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Tried Baba Karam?
U.S. needs a different strategy to get Iran's attention

By Babak Yektafar
June 30, 2000
The Iranian

I will never forget the day I tried my first batch of California Pistachios. The occasion is memorable not because I was satisfying an increasingly desperate craving for what I considered "a taste of Iran," rather it was the absurdity of the look on my friend's face checking his pink dyed lips. I realized then that the word "California" in California Pistachios was not just to identify geographical location, but that it was being used as an adjective, for only Californians could add such a colorful, albeit ridiculous variation to an old nut.

The reason behind my reminiscence of that memorable day was the recent announcement by the U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright of the partial lifting of sanctions on Iran, allowing Iranian pistachio exports to the U.S. Now, I understand and can certainly appreciate the conciliatory spirit of the gesture, but as someone born and raised in Iran, I wonder if anyone in Madame Secretary's circle of foreign advisors really knows anything about dealing with Iranians. As half-Iranian Andre Agassi says in his Cannon commercials, "Image is everything." In fact U.S. foreign policy experts need to understand that image is what modern Iranian culture is built on.

Not long ago a friend told me that he overheard Secretary Albright joking with her protégé James Rubin prior to his celebrated marriage to almighty cable news goddess Christiane Amanpour, that he now needs to learn how to dance like an Iranian. Although I can not verify this alleged comment, the idea may not be a bad one after all. I believe that it will do the Secretary and her staff of advisors a world of good to take the time and learn how to groove to "Baba Karam," a quintessential Iranian dance number.

As anyone who has ever witnessed or participated in an Iranian dance can tell you, the dance is the ultimate attempt at subtle persuasion. An act which in turn can provide the dancer the upper hand in any following negotiations. The serpentine movement of the body, the synchronized motion of the arms, the not-so-subtle shaking of the bust, the tantalizing circular motion of the hips, the inviting partial opening of the lips, the playful dance of the eyebrows, the narrowing of the eyelids into a look of desire... (I'm getting hot!) you get the point.

Now, I'm not suggesting that the Madame Secretary should dance the Baba Karam for the sake of better relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran (with all due respect to the Secretary of the State, dancing Baba Karam is not for everyone, and in her case it may even have an adverse effect of initiating global Jihad), but it will be beneficial to understand the powers of subtle persuasion.

The recent announcement on lifting the ban on Iranian nuts, caviar and rugs may seem encouraging on the surface, but it is devoid of any meaningful substance. It will not help revive the battered Iranian economy. For a country that relies on the sale of crude oil as its main source of revenue, selling a few nuts, fish eggs and rugs will not do the trick. The United States continues its embargo on the purchase of Iranian oil and still penalizes any company investing in the Iranian oil industry.

Furthermore, to allow for the import of a few token goods without providing accommodations to make the allowance worthwhile, is only short of a slap in the face. The pistachio growers of California will fight any lowering of high tariffs on the import of dried fruits and nuts. That means Iranian pistachio will not be able to compete fairly in this market and the strict licensing procedures and shipment costs will discourage any merchant on embarking on this "historic" trade route. The same hurtles apply to both carpets (over-saturated market) and caviar (does not have the same name recognition as its Russian counterpart).

It must be said that at least the U.S. is consistent in its "extend a hand of friendship, and slap them with the other hand" policy. After hearing of President Khatami's interest in starting a people-to-people cultural, educational and sporting exchanges, President Clinton encouraged such contacts hoping it would lead to better relations. Secretary Albright also echoed such sentiments and went as far as regretting U.S. interference in Iranian affairs during the Mossadegh era. However, the U.S. has refused to halt the insulting and embarrassing practice of photographing and finger printing Iranian visitors. U.S. officials fail to comprehend the severe impact of this practice on Iranians. It reduces their image to that of common criminals.

Earlier this month the U.S. House of Representatives passed the controversial Normal Permanent Trade Relations Act to normalize trade with China, a country not known for its respect of democracy or human rights and one which has been noted for its occasional involvement in international terrorist activities. Apparently access to the huge Chinese market has motivated powers to be to dance the Chinese dance. Now only if they could learn to do the "Baba Karam."

Babak Yektafar produces a national public affairs TV show in the U.S. He was also the talk show host on Radio Velayat in Fairfax, Virginia for several years.

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