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"Time For Detente With Iran"

Speaker: Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow and Middle East Specialist
Presider: Gideon Rose, Managing Editor, Foreign Affairs
February 22, 2007
Council on Foreign Relations


GIDEON ROSE:  Welcome, everybody. This is Gideon Rose, managing editor of Foreign Affairs here. 

And we're here to talk with Ray Takeyh, senior fellow at the Council and the author of "Time for Detente with Iran," a new article in the forthcoming issue of Foreign Affairs.  Ray, of course, is one of the leading Iran experts in the country and Middle East experts more generally, and the author most recently of "Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic," a landmark book on the subject.

So without further ado, let me get to our discussion, since that's what you're here for.  Ray, before the session started, was just teasing me about the occasionally non-provocative stuff in Foreign Affairs.  So I will urge him to be provocative today.  And one thing you can always count on with Ray is not doing what everybody expects.

So Ray, give us a precis of your piece.

RAY TAKEYH:  Well, the piece actually tries to suggest -- tries to respond to the question of whether it is time for a normalized relation between the United States and Iran.  That in of itself seems like an unusual question at the time when the popular bet around office pools is, when are we going to bomb, how deep are we going to bomb and what are we going to bomb?

But for a long time, people look at -- in the 1990s, U.S.-Iran relations was viewed in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute; namely, Iran's involvement in that dispute was the basis of U.S. policy toward Iran.  And now increasingly it's how many centrifuges they're assembling.  This piece tries to look at the broader aspect of U.S.-Iran relations and suggests a number of things.

First, that as a result of the changes that the Middle East has undergone primarily in the past three years, but maybe in five years, Iran is in a commanding regional position and its influence can neither be negated or contained, for that matter.  So in a sense, if you want to use historical analogies, which are always imperfect -- and this one is not going to be any more perfect -- it's a similar situation to 1969-1970 when the United States was a declining power in East Asia and China was a rising power, but nevertheless, a diplomatic rapprochement between the states was conceived.  Is it a similar time and a similar situation in the Gulf today? 

And the piece tries to suggest that there is actually a possibility for a larger understanding between these two powers, who are now the most influential powers in the Persian Gulf -- if not the larger Middle East -- and it tries to allow some sort of a diplomatic path for that understanding to be reached.  And within the context of those negotiations and that understanding, then perhaps you can deal with the nuclear issue or with the terrorism issue, human rights issue as such.

ROSE:  So why don't you explain why a Holocaust -- a state led by a Holocaust denier -- obviously not living in the same reality as the rest of us -- actively bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, at the head of a sectarian and religious regime destined -- or officially to overthrowing the regional order is somebody who can be dealt with calmly and rationally.  Why is this -- why is there any reason to believe that if we are nice and friendly and encouraging to Iran it'll be met with anything different from what we've already seen?

TAKEYH:  Well, first of all -- well, that was kind of a skeptical question.  (Laughs.)  It's called "leading the witness." 

First of all, I would say Iran today, despite its rhetorical provocations, is not a revolutionary state, in the sense it doesn't try to upend the regional order or export its model of governance.  So it's mostly, despite its rhetoric, it's a status quo power that seeks regional preeminence -- primarily in the Gulf, but obviously having a larger reach beyond that.  So it's important to in some sense divest Iran's rhetoric from Iran's actual geopolitical conduct.

Second of all, Iran is a state perennially divided against itself -- the Islamic Republic -- and there are many factions within that particular regime.  And in the piece, I actually go in and delineate these factions and what are the disputes and what are their objectives.  But let me make a reference to a document that has not gotten the attention that I think it should, because everyone's talking about this memo or fax that Iranians sent in 2003 to the State Department offering discussions, grand deal, whatever.  I don't take any position on that.  To me it's not a relevant issue.

But in August of 2006 -- six, seven months ago -- Iranians did submit their response to the EU five-plus-one offer that was given to them.  And in that piece -- in that document, which is 17,18 pages -- and I cite it rather extensively in the piece -- they do call for comprehensive negotiations with the United States covering issues of economic security, energy and everything else, trying to reach some sort of an accommodation and understanding.

I don't know what happened in 2003, but the authority, the authenticity and the credibility of the 2006 document is not contested.  It was submitted officially by the secretary to the Supreme National Security Council Ali Larijani, to Solana. 

In essence, there is an Iranian negotiating proposition out there that suggests that perhaps it is possible for the United States and Iran to coexist.  This is not an alliance.  This may not even be a rapprochement, but some sort of an arrangement for the two powers to regulate their differences in more of a negotiating, diplomatic context between them than as opposed to this sort of international conflict.

Now, let me --

ROSE:  Why don't you --

TAKEYH: Let me deal with the rhetoric about Holocaust, which I actually do deal with it in the piece.  Does Ahmadinejad believe Holocaust happened or not?  I would submit that he probably does not.  Does he have a problem with Zionism as an ideology?  Yes, certainly he does.

But I think the rhetoric that is coming out of Iran, which has been actually repudiated by others -- but I'll leave that aside -- that particular rhetoric is designed, as I mentioned in the piece, to essentially mobilize regional opinion behind Iran's claims and advocacies.  Let's face it, denial of Holocaust is good PR in the Middle East.  And, you know, it's now one of the -- as a result of this rhetoric, not primarily, but one of the results of this rhetoric -- is Ahmadinejad is one of the third -- I think he's the third most popular figure in Egypt, a Sunni state.

So the Holocaust denial rhetoric, the incendiary anti-Israeli rhetoric, the incendiary anti-American rhetoric has allowed a Persian Shi'a country to leapfrog both the sectarian and the ethnic cleavages and assume a larger influence over deliberations in the Middle East.

ROSE:  So it's intended to -- not so much as a reflection of his own belief or as a guide to --

TAKEYH:  No, I think it could be a reflection of his belief.  He certainly probably doesn't believe the Holocaust happened, but there's a utilitarian aspect to that rhetoric.

Now, I would say one further thing:  Denial of Holocaust and all this stuff about Israel being wiped off -- I don't believe it is the operational aspect of Iranian foreign policy to eradicate Israel.  So I think there's a utilitarian aspect to that rhetoric.  And actually in other cases I have placed that rhetoric in context.  I mean, the Iranians have been saying this stuff up and down that country for 27 years.  We just sort of have noticed it given the fact that the current Iranian president is under a greater degree of international scrutiny.

ROSE:  Okay.  So what would be required -- you take their negotiating position from the fall that you were just describing.  You say it's possible to negotiate with them.  What would we have to give up in order to get the relatively calm, stable relationship you foresee?

TAKEYH:  Well, first of all, we have to go into this appreciating that Iran is going to be a problem that can be managed.  It can be managed adroitly or ineffectively, but it's a problem.  And the purpose of negotiations is not to create an alliance.  For a long time, the Iran debate has oscillated between wild calls for confrontations and equally wild calls for reconciliation.  So Iran is going to be somewhere in-between -- a problem state that requires management.  And even in the negotiating phase, even in diplomatic normalization phase, this is not a relationship that's going to be devoid of conflict and tension.  That you have to go on.

The second purpose of negotiations at this particular point is to create a framework, as I say in the piece, for regulating Iran's influence.  I don't think it's an influence, as I said, that can be negated, extinguished or evaporated, but somehow that Iran's influence can be contained, if you would.  So in a sense, this offer of negotiations and rapprochement and detente is another means of soft containment.  Iran will see it in its interests and its advantage to be contained.  It's what Kissinger said about the Soviet Union.  We want to create a framework where they want to be contained.

ROSE:  So what are they getting out of it and what are we getting out it?

TAKEYH:  Well, what we hopefully can get out of it is a more temperate Iranian approach to the -- let me just backtrack.  There's a section in the piece when I go into the four tracks of diplomacy, which -- and the first track would deal with Iraq; the second track with the peace process, terrorism issues; third track with the nuclear issue; and one track would deal with the issues of normalization, which essentially cover relief -- sanctions relief and Iranian claims and financial claims and so forth.  So essentially they're more of a procedural issue.

Now, let me deal with each one of those in succession if you have time.  And I'll do it very quickly.

ROSE:  Concisely, right?

TAKEYH:  Yeah.  I'll do it quickly.

On Iraq, a greater degree of assistance in terms of creating a unitary government, with certainly Shi'a predominance but inclusion of at least some voice of Sunni moderation, and perhaps attempting to restrain recalcitrant actors such as Sadr. 

On nuclear issue, attempting to have an Iranian program that still has some enrichment capability but is under scrutiny of international community far beyond the current IAEA measures.  On the peace process, for Iran essentially to divest itself on that particular conflict -- not necessarily change its relationship with Hezbollah in terms of that intimacy, but nevertheless, press Hezbollah toward direction of political participation as opposed to paramilitary pressure on Israel.  And finally, on the issues of normalization, that obviously entails relief of diplomatic and economic sanctions and so forth.

ROSE:  So you think that both the U.S. and the Iranian regime can get together on that kind of common platform?

TAKEYH:  To be frank, I think it would be very difficult for the current administration to do that in the United States -- not that they don't want to negotiate.  I mean, they do want to negotiate, but they haven't created a context and environment whereby negotiations can take place and negotiations can succeed.

If I can make an historical analogy to the '69-'70 episode with China, which is somewhat instructive, the United States did four things in '69-'70.  It essentially reduced its naval maneuvers in the Taiwan Strait.  It eased unilaterally all trade and travel restrictions.  It essentially tempered its rhetoric.  The VOA broadcasts and so forth were no longer incendiary.  And Richard Nixon in 1967 wrote a very important Foreign Affairs article calling for detente.  So far we only have one of those four conditions being met.

ROSE:  Okay.

TAKEYH:  My article as opposed to Richard Nixon.  (Laughter.)

The first three -- is there a less of an American naval presence -- provocative naval presence in the Gulf?  No.  We're sending a third carrier.  Have we unilaterally and easily relieved trade and travel restrictions?  No.  We're trying to augment them.  And third, is our language any more responsible?  Well, not when you're calling a country outpost of tyranny and central bank of terrorism.  So we haven't created a context where negotiations can work or an environment where they can succeed.

ROSE:  Okay, so why -- just two more questions and then we'll turn it over to our guests.

Why not?  What is this administration trying to do?  Why don't they see things the way you do?

TAKEYH:  Well, I don't know.  I'm not in their mind.  But I will say they're trying to do -- it's a uniquely discursive diplomacy, because on the one hand, Rice -- Condi Rice goes up and says, this is the historic offer we're making to Iran; we're changing 27 years of policy.  That's actually factually incorrect.  There's been nine other previous attempts to negotiate between United States and Iran.  One of those was the Iran-Contra affair.  And for an administration that has rehabilitated so many figures from that episode, it's a curious lapse of historical memory -- but leave that aside.

I think they're trying to do two things -- pressure Iran into negotiating by having diplomatic sanctions, economic sanctions, psychological pressure and so forth, and believe that pressure can get Iranians to table.  Iranians don't buckle under pressure; they buckle under a lot of pressure.  And so far, I don't know if the administration has the capability of generating that kind of a pressure.

But even if you coerce Iranians into negotiations, which I think might happen in some sort of an interim suspension of the program, those negotiations will rather be symbolic as opposed to substantive, because a level of trust has not been generated between the two actors.  Remember, when Richard Nixon and Kissinger -- I hate to keep alluding to that -- they started their diplomacy of reconciliation toward China in 1969.  They don't actually get a response from the Chinese until 1971 with the invitation of the ping-pong team.  So there's two years of the United States making unilateral gestures and so forth before there's a corresponding response.

The wall of mistrust between the United States and Iran is taller and more formidable, so it would take an imaginative diplomacy to crack that wall.  I don't know if either side -- I think there might be some degree of propensity on the Iranian side, and frankly, there is some degree of propensity on the American side.  I don't know if they can actually breach that wall, though.

ROSE:  Okay.  You mentioned office pools about when the attacks would start.  You and I, as you well know, are both members of such bets.


ROSE:  Both have taken the side, in our respective bets, that there will not in fact be an American strike on Iran.


ROSE:  That is usually seen as a counter-intuitive, rather complacent position.  Explain to our audience why you think there will not, in fact, be a U.S. strike on Iran; and what would make you change your mind?

TAKEYH:  Well, let me just be very clear.  I don't think there'll be -- my bet that I have offered people, there's no American and/or Israeli strike.

ROSE:  I agree.  Same bet on my side.

TAKEYH:  So I'm not divesting the two powers from each other.

ROSE: I agree.  Even more complacent, in other words.

TAKEYH:  Right.  (Laughs.)

I think there's a lot of reasons why the United States, at this particular point, is unlikely to do so.  One, there is no domestic or international support, domestic -- every day with the congressional Democrats demanding that the administration restrain itself and submit to congressional scrutiny and authority.  So the president, at 27 percent popularity rating or whatever it is, cannot be seen to be expanding the frontiers of the Iraq war.  So there's that intangible domestic political pressure militating against such an attack.  There's no international pressure -- the  international audience for it.  The Europeans and international organizations have been willing to go along with America on the Security Council and other issues primarily to avert a military strike. 

And I will say there's no regional audience for it, as well. In a sense, most of the regional actors, the neighboring actors, don't want to see that particular strike take place,even though they may secretly wish Iran's nuclear program goes away and they have some anxieties about it, but they don't believe that's the way to resolve it.

Third of all -- or fourth, fifth of all, whichever it is -- beyond the operational logistical aspect, namely that the United States does not have the necessary intelligence to be able to disable the program even if it wanted to -- I'm keeping that aside.  But, you know, ultimately a military response to Iran's nuclear infrastructure does not end Iran's nuclear ambitions.  What gets destroyed can be rebuilt, and perhaps with greater determination and with less concern for nuclear agreements that Iran has in terms of its membership in the IAEA and the NPT.

So it's not a durable solution.  There's no military solution to Iran's nuclear program.  A negotiated agreement could perhaps restrain its ambitions, but that's really where you're at.

ROSE:  So this is not your analysis about what should be done, or not only that, but this is your analysis of what actually is going on.  So despite all the hoopla in the press, you do not think that this administration is planning for and about to launch some kind of attack on Iran.

TAKEYH:  I don't.  I think it's part of what Iranians say it is:  psychological pressure.

ROSE:  Got it.

With that, let me turn it over to our audience for further questions.  Please state you name and affiliation and go at him.

OPERATOR: Thank you.

At this time we will open the floor for questions.  If you would like to ask a question, please press the star key followed by the one key on your touch-tone phone now.  Questions will be taken in the order in which they are received.

And our first question today comes from the Michelle Steinberg with Electronic Intelligence.

QUESTIONER:  Yes.  The question is twofold.  First of all, there have been some commentaries about a war by miscalculation or a responsive action concerning the heavy deployment that we have in the Persian Gulf.  And we hear a lot of news rhetoric, including from the White House, hinting at the danger of the Iranians trying to close the sea lanes in the Straits of Hormuz.

Secondly, on deep background, there was a document back in 1996, and one of the authors is the vice president's Middle East specialist, Mr. Wurmzer, which was called "A Clean Break".  And at that time, it called for regime change in Iran.  Mr. Takeyh, could you enlighten us what this administration in talking about axis of evil in 2002 would mean by regime change in Iran?

TAKEYH:  Let me take the first question first, the risk of miscalculation leading to escalation.  I think that's very serious, particularly when the president says that the American forces would disable and kill Iranian military assets or personnel in Iraq. 

In essence, therefore, the decision to use military force against Iran is no longer something that is going to be made in the National Security Council, but it's likely to be made by a 27-year-old major on a patrol somewhere in Basra -- that they kill four Iranian revolutionary guards, they respond, there's escalation.  So that actually is a serious issue.

I don't believe that Iranians are about to close the Strait of Hormuz, because that would constitute economic suicide for themselves.  I do understand that they periodically threaten it, but again, it's one of those issues where rhetoric and conduct have to be viewed as mutually exclusive.

The next question you had about a 1996 --

QUESTIONER:  The clean break with the realm document. 

TAKEYH:  Right.  Look, I mean, I don't know what Wurmser was smoking in 1996.  United States policy at this point, as I understand it -- and I don't have that much interaction with it -- is not the change of Iranian regime, but somehow to get this particular regime to comply with certain demands, international mandates on its nuclear program, and the path that they have chosen is through negotiations.  Now, I'm one of those people who criticizes their negotiating strategy because I believe it is discursive and in many ways self-defeating, but frankly, I don't believe that the hype about this administration's having a lust for war with Iran is all that true.  Yeah, I just don't see it.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Thank you, sir.

Our next question today comes from Patrick Smith of the International Herald Tribune.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you. 

Dr. Takeyh, very interesting presentation.

TAKEYH:  Thank you.

QUESTIONER:  And your book is marvelous.  I'm right on your page. 

TAKEYH:  True.

QUESTIONER:  I want to, if I may, shift the discussion slightly.  It seems to me the basis of your argument -- somewhere in your argument, we have to assume an assessment of the domestic equation that is potentially favorable to a workable situation, okay?

TAKEYH:  Here?  In Iran or in America?

QUESTIONER:  In Iran.  In Iran.  No, never mind Washington.  I'm -- but no, in Iran.

And I would -- I wonder how you'd -- how you look upon the forces at work in Iran and the balance there domestically, and how you identify these forces.  In years past it's been politicians, liberal clergy, the journalists.  And most specifically, I wonder how you would locate the former President Khatami in the domestic situation there.

TAKEYH:  Thanks. 

In the article actually there's a section where I go into the domestic political landscape and how it's changing.  So there's a huge section that is devoted to what I call an -- essentially a succession in Iran that is taking place rather subtlety and gradually.  For a long time, I think we have looked at Iranian politics, as I say in the piece, between reformers and reactionaries; between Rafsanjani, Khomeini and former president Khatami and that sort of equation.  But now we have to essentially start looking beyond those figures in many ways and look at the second generation -- particularly second generation of conservatives that are coming to power, and a number of them are named and illustrated in that piece. 

And the debate among this second generation today, in light of the changes that have taken place in the Middle East and changes that have taken place in Iran, is no longer a country that is looking at it's international environment from a position of vulnerability, but is trying to figure out how it is that it's going to exercise its power, how it is that it can project its influence.  Should it project its influence in defiance of the United States and in some sort of a rationalization of its relationship with the United States?  Should it pursue it in having a nuclear weapons -- weapons or nuclear weapons capability?

So the debates are much more subtle, and it is essentially about how is Iran going to behave as an increasingly hegemonic power, and what kind of hegemony can it exercise that may be acceptable to the international community?  And if you look at their speeches and the dialogue and their conferences, they tend to essentially talk about how other hegemonic -- regional hegemonic powers behave.

On one hand, you have India, which is becoming an increasingly close ally with the United States, therefore it gains American approbation for projection of its influence.  On the other hand, there's Russia, whose influence in this near abroad is being abridged because of its contentious relationship with the United States.  So perhaps a better relationship with the United States is a means of easing Iranian predominance and even in gaining American endorsement; however -- American acceptance of some sort of a nuclear program that Iran may have; falls short of, obviously, weaponization. 


What about President Khatami and the various constituencies --

TAKEYH:  The reform movement. 


TAKEYH:  Well, I think the reform movement can still make a comeback, but the reform movement in the 1990s started out with a certain proposition, that the Islamic Republic can be reformed through the strategic use of its own constitutional procedures and its own elected institutions.  So by passing legislation in the parliament, by expanding critical media, then Iran -- the Islamic Republic can become a different species.


TAKEYH:  That particular -- that particular thesis has failed.  So for the reform movement to come back, it has to figure out a new strategy.  And at this particular point, they haven't figured it out.  So they're still trying to figure it out where to go from here, and that's why their electoral fortunes have not been that great.  But you know, Iran is a land of permanent second chance.

So can a reform movement be born again that tries to reconcile the competing mandates of the Islamic Republic -- a state that is responsive to the collective will, yet at the same time it is responsive to its constituency, to its citizenry?  Can this circle be squared? 


May I communicate with you by e-mail later?

TAKEYH:  Sure.

QUESTIONER:  How would I do that? 

TAKEYH:  All my information is on our website,

QUESTIONER:  Fine, I'll find it.  Thank you kindly.

TAKEYH:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Thank you, sir.

Our next question today comes from Gary Rosen with the Commentary Magazine.

QUESTIONER:  Hi, Ray.  Interesting, provocative article. 

I was a little puzzled, though, by your insistence that Iran is a status quo power, not a revisionist state because if you look around the region, you have Iran backing Hezbollah in Lebanon and undermining that government.  You have Iran as the primary patron of Hamas now in the Palestinian territories.  We see Iran backing troubling factions and parties in Iraq and resisting our efforts there.  We see them developing this nuclear capacity, which looks as if it may set off an arms race in the region with Jordan and the Gulf States, the Saudis, Egypt talking about developing nuclear capacities of their own.  And we see them, of course, being very confrontational toward Israel not only in funding these very active, increasingly well-armed enemies on its borders, but also in talking about this nuclear capacity to destroy Israel, however seriously you take that rhetoric, however utilitarian it may be. 

So in what sense is Iran a status quo power and not a revisionist state?  It seems like exactly the opposite; that its increasingly candid talk about what kind of regional hegemon it should be is something that the rest of the region is pretty frightened by. 

TAKEYH:  Yeah, let me just place this in some sort of a historical context.  In the 1980s, Iran cannot but have been described -- and certainly in the early '80s -- as a revisionist state.  What was it doing?  It was calling for and applauding the overthrow of the Gulf princely class, commissioned -- complicit in the assassination of -- the attempted assassination of Kuwaiti emirs.  It was talking about the fact that Bahrain has no right to sovereignty, that it was actually part of the larger Persian Empire and it was unnecessarily viewed as (an error ?).  So essentially it was calling for an re-absorption of Bahrain.  It was certainly in a war with Iraq, whose purposes they weren't all that sure about.

That has changed.  Iran is no longer really concerned about the internal political composition of the Gulf States, but their external behavior. 

Now on this number of other issues that you mentioned.  On the relationship between Iran and Hezbollah, that relationship is -- the relationship between the Shi'a clerical community in Iran and the Shi'a clerical community in Lebanon actually predates the revolution, the relationship that were molded by marriage, political convenience, political solidarity, and they have been buttressed over the years.  And Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese political landscape.  It has elected representatives and so forth.  And the challenge is essentially how to make Hezbollah a political party representing the Shi'a majority as opposed to, as I said, a paramilitary organization devoted to pressuring Israel.  That's the challenge.  But the relationship between Iran and Hezbollah does not lend itself to categorization of Iran as a state that seeks to export its revolution because even Hezbollah itself has rejected an Islamic republic as a model for governing the multi-(confessional ?) Lebanese society. 

 Iranian hostility to Israel is certainly one that has been unchanged over the years, even though that relationship is a much more complicated one and has some degree of stability in it. 

So you know, does Iran want to change the boundaries of the region?  On the issue of Iraq, Iran supports the Shi'a political parties, which at this particular point are the governing elected parties of Iraq.  The Dawa Party, the SCIRI party, certainly they have intimate and close relationships with Iran, but they also have intimate, close relationship with the Iraqi populace, as indicated by the fact that in repeated plebiscites and elections and referendums they have triumphed.  So this is now a(n) elected government of  the Iraqi people, however it may displease many in the Americans who thought that this would be a different sort of government.  So in that particular sense -- that's on the revisionist relationship -- that a relationship between two governments. 

So Iran is not seeking to change boundaries, it is not to seeking to revise boundaries, it is not seeking to under mind or overthrow the Gulf States.  It has expressed hostility to Israel, which in my estimation is more utilitarian than actual.  It's hard for me to see this as an ideological revisionist state seeking to use military powers, subversion and terrorism to have many Islamic republics populate the Middle East.  That's, you know -- now, Iran's new nuclear program has ramifications potentially in terms of arms race that you're mentioning.  I wouldn't take the rhetoric of the Jordanians and the Egyptians all that seriously -- for one thing, that would disrupt their alliance with the United States -- but certainly Iran's nuclear program as it accelerate could have ramifications in terms of arms race in the Middle East beyond Iran's predictions, but it's very hard to prognosticate on that now. 

It seems to me a status quo power in that sense -- status quo power that seeks to expand its influence, sometimes through means that are rather nefarious.


I mean, just a quick follow-up comment.  It seems like you're ready to discount every aggressive action and every aggressive piece of rhetoric as somehow some sort of political play --

TAKEYH:  I don't know if I discounted.  I think I've tried to contextualize it.

QUESTIONER:  But if you go to the --

ROSE:  From the United States or from Iran?

QUESTIONER:  No, no, no.  But even from a regional point of view.  It seems like everyone in the region is alarmed by Iran, but you're saying somehow that they don't recognize --

TAKEYH:  Well, I mean, I just saw --

QUESTIONER:  -- what a profoundly stabilizing force it is. 

TAKEYH:  Sure.  Shibley Telhami just came out with one of his polls where inhabitants of the Gulf have far more confidence in Iran than they do in America.  I mean, so, curiously enough, Iranian nuclear program has a lot of support among the Kuwaitis.  You know, is there unease -- here's a -- there's a division in the Gulf between the palace and the streets.  Are there unease about Iran's augmented power in the Gulf?  Yes.  But I look at this from the fact that the Gulf ministers and princes are in Tehran every day and there is a lot of commerce and trade between them. 

I don't think anyone's sanguine about the fact that Iran has emerged in power and strengthened.  But as I mentioned in the piece, I think, at least in the Gulf States, they will likely react to augmented Iranian power more through accommodation than confrontation, so some of those -- some of those divisive events that you seem to suggest may not necessarily happen.  And that's -- and I go into it in piece, the history of the Gulf monarchies and dealing with their northern neighbors in light of the fact that their imperial patron is no longer reliable and what that does to their strategic landscape of the Gulf, which has fundamentally changed. 

Rhetoric, I don't know if I discount it.  I try to place it in context, some of it -- you know, try to figure out what is serious and what's not serious.  You know, I guess that's just where we're at.

QUESTIONER:  Okay, good.  Thank you. 

OPERATOR:  Thank you, sir.

Our next question today comes from Martin Suter (sp) with Sonntag (ph).

QUESTIONER:  Yeah, hello.  The newspaper is Sonntag's (ph) Times.  I'm in Switzerland.

 And this is also the reason that I ask the first question.  I have to -- it relates to the 2003 offer of negotiations.  I hear that you don't want to comment on that.  What I really would like to know, even though, is what you -- whether you think that the moment in time, you know, just after the Iraq invasion would have been a good moment to start negotiations from the American side? 

And the other question I want to ask is, some people argue that military action combined with international pressure can actually affect something with, you know, nuclear ambitions of countries, looking at what happened to Saddam Hussein's nuclear program.  What do you think about that?

TAKEYH:  Sure.  The 2003 letter of May whatever it is, I -- you know, I haven't --- I've seen reportings of it and I don't have any enhanced information on it.  But as I said, to me, I would actually suggest it might not have been as serious as some people think it is, an unsigned fax saying that --  and that Iranian version of it is different; they actually claim that they are responding to an offer that Americans sent, primarily the deputy secretary, Rich Armitage, so they were more responding, they didn't initiate it.  So there's a lot of disagreements between the powers on what happened in 2003. 

Certainly, America was at apex of its power, Iran was anxious.  And to me, when one power is trying to negotiate from a position of compulsion and fear, that doesn't lead you to a lasting, durable solution.  Maybe, you know.

Look, to be frank, the 2003 argument is useful if you want to beat up on the Bush administration.  If you want to go out there and say Condi's lying and, you know, Bush administration is censoring, if that's -- then it's useful, as a stick to beat the Bush administration as a government, as an administration that purposely missed a historical opportunity to reconcile Iran and America and assure the epoch of bliss.  It's useful in that sense.

I don't think it's useful in terms of assessment of Iranian foreign policy and where it is today.  Well, where it is today is in 2006 -- August 2006 -- Iranians submitted an official letter -- it wasn't unsigned, it wasn't faxed; it was hand delivered to Solana, and he properly sent it to the Americans -- saying these are our negotiating terms; this is where we're at, this is where we (call ?).  And I actually suggest members of the press to look at that because it hasn't given any sort of a -- any sort of a critical assessment of it.  I tried to, as I said, cite it in piece extensively. 

Your second question was the use of power as a means of, as I understood it --

QUESTIONER:  Can you actually -- can you actually do something --

TAKEYH:  Can you actually bomb things?  Yeah, Americans can always bomb things; we're good at that.  (Laughs.)  Do we have the reliable information and intelligence to make sure that a nuclear program is disabled through a military strike?  Well, I will say the following.  Forget all the intelligence stuff.  For the past four years at least, maybe longer, we have said routinely that this is a program that potentially we are going to strike militarily.  So if a military campaign comes at some point -- next year, six months from now, whenever it is -- it is the most well-anticipated military strike in annals of warfare.  There is no surprise here.

Now, if I was an Iranian national security planner -- and these guys aren't Saddam Hussein; they're not -- they're not divested from reality, they don't sit around and write novels while their country is about to get invaded -- I would actually spend all my working days and nights making sure my program survives a potential -- pledged, implied, intimated -- American strike.  I will do so through a number of measures:  redundancy, concealment, urbanization, dispersal.  So the very persistent invocation of the military threat may actually militate against the success of a potential military operation.  That's what I was saying.  And add to that all the intelligence stuff.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Thank you, sir.

Our next question comes from Gary Feuerberg with Epoch Times.

QUESTIONER:  Yes.  We heard Agpar Gonchi (ph) when he was in Washington, sponsored by Amnesty International, and he spoke at great length about the increasing censorship that's going on and all the people that -- the journalists who are being jailed, and how this has really been increasing quite a bit with -- I can't pronounce his name, but you know -- the president of Iran's policies.  And his emphasis was less if I could say elitist as what you've been saying, but more putting emphasis on the human rights.  That's the one trump card that the U.S. holds, and that would get the support of the Iranian people more because this -- these policies of putting journalists in jail and increasing censorship -- the difficulties of publishing a book is much more difficult now, even ones that have already been published, getting them reprinted.  These things are not popular with the people and they don't like the laws of human rights; at least that's what he said. 

TAKEYH:  Well, yeah.  Yeah, I actually agree with -- there's certainly -- for someone who has been watching the Iranian press for the last years, there's certainly  been less of a debate, discussion -- you know, it's still not -- there's been less of argumentation that you will see.  There has been a proliferation, however, I would say of websites.  I think Persian is now the third-most used language on the Internet, Mandarin and English.  There are still sources of information, I will say.  It's not a country that is shut down in terms of actually having access to information.  I'm not quite sure if it's possible in 21st century and the era of globalization and global media to essentially segregate a country from the -- from that -- from that information age. 

Yeah, I would -- that's one of the disturbing aspects of what has happened, has been some sort of a lessening of the press and criticism.  But you know, if you look at the American press, about what they've been saying about Iran, it's been all that criticism of the Iranian president, there's been all that -- all that dissent, all that disagreement.  Well, so, there is -- it can't be both.  It can't be a state where there's no dissent allowed and then all that dissent is being disseminated.  It can't be both.  I would say there's been less of the shutting down -- there's been some shutting down of the press and that's very disturbing -- particularly for people like me, who tend to get their information from the Iranian press and public sources since we have no private sources. 

And I would say that on the issue of human rights, that's actually very critical.  And as part of negotiations between the two countries, we should actually try to initiate some sort of a Helsinki process.  So therefore, in a sense, detente and negotiations between the two parties can have a salutary effect on human rights issue, and I would actually insist on including of that in those deliberations.  I think, frankly, one of the problems we have had in Sino-American relations is lessened attention to those human right issues that were more present in Soviet-American dialogue, and I will say the Soviet-American Helsinki model would be a more proper model in terms of addressing both the challenge of Iran and the challenge of domestic political abuse in Iran.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.

TAKEYH:  Thanks.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question comes from Jim Dingman, with the INN World Report.

QUESTIONER:  Yeah.  Hi, Ray. How are you?

TAKEYH:  Thank you.  Hi. 

QUESTIONER:  Well, I had several questions.  Always very provocative to listen to you talk. 

 First of all, could you explain in greater detail President Ahmadinejad's relationship with the Guardian Councils, a little bit more of his relationship with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, what -- what role does that play domestically in Iranian politics, and just flush that out a little bit? 

TAKEYH:  Yeah.  The Guardian Council is actually an organization whose job it is to oversee the parliament, to make sure the parliamentary legislation conform with Islamic strictures.  So in a sense, it doesn't -- it is headed by a fairly reactionary figure named Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, and I don't think there's a whole lot of disagreement between that organization and this president. 

On the issue of the president's relationship with the Revolutionary Guards, which is 120,000 force, he actually served a long time in the Revolutionary Guards and particularly he seems to have a relationship with those who came out of security and intelligence aspect of the Revolutionary Guards as opposed to more of the combatants who were on the front lines in Iraq and so forth.

So he has a relationship with the most sinister part of the rather sinister organization, along with the Basij, which is an organization that doesn't always get talked about, these sort of the volunteers that are mobilized -- sort of like the National Guard, but far less cohesive, but there are several millions of them.  He has a strong relationship with the Basij movement and they have been historically his foot soldiers in term of campaigns and coercion and so forth.  So he comes from some dark places in the Islamic Republic and he has association with some dark figures as well, there's no question about that. 

But I would actually focus more on his relationship with Basij, which is a much larger organization as opposed to the Revolutionary Guards.  That doesn't in any way discount the fact that he has a relationship with them of some significance.  And also, remember in the past couple of years since he has taken over the executive branch, the Revolutionary Guards are like the Halliburton now; they keep being given no-bid contracts, you know, in terms of the building.  So it's become sort of a corporation, it's becoming a business conglomerate, sort of, again, like the Chinese Army, they're developing their own commercial fronts, commercial firms, and so forth, bidding on contracts and every time they bid they get them. (Laughs.)  So there is a much more of a corrupt monetary relationship and not just a pristine ideological one. 

QUESTIONER:  Now, you raised the analogy of the negotiations with China in the late '60s and early '70s, but of course China had been in a situation where the Sino-Soviets would have advanced to a new stage, where there was actual ground combat between Soviet and Chinese troops on the Ussuri River in '69.  And also they had provided -- the term "embeds" is not the proper description -- tens of thousands of troops to support the Vietnamese during the war with United States.


QUESTIONER:  So what in this situation is sort of that kind of element that would pressure Iran?  Where does the analogy work or not work?

TAKEYH:  Yeah.  Yeah.  Yes.  Right, right, Yeah --

ROSE:  This is going to have to be your last one, Jim, because we had -- you had two.  Okay?

TAKEYH:  First of all, you're quite right in terms of Chinese -- the extent of Chinese participation into the Vietnam War.  That figure, as I understand it, in terms of Chinese military personnel who were in the North Vietnam, at least, was 350,000.  And they wore distinct Chinese military uniforms just to let the Americans know they are here and so there'd be no misunderstanding in terms of volunteers, as there was in the Korean War.  So this is much more of Chinese military involvement with Vietnam.  So, in light of that.

The analogy works not in precise, specific, exact details, but it works in terms of a rising power and a declining external power, a rising regional power that is becoming stronger and an external power mired in its own quagmire and seeking some sort of an egress and whether they can come to terms. 

It works at the second level; a revolutionary government in China, a revolutionary government in Iran with deep-seated suspicions toward the United States.  It works in the third level, in the sense that these two countries have been much more hostile to each other and indeed much of their political -- domestic political framework was one of hostility.  It works in the fifth way.  There was a China lobby in America, a strong domestic opposition to the Red China, and there is a strong domestic opposition to Iran because of all its activities and so forth. 

So it works in lots of ways; it doesn't work in all ways.  But I think as historical analogies go, which, as I mentioned at the beginning, are always imperfect and they don't essentially mesh in all their specifics, it is one that is useful.


OPERATOR:  Okay, thank you.  Our last question comes from Michelle Steinberg with Electronic Intelligence.

QUESTIONER:  Yes, this is a follow up on the diplomacy issue.   Would you comment on two things, one from the U.S. Congress and now from the Senate.  Newly elected Senator Bernie Sanders has a concurrent resolution introduced today for dialogue with Iran, and there's also a dialogue caucus being formed in the House, bipartisan, to have relations between the Iranian Parliament and the United States Congress.  In the absence of White House initiatives, could this be a back channel that develops into something?  That's part one. 

Part two, the 2004 CFR task force, Iran: Time for a New Approach.  I heard Secretary Gates's press conference in Brussels last month in which he said that the circumstances of Iran's helpfulness that he saw in 2004 through that task force don't exist now, and that surprised me.

TAKEYH:  Let me deal with the last one because I was on that task force.  And frankly, what Secretary Gates says is nonsense.  I remember being in those meetings and we talked about Iranian terrorism, we talked about Iran nuclear program, Iran's connection with al Qaeda, Iran's opposition to peace process, Iran's involvement in Iraq, so I don't know how -- things may have  changed, certainly, domestic politics, because at that time we were still talking about the reformist government and the question was how do you bolster the reformists and restrain Khomeini.  So there's been some changes, but his perception that there's been a dramatic and remarkable changes strike me as someone who is trying to run away from the conclusion that may no longer be convenient for him. 

The stuff on the Hill.  Today is a unique period, actually, in U.S.-Iran relations because there is a consensus in both capitals -- Tehran and Washington -- about the necessity of negotiating with the other party.  That has never been the case before.  In Iran today the idea of negotiating with the United States as late as 1999, 2001, was a contentious issue.  Now there is a consensus in Iran, across political spectrum, blessed by the supreme leader, transmitted to Mr. Solana and others, that Iran is willing to negotiate with the United States -- without preconditions, to be sure.  In the United States today in Washington, there's a consensus from the left wing of the Democratic Party -- which I think Senator Sanders represents -- to the Bush-Cheney administration.  I mean, Condi Rice is every day saying, I'll meet my counterpart -- Mottaki -- anywhere, anyplace anytime.  That sure sounds like an offer of negotiations to me.  As I said, it's a unique moment in time where there's a consensus and agreement in both capitals that negotiations could be a potential means of resolving their disagreements. 

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.

ROSE:  Okay, I think we can try one more.  We have time for one more if people -- if there is one on the line.

OPERATOR:  Okay, sir.  Actually, there are no more questions in the queue.

ROSE:  Okay.  Ray, with that, then, do you have any final thoughts?  You've given your thoughts.


ROSE:  Okay, you can give your last wrap-up.

TAKEYH:  I would suggest that people read the piece; they don't have to read my book, but they should all buy it.

ROSE:  (Laughs.) Excellent.  With that, thank you all very much for attending and participating, and we will encounter you at our next call, whenever that is. 

Thanks a lot, Ray.

TAKEYH:  Thank you.







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