Monday, May 30, 2005

Learning to Talk to Iran--Beeman

Agence Global - Article: "Learning to Talk to Iran
by William O. BeemanReleased: 26 May 2005

Learning to Talk to Iran
by William O. Beeman Released: 26 May 2005

American officials can't get their substantive concerns through to Iranian ears because they don't know how to talk to Iran.

Yet another example of this dysfunctional communication was seen when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on May 19 entitled "Iran: Weapons Proliferation, Terrorism and Democracy," which featured a group of individuals who are largely hostile to Iran. These hearings were predominantly an orgy of Iran bashing that will get the United States no closer to entente with the Islamic Republic.

When viewing counter-productive events such as this hearing, it becomes clear that all branches of American government need a different strategy if they are at all serious in their intention of changing minds in Tehran about anything. This requires some schooling in Iranian communication dynamics, going beyond the particular substantive merits of either side's arguments.

It is a general principle of communication dynamics in Iran that only parties who are in an active pre-existing relationship have the ability to make demands on each other. To enter a relationship, there needs to be a clear understanding about roles -- how the parties are to be mutually supportive. In interpersonal interaction, an individual who tries to make demands on another from a "superior" position without having this understanding is practicing "power mongering" (ghodrat-talabi). This is one of the most despised actions in all of Iranian conduct, and is resisted with every fiber of one's being. Even if a party is forced into acquiescence, there are consequences down the road, since the party forced to their knees, so to speak, will harbor eternal resentment, and will look for a way to strike back at some time in the future.

The United States and Iran currently have no active relationship. Therefore American demands on Iran will be met with greater and greater resistance the more they are promulgated, either directly through shouting and invective, or through trying to use the European negotiating team to do Washington's work. The Europeans, who do have a functioning relationship with Iran, have a chance to succeed in their negotiations, if only they are not perceived as American tools. The only way for the United States to press its interests successfully with Iran is to bite the bullet and get back into direct communication with the Islamic Republic. As distasteful as this might be to some parties in the current administration -- and indeed to many in Iran -- it can be done with sufficient political will.

Given American ineptitude in this communication quagmire, it may be up to some intrepid Iranians to step up and seize the day. The presidential election next month will be an important watershed. Former president Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, now running for president again, is no longer a novice in dealing with the United States. He was involved in the Iran-Contra affair, and has emerged from that encounter with his political powers intact. He has stated his confidence that he can deal with the U.S. and not pay a political price at home -- a rare and precious claim. He is not well liked, and his ethics are regularly questioned in private, but pragmatists in Iran feel that he might be able to be the key to rapprochement with the United States -- something that they recognize must happen eventually. Washington will be hard pressed to identify another such actor among Iranian political elites. However, Rafsanjani is a man of formidable political skills. Karl Rove couldn't hold a candle to him -- though they are cut from the same cloth.

Mr. Rafsanjani s election is by no means a foregone conclusion. Moreover, if he wins, dealing with him will still be a delicate challenge. Nevertheless, as he has hinted, his election could be an opening to better relations. Mr. Rafsanjani would definitely be his own person; he could probably not survive anything that would make him seem to be an American puppet. Washington, however, should be prepared to respond quickly and positively to any overtures he makes. This might occasion the diplomatic breakthrough that Madeline Albright, among others, pursued unsuccessfully in the past.

The United States and Iran now need someone like Mr. Rafsanjani. Without some serious face-to-face work, Iran and the United States are doomed to a death-spiral of deteriorating communication, and the American public may once again be treated to a disastrous violent international action framed by those fateful, sad and ultimately disingenuous words: "We did all we could."

William O. Beeman is Professor of Anthropology and Director of Middle East Studies at Brown University. His books include Language, Status and Power in Iran, and the forthcoming The “Great Satan” vs. the “Mad Mullahs”: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other.

Copyright 2005 William O. Beeman

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Bush Administration Lies to Besmirch Iran--Beeman--Pacific News Service May 6, 2005

Pacific News Service > News > Bush Administration Lies to Besmirch Iran

Bush Administration Lies to Besmirch Iran
Commentary, William O. Beeman,
Pacific News Service, May 06, 2005

Editor's Note: U.S. officials are telling falsehoods about Iran and its nuclear program, most recently on PBS's NewsHour program, the writer says.

SAN FRANCISCO--The frustration of the Bush administration with Iran regarding its nuclear program is obviously boiling over when an administration official issues an outright lie about Iran in a public venue, as Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns did on television on May 5.

Burns made the following statement on PBS's NewsHour program to interviewer Margaret Warner.

WARNER: But as you know, I mean, Iran says that under the (Nuclear Non-
Proliferation) treaty, it has an inalienable right to continue pursuing this technology for civilian purposes.

BURNS: But the agreement that Iran entered into November of last year in Paris with Britain, France and Germany, is that it will not just suspend its nuclear fuel cycle activities. It will actually lead to cessation and dismantling. That means that Iran would not be able to have the possibility to enrich or produce fissile material which, as you know, is the essential ingredient in the capacity to build a nuclear device.

Burns' statement is untrue. The Nov. 15 treaty, a public document, does not stipulate any agreement on Iran's part to dismantle any part of its peaceful nuclear development program. Moreover, Iran's cessation of enrichment activity was specified as voluntary in the treaty.

Burns' remark is designed to show that Iran is in violation of a treaty subsequent to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), thus perpetuating the Bush administration portrait of Iran as an outlaw nation and "treaty violator." What Burns failed to point out is that Iran also subscribed to the following unambiguous statement in the November treaty:

"Iran reaffirms that, in accordance with Article II of the NPT, it does not and will not seek to acquire nuclear weapons. It commits itself to full cooperation and transparency with the IAEA. Iran will continue implanting voluntarily the Additional Protocol [for enhanced inspections] pending ratification."

Iranian officials have dug in their heels on this issue because they correctly feel that they have been unfairly singled out for attack. They know full well that Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea are not signatories to the NPT; that they have nuclear weapons; and that the United States is doing nothing to target them. They also know that Brazil has a developing nuclear program, and that Taiwan supplies nuclear technology support to all and sundry, and these nations are likewise not the targets of American rhetoric.

Iran is deeply proud of its technological advances. It is now manufacturing commercial passenger aircraft for export, and has the largest automobile manufacturing plant in the Middle East. It is diversifying its oil economy and has growing non-oil export trade. Nuclear energy technology is both a demonstration of its advancing skills in high-level engineering and a practical economic measure to free petroleum and natural gas for export to China, India and other nearby Asian markets. Iran's clerical leaders are not loved by its youthful population, but their support for nuclear energy development is almost universally supported by the populace.

Since there has been no diplomatic relations between Washington and Tehran for nearly 30 years, the only way for either nation to get the attention of the other is through invective and excessive rhetoric. The Bush administration has decided that the nuclear issue is the one that will play best with the American public, and on the world scene, and so it seems ready to tolerate, and perhaps even orchestrate, stunts like the Burns prevarication. However, in the long run the United States is losing the battle. European powers are not willing to go along with U.S. strong-arm tactics, and even if the United States is able to haul Iran in to the United Nations to face sanctions, it is likely that China, Russia and France will veto the measure, causing embarrassment in Washington.

Far better for Washington would be to do what Britain, France and Germany have been urging the Bush administration to do, and actually press to open direct talks with Tehran. This is the honest, the correct and the effective way to deal with the very proud nation of Iran.

PNS contributor William O. Beeman is professor of anthropology and director of Middle East Studies at Brown University. He is currently visiting professor of cultural and social anthropology at Stanford University. His forthcoming book is "The 'Great Satan' vs. the 'Mad Mullahs': How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other."


Ehsan on May 06, 2005 22:12:33, said:
This article is one of the rare, fair reports about the atomic crisis and Iran.

nima on May 06, 2005 18:39:00, said:
Brilliant article. I wish I could see such honest and independent reporting in other sectors of the press.

Bahram on May 06, 2005 18:13:15, said:
Good work. After many years as an Iranian living in U.S. finally I found an honest, wise article. I and almost all of my many young educated friends in U.S. and Iran are no fan of current government in Iran. However, we believe Iran is treated unfairly not only in this issue but also in any other commercial and economical issues such as oil investment.

The Bush administration does not understand that they are unifying Iranians and the government by these sanctions and pressures. Remember the golden years of hope for democracy in Iran was when Clinton administration showed its interest to open a relationship with Iran. Unfortunately people like you have no voice in mainstream media and administration. God bless you.

Henning on May 06, 2005 17:19:25, said:
The Bush admnistration is based on crime, lies, mass murder and terror. Then how do you think he can deal in a correct and effective way?

Monday, May 02, 2005

Iran is Cleaning Up its Act--Why won't the United States Respond? Agence Global May 2, 2005

Agence Global - Article: "Iran is Cleaning Up its Act � Why Won�t the United States Respond?
by William O. BeemanReleased: 2 May 2005

Iran is Cleaning Up its Act — Why Won’t the United States Respond?
by William O. Beeman Released: 2 May 2005
Agence Global

The big news on Iran in the United States for months is that Iran “threatens” to resume uranium enrichment.

However, there is much bigger news regarding Iran that is being systematically ignored by the United States government and the press. Slowly but surely, Iran is quietly cleaning up its act. It is, in fact, addressing nearly every other complaint leveled against it by American politicians for more than two decades.

The principal critiques against Iran by the United States have encompassed three areas besides the continuing development of nuclear power resources: support of terrorism, treatment of women, and oppression of minorities. All of these accusations may have had some substance 25 years ago, but in 2005, they have all paled.

Iran today is transforming as rapidly as its youthful population is moving into adulthood. Its previously moribund economy is revitalizing, with new construction, manufacturing and sophisticated exports, such as passenger cars and light aircraft. If the world will wait just a few years until the post-Revolutionary generation becomes the majority voting population, all of the hopes of the United States for Iran becoming an emerging, productive economic partner for the developed world will be realized.

However, patience is not a strong commodity in Washington with regard to Iran. Hotheaded Bush-era officials like Douglas Feith and John Bolton act out their raw prejudices against the Islamic Republic with virtually no reflection on reality. Egged on by their colleagues at right-wing think tanks, they have done little more than hurl invective any time Iran’s name is mentioned. The Iran haters clearly believe that slogans such as “Axis of Evil” verify themselves. Yellow journalism, such as the recent work of Jerome R. Corsi -- co-author of Unfit for Command, the “Swift Boat” attack on John Kerry -- Atomic Iran, which accuses Iran’s government officials of stealing children to stay in power, and plotting to kill even more children by dropping bombs on Central Park, do little to encourage civil discourse between Tehran and Washington.

Examining the hoary old accusations against Iran in light of today’s world may help clear the air.

The United States has regularly accused Iran of being the “greatest State supporter of terrorism in the world.” This accusation is based on only one concretely verifiable action on Iran’s part—its support of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Other attempts to link Iran to Hamas, to Al-Qaeda, to the Taliban and other groups have proved utterly specious, and indeed completely improbable given the antipathy between these other groups and Iran’s Shi’a leaders both on doctrinal and on political grounds.

Iran was instrumental in founding Hezbullah in the early 1980’s, and continued support of that organization for some time. However, Hezbollah has matured. Its political agenda is now utterly different from that of Iran. It is the most organized, and potentially the most powerful political force in Lebanon, with 14 members in parliament, and a broad set of institutions, including schools, orphanages and hospitals. All experts on Hezbollah agree that it no longer needs Iran for its continued existence.

Now Iran has taken the hint. It has withdrawn virtually all of its support troops from Lebanon and Hezbollah. Moreover, it has been doing so quietly for the last five years.

This was reported quietly by Robin Wright for the Washington Post on April 14 of this year. Some minimal contact will likely continue, since Hezbollah members revere the Iranian revolution and are “Twelver” Shi’ites, as their Iranian counterparts. However, the idea that Hezbollah depends on Iran for its existence at this point is patently false.

Iran’s treatment of women has long been ritually invoked as proof of its unworthiness as a state. It is certainly true that Iran’s clerical leaders would like to enforce more modest behavior for women, but the intrepid women of Iran have had different ideas, and have moved to liberate themselves from the unreasonable restrictions imposed nearly 30 years ago. Fearless and outspoken 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights lawyer, Shirin Ebadi, is a prime example of this powerful New Iranian Woman.

Westerners tend to fetishize “the veil” -- the all-encompassing black chador -- as a sign of female oppression. Today the chador is reserved for the most conservative families, and for religious rites. Modest street and office dress has evolved into high fashion. Head coverings are both minimal and colorful, and the chador has become a light, tailored frock worn frequently over jeans with embroidered bottoms.

But fashion does not tell the whole story. Seventy percent of successful university entrants are now women -- even in fields like engineering and medicine. Women are everywhere, and their power is making itself felt. On April 12, 2005, the Iranian parliament with the acquiescence of conservative mullahs ratified a bill allowing abortion in the first trimester when the fetus is non-viable or the mother’s life is in danger. This law was the direct result of lobbying by women, horrified at the death rate from illegal back-street abortions throughout the nation.

Finally, although immediately after the revolution, ethnic and religious minorities were mistreated by revolutionary zealots, today the situation has almost completely reversed. Except for the Baha’i community, who are considered heretics in Shi’ism, other religious minorities live in peace and without any restriction regarding trade, education or government service. The Jewish, Armenian and Assyrian communities all have designated parliamentary representatives.

Ethnic groups are likewise enjoying more freedoms than under the Pahlavi regime. School instruction and publication is now undertaken in long-repressed Kurdish, Azerbaijani, Baluchi and Arabic languages in addition to Persian. Other local languages may follow.

It should be noted that Iran’s human rights record for political dissidents is far from admirable, but interestingly, this has not been a point on which the United States has ever pressed Tehran. The reasons for Washington’s relative silence on this matter are unclear, but it is clearly difficult to complain credibly about Iran’s failings in human rights in the light of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and the American practice of shipping its own political prisoners to Yemen or Uzbekistan to be tortured.

This leaves Iran’s nuclear development efforts as the sole remaining complaint against Iran. Since there is no proof at all that Iran has nuclear weapons, or a nuclear weapons’ development program, these complaints also remain specious. Moreover, when one listens carefully to Iranian politicians, one hears that their principal concern is not anxiety about restrictions on nuclear weapons development -- it is anger and resentment that they are being singled out as an exception to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to which they are signatories. They correctly point out that the treaty grants them the unambiguous right to peaceful development of nuclear energy, including the development of a full fuel cycle.

One might concede that American verbal pressure on Iran has been the source of movement away from support of the Hezbollah, and toward better treatment of women and minorities. If so, then Washington should be delighted. However, it seems that the farther Iran retreats from giving substance to American complaints, the more eager the Bush administration is to elevate the harsh invective, drawing line after line in the sand, however pale and undefined they may become. If these complaints are merely a pretext for violent action against the Islamic Republic, as many in Tehran believe, Iran will never succeed in placating the Washington hawks no matter how well they behave.

William O. Beeman is Professor of Anthropology and Director of Middle East Studies at Brown University, and Visiting Professor of Cultural and Social Anthropology at Stanford University. His forthcoming book is The “Great Satan” vs. the “Mad Mullahs”: How The United States and Iran Demonize Each Other.

Copyright 2005 William O. Beeman

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