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Not so bright
Secretary Albright's olive branch has neither leaves nor olives

March 20, 2000
The Iranian

The speech by the U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, before the American-Iranian Council in Washington D.C. on Friday, March 17 (full text here) was more of an occasion than an event. The real story is not in what she said, did not say, or should have said, but rather that she would even consider addressing the group and in a city where the pro-Israel lobby and other perennial Iran haters have the run of the store. Kudos to the organizers for their courage, tenacity, sense of purpose, and resourcefulness.

Mrs. Albright's statement on the state of Iran-U.S. relations was long on history and characteristically short on the future. That is because the Clinton adminsitration is near-sighted and even then it is not very good at strategic thinking. The speech was then the mark of a bankrupt foreign policy toward Iran.

In the past eight years, President Clinton has imposed on Iran more sanctions than any other President before him combined. Lest be forgotten, he was also the one who signed the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act into law and announced his support for it before an adoring crowd of Jewish Americans in New York City. It is therefore disingenuous of Mrs. Albright to say that America has to bear some of the responsibility for the sanctions regime. The sanctions were wholly instituted by the U.S. Iran had no responsibility in their formulation and imposition. The responsibility for the sanctions rested one hundred percent with the United States, its government and the domestic politics that influenced it.

Astute observers will no doubt point out that the sanctions are in place as a reaction to Iran's "three sins," namely, acts of terrorism, pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, and opposition to the Middle East peace process. Interestingly, none of these "evils" by itself justifies imposition of sanctions, unless someone makes tactical uses of the law in order to achieve a political objective, satisfy a personal animus, get more votes, or please a donor. Pakistan, for example, has funded the Taliban, who have committed acts of terror but have also harbored a mega terrorist figure. Pakistan also pursued and developed weapons of mass destruction. So, why is not the Pakistani-American relations in as much of a mess as Iranian-American relations? Perhaps because Pakistan is farther from Israel and has not uttered any nasty rhetoric about the annihilation of the "Little Satan."

The Palestinian charter, on the other hand, still has the destruction of Israel as one of its enduring principles. The Iranian constitution does not; nor did the political will of the Ayatollah Khomeini say anything about Iran's mission to destroy Israel. Then why is it that Yasir Arafat is a regular guest at the White House? There are no sanctions against Arafat or his organization, because almost more than half of all Israelis and American Jews have decided to deal with him. Many in Israel and the Palestinian communities do not approve of the peace that Arafat and the Labor governments have elaborated. Yet, there is no American sanctions against either group.

Mrs. Albright's review of the Iranian-American relations was peppered also with insults, as if added to the speech with the intention to irritate. She began with a reference to Iran's geographical position on the "Gulf." Which "gulf" did she have in mind? Here was the chief spokesperson for the U.S. foreign policy giving a speech about the future of Iran-U.S. relations and decided to insult Iranians everywhere by calling the Persian Gulf, the "Gulf." If she meant to insult, then shame on her for once again behaving so vulgarly. If it was out of ignorance, then that was par for an officer of this administration that has engaged more in Yahoo diplomacy than constructive dialogue. If speech-writers with Arab clients or pro-Arab sentiments sneaked the term into the speech, then the Secretary needs to correct the record.

Mrs. Albright also insulted the Iranian women by her patronizing remark that they are among the most empowered in the region. Region? What region did she have in mind. Anyone who knows anything about this world, that region, and the six billion people who inhabit this earth, will tell you that the Iranian women are among the most empowered in the world, including the United States. That they wear the veil, forcibly or not, and have not been able to break clear from the decrepit patriarchy of the Iranian society are issues that are relevant but not significant when it comes to Iranian woman's comparative international standing.

The Secretary also insulted the intelligence of the Iranian people, when she referred to the role of the Central Intelligence Agency in the overthrow of the Mossadegh regime in 1953; she offered no apologies. Her admission to the CIA's complicity was as disingenuous as it was insignificant, because the CIA's role has been known for some time and in great detail. Instead she seemed to defend President Eisenhower's actions on the grounds of strategic necessity. Why is it then that the U.S. cannot accept any one of Iran's three sins as being committed out of strategic necessity? This month alone, there have been reports of super-sophisticated missiles to arrive shortly in Israel and super-F16 planes to be sold to the United Arab Emirates. meanwhile, Israel continues to occupy southern Lebanon and Iran's neighborhood from Kazakhstan to India to Israel is one nuclear sandbox.

In connection with the CIA's role in the Mossadegh overthrow, Mrs. Albright did not mention anything about the United States compensating Iranians for damaged property, injury, and death suffered by some in consequence of the riots that overthrew the Mossadegh regime. Nor did she offer compensation for injury to Iran's sovereignty. She instead spoke about the big ticket claims presently before the Iran-U.S. Tribunal at the Hague, including the payment by Iran for the huge jury verdicts for injury and death suffered by U.S. citizens in consequence of "terrorist" acts committed in Israel or elsewhere that a U.S. court says are imputed to the Iranian government.

Where would Iran get the money to continue to satisfy the voracious American businesses claims and jury verdicts, you ask? Fear not, the needed funds will come from the sale of products to the United States. The Secretary generously signalled that the administration will lift the ban on the import of Iranian delicatessen exports such as nuts, fishery prodcuts, and handicraft. Neither of these export items has any importance in terms of value or volume to make much of a difference in the livelihood of the Iranian fishermen, businesses, and laborers, largely because the lifting of the import ban is illusory. First, in order for these imports to sell in the U.S. they have to be competitive as to price and quality. Second they have to have an unimpeded regulatory access to the U.S. market. Third, the Iranian exporters and U.S. importers of these products must be assured that their contracts and receipts will not be made subject to garnishment and liens by people who have claims against the Iranian government. Fourth, the lifting of the ban and the permitting of imports will be so wrapped in red-tape that import of these items will not happen anytime soon.

So, it would seem that the Secretary offered to Iran an olive branch that has neither leaves nor olives. Not even a half-loaf, not a cookie, not even a crumb. What is in any of this for the American exporter? Nothing. The ban that the U.S. government lifted a while ago on the export of foods, medicine, and medical equipment has proven illusory in that the licensing process takes too long and is mired in red-tape.

Most perplexing is that there has been no material and marked change in the three issues, or Iran's three sins, that caused Washington to impose the sanctions in the first place. There is no evidence to show any lesser "terrorism," or pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, or opposition to the Middle East peace process. What has changed then to prompt the Clinton administration to lift the Delicatessen Sanctions? The Secretary referred to Iran's latest Presidential, municipality and parliamnetary elections. Democratic elections is nothing new in Iran. Since 1979, Iran has had democratic elections, albeit the results where not what most-progressive minded would cheer about. Now, of course, the majority in Iran and abroad views the latest round of elections as democratic because they agree with the results and the program that President Khatami and the reformists promote.

Regardless of the electoral record, this is a country far from having a society or political system that extends to its citizens the benefit of constitutionally protected lifestyles. In early February, three Iranian Bahais were sentenced to be executed. Presently, thirteen Jews and several Moslems await trial on charges of espionage for Israel and the United States. A judge in Shiraz has stated that the Jews will not be allowed their counsel of choice and that counsel will be appointed for them by the court. The Secretary intoned that the process and result of the spy trials will be the barometer of Iran-U.S. relations. That kind of statement acknowledges that a simple misjudgment by a misguided judge or jury could scuttle the course of rapprochement between Washington and Tehran. Yet, the Clinton adminsitration refuses to commute the life setence of Jonathan Pollard, the Amercian convicted of spying for Israel.

In all, in the annals of Iranian-American relations, the Albright speech will be remembered not for what it accomplished but rather for what it did not do, namely, to produce a complete, unconditional, and immediate removal of all sanctions against Iran. From her speech, it is safe to conclude that the U.S. is not prepared for a fundamental restructuring of its attitude toward Iran anytime soon. Do not be surprised if President Clinton signs the lifting of the import ban while en route to the Indian subcontinent; that way he hopes to escape the immediate barrage of criticism from the right and the left.

The olive branch extended by the Secretary is a stick by which President Khatami could poke himself in the eye. If he bites the apple that she has proffered, he will be asked to explain why he got into bed with the Satan for just a handful of peanuts. Are there other deals that were conducted behind the counter that the Resolute Nation does not know about? This ancient and continuing civilization, as she called it, need not sell its independence for a soggy half-loaf from the Clinton Administration.

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