The new crisis in relation to the United States’ interactions with Iran, which was caused by Washington’s refusal to issue visa for the Islamic Republic’s new nominee for the post of Iran's representative to the United Nations, and its untoward consequences for both sides have put renewed emphasis on a bitter fact: the outlook of the two countries’ future ties is still a hostage to their past. This issue, however, has provided an opportunity to reflect more thoughtfully on longstanding hostilities which have left their mark on the tumultuous relations between the two countries in the past three decades and have practically blocked the way to any initiative, which pops up from time to time and can potentially lead to meaningful changes in the current situation of stalemate in the two countries’ relations.
During the past three decades, both Iranians and Americans have offered reasons, which cannot be considered totally baseless, for their suspicion toward each other. As a result and despite necessary cases in which they have had to engage in a different kind of interaction over issue that were absolutely important to both countries, Tehran and Washington have continued to use the same bitter literature toward each other. Even when engaged in inevitable talks, the two sides have done their best to keep those talks as limited as possible. As if, both countries have made up their minds to pass over all the benefits that such talks may have for their national interests.
Perhaps, one way to overcome the existing standoff between Iran and the United States is to think adequately about the complaints that have been frequently repeated by both sides during the past decades. Informed dealing with the main causes of the existing crisis will, at times, increase the ability of involved parties to manage those crises even when they fail to get rid of them for good and all. New initiatives are frequently the product of audacity to face bitter facts and accurate exploration of their various aspects. In the absence of such necessary audacity, historical events impose their weight on policymakers and in many cases enable the third parties to make the most of the turbulent situation. It is not sign of bravery for politicians to simply give in to incidents that take place in relations between two countries, thus helping to turn political disputes into matters of honor and a Gordian knot which would be very difficult to cut.
High-ranking American officials have already offered their official apology to the Iranian nation for their country’s part in staging August 19, 1953, coup d’état against the legitimate Iranian government. The track records of various American administrations in dealing with Iran are by no means defensible for their fairer politicians. Just in the same way, the ideological policy adopted by the United States to support the West’s allies as a mechanism to curb the expansion of Communism at the cost of turning a blind eye to blatant violations of human rights by these dependent dictatorships is currently being criticized at the highest levels of leadership in the Western countries. Although such an approach may have been adopted on pragmatic grounds and lacks enough intensity to bring about radical changes in political relations with those countries, it is realistic enough to serve as the bedrock for a major change in the Western countries’ policies.
There is one difficult step ahead in order to free decisions that are made for the future from influences of the past. Instead of making any futile effort to change the past or just doing nothing in the hope of a basic change in the nature of two countries’ political systems, both sides should, for once and all, face totality of their past interactions with due honesty. In doing so, they should define the best possible informed reactions to all the bitterness that has been embedded in their past histories with an eye to ensuring their existing national interests. In order to pull off this feat, politicians in both countries should stop instrumental use of the past, including by stopping efforts made to take advantage of the damage that has been done to a nation’s national pride in order to achieve their own short-term objectives, especially in domestic rivalries among various political factions. They should also avoid mixing political matters with emotional issues and let the national interests be the only pivot around which diplomatic affairs are regulated. In a non-perfect world reigned by relations which are not always fair or even ethical, the main art of diplomacy is for diplomats to deal with any dispute in such a way as to increase their country’s gains to a maximum, while at the same time decreasing any inevitable damage to their country to a minimum. The wise people in the world venerate those who were martyred for the cause of freedom, eulogize their powerfully glorious past, and admire those who subdued their thirst for vengeance in order to determine a brighter future for their nations, but only show scorn for those who have never been able to break out of self-constructed mental prisons.
*Dr. Hossein Valeh was the Political Deputy at Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s Office and Iran's Former Ambassador to Algeria. He is now the Faculty Member of Shahid Beheshti University.
Key Words: Iran-US Relations, Bitter Past, Bitter Literature, Iranian Government, Historical Events, Valeh
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