Time to Break a Taboo

Iranian protestors  hold anti-US posters as they demonstrate after Friday prayers against a film mocking Islam, in Tehran, on September 14, 2012 (ATTA KENARE/AFP/GettyImages) Iranian protestors hold anti-US posters as they demonstrate after Friday prayers against a film mocking Islam, in Tehran, on September 14, 2012 (ATTA KENARE/AFP/GettyImages)

Iranian protestors hold anti-US posters as they demonstrate after Friday prayers against a film mocking Islam, in Tehran, on September 14, 2012 (ATTA KENARE/AFP/GettyImages)

Whenever I read a news item or opinion article about direct negotiations between Iran and America, I remember an article of mine that was published 23 years ago. Back then, suggesting such a thing went against a great taboo in Iran. In Iran, the USA is "named and shamed" as the Great Satan, and talking about issues such as direct negotiation was absolutely unthinkable in those days.

So, after the article was published, various demonstrations were organized in Tehran, Qom, and other big cities against me. In the article, all I had suggested was that it was a good idea to hold direct negotiation between Iran and America. In response, many political parties and famous political figures accused me of being an agent of America in their interviews and announcements! Even Ayatollah Khamenei called me an unsophisticated simpleton in a speech. Fortunately though, after 10 hours, he changed his mind and sent me a letter, in which he apologized for his words.

Nowadays, thinking back, it is no secret that Iran has negotiated with America in Afghanistan, Iraq, and in Europe about its nuclear program. In addition, Ahmadinejad wrote some lovely letters to both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Both letters were completely ignored though, and they did not respond to him. On the other hand, President Obama sent a very important letter to Ayatollah Khamenei.

Following the great victory of Rouhani in the election, which was largely due to the support of reformists, Hashemi Rafsanjani said that the face of Iran has changed, and the world—and the USA and Europe in particular—got this message clearly. For instance, the articles written by two former foreign ministers—Britain's Jack Straw and Germany's Joschka Fisher—were both quite important demonstrations of this.

Two groups, extremists in Israel and in Iran, are against any kind of negotiation with America, and they do not believe in the importance of rebuilding the relationship between the two states. They claim that there has not been a single change in Iran’s situation. It is amazing that extremists in Iran, and Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel, both talk using the same language and similar words. Netanyahu in his interview with CBS News, July 14, said Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, while Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf's clothing. In Iran too, the Kayhan newspaper, which is well-known for its belligerent tone on domestic and foreign politics, is taking the same position.

Now, twenty-nine prominent former American government officials, diplomats, military officers, and national security experts are calling on the White House to pursue direct negotiations with Iran once the country's new president, Hassan Rouhani, is inaugurated. In a letter to President Obama this week, the group called the election of Iran's new president “a major potential opportunity to reinvigorate diplomatic efforts to resolve the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.”

The letter comes as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has called for ratcheting up sanctions and threats of military action, and Congress is reportedly mulling a new round of sanctions. It is worth quoting in detail: “Once the new president has been inaugurated, the United States should pursue coordinated multilateral engagement on the nuclear issue through the P5+1. Additionally, the US should prepare to redouble its efforts to pursue direct, bilateral negotiations with Iran to engage on issues beyond the nuclear file, such as human rights and regional security. After assessing the orientation of the new Iranian government, the US and partners should prepare to offer a new set of proposals to limit Iran’s enrichment and nuclear materials stockpiles combined with stringent oversight and verification measures.”

I think there are various important issues that necessitate Iran and the USA holding direct negotiations so that they can make the right decisions. First and foremost is the nuclear file, which is still the most sensitive issue that needs to be handled. Fortunately, Rouhani is the right person in the right place in this regard, as he knows the details of the file, and he has published a very informative book about the nuclear file and Iran’s national security. He is also a remarkable jurist.

This is a golden opportunity for both sides to listen to the voice of wisdom.


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