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Iran Review's Exclusive Interview with Shahir

Firouzeh Mirrazavi Special to
Here the former diplomat gives an insiders history of the troubled
relationship between Iran and the US
(TEHRAN) - Ira a! the si" worl!
powers have #ee !iscussi$ wa%s
to iro out !i&&ereces a! start
!ra&ti$ a &ial !eal that woul! e!
the 'est(s !ispute with Ira over
the coutr%(s uclear eer$%
pro$ram. The two si!es wrappe! up
their &ourth rou! o& uclear tal)s
i *iea o Fri!a% Ma% +,- ./+0.
Ira sa%s there has #ee o
ta$i#le pro$ress o !ra&ti$ the
te"t o& a comprehesive uclear
!eal. However- 1resi!et Hassa
Rouhai has e"presse! optimism
that the uclear e$otiatios with
the Se"tet o& worl! powers will
result i a &ial a$reemet.
Ira(s Forei$ Miister Mohamma!
2ava! 3ari& also sai! a
comprehesive uclear !eal
#etwee Ira a! the si" worl!
powers is 4possi#le5 i& the parties to
the tal)s with the Islamic Repu#lic
set 4illusios5 asi!e.
Ira Review.6r$ co!ucte! a
e"clusive iterview with Shahir
Shahi!saless- a Iraia-7aa!ia
political aal%st a! &reelace
8ouralist- a#out the latest rou! o&
uclear tal)s #etwee Ira a! the
19:+ $roup i *iea- the prospects &or the resolutio o& the uclear
Shahir Shahidsaless's latest book, that he co-authored
with former Iranian diplomat, Seyed Hossein
Mousavian, Iran and the United States, An Insiders
View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace
published by Bloomsbury Academic.
sta!o&&- e"isti$ pro#lems #etwee Ira a! the ;ite! States a! the
mai steps that Iraia a! America o&&icials ca ta)e to !ispel the
curret atmosphere o& mistrust.
His latest #oo)- that he co-authore! with &ormer Iraia !iplomat- Se%e!
Hossei Mousavia- isIran and the United States, An Insiders View on the Failed Past and
the Road to Peace pu#lishe! #% <looms#ur% Aca!emic. 'hat &ollows is the te"t
o& the iterview.
Q: What is your viewpoint about the latest round of nuclear talks
between Iran and the !"# group in $ienna% &o you believe that
the current deadlock in negotiations is 'uite natural or it is (ust a
beginning for the end of the optimism that e)isted in the past si)
months about the possibility of finding a solution to Iran*s nuclear
issue and sanctions through negotiations%
+: =ast summer I co&erece! with >eeth >atzma- a seior aal%st a!
Ira e"pert at the 7o$ressioal Research Service- !uri$ which I as)e! his
opiio a#out the ;S seriousess &or e!i$ the crisis over Ira(s uclear
pro$ram. >atzma sai! that 1resi!et 6#ama was !etermie! to ta)e the
issue o&& his ta#le.
The !evelopmets that &ollowe!- starti$ &rom 6#ama(s call to 1resi!et
Hassa Rouhai a! the the historical ?eeva iterim a$reemet #etwee
Ira a! the 19:+- provi!e! compelli$ evi!ece that >atzma(s assertio
was accurate. So- here we have a a!miistratio that is !etermie! to
#ri$ the issue to its e!.
<ut the @uestio that ee!s to #e a!!resse! is 4how &ar- i terms o&
cocessios- woul! the ;S a!miistratio #e prepare! to $oA5 6#ama has
serious costraits whe it comes to !eali$ with Ira. It woul! #e
urealistic to u!erestimate the power o& a 7o$ress that is heavil% ati-
Islamic Repu#lic a! su#8ective to !i&&eret lo##% $roups- &irst a! &oremost
the Israel lo##%.
6#ama a! his a!miistratio caot i$ore the haw)s i the ;S
esta#lishmet- iclu!i$ elemets such as i&luetial 7hairma o& the
Seate Forei$ Relatios 7ommittee Ro#ert Mee!ez who is a Bemocrat
#ut &iercel% lea!s a! a!vocates paral%zi$ sactio #ills a$aist Ira.
6 the Iraia si!e- there are also several re! lies !raw #% the ezam
(political s%stem) that 3ari& a! his team caot cross. Ira is ot prepare!
to surre!er to the ;S( coercive policies &or a variet% o& reasosC the &irst
&actor is the si$i&icat role that the otio o& pri!e pla%s i Ira(s &orei$
I &act- eve ma% America e"perts ar$ue that pri!e is the !rivi$ &orce
#ehi! Ira(s uclear pro$ram. Seco!- #ecause oe o& the pillars o& the
revolutio has #ee a! still is re8ectio o& &orei$ !omiatio. Fiall%-
Ira(s Supreme =ea!er ar$ues that i& the% ta)e oe step #ac) u!er
#ull%i$ a! itimi!atio o& the ;S- Americas woul! reuse the same
tactics (&or e"ample- imposi$ tou$h sactios) util the Islamic ezam is
As the ews emer$es- it #ecomes apparet that there are ma8or !i&&ereces
#etwee Ira a! the ;S o a um#er o& issues. Mr. Ara$hchi- Beput%
Forei$ Miister- sai! i a iterview a&ter the recet !iscussios i *iea
that there were ma% cases o& !i&&ereces. I must a!! that o some o&
those !i&&ereces- as ews has reveale!- there is a lar$e $ap #etwee the
two si!es.
The si" powers (rea! the ;S)- accor!i$ to the ews- wat Ira to scale
#ac) its uraium erichmet activities iclu!i$ the um#er o& cetri&u$es
that spi. Ira !oes ot a$ree- a! apparetl% the !i&&erece #etwee the
two si!es o this issue is i the ra$e o& tes o& thousa!s.
There are other ma8or issues that !ivi!e the two parts si$i&icatl%C &or
istace- the !uratio o& a% limitatios o Ira(s uclear activities- the
spee! o& li&ti$ sactios- a! whether or ot the &ial a$reemet shoul!
cover the scope o& Ira(s #allistic missile pro$ram.
These are the #a! si!es o& the stor%. The $oo! si!e is that o #oth si!es o&
the &ece- there is the will to #ri$ this issue to a e!. 1resi!et Rouhai(s
$ra! polic% is to re!uce tesios i Ira(s &orei$ polic% a! reverse the
tre! o& the ecoom%- thus esuri$ tra@uilit% a! pro$ress.
I this respect- Rouhai- #ei$ the Supreme =ea!er(s represetative at the
Supreme Natioal Securit% 7oucil &or .D %ears- is oe o& his most truste!
persoel a! has his support. This places Rouhai i a ui@ue positio to
simultaeousl% e$otiate isi!e a! outsi!e o& Ira.
The ;S- o the other ha!- is trappe! i a !a$erous tre! i the Mi!!le
East- which is a uprece!ete! rise o& 8iha!ists i the re$io &rom S%ria to
E$%pt to Ira@- couple! with a ucertai a! threatei$ A&$haista.
6#ama a! top ;S itelli$ece o&&icials cate$orize the situatio as a ma8or
threat to the securit% o& the ;SC &irst- #ecause this tre! threates the
sta#ilit% o& the ;S Ara# allies a! the re$io as a whole- which is oe o& the
most strate$ic re$ios i the worl! &or the ;S iterests- a! seco!-
#ecause 8iha!ists are the swor eemies o& the ;S a! their rise ca
potetiall% ma)e the ;S a! the 'est vulera#le to terrorist attac)s. A%
chace to stop a! reverse this tre! woul! #e possi#le ol% i& the ;S
cooperates with Ira a! colla#orates i com#atti$ the Ta)&iri &orces.
=ast #ut ot least- the choice that the two si!es ma)e is ot ol% a#out
whether or ot the% a$ree to #ri$ Ira(s uclear crisis to a e!. This is a
ver% ver% sesitive issue that I wat to emphasize o. The choice- i m%
view- is a#out peace a! war. 'h%A <ecause i& the tal)s &ail- the ;S will $o
&or !e &acto oil em#ar$o o Ira.
I such a evetualit%- it is har! to #elieve that Ira woul! remai as a
uivolve! spectator. 6ce patiece waes- Ira will retaliate to ma)e li&e
!i&&icult &or the ;S. <e it #% the iterruptio o& the &low o& oil i the 1ersia
?ul& or other meas- the outcome o& that woul! #e a ia!vertet or
plae! militar% co&rotatio.
'hat woul! #e the #ottom lieA I woul! aswer this @uestio with oe
caveatEthat the two si!es act ratioall%. I that case- #ecause the sta)es
are too hi$h- I woul! sa% that eve #% 2ul% ./- a! i the ver% last
momets- a a$reemet ma% materialize.
I a$ree with a ;S o&&icial- who a&ter the recet tal)s i ?eeva- sai!- 4This
has- ca!i!l%- #ee a ver% slow a! !i&&icult process a! we are cocere!
with the short amout o& time that is le&t. <ut let me #e ver% clearC we
#elieve we ca still $et it !oe.5
Q: &o you think that nuclear negotiations can form a basis for the
resolution of the e)isting problems between Iran and the United
States, or do you believe that these are entirely different topics in
nature and should be addressed within a suitable time frame for
each issue% -o what e)tent do you believe is the possibility of final
resolution of Iran.US problems%
+: I #elieve that a satis&actor% solutio to the uclear issue will most li)el%
create a plat&orm upo which the two states ca #roa!e their cooperatio.
The commo iterests such as securit% a! sta#ilit% o& the re$io- sa&e
passa$e o& oil throu$h the 1ersia ?ul&- a! com#atti$ the rise o& 8iha!ist
$roups coul! potetiall% push the two coutries towar! !Ftete oce the
uclear issue is resolve!.
Ira see)s o-hostile relatios with America #ase! o o-iter&erece
a! reco$itio o& Ira as a re$ioal power. This has #ee the Islamic
Repu#lic(s o$oi$ !ema! sice its iceptioG however- i practice a! ot
i wor!s- these !ema!s have #ee re8ecte! #% the ;ite! States.
I that &ramewor)- I #elieve Ira woul! coset to esta#lish o-hostile
relatios with the ;S. However- there are covici$ reasos that Ira
woul! re8ect ormal !iplomatic relatios with the ;S i the ear &uture- to
sa% the least. Here are the primar% reasos.
First- the Iraia lea!ership has repeate!l% e"presse! its !eep mistrust
towar! the otio o& the restoratio o& !iplomatic relatios with the ;S.
Bocumets seize! #% stu!ets a&ter the seizure o& the ;S em#ass%
rei&orce! the Iraia $overmet(s mistrust o& the ;S- which ori$iate! i
their historical e"periece o& the ivolvemet o& the ;S em#ass% i the
+H9D coup.
Accor!i$ to those !ocumets- the em#ass% was ivolve! i espioa$e a!
the e"pasio o& its covert li)s with mem#ers o& the ew $overmet a!
Mistrust towar! the restoratio o& &ull !iplomatic relatios is echoe! i the
speeches o& A%atollah >hameei- who cote!s- 4A% relatios Iwith the
;SJ woul! provi!e the possi#ilit% to the Americas to i&iltrate Ira a!
woul! pave the wa% &or their itelli$ece a! sp% a$ets.5
The ma8or cocer has #ee that o&&icial !iplomatic relatios will ea#le the
creatio o& covert li)s #etwee the Americas a! Iraias who are
prepare! to cooperate with the Americas to u!ermie the Iraia ezam.
Seco!- the Iraia ezam- #ase! o Islamic values- claims that the ;S
!eli#eratel% ecoura$es li#eral values (Ira(s Supreme =ea!er calls it taha8om-e
&arha$i- or cultural itrusio) amo$ the Iraia %outh #oth to ero!e their
(L) Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian, PhD is Associate Research Scholar at the Program on
Science and Global Security (SGS) at Princeton University. His research focuses on improving
Iran-US relations. (R) Shahir ShahidSaless is an Iranian-Canadian political analyst and freelance
journalist. He received his MA in Geopolitics and Grand Strategy from the University of Sussex,
reli$ious #elie&s a! to u!ermie the i&luece o& Ira(s Islamic esta#lishmet.
6#servatios reveal that there is some merit to this claimC The ;S has iveste!
(a! still ivests) i the promotio o& the America culture throu$h the me!ia-
which is u!er its cotrol or &iace! #% them.
2oseph N%e- the America political scietist who !evelope! the cocept o& 4so&t
power-5 views America culture as oe o& the pillars o& ;S power a! istrumetal
to the pro8ectio o& that power.
It is a realit% that ma% %ou$ people across the $lo#e &i! America culture
attractive a! are i&luece! #% it.
<ase! o this assumptio- the Iraia ezam(s assessmet coul! #e that ormal
relatios with the ;S woul! &acilitate cultural e"cha$es- which ma% result i the
'esterizatio o& the coutr% a! the wea)ei$ o& the i!eolo$ical &ou!atio o&
the Iraia societ% a! political s%stem.
To sum up- m% view is that the Iraia lea!ership welcomes #etter a! o-
hostile relatios with the ;S #ut ot ormal !iplomatic relatiosEat least ot at
this momet a! ot i the &oreseea#le &uture. That sai!- a peace&ul resolutio to
the uclear crisis will pave the path &or cooperatio #etwee the two states
$rou!e! o serious commo iterests that I metioe! earlier.
Q: Suppose you are asked to list three main steps that Iranian and
+merican officials should take in order of priority to dispel the current
atmosphere of misunderstanding toward each other/ What would be your
suggestions for each country%
+: I ca su$$est ma% steps- cosi!era#le i importaceE#ut the the @uestio
woul! #e whether or ot the% are practical. ;!er the circumstaces- I woul!
su$$est the &ollowi$C
First- the two states cease hostile rhetoric a$aist each other at the o&&icial level.
Neither $overmet ca cotrol i!ivi!uals- political currets- a!Kor the me!ia
outsi!e their authorit%- #ut state-cotrolle! etities a! istitutios coul! #e
This woul! #e a si$i&icat move- which is a i!icatio o& $oo!will while at the
ver% least woul! prevet the escalatio o& co&lict. Halti$ e$ative propa$a!a
ca certail% cha$e the eviromet- prepari$ it &or e$otiatios aime! at
easi$ tesios.
Seco!- #ecause the elemet o& mistrust is at the core o& the Ira-;S hostile
relatios- it must #e a!!resse! #% some #ol! moves. The ;S ca allow the
resumptio o& the sale o& civilia aircra&t to Ira. Not a #i$ sacri&ice #ut this is a
move that woul! certail% crac) the wall o& mistrust.
Thir!- a meeti$ at the lea!ers( level o& the two coutries woul! #e a historical-
$rou!#rea)i$ evet that coul! ease tesios. =et us ot &or$et that Ni"o(s visit
to 7hia i +HL.- whe 7hia was u!er the rule o& ra!ical Mao 3e!o$- mar)e!
the turi$ poit i 7hia-;S relatios.
Q: -he book, Iran and -he United States: +n Insider*s $iew on the 0ailed
ast and the 1oad to eace, (ointly written by you and Seyed Hossein
2ousavian, came out on 2ay 33nd / What is the main sub(ect of the book
and what goal4s5 does it pursue%
+: Throu$h shari$ Br. Mousavia(s memoirs as a top ra)e! !iplomat a! a
Iraia &orei$ polic% e"pert- the #oo) emplo%s historical &acts- aal%ses- a!
ar$umets to aswer to the @uestio o& 4'h% Ira a! America have #ecome
loc)e! i a rare escalator% a! reciprocal co&lict spiralA5
Br. Mousavia(s &irstha! )owle!$e a#out the itricacies o& Ira(s politics
provi!es valua#le isi$hts a! iteresti$ coclusios o the matter. The curret
Ira-America patter o& co&lict is ver% rare a! was ot see eve !uri$ the
7ol!-'ar era #etwee the ;S a! its a!versaries.
America ha! &ull !iplomatic relatios with the commuist #loc eve at the pea) o&
the 7ol!-'ar. The #oo)- at the e!- #ase! o its &i!i$s- attempts to propose a
realistic- wor)a#le roa!map to resolvi$ the Ira-;S co&lict.
Numerous #oo)s are writte #% 'ester- mail% America- e"perts loo)i$ at
co&lictual relatios #etwee Ira a! the ;S &rom a variet% o& a$les.
However- oe have presete! a imme!iate loo) at this comple" relatioship
&rom withi the Iraia polic%-ma)i$ s%stem- e"amii$ the wa% the Iraia
ezam views its ol! a! protracte! hostilities with the ;S. This is the $ap i the
literature o Ira-;S relatios that this #oo) ite!s to &ill.
The #oo) !oes ot re&ute the maistream e"plaatios &or the co&lict #etwee
Ira a! the ;S such as competitio over iterests- clash o& cultures- hostile
relatios #etwee Ira a! Israel- a! the role o& !omestic politics o &orei$
I &act- it e"tesivel% !iscusses a! she!s li$ht o these theories. However- it
ar$ues that 'ester e"perts le! ver% little cre!ece to some &actors that have
pla%e! a ma8or role a! operate as a #arrier to esta#lishi$ e!uri$ !ialo$ue
a! commuicatio #etwee the two states. A! i& the &actors that have
perpetuate! this state cotiue to $o i$ore!- it is ureasoa#le to e"pect a
e$otiate! solutio to the protracte! a! comple" co&lict #etwee Ira a! the
=et us ta)e the hosta$e crisis as a e"ampleC The ici!et that- as ta$$e! i the
#oo)- was the 4#i$ #a$5Ethe #e$ii$ o& the hostilities #etwee Ira a!
AmericaEoccurre! whe ma% o& to!a%(s poits o& cotetio #etwee Ira a!
the ;S either !i! ot e"ist or were isi$i&icat at that time.
There was o competitio over he$emo% i the re$io #etwee the two
coutries- cultural !i&&ereces ha! ot emer$e!- the issue o& Israel was a o-
&actor- a! there was o !ispute over Ira(s uclear pro$ram. As !emostrate! i
the #oo)- a com#iatio o& pro&ou! mistrust- misperceptios- a! misaal%sis o&
the situatio o #oth si!es were priciple causes o& the &ormatio o& the crisis.
Have these elemets #ee a!!resse! i the policies o& the two si!es towar! each
otherA The aswer is !e&iitel% o. The% are !iscusse! #% ma% wester e"perts
#ut ever !rew the attetio that the% !eserve !uri$ the process o& polic%-
ma)i$. I &act- the a!opte! policies almost etirel% have i$ore! these &actors
a! that is- as we ar$ue i the #oo)- the mai cause o& the &ailure o& the ;S
policies as well as the itesi&icatio o& the hostilities to a perilous level.
This primaril% applies to the America si!e- which rests i the !river seat a!
a!opts coercive policies #ase! o a usu#statiate! ratioale that the Iraia
$overmet will evetuall% surre!er to pressure. The #oo) ar$ues that !ue to a
um#er o& reasos- coercive policies have #ee ua#le to &orce the Iraia
$overmet to #ow a! will ot i the &uture either.
The #oo) i!eti&ies aother ma8or elemet that has o#structe! the &ormatio o& a
lo$-lasti$ e$otiatio processC the role o& spoilers withi a! without the two
'e i!eti&% a patter o& itesi&icatio o& e&&orts to eutralize attempts at
recociliatio #etwee Ira a! the ;S at the momets whe hopes &or the
#ettermet o& relatios appear i the horizo.
'ith the icreasi$ li)elihoo! o& reachi$ a !eal o Ira(s uclear crisis- the harsh
reactios o& the Israeli $overmet a! pro-Israel lo##%i$ $roup America Israel
1u#lic A&&airs 7ommittee (AI1A7) ur$i$ the ;S 7o$ress to pass ew a sactios
#ill- as well as the emer$ece o& 4'E are worrie!5 movemet i Ira- are clear
e"amples o& such e&&orts.