Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Hidden Message of Iran's Letter to U.S. President

The Hidden Message of Iran’s Letter to U.S. President

Ali-Asghar Kazemi
May 11, 2006


Contrary to the common belief that Iranian president letter of May 8, 2006 to the U.S. president, had nothing to say or offer for solving the impending nuclear crisis, my argument is that it has a hidden message that should be carefully and objectively understood. Here are my reasons for this contention.

Orientals are amazing people and Iranians among them are still more baffling and discrete. Persian literature, poetry and arts are good witness to this attribute. Western observers and politicians usually have difficulty to grasp what is sometimes referred to as the “Persian puzzle” or the “Persian paradox.” Many inquisitive scholars have attempted to understand and depict the distinctive features of Iranians temperament and outlook.

Persians are indeed amazing people with peculiar character; perhaps not to the extent similar as to what James Morier mentions in his Hajji Baba of Isphahan.[1] But, as Graham Fuller described in The Center of the Universe,[2] Iranians are alike their impressive carpets with immense intricacy in designs and colors. They are difficult to approach and comprehend. They don’t expose their thoughts easily and they are master of concealing their intentions.[3] Kenneth Pollack goes even further in his depiction of Iranian national character. In a book named The Persian Puzzle[4], he indulges in criticizing Iranian emotionalism, xenophobia, exaggerated "self-importance", "considerable ignorance” about [their political environment].

All of the above should lead us to believe that:

First of all, although the letter is seen as pompous discourse on rather banal philosophical, religious and ethical topic, and identified with the name of the hard-line Iranian president, in reality it is the manifestation of an implicit eagerness and consent at the highest echelon of the Islamic Republic for breaking the long unwarranted taboo of opening dialogue with the United States. Since, as we can see, the tone of the letter is similar to that of the late Imam Khomeini to the then Soviet leader Gorbachov. Hence, the letter does not expose merely the position of a young and politically inexperienced statesman; rather it should be taken as the call of the supreme leader to the U.S. president expressing his political will for peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue.

Secondly, it should not surprise anybody that after a quarter of century, the religious government in Iran has gained enough experience that sheer idealism in running the sophisticated affairs of a state may lead to insurmountable problems that could endanger its very existence. Therefore, a return to realism seems inevitable even for a revolutionary regime at odd with the prevailing unjust norms and rules of the game in international relations.

Thirdly, the Islamic government in Iran wants to demonstrate that while it does not go along with the unfair state of affairs in world politics, it has the capacity and political will to communicate and if necessary to negotiate with its arch-enemy, once regarded as the “Great Satan,” in order to avoid hostility and confrontation which could cost its survival. Nonetheless, it expects others to respect its security and continuity and wants to be regarded as equal partner in handling the business of the region.

Fourthly, the Islamic government is quite aware of the fact that the Americans would never allow a revolutionary regime, inherently at odd with U. S. hegemony in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, to have access to nuclear capability. It eventually has a feeling about the kind and magnitude of intelligence that the United States has about its nuclear activities. Furthermore, it may have initially contemplated some kind of indigenous nuclear deterrence for its safeguard, but now considering the harsh international reactions and challenges to this endeavor, it might be willing to limit itself to peaceful use of nuclear technology in a transparent manner ( i.e. by adhering officially the additional Protocol to the NPT), provided its security is guaranteed.

Finally, if the United States means really what it says about diplomatic solution of the crisis, it should seize the opportunity of this letter to engage in a constructive all-encompassing dialogue with the Islamic government in order to find avenues for all outstanding problems between the two states. Indeed, this will benefit both nations and will prevent the occurrence of another catastrophe in the volatile region.

* Professor of international relations and political analyst.

[1] Hajji Baba of Ispahan, hero of The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan by James Justinian Morier
(3 vols. London, 1824), the most popular Oriental novel in the English language and a highly influential stereotype of the so-called "Persian national character" in modern times. Morier (1782-1849), a former diplomat who had resided in Persia for nearly six years (1808-1809 and 1810-1814) at a critical juncture during diplomatic entanglements with European powers, fashioned his novel on his personal observations and direct knowledge about Persia, but with a decidedly hostile and satirical overtone. An Orientalist project par excellence, Hajji Baba lampoons Persians as rascals, cowards, puerile villains, and downright fools, depicting their culture as scandalously dishonest and decadent, and their society as violent. Morier depicted the East, not simply through the arrogant eyes of a European traveler, like his own accounts of his visits to Persia (published in 1812 and 1818), but in the form of a biography of a "native," a composite Persian character whose imagined identity was wrapped in deliberate ambiguities. See:
[2] Former CIA analyst and author, See: Graham Fuller, Center of the Universe: The Geopolitics of Iran (Westview Press, 1991)
[3] This is my own recollection from the book.
[4] Kenneth M. Pollack, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst, now at the Brookings Institution. According to some observers, he tends to make a mockery of objective analysis bereft of such abstract generalization smacking of what the late Edward Said labeled "Orientalism". Cf. review by :

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