Iran and United States
“The United States supported the totalitarian regime of the shah. And now that Iran has become one of the freest nations, it continues its policies of sanctions and … its baseless claims against Iran. ” –Mohammad Reza Khatami, brother of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2000. “… the United States has long accused [Iran] of supporting terrorism, undermining the Mideast peace talks and pursuing the acquisition of nuclear weapons”–The Washington Post, Feb. 23, 2000.
In the recent elections Mohammad Reza Khatami, quoted above, was the top vote-getter of the 30 winning parliamentary candidates in Tehran, Iran’s capital. He can be presumed to speak for the reformers who won heavily against the conservative Islamists. His two complaints against the United States are that we supported the “totalitarian” shah and that we continue to impose sanctions against companies spending as much as $20 million a year on Iran’s oil and gas business (Killgore et al, p10). The complaint about the shah may seem outdated since he has been gone from Iran for 21 years.
True, he had nothing to commend him as far as Iranian interests were concerned: His SAVAK secret police were brutal, he wasted up to $25 billion on U. S. weapons purchases and he both corruptly preyed on and treated with contempt Iran’s mullah class, the then-opposition and now the rulers of Iran since 1979. The core Iranian complaint cannot be appreciated without understanding the paradoxical Persian psyche, combining an all but overweening pride with a deep sense of grievance, the latter an integral part of the country’s dominant Shi’i Islam.
As seen (correctly) by Iran’s current rulers, the 1972-1979 U. S. Israeli love affair with the shah used a weak Iranian ruler to help an upstart Israel at the expense of ancient Persia of great empires of old. That is an ineradicable insult to Iranian pride. Khatami’s complaint about U. S. sanctions under the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) is very much a live current issue. It is a type of economic warfare waged by a triumphalist United States designed to force Iran to change its policies toward Israel.
That is certainly the way it is seen by Iran’s Islamist rulers, the old conservative ones or the new reform winners. The U. S. complaints against Iran, as quoted above from The Washington Post, are seen (correctly) as a cover for the real purposes of U. S. policy toward Iran: to pressure Iran to stop supporting Lebanon’s fellow Shi’i guerrilla fighting to drive Israel out of Lebanon. The Tehran leadership can see as well as Americans who follow Iranian affairs that the U. S. charge that Iran is looking to acquire nuclear weapons doesn’t have much substance.
They can point out (correctly) that the shah was looking for 10 nuclear reactors without any cries of U. S. alarm. The U. S. complaints against Iran of “supporting terrorism” and “undermining the Mideast peace talks” are closely related to south Lebanon. Two years ago former French Ambassador to Tunisia and Turkey Eric Rouleau told a Washington audience, including the writer, that in an earlier conversation in Tehran with then-Speaker of the Iranian Majlis Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the Iranian official refuted U. S. charges that Iran was supporting terrorism in south Lebanon.
Rafsanjani asserted that the Lebanese Shi’i guerrillas were defending their land against an illegal Israeli occupation, and that Iran was justified in giving them military aid. (Killgore et al, p10) Iran’s reformers will open up more to the world on the economic front but the U. S. won’t benefit because domestic U. S. politics will dictate a continuation of the sanctions. At the same time Iranian “culture” dictates a continuation of aid to the Lebanese guerrillas.
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