Dr. Hamid Aboutalebi, the Iranian President Dr. Hassan Rouhani’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Political Affairs, has elaborated on the Iranian administration’s new approach to the issue of relations with the United States in the following interview.
Q: The issue of the relations between Iran and the United States has been subject to many debates both inside and outside the country during the past few months and has been also a major focus of attention for the mass media. There are serious opponents and proponents on both sides of the line. In the meantime, the American officials have been also taking strange and contradictory positions on this issue, thus, practically preventing the existing problems from coming to a satisfactory solution. In your opinion, what is the main reason behind their contradictory remarks and positions and what impact can those positions have on Iran's nuclear case?
A: Unlike most other countries, the relations between our country and the United States got off on the wrong foot from the very outset. Those relations were further derailed from their correct path following efforts made by the Americans subsequent to the orchestration of August 19, 1953, coup d’état [against then Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq] and up to the present day, they have continued along the same wrong path.
The Americans only came to realize the erroneous course of their country’s relations with Iran when it was too late and they could not change that course. As a result, observation of [revolutionary] developments in Iran made the Americans reach the conclusion that they were not able to control those developments anymore. Therefore, they were forced to reluctantly own up to the truth of the Islamic Revolution, though the revolution’s success was tantamount to collapse of the United States national interests in Iran and the entire Persian Gulf region. Following that political upheaval, they tried to have a good grasp of the new situation in Iran when the incident on November 4, 1979, took place. Although the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran on that day was not a diplomatic measure, it challenged the US might in international arenas. This state of affairs, which had been brought about by the fears that each side had of the other side, caused subsequent fears of each other and each country’s developments to run deep between the American and Iranian people and officials. The phobia, by and by, became so profound that any measure taken by one side – either positive or negative – stirred intense fears both inside and outside of the United States and in Iran.
If you agree, I focus on the continuation of that phobia through the dispute over Iran's nuclear energy program in 2003-2005. It was the same phobia that at the apex of diplomatic developments between Iran and the West and at a time that negotiations between Iran and the European countries had become relatively successful made the Republican politicians in the United States take unexpected steps. A major reason for those positions was the fact that the Americans felt they had been left out in an influential global development, namely, the Islamic Republic of Iran's nuclear case. It was for this reason that then US President [George W. Bush] took a step out of phobia toward Iran by labeling the Islamic Republic as part of the “Axis of Evil” and as a result of that unwise step, Iran's negotiations with the West were knocked off balance.
By doing this, the US president also fanned the flames of Iranophobia among the European countries and even helped to spread Islamophobia. He warned that the Iranian missiles were capable of hitting the European countries and did his best to make other countries a partner to his own profound fear of Iran.
These developments were outcomes of the policy of confrontation instead of interaction with Iran during the past years, which in my opinion were exactly a result of profound Iranophobia. Unfortunately, that phobia is at work again and I believe that the main effort made by the Israeli regime is aimed to undermine positive measures taken by both Iran and the United States through spreading the phobia of Iran in the world. At present, we see that the Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] is pursuing this goal with seriousness and perseverance at the highest level of that regime. I actually believe that the United States is more afraid of interaction with Iran than of confrontation with the Islamic Revolution because the result of diplomatic interactions between Iran and the United States has been so far to the benefit of Iran, but all cases of confrontation have been to the benefit of the United States.
This is why the Israeli regime is hellbent on moving in a direction whose final result will be nothing but destruction. During the last fall in New York, you saw how a heavy media propaganda atmosphere [against Iran] and expectations resulting from it were turned against the political establishment in the United States through interaction. By playing in its own court, Iran managed to change the course of that media onslaught in such a way that the Islamic Republic emerged as final winner of the political game. You saw that the US President [Barack Obama] was the first person to break the news of his phone conversation [with the Iranian president]. Also, following the signing of the Geneva agreement [between Iran and six world powers] the enthusiasm shown by Western countries’ ministers, politicians, statesmen, and companies for coming to Iran was so high that the United States actually lost control of the situation. Therefore, the US leaders embarked on threatening members of the Western community [with the US president] saying that “US will come down 'like a ton of bricks' on firms that violate Iran sanctions.” Do you know of any other threat which could stir phobia [of Iran] more than this? Isn’t it out of phobia that an American official [US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman] says “deception is part of the DNA” of Iranians, though it was also a greave insult to the great Iranian nation? You must reach to the depth of such remarks. For example, they [the Americans] keep repeating that they negotiate with Iran “with eyes absolutely wide open.” What is this supposed to mean? Are other negotiating parties blind and only the Americans’ eyes are open? This is because they can no more spread the phobia of Iran and cannot get European countries and other negotiating parties engaged in their Iranophobic game. I only aim to clarify the other flip side of this coin and show that the fear and phobia which has run deep during the past three and odd years will not end soon and easily, and this is the main reason behind contradictory positions [taken by the US officials on Iran].
Q: Can this phobia in the form of Iranophobia and Islamophobia, which you have already discussed, have a negative impact on future interactions between Iran and the West?
A: In my opinion, Dr. Rouhani’s special achievement has been to overcome these barriers and crises, and find a successful solution to these problems. By proposing the “World against Violence and Extremism” initiative which was adopted as a consensual resolution by the United States General Assembly as a way to fight violence, extremism and terrorism, Mr. Rouhani managed to put an end to three major problems facing Iran's foreign policy. These problems included the problem of Iranophobia, the problem of Islamophobia and the problem of alleged and imposed political and economic isolation of Iran. Therefore, there are no more areas to be affected [by these phobias]. This has been his greatest victory [won by new Iranian administration] during the past few months.
Q: Some domestic and foreign media and political circles have introduced you as the next ambassador and the permanent representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations. At the same time, some foreign websites have introduced you as one of the students who took part in storming the US Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. By doing so, they have been certainly trying to shape a specific mentality around you before your presence in New York. Is this just a similarity of names or something else is involved here?
A: When surfing the internet you come across such a high number of similar names and material that it totally amazes you. This is especially true about issues which are related to the past thirty and odd years. For example, you can find a person with my name and surname who has been martyred. In reality, however, on November 4 of that year and at the time of the occupation [of the US Embassy in Tehran], I was not in Tehran to be aware of this development or take part in it, so that my name can be mentioned in relation with it. When I heard of that incident, I was in [the southwestern Iranian city of] Ahvaz. Later on, when I came to Tehran, one day the late Martyr Dadman send a message to me through another commander of the imposed war [with Iraq], who was also martyred later and was called Zaker. He told me they needed somebody to do French translation for them. I accepted and went from my home to the airport. Therefore, accompanied with the special representative of the Pope – the leader of the world Catholic Christians –, who had already arrived in Tehran, I entered the [US] Embassy for the first time. On few other occasions, when they needed to translate something in relation with their contacts with other countries, I translated their material into English or French. For example, I did the translation during a press conference when the female and black staffers of the embassy were released and it was purely based on humanitarian motivations.
Q: What is your final opinion as a seasoned diplomat about the relations between Iran and the United States?
A: The relations between Iran and the United States are not a current focus of attention for the executive authorities in Iran, or even in the United States. First of all, we must do our best to solve the multitude of problems that have been created so far. After solving these problems and through ever-increasing mutual understanding and trust, we would be able to come back and focus on the issue of relations. Then, we should engage in negotiations on these relations under the full light, not in the dark. There are many reasons for this, some of which have been explained in the articles I have written. However, I cannot say when and how this is going to happen. I only know that any kind of mental pressure on the public opinion in the two countries should be removed, while at the same time, the decision-makers and negotiators of both countries should be also relieved of such pressure. Then, we must let nuclear negotiations to go ahead as a symbolic act. I am sure that as long as interaction is involved, we will be the winner of the negotiations and will come out of the interaction totally victorious.