Thanks to Aqoul for noting this fascinating piece by Gareth Porter at TomPaine about the little known Iranian 2003 diplomatic initiative (see documents) to normalize relations between Iran and the U.S. It’s quite an eye-opener and makes one realize that Iran at that time was making a serious effort to shed its violent, terrorist past and take its place among the rest of the nations of the world:
Few…are aware of the substance of the 2003 Iranian proposal, because major news media have never fully reported it. But that proposal, which is now a matter of public record, responded to U.S. interests on all four issues on which the Bush administration had made public demands on it. The proposal offered to use Iranian influence in Iraq to support “political stabilization and the establishment of democratic institutions and a non-religious government,” disavowing the aim of imposing a Shiite theocracy on Iraq. And it offers “full transparency” to provide assurances that it is not developing weapons of mass destruction.
Most important politically for the United States, however, Iranian leaders offered to stop “material support to Palestinian opposition groups…from Iranian territory” as well as “pressure on these organizations to stop violent actions against civilians within [Israel’s] borders of 1967.” And it offered to accept the Arab League “Beirut declaration”—a Saudi-sponsored initiative in March 2002 which proposed a comprehensive peace, including the establishment of normal relations, with Israel based on Israel’s withdrawal to pre-1967 war lines.
What Iran wanted in return for these concessions was an end to U.S. “hostile behavior,” including the “axis of evil” tag and its designation as a “terrorist” state, as well as end to commercial sanctions, “decisive action” against anti-Iranian MEK terrorists, especially on U.S. territory, and access to peaceful nuclear and other technologies. Finally Iran wanted recognition of its “legitimate security interest in the region”—a phrase that has been interpreted as referring to security guarantees against U.S. attack and recognition as a party to future security arrangements in the region.
The Bush Administration of course summarily rejected the Iranian offer. To have done otherwise would’ve negated the axis of evil scenario the Cheney-Bushites were concocting for Iran. While it’s painful to do so, I sometimes think what might’ve happened if the actual winner of the 2000 presidential election had taken office. Does anyone seriously believe that Al Gore would’ve responded with the same dismissiveness?
If we view the wreckage of the current Bush Iraq policy in light of what could’ve been had the Iranian initiative been fully explored, it makes the tragedy of our failure in Iraq all the more painful and wasteful. Even should one wish to doubt Iran’s sincerity in making this offer, imagine an Iran which actually attempted to pacify Iraq after the invasion instead of stoking the flames of sectarian strife. Imagine an Iran which had turned off or curtailed the flow from the spigot that supports Hamas and Hezbollah? Imagine an Iran which attempted to help ease the Hezbollah kidnap crisis in July instead of one that provided thousands of missiles and military technology to it with which it attacked Israel. Imagine an Iran that allowed weapons inspectors to visit its nuclear facilities to monitor their research instead of a truculent state which has turned all such efforts away. Imagine an Iran provided by the west with safe civilian nuclear technology instead of a scenario by which we’re waiting with bated breath to discover whether the U.S. or Israel will “drop the big one” on Nantaz?
Now, I’m sad to say the opportunity appears all but lost. The then Iranian president, Khatami, was a pragmatic realist. Iran today is in the grip of a virulent form of Islamic extremism. Further, Hezbollah’s fight with Israel and our failure in Iraq have buttressed Iran’s standing in the Muslim world. Would it actually feel it had anything to gain if Jim Baker succeeded in turning our foreign policy ship of state into a more favorable wind?
I’m not saying it’s impossible. I wish it were possible. I’m not such a partisan that I wouldn’t welcome such an initiative even from a Republican Administration, especially if it were successful. But we know the history of this bunch of fools (I’m not talking about Baker here). Who believes that presented with an opportunity, they wouldn’t do their damndest (intentionally or unintentionally) to fuck it up? And as for fools, who’s to say whether Bush or Ahmedinejab is the worst of their kind?
It’s so painfully depressing to see this constant stream of arrogant and destructive behaviour that’s been happening since 2001. So much of this could have been avoided, all of the potential good that could have come the 9/11 tragedy in fostering new support to stop terrorism and finally address important issues in the Middle East, were met with a sledgehammer and patriotic songs.
The world would definitely have been a very different place had Bush not been elected, and progressives everywhere should use him to constantly point out that this kind of leadership, in any country, isn’t just ineffective, but antagonistic to every problem. Ideologically driven, inflexible in every position, the use of force as the first option instead of last, wilfully ignorant of the outside world, and enough self confidence in their own abilities to think of a civil war as a birth pain and his personal lawyer as a supreme court judge.