Friday, June 27, 2008

A Diplomatic Overture?

According to an article in the Washington Post published on June 23, 2008, officials in the State Department are debating a proposal to open an interests section in Tehran, similar to the one the United States has operated in Havana since 1977 to process visas and host dissidents during holiday festivities.

Under different circumstances, an effort to establish an interests section, which would be housed by the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, would be a very welcome gesture to expand cultural and social ties between Iranians and Americans. However, rather than being a truly diplomatic gesture, the motivation behind the proposed intersection under this administration is unclear, but appears more to bolster U.S. efforts to undermine the Iranian government. According to the Washington Post article one official said, "It's not a softening. It does allow us to reach out to youth groups, to talk to dissidents. It's something the regime wouldn't like." While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has neither confirmed nor denied the proposal, she also has said that the U.S. wants more contact with “ordinary Iranian citizens.”

By revealing to the media that the intersection would be used to reach out to dissidents, elements in the administration may be setting the proposal up for failure. Indeed, if the proposal shows any intention to undermine the Iranian government, it is likely to be rejected. If rejected, the administration could then accuse the Iranians of not being interested in diplomatic overtures.

According to a Los Angeles Times article, initial responses from Iran to the media reports of the proposal have been “frosty.” Musa Qorbani, a politician close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told The Times, “We do not trust the Americans. After a few days, we may figure out their motivations and what their intention is, then we will give our comment.” On June 26, Speaker of the Majlis (Iranian Parliament) Ali Larijani was quoted as saying that the proposal to establish a U.S. diplomatic interests section in Tehran is a “deceitful move.” According to Larijani, “I do not like to talk about rumors but it seems that some of these rumors are very sneaky.”

On the other hand, it is unlikely that if an interests section is approved staff would even realistically be able to woo Iranian students and dissidents given restrictions that would likely be placed on staff movement. Furthermore, credible dissidents and those working for democracy and reform in Iran are not at all interested in further undermining their own situation inside of Iran. Contrary to U.S. efforts to promote regime change, credible and prominent Iranian intellectuals, academics, dissidents and human rights defenders, many of whom have suffered increasing arrests and prosecutions, are ramping up their efforts to urge for a negotiated peaceful solution to the standoff between the U.S. and Iran.

Rather than pursuing counterproductive efforts aimed at undermining the Iranian government, the U.S. would do more for democracy and reform if it listened to what the people of Iran are saying – stop threatening military action and pursue a negotiated solution to the crisis.

In terms of the interests section, there may be a silver lining. If the U.S. does submit a proposal for an interests section and if the proposal is accepted, it could lay the groundwork for the next administration to expand credible diplomatic overtures to Iran.

1 comment:

hass said...

Gee, considering that the reports specifically state that this interest section is intended to try to undermine the regime in Iran, why do you suppose their reception was "frosty"? You think Iran will be permitted to open an embassy in the US which aims to overthrow the US government?