, Iran and America can enhance the security
of the Persian Gulf and its massive oil reserves.
Sixth, with Iran as a partner, it would be easier to work with Washington's
allies - Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia - to thwart any lingering Russian
Finally, a secular and democratic Iran can be a moderating force in
the tense Arab-Israeli environment. Indeed, a free and democratic Iran
would put an immediate end to the fundamental problems Washington has with
Iran: state-sponsorship of terrorism, building weapons of mass destruction,
and a holier-than-thou policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Beyond geopolitical considerations, Mr. Bush should indicate to the
Iranian people that the US is ready to be Iran's partner in prosperity.
Both sides would have much to gain.
Economic partnership with America would enable Iran to reverse the debilitating
effects of the hardships suffered by most Iranians. American oil companies
once again would have an opportunity to participate in the development
of Iran's vast oil and gas reserves. Contracts would be negotiated with
transparency, under stable fiscal and legal regimes, and with competitive
rates of return. Iran's more that 70 million people would once again constitute
a market for American goods and services.
In short, economic engagement can lay the foundation for a return to
normalcy in US-Iran relations, not apologies.
* Fariborz Ghadar is director of the Center for Global Business Studies
in Penn State's Smeal College of Business Administration. S. Rob Sobhani
is president of Caspian Energy Consulting and an adjunct professor at Georgetown