Five Issues for the United States and Iran

By Mehdi Noorbaksh

The United States faces five issues it must resolve with Iran. These include Iran’s nuclear program, Iraq, Afghanistan, the support of the Iranian government for radical groups, and Iran’s opposition to the peace pro- cess between the Palestinians and Israelis. The United States can ignore recognizing Ahmadinejad’s government and pursue its goals without direct negotiations.

With regards to the nuclear program, it is judicious for Washington to internationalize the issue further than had the Bush administration. The International Atomic Energy Agency should be empowered by the United States and international community to directly oversee Iranian activities in pursuit of a legitimate nuclear program for peaceful purposes. U.S. negotiations with Ahmadinejad’s government risk remaining inconclusive, both in terms of his demands and also his breach of commitment after a resolution. Ahmadinejad’s government is mistrusted and perceived as illegitimate by the Iranian people. It would be very difficult and imprudent to trust an untrustworthy government in any negotiated settlement. If Ahmadinejad breaches a contract, subsequently Washington’s credibility will be questioned.

On the issues of Iraq and Afghanistan, Ahmadinejad’s options are very limited. He has no other choice but to support the current governments in these two nations. The Bush administration falsely exaggerated the influ- ence of Iran in Iraq. Iran’s interests in these nations lie in establishing stable governments in both. Ahmadinejad has neither the will nor the allies in either of these two nations for destabilizing their respective governments.

The United States cannot negotiate with Iran regarding its support for radical groups in the Middle East and elsewhere. Ahmadinejad’s government feeds on radicalism and enjoys radicals’ support. Relying on radicalism is perceived by this regime as a source of pride and legitimacy. As long as Ahmadinejad and his allies remain in power, the United States must expect to face an ideological confrontation with this regime. Ahmadinejad’s government and ideology are undem- ocratic in nature and expansionist in outreach. From this perspective it is prudent for the United States to stay behind the will of the Iranian nation for funda- mental democratic change in that country.

Keeping in mind Hezbollah’s losses in Lebanon’s recent elections, valuable lessons can be learned. When the forces of democracy are empowered, they may curtail radical influences and establish a viable demo- cratic process, the rule of law, and accountable government. Iranians will be strongly dismayed if Washington gives any encouragement to the current regime in Iran. Historically, the United States aborted the birth of the democratic process in Iran in 1953 by toppling the democratically elected government of Mohammad Musaddiq. Today, Washington must be exceptionally prudent and vigilant to support the democratic movement’s achievement of its goal, and not support an unpopular government looking to further stabilize itself.

As for Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations, Washington must ignore Iran and push for a fair and just settlement between the two parties. Hamas has recently announced its agreement with a settlement that includes the border that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Washington would be wise to reject the Israeli drumbeat of confrontation with Iran, focus on solutions which end Palestinian misery, and establish a Palestinian state. Only through a fair resolution of that conflict will the radical tendencies in the Middle East be discredited and its radicals disarmed.

Mehdi Noorbaksh received his Ph.D. in government in 1996. He is associate professor of international affairs at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.