|TIME TO TALK?
The debate to renew dialogue with Iran.
January 26, 1998
in this forum:
Does engaging Iran send the wrong message to other nations who condone terrorism? Considering Iran's hostility toward Israel and its opposition to the peace process, what could one expect from U.S.-Iran dialogue in relation to Iran and Israel? Isn't it possible that constructive dialogue and the readmission of Iran into the international community could do more to influence and Iran's behavior than sanctions ever achieved? Is Iran ready to have a dialogue with the United States? Didn't previous U.S policies toward Iran create the hostility that divides the two nations today?
December 15, 1997
President Khatami calls for a dialogue with the West.
May 26, 1997
Mohammad Khatami is elected president of Iran .
January 30, 1997
The State Department's annual report on human rights violations .
March 13, 1996
A summit on terrorism is held in Egypt .
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Middle East.
Iranian Embassy in Canada
News, views and information on Iran from NetIran.
Department of State
Brian Hoffer of Boston, MA, asks:
I can understand the reasons to engage Iran on a strategic and economic level, to counter Iraq and develop Caspian oil wealth respectively, but what about on a moral level? Does it not send the wrong message to other nations who condone terrorism?
Dr. Gary Sick, former National Security Council staff member and principal White House aide for Iran during the Iranian Revolution and the hostage crisis, answers:
The Arab world was outraged by Anwar Sadat's trip to Jerusalem and the subsequent Camp David agreements with Menachem Begin; many Israelis were equally appalled when Yitzhak Rabin met with Yasser Arafat. Both Sadat and Rabin were assassinated by extremists who regarded their acts as illegitimate and morally indefensible. Peace is a risky business, but it is perhaps even more risky to withdraw from the field out of a conviction of our own moral superiority.
If the moment comes when the United States and Iran are able to sit at the same table to discuss their mutual complaints and their mutual interests, that dialogue will in no way imply that we condone all of Iran's policies or that they approve of everything we do. On the contrary, each side disagrees profoundly with some (but not all) of the policies of the other.
Needless to say, Iran has a very different perception of its policies. Iran today is not the Iran of the early 1980s. The new president of Iran has formally and publicly renounced terror as incompatible with Islam. Iran is itself the victim of terrorism. It faces a murderous opposition group, the mojahedin-e khalq (also known as the National Council of Resistance), which operates from bases inside Iraq under the protection of Saddam Hussein and, by its own admission, carried out some 294 attacks against Iran in the first nine months of last year. None of this gets reported in the Western media. On the contrary, the mojahedin-e khalq, designated as a terrorist organization by the State Department, is supported by many U.S. members of Congress.
Congressman Sam Gejdenson, (D-Connecticut), answers:
Helping oil companies secure profits in Iran does send the wrong moral message and it goes to the core of U.S. national security. This is why I worked with my colleagues in the House to author and pass the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act. As our State Department said on Oct. 11, 1995, "A straight line links Iran's oil income and its ability to sponsor terrorism [and] build weapons of mass destruction." Last fall, the State Department reiterated this view by saying: "Our position on any investments in Iranian gas and oil fields is clear. Such investments make more resources available for Iran to use in supporting terrorism and pursuing missiles and nuclear weapons." Just as containment of the Soviet Union was an ongoing policy spanning across decades, so too must democratic nations remain vigilant in containing nations who conduct terrorism. There is sometimes a financial cost to be paid in these efforts, just as their was in containing the Soviet Union.
We are all encouraged by the recent election of President Khatami, but the power to shape Iran's foreign policy also rests in others' hands. Unfortunately, we have not seen evidence of a shift in Iran's external actions. Iran must demonstrate, beyond word but through deed, that they have ceased to export terrorism and violence and to pursue weapons of mass destruction. Rewarding Iran financially before this transformation occurs would create a disincentive for Tehran to change.