Management of Iran's relations with the United States has been one of the important issues, and perhaps the most important issue, in the Islamic Republic of Iran's foreign policy since the Islamic Establishment came into being, up to the present time. As a result, for all administrations that have come to office since the victory of the Islamic Revolution, this issue has been constantly a top priority on their foreign policy agendas. Viewpoints about the best way to manage relations with the United States have formed a spectrum with two extremes being bilateral negotiations and full-fledged confrontation. During various junctures of the past three decades, these viewpoints have come to the surface in the form of a policy of interaction or confrontation between the two sides. Following the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran's new president, the general direction of Iran's foreign policy has been gradually changing from confrontation to interaction with the United States. Also, appointment of Mohammad Javad Zarif as Iran's new foreign minister and official in charge of Iran's diplomatic apparatus has raised expectations about adoption of a policy of negotiations and interaction with Washington.
In view of the above facts, if the United States is really willing to put an end to the ongoing disputes and confrontation with the Islamic Republic of Iran and start face-to-face negotiations, it should provide minimum conditions that are required for any negotiations to become successful. Asking for such conditions and relevant guarantees does not mean that Iran is trying to consider preconditions for negotiations with the United States. Such minimal conditions which are sought by Iran are not additional preconditions to be imposed on negotiations, but they are basic assumptions based on facts which are inherent to any meaningful and logical negotiations.
The importance of having these conditions met by the United States before any negotiations take place between the two sides becomes clearer when taking into account the serious suspicions that exist about the goals that Washington seeks through direct negotiations with Tehran. Some analysts believe that the US President Barack Obama’s administration actually wants “negotiations for the sake of negotiations.” They say this because the offer of direct talks with Iran was a proposal made to Obama by American strategists during Obama’s election campaign for his first presidential term in 2008. The main goal of the proposed strategy was to change the United States’ former lose-lose game – which was based on the former President George W. Bush’s policy toward Iran – and replace it with a win-win game under his successor, Obama. According to that strategy, the United States would propose to Iran to engage in unconditional direct talks with the United States. Iran, for its part, would either accept or reject that proposal, but every one of these two options would be in favor (win option) for the United States and a loss (lose option) for Iran. If Iran accepted the unconditional talks with the United States, it would finally change its behavior and policy toward the United States through the negotiations as a result of learning and socialization process. If, on the other hand, Iran refrained to accept the offer of unconditional talks with the United States and rejected it, it would be again to the United States benefit because such a rejection would help Washington to create international consensus that it needs so badly to escalate political and economic pressure on the Islamic Republic.
Therefore, Iran should go thoroughly over the United States proposal for negotiations before giving a response to it. The main diplomatic and negotiation approach to be taken by Iran should be focused on disrupting the United States’ win-win game. Iran should find a third option in order to defuse the two-faceted approach taken by the United States. Adoption of such a solution will be quite possible for the eleventh administration in Iran whose foreign policy is based on constructive and effective interaction with the world. An intermediate solution which should be proposed to Iran and stands midway between rejection and acceptance of “negotiations for the sake of negotiation,” is “fruitful negotiations,” to which the Islamic Republic will be able to give a positive answer. This kind of negotiation can be undertaken under the following conditions:
1. The United States should recognize the Islamic Republic’s religious, ideological, and ethical differences with Washington. The US administration should also accept that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a political system which is basically different in terms of values and ideology from the political system that governs the United States; that is, the liberal democracy. Therefore, the United States should not seek to impose its own political, value, and ethical system on the Islamic Republic, which requires a change in the very nature of Iran's political system. Not accepting this primary and obvious principle and assumption would be against the nature of any kind of diplomatic negotiation.
2. Recognition and respect for the right of the Islamic Republic of Iran to survive: The United States has shown both in words and deeds that it does not recognize and has no respect for the Islamic Republic of Iran's right to survive. Therefore, even the proposal of direct talks with the Islamic Republic has on its backdrop the US intent for transformation and final overthrow of the Iranian government. As a result, the Obama administration should act in such a way as to recognize the Islamic Republic of Iran's right to survive.
3. Recognition of Iran's national interests and rights: According to international rules and customs, all countries are entitled to pursue and meet their national interests in peaceful ways. This right applies equally to all countries, though not all of them are equally successful in achieving this goal. Therefore, all countries, even a superpower, should recognize this right for other countries and show respect for it. Historical experiences show that in its interactions with Iran, the United States has acted in such a way that it has been frequently found in violation of this basic and undeniable principle of international relations.
4. Accepting Iran’s equal standing and engaging in negotiations on the basis of mutual respect: The main principle in any international negotiation is equal standing and respect for both parties to that negotiation. Of course, this does not mean that the two parties to negotiation are of equal power. However, it actually means that the United States should not rely on its superior power to try to determine the results of the negotiation in advance and enter into talks with Iran using a language of coercion and bullying in order to force the Islamic Republic into submission. In other words, although negotiations between Iran and the United States will be asymmetrical, such asymmetrical talks are never a guarantee that the party with the superior power will certainly win with the less powerful party certainly losing. Therefore, there have been many cases of asymmetrical negotiations in which the negotiating party with less power has finally emerged victorious.
5. Another condition for negotiations between Iran and the United States to become fruitful is gaining the trust of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Negotiations between two countries in the absence of any kind of diplomatic relations can be only successful if mutual trust exists between them. The history of the United States’ interactions with Iran clearly proves that Washington’s behavior toward the Islamic Republic of Iran has been never honest and based on goodwill. For example, when the United States invaded Iraq in 1991, then US President [George H. W. Bush] announced that he would show goodwill in return for any gesture of goodwill from Iran. In practice, however, he did quite the opposite. Also, during the occupation of Afghanistan, the result of Iran's positive interaction with the United States was labeling Iran [along with North Korea and Iraq] as the “Axis of Evil” [by then US President George W. Bush]. Even Washington’s measures and behavior with regard to Iran during the past few months, which stand in stark contrast to its pacifist rhetoric, have only served to further undermine trust between the two countries instead of building it. Therefore, in view of Iran's distrust toward the United States, Washington should show its goodwill in practice before any kind of negotiation can be undertaken and become successful. As the old proverb goes, “once bitten, twice shy.”
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