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Historical moment
Iran must negotiate with the U.S.

By Hamid Zangeneh
September 20, 2001
The Iranian

The savage killing of innocent people from almost every corner of the world, including Iran, which occurred in New York and Washington DC is utterly beyond belief. As far as we know now, over 5,000 lives were lost. Who would commit such despicable acts? Perhaps there is a fine line between hopelessness, hopelessness and desperation and the decision to act in a terroristic way. What kind of person would train for years to die and kill many with him? A hopeless, desperate, and homeless man! Am I trying to justify terrorism? No, I am trying to make sure everyone understands the consequences of his/her actions in the future.

Osama Bin Laden is an American-made monster-mercenary, even though the U.S. is denying it now. He, with the aid and assistance of the CIA went to Afghanistan to defeat and expel the "Godless Soviets" from Afghanistan. As usual, the CIA left the arena, leaving much unfinished business. One loose end was the fate of Bin Laden and other Arabs (over 4,000 strong) who had left Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Arab world to Afghanistan to run the Soviets out. They were not returned to their homelands, but were left "unsupervised" in the fertile and chaotic land of Afghanistan, free to build a kingdom of terror of their own. Bin Laden, a man with hundreds of millions of dollars, was one who could have used his wealth and resources in constructive and humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan and/or in his homeland of Saudi Arabia and/or in poor Arab neighborhoods. Instead, he started other ventures that, as we now know, festered with anti-Western sentiment, and plots of violence and destruction.

The underlying causes and factors that contribute to terrorism will undoubtedly be the focus of much extensive analysis for years to come. At this moment in history, we need to recognize the horror of this despicable event, and understand the opportunity that it has presented for Iran and Iranians. There are two aspects of these hideous acts that must be understood and learned from. These lessons are different for the IRI than for us here in the U.S. As far as the Iranian government is concerned, it would be a shame if it loses this opportunity.

Do not miss this opportunity, please!

During the Persian Gulf War, Iran missed the chance. At that time, it might have been justifiable because the wounds were still fresh and the county was not ready, mentally and politically. In that episode, because of the circumstances, Iran did not negotiate with the Americans directly or indirectly and, therefore, did not ask and, as a result, did not receive any tangible reward in exchange. Their cooperation, whatever it was, appreciated by the expression of good will by the American administration at the time but was not forgotten thereafter. History will probably not forgive the Iranian government, if it misses the opportunity now.

During the Persian Gulf War, many of the nations in the world cooperated with the U.S. and allowed their troops and territories to be marginally used in the operation. Iran, on the other hand, finessed out of the trouble and Iranian leaders behaved like mature statesmen and kept Iran out of the way of potential destruction and universal damnation. The Iranian leadership of today can learn an important and pertinent lesson from that experience.

Egypt and Israel, two of the key countries involved in that episode, behaved more wisely than others, and this time around, Pakistan is about to use the lessons of that case. They are reportedly asking the U.S. and Japan to forgive over $10 billions of their $35 billion foreign debt. They are also asking for the removal of any sanctions against Pakistan because of their nuclear test explosion. Both Egypt and Israel extracted many concessions from the U.S. for their countries during the Persian Gulf war. Egypt asked and received many billions of dollars in loan forgiveness. Israel asked and received billions of dollars in military assistance. Other countries such as Jordan received smaller, yet sizable concessions to participate in that operation. What must Iranians do now?

For over two decades, there are at least four issues that have been hurting Iran and Iranians politically and financially in the international arena. Iran must find a way of exacting the following: One is the acquiescence of the U.S. to sponsor Iran into the World Trade Organization and access to resources to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Second, the US economic sanctions must be removed. Third, the U.S. must free billions of Iran's own money in the US. Fourth, and most importantly, is the removal of Iran from the State's Department list of States sponsoring terrorism. All of these could be obtained if Iran uses this tragedy as a vehicle to negotiations. Even though regional leadership is of paramount importance for Iranian leadership, they need to make sure that their cooperation are well rewarded, just like all others. Iran must negotiate with the U.S., resolve their differences and obtain those concessions in exchange. Iran cannot and must not lose this opportunity. It would not be forgivable.

What about us here abroad?

How should this tragedy affect our behavior here in the U.S.? The answer is very simple indeed. We need to learn to use our words responsibly and behave as if what we say matters to the world. In the first two or three days after the fiasco, I was almost glued to the TV set or the radios to see what happened and who the perpetrators of these despicable acts of terrorism were. I am sure that most of us agree that targeting innocent men, women, and children does not serve any purpose, regardless of what the political grievance is. It is a shame that we do not learn.

But I am not writing this section to register my unbelievable outrage at this mind-boggling act of inhumanity. I would like to make sure that we understand that there are definite limits to anti Islamic Republic regime activities. We have to understand these limits. We all have our gripes and grudges with the IRI regime for one reason or another. Some of us do not even believe in the legitimacy of the Iranian government to the extent that talking with governmental leaders personally or in print is regarded as an unforgivable political sin. But everyone agrees that our dismay and disagreement is not with Iran. As a matter of fact, our disagreements are about Iran and Iranians' way of life. Here is what I have to believe. I BELIEVE ONE MUST NOT, BY WORDS OR DEEDS, PUT IRAN AND IRANIANS IN A PERILOUS, AND POTENTIALLY DEADLY, POSITION TO ONLY FOR THE PURPOSE OF HURTING THE IRI GOVERNMENT.

Here is an example of an irresponsible and un-Iranian-like behavior that we all need to avoid. On Tuesday night, the infamous day, in my search for more information, I was going through all channels of my cable television. On one of the Spanish-speaking channels I saw Reza Pahlavi's picture and stopped and listened. He was being interviewed by the channel to seek his opinions about potential culprit(s) of these terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He, without hesitation, put the blame on the doorsteps of the IRI. He said, and I am paraphrasing, that the IRI supports these terrorists morally, financially, etc. He said that all roads end in Tehran regardless of where you find and see its tentacles. He repeated a similar line on the Persian speaking radio.

Mr. Pahlavi either does not understand the impact of his words or is so irresponsible and selfish as to be ready to potentially sacrifice the country and a great many Iranians for his goals, whatever they might be. He should know that the American public and the government are justifiably angry and are going to retaliate. He must have heard the President saying in his speech last night that he is not going to distinguish between the perpetrators of these acts and the country that harbors them. And yet, Mr. Pahlavi, without much investigation of any kind, puts the blame on the IRI.

He held this position despite the fact that Iranian soccer players and 60,000 Iranians stood in the stadium in a moment of silence to honor the fallen Americans. He holds this position despite the fact that Iranians held a candle vigil in Tehran to show their sympathy, and that almost all of the Iranian government, all organs of the system, denounced the act.

The question for Mr. Pahlavi to answer is this, how does he know? As far as we know, no other government, except Israel, has taken his position. Even the American State Department and the Bush Administration have been quelling any suggestion that Iranians have been even marginally involved. As a matter of fact, not very many main stream individuals other than Mr. Pahlavi and Mr. Rob Sobhani, who unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate, have taken these types of positions. The question must be why? Does this make sense politically or morally?

I would like to maintain that this was political suicide for Mr. Pahlavi and a serious separation of the Iranian diaspora with Mr. Sobhani, if not a final divorce. Did Mr. Pahlavi think that encouraging and enticing the Administration to go after Iran, damage Iran and kill many innocent Iranians, endears him to the CIA and the rest of the American government? Did he think this would make him acceptable to the Iranian masses in Iran? And did he fantasize that there would be a "General Zahedi" and a "Shaban beemokh" in Tehran to lead a mob, overthrow the Iranian government and organize a coup on his behalf? Does Mr. Sobhani think that, by going after Iran, his "constituents" in Maryland would love and cherish him and would carry him to the US Senate? Or does he think AIPAC will sponsor him, and he will reach the Promised Land through them? Do these two men both think for a minute that Iranian Diaspora would embrace them as their leaders, at least here in the U.S.?

Whatever bad attributes we associate with Iranians, we know they are intelligent, sophisticated, and politically savvy. They could see through the maneuvering and posturing by wannabes. It is possible to hide the sun under the clouds only for a short period of time. It is also possible to fool some of the people some of the time, but the sun will shine, masks will fall, and true faces of those who wish ill for the masses will be seen.

In any case, assuming that Mr. Pahlavi could reach the throne and Mr. Sobhani could reach the U.S. Senate over the spilled bloods of Iranians and destruction of Iranian "assets", I wonder whether they could live with themselves? I wonder whether this outcome would be acceptable to them? I wonder if it were to happen, when they look in the mirror in the morning, could they tolerate themselves? I wish I could look in their minds. I wish I could be the fly on the wall when they speak to themselves. Is this really acceptable to them? Where is their sense of decency and integrity?

I believe at this historical juncture that a line is being drawn between them and us, we need to understand what it means to be an activist. We know that violence has not been fruitful in either Iran or the U.S.. Anti IRI individuals and groups who have engaged in terrorist activities know they have not been successful in achieving those outcomes toward which they have aspired. We see the IRI regime, more powerful and resilient than ever, going about its normal business. We observe participation of millions of Iranians in the presidential and Majlis elections despite the fact that they are less than perfect and leave much to be desired. We have good evidence that, despite sporadic clashes among the thugs and the people, Iranians are not in any mood for another revolution and violence. Probably, they have reached the conclusion that they cannot have it all here and now, and that the process needs to follow its evolutionary path. We probably need to be less zealous and be more respectful of the people's decisions in Iran, and provide them support and encouragement rather than creating more troubles, more obstacles, and more disrepute. We definitely do not need to encourage and invite disaster and destruction upon Iran for any reason.

There is a saying in Iran that is pertinent here: Az bohlool porseedand adab az ke aamookhti, goft bee-adaban. (They asked Bohlool, "Where did you learn to be so polite. He answered, "From impolite people'."). I hope we have learned a good lesson from Mr. Pahlavi and Mr. Sobhani. Iran and Iranians are too precious to sacrifice, even if it could mean Reza Pahlavi's reaching the throne, once again just like his father did, with the help of Americans.


Hamid Zangeneh is professor economics at Widener University, Chester, Pennsylvania. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

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