Madeleine Albright. Photo by J. Javid
Ball in Iran's court
Will Iran grasp the opening offered by the U.S.?
From Iranians for International Cooperation
March 20, 2000
This past Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright finally
gave an appropriate response (full text here)
to President Khatami's address to the American people two years ago, and
by that, clearly put the ball in Iran's court. In an impressive speech,
she made it CLEAR once and for all, that any concerns that the U.S. may
have with Iran are best addressed through dialogue, and not sanctions.
Secretary Albright addressed U.S. concerns, but also acknowledged Iran's
importance, its undeniable internal evolution, Iranian women's prominent
role in the country's political affairs and last but not least, its three
"increasingly democratic rounds of elections".She also mentioned
the similarities between Iranians and Americans, such as both people's
fierce opposition to foreign domination.
Her comments regarding the Iranian people's right to decide their own
future and SHAPE their own democracy's feature, consistent with its traditions
and culture, are sure to be welcomed by Tehran. As is Secretary Albright's
recognition of the U.S.'s role in the overthrow of Iran's popular Prime
Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, the reinstatement of the Shah and the comments
regarding frozen Iranian assets.
Iranians for International Cooperation (IIC) has for long called for
unconditional talks between the U.S. and Iran, and it welcomes Secretary
Albright's measures. The Iranian government has in the past made it that
an easing of sanctions should not only entail new business opportunities
for American firms, but also for Iranian firms. And this is exactly what
Secretary Albright delivered, an opportunity for Iranian carpet makers
and pistachio farmers to export their products to the U.S.
Although a full lifting of the sanctions would have been better for
both Iranian and American firms, this was nonetheless a step in the right
direction. And as Secretary Albright declared herself, the pace of this
process is secondary to its direction.
The next move is Iran's and Ambassador Hadi Nejad-Hosseinian's comments
(part 1 - 2 - 3
- 4 - 5) that these steps
are "refreshing" but insufficient to "make a quick and drastic
change" in U.S.-Iran relations should be seen in light of the new
parliament's overcrowded domestic agenda and the high expectations for
domestic reforms that the new Majlis deputies have to live up to.
Nonetheless, Iran should bear in mind that it is not the only country
with a domestic political scene and that with the presidential elections
in the U.S., this window of opportunity may disappear just as quickly as
it emerged. It should also be to all parties that demanding that all problems
be solved before talks can take place, will not only render the dialogue
impossible, it will also make it somewhat redundant. The dialogue is after
all the instrument to be used to solve the problems, it is not a goal in
In light of this, the American position is refreshing and Iran should
adopt a similar attitude in order for both countries to be able to capitalize
on this opportunity. It is also very refreshing that Secretary Albright
recognized that "unnecessary impediments" to increased people-to-people
contacts exist and that ways to remove these obstacles should be examined.
IIC has at numerous occasions pointed out to State Department officials
that Iran's terrorist listing cannot be seen as an excuse to fingerprint
Iranian grandmothers and children. If the U.S. officials wish to increase
people-to-people exchanges, then they also have to find a way around these
discriminatory procedures. Fortunately, this message seems now to have
reached the decision makers. Ambassador Nejad-Hosseinian also noted this
in his address to the American-Iranian Council.
But Iran too bears guilt in these matters. Albeit not as humiliating
as being treated as a common criminal at U.S. airports, having to spend
a week in Turkey to obtain a visa to the U.S. should also be seen as an
unnecessary impediment to increased contacts. Just as the U.S. has allowed
three Iranian servicemen to be stationed in the embassy of Pakistan in
Washington to handle consular matters, the Iranian government should permit
the stationing of a few U.S. personnel in the Swiss embassy in Teheran.
This in order to take care of the necessary consular work that is associated
with these people-to-people exchanges.
The ball is now in Iran's court. Some of the sanctions have been lifted
and a promise to remove impediments to increased contacts as well as an
admission of the U.S.'s meddling in Iranian affairs have been made. The
rest of the problems should be taken care of at the negotiating table.
Iran must now grasp this opening before the winds of enmity shut this window
of opportunity closed.