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February 11, 2009 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 477

Discussion in Iran on Possible Dialogue with U.S.

February 11, 2009 | By A. Savyon*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 477

Background

During the U.S. election campaign, there were voices in Iran – especially among supporters of President Ahmadinejad – who advocated talks with the U.S. to settle the nuclear crisis. The Iranian perception was that, in return for its willingness to negotiate with the "Great Satan," the U.S. would recognize Iran as a fellow nuclear superpower.

After the release of the election results, which promised a possible change in the U.S. policy towards Iran, the public debate in Iran on talks with the U.S. was stopped, and regime spokesmen – especially the old guard conservatives – stressed that there was no room for any attempts at conciliation or dialogue with America. This attitude was manifested, for example, in Iran's rejection of the American offer to open an interest office in Tehran. The leading conservative dailies Kayhan and Jomhouri-ye Eslami likewise came out strongly against the notion of talks with the U.S., and a statement by Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – who said that "the hatred felt by the Iranian people for the U.S. was profound"[1] – was meant to put an end to public discussion of the issue.

It seems that the Iranian regime is apprehensive about holding a real dialogue with "the Great Satan," since such a dialogue would deprive it of its main raison d’être – namely, hostility towards the U.S.

The Renewed Discussion on Dialogue with the U.S.

Despite the regime's order to prevent public discussion on the issue of dialogue with the U.S., there have been renewed calls for such dialogue. These came following a Saudi suggestion for a mutual defense pact between Iran and the Arab Gulf states. In late November 2008, Saudi Prince Tallal bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz called on Iran to form such a pact with the aim of reaching an overall security agreement for non-aggression and for building mutual trust between Iran and the Arab Gulf.[2] Iranian officials – especially within the Foreign Ministry – called to examine this offer and check who was behind it – namely, whether it was an independent UAE initiative or prompted by the U.S.

Hamid Reza Dehqani, head of the Persian Gulf and Middle East Studies Center in Iran’s Foreign Ministry, argued that if Tallal's offer were backed by the U.S., it could be a sign of a positive change in the U.S. stance towards Iran. In this context, he suggested that the U.S.-Iraq security pact “could be [used to] the advantage of the neighboring countries. [Moreover,] if the U.S. comes to have a positive view of the security pact between Iran and Arab countries in the region, [Iran] would see it as a real change in U.S. Middle East policies. This would be a common point between the Iraq-U.S. security pact and the possible Arab-Iran security pact.”[3]

In an interview with the Iranian news agency ISNA, foreign policy expert Mohammad Javad Larijani, former assistant to the Iranian foreign minister and the brother of Majlis Chairman Ali Larijani, said that "talks with the U.S. were not taboo" and that the dissent over them was merely a reflection of political rivalry. He added that the logic behind [the notion of] talks with the U.S. was "important and good... One can even hold dialogue in the lowest level of Hell, if necessary, but the [aim] must be to serve the national interests to the maximal [degree]... Negotiations with the U.S. must be held as part of a strategic [program] to promote our national interests."[4]

Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh, Iran’s representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, stated that his country would welcome a broad dialogue with the new U.S. administration, and that, if Obama made good on his campaign pledge to drop preconditions for talks with Tehran, it could pave the way for a significant reduction of tensions between the two countries. He said: "If these changes are really genuine, and not cosmetic, then there is optimism that there may be a change... We are fully prepared to sit at the negotiating table with all countries, provided that there are no conditions and that all are on an equal footing."[5]

Iranian Majlis speaker Ali Larijani stated that Iran was considering a proposal by U.S. Congress members to hold a U.S.-Iran inter-parliamentary dialogue: "[In the past,] we have received several letters from Congressmen and senators, and recently another letter has arrived from them. In the letter it says: 'We feel the time has come to hold talks regarding issues between [the two countries].' We have not yet responded in the negative [to this proposal]. There is a need to examine [the matter], and it is being examined [right now]. Obviously, we must see what issues the issues the talks are meant to deal with." [6]

Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee member Hossein Ibrahimi assessed that an inter-parliamentary dialogue between the two countries would be a prelude to dialogue between the two governments, and recommended to senior Iranian officials that they pay attention to the American proposal.[7]

* A. Savyon is Director of MEMRI's Iranian Media Project

Endnotes:

[1] IRNA (Iran), October 29, 2008.

[2] www.middle-east-online.com, October 14, 2008.

[3] Iran Diplomacy (Iran), November 30, 2008.

[4] ISNA (Iran), November 30, 2008.

[5] IRNA (Iran), December 1, 2008.

[6] Fars (Iran), December 1, 2008.

[7] Iran Diplomacy (Iran), December 12, 2008.

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