More Prudence

Mr. Colin Powell
Secretary of State
United States Department of State

Dear Secretary Powell:

As an Iranian-American political scientist with extensive background in research and publication in the area of Iran’s foreign affairs, I write this letter to urge you to continue the path of diplomatic normalization between the United States and Iran. I am convinced that this path is in the interest of both nations as well as the world community.

There are no doubts in my mind about the positive impact of this path on the issue of freedom and democracy in Iran, as a normal relations with the United States will undoubtedly prove conducive to a more pluralistic political environment in Iran nowadays suffering from the deletrious effects of twenty five years of diplomatic estrangement between a regional power and a superpower.

While I personally deplore the recent setback for democracy in Iran, I have reason to be optimistic that the reform movement can reconstruct itself and wage a renewed effort toward expanding the scope of freedom and liberties in Iran. At the same time, we must not underestimate the extent of Iran’s national security worries, which are somewhat exacerbated by the massive infusion of foreign powers in Iran’s vicinity since September 11, 2001.

Fortunately, in both Afghanistan and Iraq the government of Islamic Republic of Iran has played a constructive role as repeatedly admitted by you and your colleagues in the Department of State. In Afghanistan, Iran’s influence with the Northern Front was a key factor for the peaceful transfer of power and, as vividly demonstrated by the recent meetings of leaders of Iran and Afghanistan, the two countries are well on their way to expanding their economic relations.

In both your meeting with Iran’s foreign minister at the “6 plus 2” meeting at the UN headquarter in September 2002, as well as at the 2003 NATO summit in Munich, the U.S. Government has acknowledged Iran’s contribution to the global campaign against narco-traffic emmanting from Afghanistan and Central Asia. And in Iraq, as is well-known Iran has from the outset supported the participation of Iraqi Shiites in the post-war interim government and has similarly played a positive role with respect to the various Iraqi Kurdish factions.

In fact, Iran’s role in conflict management is nothing new and for over a decade Tehran has been actively involved in the on-going international efforts to settle disputes in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Case in point, thanks to Iran’s mediating role, the warring factions in Tajikistan have repeatedly met in Iran and have signed peace agreements, and the positive role of Iran in ending the civil war in that country has been explicitly acknolwledged by the U.S. envoy involved with the so-called Minsk Group.

Similarly, Iran has been actively involved as mediator in the sad conflict between the republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan and the representatives of OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) involved in mediating the Nagorno-Karebakh conflict have repeatedly acknowledged Iran’s significant contribution to peace between the two republics. Even your respected colleague, Mr. Steve Mann, who is the U.S. Government’s Special Envoy on the Caspian Sea, openly acknowledged Iran’s positive role in our recent conversation at the International Conference on Oil and Gas in Istanbul, Turkey.

Moreover, Iran through the Organization of Islamic Conference has in the recent past spearheaded efforts with respect to the tragedy in Chechnyia. For more detail on these matters I direct your excellency’s attention to my recent articles: “President Khatami and the OIC Mediation in Chechyia,” Iranian Journal of International Affairs,” Fall 1999, and “Iran’s Foreign Policy Since 9/11,” Brown’s Journal of World Affairs, no. 2., 2003.

Dear Secretary Powell:

As a Muslim country, Iran has a vested interest in the status of holy sites, as well as legitimate concerns about the plight of Palestinian people. Unfortunately, the U.S. Government has adopted a double standards with respect to the continuing violation of human rights of Palestinians by the Israeli Government and, hopefully, this can be remedied with more active invovlement of the U.S. Government in Middle East peace.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Government and the media have consistently overlooked Iran’s positive role in steering the Shiite groups in Lebanon toward peaceful, parliamentary politics. Worse, the U.S. overnment has overlooked the issue of regional proliferation and the arms race in the region and, instead, singled out Iran without due attention to the regional dynamic within which any Iranian government, now or in the future, operates.

Instead of demonization of Iran, what is needed is a more prudent policy that takes into consideration the plethora of Iran’s legitimate national security worries, and the expanding areas of shared interests between Iran and the United States. Instead of a blanket condemnation of Iran’s government, what is needed is a sophisticated appraoch that, whicle reproaching Tehran’s rulers for their transgression of rights and foreign policy adventurism, simultaneously keeps an open eye to their critical contributions to the cause of peace and regional stability.

Respectfully yours,

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Ph.D.
Author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran’s Foreign Policy

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