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DATE=4/8/2000
TYPE=ON THE LINE
TITLE=ON THE LINE: THE U.S. AND IRAN
NUMBER=1-00837
EDITOR=OFFICE OF POLICY - 619-0037
CONTENT=
THEME: UP, HOLD UNDER AND FADE
Anncr:	On the Line - a discussion of United 
States policy and contemporary issues.  This week, 
"The U.S. and Iran." Here is your host, Robert 
Reilly.
Host:	Hello and welcome to On the Line. The 
recent stunning victory of Islamic reformists in 
Iran's parliamentary elections has led many to 
believe that the time is right for a rapprochement 
between the United States and Iran. Secretary of 
State Madeleine Albright gave a speech calling for 
"a new and better relationship" between the U.S. 
and Iran. Mrs. Albright itemized a list of 
historical grievances on both sides and identified 
current obstacles to improved relations. It 
remains to be seen if the climate has changed 
sufficiently for the U.S. and Iran to overcome two 
decades of hostility. 
Joining me today to discuss the history and future 
of U.S.-Iran relations are three experts. Robert 
Pelletreau is a former Assistant Secretary of 
State for Near Eastern Affairs and chairman of the 
American-Iranian Council. David Wurmser is 
director of the Middle East studies program at the 
American Enterprise Institute. And Jon Alterman is 
a Middle East expert at the U.S. Peace Institute.
Gentlemen welcome to the program.
Mr. Pelletreau, your organization actually hosted 
Madeleine Albright when she gave that very 
interesting speech last month. In it, she itemized  
the historical grievances: the U-S participation 
in the Mossadegh affair in 1953, support of the 
Shah, support of Iraq during the Iraq-Iran War. 
Looking back upon these historical events, does 
the United States have something to apologize for? 
Were we pursuing legitimate interests at the          
time? Have we made a confession now that Iraq is 
accepting? What exactly is going on there?
Pelletreau: I would rather put it in terms of the 
Iranians feel they have genuine grievances on this 
score and they want some recognition that those 
grievances are acknowledged on the U-S side. The 
United States also has some grievances with 
respect to Iran. And this is not an unusual 
process when two countries or two peoples who have 
been estranged from each other start getting back 
together. You've got to begin to remove some of 
this underbrush of misunderstanding and emotional 
grievance. I think that is what Secretary Albright 
was trying to do.
Host: But how do you do that? I mean if they think 
we were wrong, we weren't the only players in 
1953. Great Britain was, the Iranian people were. 
How do you clear that underbrush?
Pelletreau: You begin by recognizing that there is 
a grievance. And Secretary Albright did recognize 
that the United States has made some mistakes in 
its past relations with Iran.
Host: Do you agree that those were mistakes, David 
Wurmser?
Wurmser: Well, I think that there might have been 
mistakes in the past, but I think that we ought to 
put this in perspective. And for that reason I 
think probably that what Mrs. Albright did was 
inappropriate. Let me put it this way. The Iranian 
people are consistently showing the United States 
and the world that they are fed up with their 
government and they are fed up with excuses their 
government is making for their failure. And the 
government continues to return to the same old 
tired slogans as to why Iran is oppressed, and so 
forth. And suddenly, the United States weighs in 
and says: "well, your government was right all 
along. We've been bad to you and you're right to 
feel angry at us." Just at the moment when the 
Iranian people are saying: "that's it; we don't 
care about that anymore. We care about now, here, 
today and the near future." So I think we've done 
exactly the opposite. We almost sided with the 
government against those forces of change in Iran, 
which may drive a revolution in the end.
Host: Jon Alterman, what do you think about that?
Alterman: I don't think that's right. I think what 
we are seeing now in Iran is a resurgence of 
Iranian nationalism. Iran went through a period, 
after the revolution, when Iran was about Islamic 
revolution, not only in Iran but Islamic 
revolution around the world. They're stepping away 
from that. What we're seeing in the streets, what 
we're seeing when we talk to people in Iran, what 
we're seeing when we listen to Iranians is that 
they're talking about being Iranian more. They're 
talking about their nation. They're talking about 
national interests. I was in Iran two months ago 
and this is something that you hear a lot of. The 
things she apologizes for deal with Iran's 
Iranianness. It deals with their nationalism. It's 
not the wrong thing to talk about. In fact, we 
should be hoping that Iran becomes a nation with 
nationalism, and deal with it on the basis of its 
national interests, and not deal with it on the 
terms of Islamic revolution around the world. 
Those are not terms that help us; those are not 
terms that help our relationship; those are not 
terms that help us deal with the concerns we have 
about Iranian behavior. 
Host: Can you just refine that point a little more 
for us? In your conversations with Iranians 
recently, by saying they were more Iranian, what 
does that mean?
Alterman: Iran is a country with millennia of 
civilization. It has its own literature; it has 
its own language. This is a country which feels a 
depth of cultural history that most countries 
don't have. China is another example of a country, 
also interestingly one with which the U-S had a 
long process of trying to right its relationship 
after separation. What we are seeing more and more 
is people are talking about being Iranian; people 
are talking about reintroducing the literature. 
People are talking about how it's hard to leave 
Iran once you have grown up in Iran; once you've 
been educated as an Iranian, you can never leave 
your country. You are starting to hear more and 
more of that, and that's pushing the mullahs away 
from a control over everything and putting them, 
in many ways, back into talking more about 
religious issues, and not so much about other 
issues in society.
Host: Let's get back to Secretary Albright's 
speech, which you hosted, Mr. Pelletreau. How do 
you think it's been received in Iran? It seems to 
have occasioned an extraordinary array of 
reactions from  within the country. 
Pelletreau: That's exactly what has happened. The 
newspapers are debating it; the society is 
debating it; students are debating it. It is an 
element now in Iranian discourse. You can argue 
whether that is good or bad at this point. But I 
think we have to wait for this process of 
absorption to go on for a while before we can 
expect more official Iranian reactions. There 
should not be an expectation that Iran is going to 
step out right away and react in one so-quick 
manner to these gestures.
Host: What do you think of their reaction so far 
to these specific policy gestures, and that is to 
allow trade in Iranian carpets, foodstuff, and 
caviar? That gesture has provoked some reaction.
Pelletreau: I think they feel that is a positive 
gesture. Likewise, the gesture toward working to a 
global settlement of claims is a positive one that 
they are responding positively to. What you see in 
the debate is whether Iran should be responding in 
a more positive way, or whether Iran should 
continue to hold back for a while. It's obvious 
that in the electoral process, in the evolutionary 
process that's going on in Iran, there are higher 
priorities than relations with the United States.
Host: It's interesting, David Wurmser, Secretary 
Albright also mentioned the grievances of the 
United States, and she also pointed out that key 
institutions within Iran, the security forces and 
the military, are in the hands of a leader who's 
not democratically elected. And as a consequence, 
some of the responses within Iran are that she is 
interfering in our internal affairs. What do you 
think of the other aspects of what she said and 
how they are being received?
Wurmser:  It's a tough point to make, given our 
overall policy toward other regimes in the region. 
I do think that she was right in making the point 
that democracy matters. The voice of the people 
matters. And in that, I think there is a major 
positive benefit to be had. She differentiated to 
some extent between the Iranian people and the 
Iranian government. And I think that is a key 
distinction that has to be made here, because it 
drives everybody's interpretation. Whether or not 
there are forces from on the street pushing the 
government to reform and the government is in 
despair try to preempt this change, and then how 
that plays with U-S policy. Or whether the 
government itself has realized certain things 
aren't working and they are one of the forces 
moving this change forward, and that, therefore, 
the moderation is genuine, not a reaction to a 
pressure that they cannot control anymore. That 
drives a different policy. Her differentiating 
between the two, I think, is a hopeful sign. 
Although I do think, in Iran, the first question 
that will be raised is what about our support for 
Saudi Arabia, and so forth. So it is going to be a 
tough point to make.
Alterman: I think that David Wurmser's point is 
exactly right. What we're looking for in Iran is a 
government which is responsive to the people of 
Iran and accountable both to the people of Iran 
and to the global community. There is a tendency 
among some people in the U-S government to cheer 
for[President Mohammad] Khatami, and he's become a 
popular figure, not only tremendously popular in 
Iran but also popular around the world. He's a 
smiling face. He seems to be a person you can deal 
with. But our real interest is not in the triumph 
of any individual party or faction in Iran. What 
we're looking for is for Iran to become a place 
with accountability, with responsiveness to its 
people. That's a kind of Iran, not necessarily an 
ally of the United States, but an Iran where we 
can talk about mutual interests and sort out our 
differences. And that's really the goal of this 
process. 
Host: How far along do you think we have come 
toward that goal? And do you think that the 
initiatives that Mr. Pelletreau was just talking 
about were the appropriate ones?
Alterman: I think they are appropriate. The 
Iranians have been talking about them for more 
than a year. The Iranians themselves have signaled 
that these would be helpful to move this process 
forward. We are in a process; we're in a process 
that's going to take, I think, a number of years 
to work through. We have serious concerns. They 
have serious concerns about our behavior. There is 
a lot of hope that movement in the Arab-Israeli 
peace process may make some of the differences 
between us a little easier for both sides to 
stomach.      I think we are in a multi-year 
process, but ultimately a process that will work 
out.
Pelletreau: It may not take quite as long as 
you're suggesting, Jon, because what is clear is 
that change is coming to Iran not so much because 
of outside pressures but because of an internal 
evolution. And so many of the young people in 
Iran, born since the revolution, don't have all 
the historical baggage or the historical 
perspective. Their focus is internal and they are 
really a driving force in this gradual, steady 
increase in political power of the reformers in 
this obviously non-monolithic government. It's a 
government with a number of power centers. 
Wurmser: I think this is a very important point. 
And I think that this is something that tells us 
something about our policy overall in the region. 
You are seeing in Iran, as well as in a number of 
other countries in this region, a growing sense 
among people that, look, you've burdened us with 
the Arab-Israeli conflict, you've burdened us with 
this hatred of the West, you've burdened us with 
all this externally-driven state of emergency. 
Enough! When are you going to turn to us? When are 
you going to turn and make government function 
properly for the governance of the people, rather 
than constantly being mobilized in these emergency 
states, these unusual sorts of political 
circumstances for the sake of some larger ideal. 
And I think Iran here represents perhaps one of 
the leading forces among the youth in the region, 
who are just simply fed up.
Host: Did you get that feeling from your recent 
visit?
Alterman: The youth, on the one hand, are fed up. 
They are a large part of the population, but more 
than being fed up -- and number of people have 
talked about Iran sort of seething when there were 
disturbances last summer -- some people thought 
Iran on the verge of a revolution. When I talked 
to people on all parts of the political spectrum, 
I saw no support for revolution. Iranians want an 
evolution toward a better government, from 
everywhere. And what people define as a better 
government varies. But everybody wants a better 
government through an evolutionary process. How 
long that process takes, I don't know. Certainly 
the Majlis, after the recent parliamentary 
elections, we are going to see a parliament which 
will take a different role in the government, a 
parliament which may, in fact, be more separate 
from the rest of government than any parliament we 
have seen in Iran since the revolution. There're 
certainly fewer clerics in the government than has 
ever been the case before. How all these forces 
work out, how the different power centers sort out 
their power is something that we're going to have 
to watch over the coming months and years. But 
that's the crucial issue. And I think we're going 
to be dealing with some variant of this system, 
rather than some sort of counter-revolutionary 
system. I don't think that's in the cards at all.
Pelletreau: Wouldn't it be ironic if what we were 
all fearing in the 80's -- that Iran would be the 
source of a wave of fanaticism spreading out over 
the entire region -- instead becomes Iran as the 
messenger of reconciliation of Islam and democracy 
that's spreading out over the region. That's 
something interesting to contemplate.
Host: Along those lines, could you comment on how 
Iran is behaving in the region now, in terms of 
its relations with the Gulf States and so forth?
Pelletreau: That's right. Iran, since the election 
of President Khatami in 1997, has begun reaching 
out across the Gulf to restore a certain 
relationship that had been badly disrupted and 
broken off. And we've seen some of the Arab 
governments responding positively, particularly 
the Saudis. And this can have many positive 
benefits. It isn't going to remove the mutual 
suspicions; it isn't going to remove the history 
of Iranian ambitions to hegemony in the region. 
Host: It isn't going to remove the U-S troops in 
Saudi-Arabia.
Pelletreau: Not at all. But if the states on both 
sides of the Gulf are talking with each other and 
beginning to develop areas of common interest, 
it's going to be a somewhat less acute security 
situation than when they were not. There are still 
many outstanding issues. The islands issues with 
the United Arab Emirates is one that the Arab side 
of the Gulf feels very strongly about.
Alterman: The goal of Iranian foreign policy in 
the region is reducing tensions. The goal of 
Iranian foreign policy is not necessarily to play 
a lesser role in the region, but not always to be 
chafing at everybody. I think this policy has been 
generally successful. It's won them a lot of 
advantages in their interaction with other people 
in the region. And I think ultimately, it's the 
same idea of reducing tensions that will drive 
their policy with the United States, not so much 
to make agreements with the United States on our 
common interests, like Iraq, where we have a lot 
of common interests, but rather they don't want to 
be fighting the U-S. And ultimately, the U-S 
doesn't want to be fighting them in the Gulf 
either.
Host: Terrorism, of course, is one of the sore 
points between the United States and Iran. And 
there were very sharp words last year from our 
Assistant Secretary of State, Martin Indyk, when 
Mr. Khatami met in Damascus with some of the 
terrorist groups.  However, the United States 
recently said that Iran itself is the victim of 
terrorism from the Mujahedin-e Khalq           
and that we have common interests in combating 
terrorism. My question is: on those really 
critical tough points that Secretary Albright 
mentioned -- weapons of mass destruction, 
terrorism, opposition to the Arab-Israeli peace 
process -- do you see an evolutionary improvement 
there, a change of policy, or what are the 
possibilities?
Wurmser: I think this cuts right down to the 
central point. If you look at these issues, they 
are almost exact replicas of our debate from 1985 
to 1990 about the Soviet Union. The first question 
that came up is: is there a third way? Can we see 
a moderating way for the Soviet regime to become 
Communism or socialism with a human face? What we 
learned is that when it goes down, it goes all the 
way down. And the first thing that we saw was an 
ideological break down inside the Soviet regime. 
Communists themselves said: this doesn't square. 
The same thing is happening in Iran. This regime 
is ideologically in deep, deep trouble. Even 
mullahs are saying: you know, we're going to lose 
Islam if we don't get Islam out of the government. 
And many of them are appealing to the sixth Imam 
Jafar, [Sadegh] who laid down the whole idea of 
separating Islam from governance and making it 
more of an exemplary movement, and so forth. All 
these issues will essentially take care of 
themselves once there is a substantial change in 
government in Iran. But I am dubious that this 
regime, given its current construct, which, by the 
way, is a very revolutionary interpretation of 
Shiite Islam -- I'm not convinced that there is a 
third way.
Host: Let me give a quick reaction for Jon 
Alterman.
Alterman: I differ with David on two points.  
First, I don't think that the Soviet Union is the 
appropriate parallel. Generally, if you look at 
revolutions, after twenty years, revolutions go 
through leadership transitions, they go through 
generational transitions. You have a problem 
sustaining the ideological vigor of a revolution. 
That's true of all revolutions. The Soviet Union 
fell after seventy years. I don't think we are 
seeing that in Iran. I think what we are seeing is 
a need to rationalize the system, a need to make 
it work better, and I think that, in the interest 
of making it work better, the Iranians certainly 
will deal on the terrorism issue. I think that a 
move in the Arab-Israeli peace process will make 
that a lot easier for both sides. Partly, you have 
to agree on what terrorism is. But I think that 
there are a lot of encouraging signs.    
Host:	I'm afraid that's all the time we have 
this week. I'd like to thank our guests -- Robert 
Pelletreau, former assistant secretary of State 
for Near Eastern affairs and chairman of the 
American-Iranian Council; David Wurmser from the 
American Enterprise Institute; and Jon Alterman 
from the U.S. Peace Institute -- for joining me 
this week to discuss U.S.-Iranian relations. This 
is Robert Reilly for On the Line.
Anncr:	You've been listening to "On the Line" - a 
discussion of United States policies and 
contemporary issues.  This is --------.
07-Apr-2000 13:03 PM EDT (07-Apr-2000 1703 UTC)
NNNN
Source: Voice of America
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