Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Woodrow Wilson Center hosts book talk meeting: 'United States versus Iran: Another Cold War'

The Woodrow Wilson Center today welcomed Ray Tayekh, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, to discuss his book Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic.

Tayekh began the discussion by noting how peculiar Iran is in being able to keep its ideology so intact, compared to countries such as China. He explained that Ayatollah Khomeini, in establishing the government after the revolution, cultivated a cadre and created institutions which would ensure the ideology’s survival. Because the government is a variation of political Shi’ism it is difficult to renounce because it crosses into religion, Tayekh said. While it is easy to become an ex-Marxist, he explained, becoming an ex-Shia is apostasy.

Because there are unelected institutions in the government who are supposed to be the realization of God’s will on earth, democracy accountability does not mean much in Iran, Tayekh said.

The U.S. and Iran have “a distinctly emotional relationship,” Tayekh said, which can be seen from the propaganda each country uses against the other. Tayekh believes the turning points in the U.S.-Iran relationship occurred first for Iran in 1953, when a U.S.-endorsed coup established a pro-Western monarchy in the government, and for the U.S. with the hostage situation in 1979. Since then, Tayekh believes there have been two opportunities for the relationship between the countries to change, the first being the arrival of the reform movement in Iran in 1997 and the second being the Afghanistan crisis in 2001.

Tayekh also discussed the relationship between Iran and Iraq. He said that historic tensions have had more to do with domestic ideology than territorial disputes, citing how when both countries had pro-Western monarchies in power, conflicts could be resolved. Tayekh also believes the personalities of the leaders of these countries, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Khomeini in Iran, contributed to the tensions. He also said that the conflicts in the Gulf are a result of Iran-Iraq tensions.

In discussing Israel, Tayekh said that Iran’s stance towards the country is based not only on religious differences, but also strategic national interests. The conflict is an affirmation of Iran’s revolutionary ideology, he said. Even though Iran and Israel are not geographically close to one another, Tayekh said Iran has a strategic reach to Israel through Hezbollah. Iran’s approach to Israel has also changed, Tayekh explained, saying that the country used to believe that whatever was acceptable to the Palestinians was acceptable to Iran. The rejection of the Annapolis conference by Iran shows, however, that the country would rather face isolation, even if the Arabs approve it.

Iran’s nuclear capabilities were also discussed, in light of recent reports that the country has not been developing nuclear weapons. Tayekh, who said he never considered Iran to be an immediate nuclear emergency, said the Islamic Republic did nothing illegal in its nuclear program except to not notify the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of their nuclear facilities. Tayekh believes the reason for Iran’s decision not to declare its nuclear facilities was due to U.S. antagonism. He said that any facility Iran declared would have been subject to retribution. At this point, he said, Iran would not develop weapons because the country would not want to embarrass IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who has supported Iran in its nuclear development. As for Iran not giving ElBaradei what he needs, Tayekh attributes it to Iran’s suspicion of foreign countries and international institutions. According to him, Iran has put itself “in a crisis that was largely their own making.”



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