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U.S. Deeds vs. Iran's Clenched Fist

10 Feb 2009 15:397 Comments


Presidential candidate Barack Obama promised during his campaign that his administration will take a new approach to the crises in the Middle East and, in particular, to the long-standing confrontation with Iran. He promised that his administration would negotiate with Iran without any preconditions. Most recently, President Obama told al-Arabiya television that, If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended U.S. hand.

Similar to all of its predecessors, however, the Obama administration is not explaining to the American public why Iran's fist is clenched in the first place. If the reason for this is understood and put in proper context, it would represent a quantum leap towards resolving most, if not all, of the important issues between Iran and the United States, which would then contribute greatly to stability and peace in the Middle East. The reason is Iran's historical sense of insecurity, and the U.S. policy toward Iran since 1979.

Even a glance at history tells us why Iranians have a long-lasting sense of national insecurity. Iran is in one of the most strategic areas of world. This was as true 2000 years ago as it is today. Because of its location, as well as natural resources, throughout its history Iran has been invaded and occupied many times by foreign powers, from Alexander the Great and his army, to the Arabs, Moguls, Turks, Russians, and the British empire. Over the last 200 years alone, Russia, Britain, and the U.S. have tried to control Iran.

Two Russo-Persia wars that resulted in the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813 and the Treaty of Turkmanchay in 1828 enabled Russia to separate and occupy a large part of Iran in the Caucasus region (the present Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia), and the British empire ended Iran's political influence on Afghanistan through the Treaty of Peshawar in 1855. In the late 1800s and early 1900s Russia and Britain divided Iran into their spheres of influence. Russia supported the forces that were opposed to Iran's Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1908, and opposed industrialization of Iran and, in particular, construction of railways. Britain played the key role in the 1921 coup that brought Reza Shah to power in Iran, and established his dictatorship. British and Russian forces invaded and occupied Iran during World War II. The CIA-sponsored coup of 1953 overthrew Iran's democratically-elected government of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, and started the era of the U.S. influence in Iran. In addition to its great political influence, the U.S. helped establish and train the SAVAK, the shah's dreaded security services. These events ultimately led to the Revolution of 1979.

The hostage crisis of November 1979-January 1981, during which 53 American diplomats and embassy staff were taken hostage by the Iranian students, should be viewed in light of Iran's bitter experience of the 1953 CIA coup. As one of the student hostage takers told Bruce Laingen, chief U.S. diplomat in Tehran at that time,

You have no rights to complain, because you took our whole nation hostage in 1953.

The history of Iran-U.S. since the resolution of the hostage crisis in 1981 shows that, the U.S. goal has always been to hamper Iran's economic development, and prevent its integration with the rest of the Middle East. This has meant only one thing to the Iranian leaders: the U.S. has never recognized the legitimacy of the 1979 revolution, and has always been after overthrowing their government. This perception, backed by Iran's historical sense of insecurity, is not difficult to understand.

The U.S. directly encouraged Saddam Hussein and Iraq to invade Iran in September 1980, hoping that the invasion would topple Iran's revolutionary government. When the war started, the United States refused to supply Iran with the spare parts for the weapons that it had sold to the shah of Iran, even though Iran had already paid for them (the funds paid to the U.S., lawfully Iran's, are still frozen after 29 years). After the war began, the U.S. prevented the United Nations Security Council for several days to convene an emergency meeting, and after the UNSC finally met, the U.S. prevented it from declaring Iraq the aggressor, or even calling for a ceasefire. Only after Iranian forces pushed back Saddam's army out of most of Iran in the spring of 1982, did the UNSC call for a ceasefire. In violation of the Algiers Agreement of January 1981 that ended the hostage crisis, President Ronald Reagan imposed economic sanctions on Iran in 1983.

The U.S. stopped its pretense to neutrality in December 1983 when President Reagan sent Donald Rumsfeld to Baghdad to meet with Saddam and to tell him that the U.S. would be supporting him. It kept silent while Iraq was attacking Iran's troops with chemical weapons. While Iraq was attacking Iran's oil installations in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. and other members of the NATO sent their naval forces to the Persian Gulf to protect oil tankers of the Arab nations of that region that had provided Iraq with $50 billion in aid to keep fighting with Iran. The U.S. destroyed a significant part of Iran's navy in the Persian Gulf, as well as several of Iran's offshore oil platforms.

The U.S. intervention in the war culminated with the shot down of Iran Air's Airbus A300B2 on Sunday July 3, 1988, by the USS Vincennes. The civilian aircraft, which was flying from Iran's port of Bandar Abbas to Dubai, was carrying 290 passengers and crew, including 66 children, and was flying within Iran's airspace, while Vincennes was inside Iranian territorial waters in the Straits of Hormuz. All the 290 people were killed.

The war finally ended in July 1988, with 1 million Iranian casualties (at least 273000 of whom died), and $1 trillion damage to Iran's economy and infrastructure. At the same time, Iran's extreme right used the war to suppress most of the progressive and democratic forces, hence stopping Iran's march toward democracy.

Even when it came to compensating the victims' families and relatives and showing remorse, the Clinton administration exhibited utter contempt for any sense of justice or moral responsibility. Although the U.S. agreed in 1996 to pay $61.8 million in compensation for the Iranians who it killed, it never accepted the responsibility for the accident, nor did it apologize for it. In addition, the compensation paid to the Iranians should be compared to what the U.S. forced Libya to pay for the victims of the Pan Am Flight 103, which was supposedly destroyed by Libya's intelligence agents on Wednesday December 21, 1988, over Lockerbie, south Scotland: Libya paid $10 million for each victim.

But, the hostility of the U.S. towards Iran did not end with the end of Iran-Iraq war. Every U.S. move towards Iran -- small or large -- has been meant to either strangulate Iran's economy, or prevent Iran from making political gains in the region. Consider, for example, the U.S. refusal, in violation of its international obligations, to supply Iran with the spare parts for the civilian aircrafts that it sold to Iran. The U.S. has also prevented the European Union from selling civilian aircrafts to Iran. As a result, Iran's civilian fleet consists mostly of old and
obsolete Russian aircrafts, many of which have crashed and resulted in large casualties.

While preaching that Iran does not need nuclear energy because it has vast oil and natural gas reserves, the U.S. has made every effort to prevent foreign companies from investing in Iran's oil and gas industry and, in particular, helping Iran to develop its untapped natural gas reservoirs. The U.S. also prevented the transportation of Azerbaijan's oil by a pipeline through Iran, and instead pushed for a purely political pipeline through Georgia and Turkey.

Whereas according to every report by the International Atomic Energy Agency Iran has abided by its obligations in the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and its Safeguards Agreement, the U.S. has repeatedly, and without presenting any credible evidence, accused Iran of having a secret nuclear weapon program, even though its own latest National Intelligence Estimate of November 2007 stated that Iran stopped its weapon program in 2003 (and there is actually no evidence, at least as of now, that Iran had such a program even prior to 2003). In violation of the IAEA Statute, the U.S. forced its Board Governor to demand the suspension of Iran's legal uranium enrichment program. The BoG of the IAEA has no legal authority to make such a demand.

Such baseless accusations, together with the U.S. blackmail of some members of the BoG of the IAEA, were the primary reasons for sending Iran's nuclear dossier to the UNSC. But, this was illegal, because it was against Article 12(c) of the IAEA Statute, which clearly states the conditions under which a member state's nuclear dossier should be sent to the UNSC. As Michael Spies of the International Association of Lawyers against Nuclear Arms has explained :

Verification and enforcement of the non-proliferation objectives contained in the NPT are limited, in part to maintain the balance of rights and obligations of state parties. NPT Safeguards, administered by the IAEA, are limited to verifying that no nuclear material in each non-weapon state has been diverted to weapons or unknown use. These safeguards allow for the IAEA to report a case of non-compliance to the Security Council only if nuclear material is found to have been diverted.

According to every report of the IAEA, such a diversion has never occurred in Iran's case. As a result, even the legality of the three UNSC Resolutions against Iran is in doubt, because they are based on the illegal actions of the BoG of the IAEA. Regardless, not only has the U.S. pressured others to enforce the Resolutions, but also imposed unilateral sanctions, and blackmailed others to do the same. Moreover, the U.S. has opposed Iran's membership in the World Trade Organization, hence preventing integration of its economy with the rest of the world.

Iran provided crucial help to the U.S. to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan, but the Bush administration rewarded it by making Iran a member of the "axis of evil." The Shiite groups that spent their exile years in Iran, and were supported and funded by it, are now in power in Iraq, and are considered an ally of the U.S. But, instead of recognizing and appreciating this crucial fact, the U.S. has accused Iran of aiding "special groups" in Iraq, meaning extremists and radicals. And in a show of force, and in addition to surrounding Iran with U.S. forces on three sides, the Bush administration dispatched two carrier battle groups to the Persian Gulf in May 2007, in order to frighten Iran. Dick Cheney used the deck of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis to threaten Iran:

We'll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region. We'll stand with our friends in opposing extremism and strategic threats.

The U.S. has also pushed for the formation of regional alliances against Iran, such as the Gulf Cooperation Council, and has sold tens billions of dollars worth of weapons to the Council's members, weapons that they neither have the capability nor the need to ever use.

Even now that the supposedly realist Obama administration has taken over, and the President is looking for Iran's unclenched fist, the threats against it have not stopped, nor has their nature changed. Asked if the military option was still on the table with regard to Iran, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Wednesday January 28 that,

The President hasn't changed his viewpoint that he should preserve all his options. We must use all elements of our national power to protect our interests as it relates to Iran.

Given decades of hostility, sanctions, military threats and attacks, is it any wonder that Iran's fist is still clenched? How is Iran supposed to forget 55 years of hostility without even a simple apology by the U.S. for its deeds against Iran? All Iran has done is to preserve its political independence, and to refuse to recognize the U.S. as the hegemon of the Middle East.

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Anonymous / February 10, 2009 8:16 PM

EXCELLENT ANALYSIS ...... I wish these historic facts could be communicated with the US public .... I wonder if the writer would be willing to publicize her analysis and send it out to major US news papers , public channels and also popular talk shows like Face The Nation , Meet The Press, This Week w/ George Stephanopolis , Fox News Sunday, The Chris Matthews Show US public needs to get educated on the trend of their foreign policy and its consequences over the past century in the middle east.......when hardline figures makes comments like "some middle eastern countries like Iran just hate our freedom" and people buy into her argument just SETS me on fire.......its as if they haven't done ANYTHING and people/governments over there hate them for NO REASON........

Anonymous / February 11, 2009 5:43 AM

Great brief synopsis of Iran/USA history over the last 100 years or so, very accurate! The overthrow of Mosaddegh ranks right up near the top of American actions that were a huge mistake. He likely would have been the best thing that ever would have happened to further democracy in the mideast! But hey, we wanted the oil. Unfortunately, for many developing nations throughout the world, corruption is pervasive and widespread, particularly at the highest levels of government with most governments simply there for personal enrichment and for sale to the highest bidder. The USA has historically been the one with the cash and weapons these developing nations governments want and they often turn these weapons on their own people. Until the citizens (subjects ?) in these developing nations make a stand against their own corrupt governments, if its not the USA it will simply be some other government or group buying influence, witness China today. We, westerners, are simply astounded at the culture of corruption that exists at all levels of your societies. Yes, we have corruption also, but it is isolated and not as pervasive in our societies as in developing nations, and more importantly NOT ACCEPTED. In my three years spent in Iran (the most enjoyable three years of my life, beautiful country, incredible people, fantastic skiing) I handed out a lot of bribes in my day to day activities it's simply a part of Iranian life. Every little official, from the local cop to the the guy at the visa office, believes that his position entitles him to graft.My advice, stop waiting for an apology from the USA it won't be coming, we don't apologize for our actions, just ask any native American. Lets move on and start a meaningful discussion about what we can do to help each other become better societies that actually improve the lives of all of their citizens.I've always liked Ahmadinejad's style but much of his rhetoric has not been helpful to furthering the stature of Iran throughout the world.The west does not hold out much hope for the election of a more moderate leader in Iran at this time, however we are waiting for the Iranian people to speak while we quietly interfere in the background as usual. When will we learn to keep our nose out of where it does not belong? Probably never.Thanks for the history lesson,Doug- a friend of Iran

James / February 26, 2009 3:22 PM

Dear Muhammad Sahimi,We are anxiously awaiting Part 2, how long are you going to make us wait?Your friend,James

James / February 27, 2009 2:52 AM

Dear James: Thanks for the comments. Dr. Sahimi said "it is coming soon." kgn

Golnoush / February 27, 2009 3:52 AM

Thanks Dr. Sahimi for writing. Thanks Golnoush for the web site.

BiBiJon / February 27, 2009 6:57 PM

Dear BiBiJon: Thank you very much for reading and commenting. Your feedback is a great source of support to us. kgn

Golnoush / February 27, 2009 8:32 PM