Cleaning up our ACT:
How the USA Can Restore Diplomatic Relations with Iran
by Sander Hicks
It would be good for the USA to restore diplomatic relations with Iran. It would help untangle the tensions in the Middle East. It would eventually lead to justice and human rights for the current disenfranchised residents of the West Bank and Gaza, in Israel-Palestine.
The Islamic Republic of Iran does care deeply about the Palestinians and seeks to keep the world’s attention on their plight, at a time in which the world is closely watching Syria and Yemen. But diplomacy is great because it leads to dialogue, and dialogue here with Iran would lead to more peace for Israel, too. US diplomatic relations with Iran could help to cool some of the anti-Israel rhetoric regularly coming from Tehran. One great way to do that? Put the Palestinian human rights back on the table. Dust off the "Peace Process" and put it back into action.
Presidents Clinton and Obama made important, if little-known, first steps towards diplomatic “normalization” with Iran. To build on these efforts, I assert the USA has to first “clean up its act.” The USA must own up to its past with Iran. The US severed diplomatic relations with the Iran in 1979, when the Islamic Revolution did the “unforgivable” and took hostages inside the US Embassy. Today, President Trump repeatedly threatens to decertify the Iran Nuclear Deal, which prevents Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The Bush/Cheney Administration invaded Iran’s twin neighbors, Iraq and Afghanistan, and planned to invade Iran. (But Cheney’s secret 2007 plan to attack was leaked by Die Spiegel.) When you look at a map of the US Military bases in the region, they surround Iran, ominously. The illegal US invasions caused Iran to retaliate by expanding its own influence in Syria and Yemen. Our violence breeds more bloodshed.
Let’s face it, the USA has a drug problem. It’s addicted to war, and it tends to invade smaller, Muslim nations who just happen to be rich in oil. Iran produces 5% of the world’s total oil habit. It is the world’s 5th largest producer of crude, just under Iraq. It produces about half of what its arch-rival, and neighbor Saudi Arabia produces. Saudi Arabia, with help from the USA, has taken the side against Iran, in bloody civil wars in Yemen and Syria, in order to advance the interests of Israel/US/Saud, and stymie those of Iran. It’s a regional cold war but it can’t go on forever.
In a major break with the Bush/Cheney machinations, and to prevent Iranian nuclear proliferation, Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry forged the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, aka the “Iran Nuclear Deal,” in 2015. The JCPOA hooks Iran up with a coalition of other countries, to monitor its nuclear program, and ensure that no weapons are made. In return, many harsh sanctions against Iran have been lifted. The Iran Nuclear Deal is important, on so many levels. It’s a breakthrough and we can build on it.
But Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s refused to consider full diplomatic relations with President Obama. He has his own hardliners back at home that have to be listened to. That means that the US has to try harder, and go deeper. This paper will assert that we need a cleansing kind of truth-telling, so that diplomacy between the two nations can experience a healthy renewal.
Here are five steps:
1. The USA Needs to Formally Repudiate the 1953 Overthrow of Prime Minister Mossadegh
Iran has been trading with China since 200 BC, and has had diplomatic relations with Russia since 1521. At its zenith, the Persian Empire extended from what is now modern day Greece and Libya to the borders of India, and north into territories that are now regions of the modern-day Russia.
The Devil’s Chessboard by David Talbot tells the story of CIA director Allen Dulles, who comes off as a twisted, amoral soul, in a murderous rivalry with young President John F. Kennedy. In 1953, Dulles pushed the CIA into the realm of coup-making, and Deep State machinations. He eliminated the democratically-elected leader of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, at the bidding of international oil interests. Mossadegh had been named Time Magazine’s man of the year, and was attempting to democratize Iranian oil production, to have the profits benefit his people.
With Mossadegh gone, the CIA, Allen Dulles, and the USA installed a cruel monarch, the Shah, in power in Iran, where he ruled with an iron fist, crushing dissent with his terrifying secret police, the SAVAK. 26 years later, in a desperate attempt to reassert a moral government, the Islamic Revolution overthrew the Shah. The revolution was relatively bloodless, when Ayatollah Khomeni called for a general strike.
In a spontaneous act of rage, Iranians protesting the Shah stormed the US Embassy in Tehran, which (they claimed) had been working closely with SAVAK to torture and imprison dissenters. The Iranians took US government workers as hostages, for over a year. This was an atrocity, according to normal international diplomatic protocol. The neutrality of Embassies is sacrosanct, they are sovereign. However, when you look at the CIA and USA’s meddling in Iran with the 1953 coup against Mossadegh, and the Embassy’s work propping up the Shah and SAVAK, you can begin to understand why it happened. Empathy is a powerful force for understanding. In Tehran today, the old US Embassy building is on display as the “Den of Espionage.”
President Bill Clinton’s administration indicated that the USA should try to make amends for the 1953 CIA coup against Mossadegh. Secretary of State Madeline Albright said the CIA coup against Mossadegh was “short-sighted.” That could be the understatement of the century.
2. The US Can Resurrect the Peace Process and Create a New Plan for Statehood and Human Rights for Palestine
The USA was tone-deaf to the needs of the people of Iran, from 1953 onward. Today, the same kind of blindness is happening with the issue of statehood for Palestine. It’s almost as if there is an international form of racism afoot.
The USA needs to support a timeline for statehood for Palestine. Iran can help us do this. Iran already has diplomatic relations with Hamas. We could see this as an asset.
Right now, the USA appears to be an “imperialist power” from the point of view of many Arab nations. Our foreign aid in the region is heavily weighted towards Israel: the US sends over $10 million in military aid to Israel per day. In terms of military aid, we give the Palestinian people nothing.
President Trump’s administration just announced that they would delay $65 million in humanitarian aid to Palestine, by delaying full funding of its obligation to the U.N. Relief and Welfare Agency. The Trump Administration complained that other countries are not paying more into the Agency.
If the US was able to reverse course here, with regime change in the White House in 2021, the Middle East could experience an easing of tensions. Iran can be called upon to make good on its offer to help to transform Hezbollah into a non-violent organization in Lebanese politics. Iran gives $100 million a year to Hezbollah. Iran sought to expand its influence in the Lebanon after the US invaded Iraq in 2003.
Today in the USA, more conservative politicians (even Democratic Congresswoman from NYC, Carolyn Maloney) frame Israel as “the only real democracy in the Middle East.” Critics call this ridiculous, since the Palestinians in the “Occupied Territories” don’t get to vote in the democracy.
As Josh Ruebner wrote in Huffington Post,
“This claim has always been disingenuous, ahistorical, and tinged with racism. Israel can claim to be a democracy only in the sense that apartheid South Africa could also claim to be so: an ‘ethnocracy’ with full democratic rights for the privileged race or religion; lesser or no democratic rights for those with undesirable skin color, ethnicity, nationality, or race.”
“Israel became a preponderantly Jewish state, thereby gaining this veneer of democracy, only by ethnically cleansing indigenous Palestinians from their homes in 1948 and preventing to this day these refugees and their descendants from exercising their right of return to their homes as guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
The US has paid lip service to the solution of a “Two States” in the region--maybe, someday, giving full statehood to Palestine alongside Israel. The “Two State” solution is also a part of the Democratic Party Platform. Other regional analysts argue that the “Two State Solution” is dead and that far more realistic and robust is the idea of uniting the Palestinians and Israelis into one state.
I asked the American scholar of Arabic, Dr. Kevin Barrett, what that would look like:
“All people living in Gaza and the West Bank, whatever their religion, would be automatically deemed citizens of Israel, as would all descendants of the ethnic cleansing victims who have left. The resulting non-Jewish majority probably would probably eventually vote to rename the country Israel-Palestine.”
“As in South Africa, post-apartheid Israel would institute an Equal Protection Clause, thereby abolishing all of the many Jewish-superiority laws, i.e. abolishing all differences of status according to religion or ethnicity.”
Even Israeli journalist Haggi Matar says,
“What we desperately need now, both within the Israeli society and in the international community, is to go back to the basics and recognize that any solution must recognize Palestinians’ rights as the foundation for any political solution. Without such recognition, we will only be serving Israel’s attempts to maintain the status quo. So, one state or two states? Let’s first stand up together for Palestinians rights and reject occupation. If that works, any political solution that follows could do just fine.”
3. The USA is Also a Spiritual Nation: and We Can Use That Fact.
There is separation of Church and State in the USA. But culturally, 71% of us still identify as “Christian” (according to polls) and so, our foreign policy leans heavily biassed towards Israel. A recent YouTube of Noam Chomsky talks of the power of Christian Zionists in helping to form Israel. There’s a strong tendency in US fundamentalist Christianity to deem Israel as a “favorite” of God, and therefore exempt it from international law.
On the other hand, many Americans enjoy freedom from religion, religion, not just freedom of.
But if a bridge can be built here, both sides of the debate could learn from each other. Understanding the flaws and virtues of America’s spiritual values (and spiritual illusions) will help explain why most Americans feel an almost spiritual kinship with the land and the people of David, Moses and Jesus. Our interest in spirituality can help fire up an interest in healing the Holy Land. And the USA re-establishing diplomatic relations with the “Islamic Republic of Iran” could be seen as a unique kind of spiritual calling of its own - it would be a step towards peace, since a lack of diplomatic relations is a first step toward war. Both the US and Iran are counties with rich spiritual traditions, and the common ground between the two can be a refreshing surprise.
Since being in Iran last year, I came back and told many Americans how much I enjoyed praying with the Muslims. It was a pleasant to feel how much they revere and love the great peacemaker, the historical Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is a major part of Islam. Back in the USA, most Americans I spoke with had no idea that Jesus is recognized by Islam world-wide as a high, Messianic, blessed prophet. When Jesus talks in the Gospel of John about his vision of coming “The Advocate of Truth” (a.k.a. “Holy Spirit”) many Muslims naturally see this as predicting the revelation of the Prophet Mohammed. Interesting.
Christians, especially ones on the Right, often indulge in religious stereotypes, to justify exclusive support for Israel. The Christian Right tends to support the USA’s demonic series of protracted dirty wars. The Afghanistan invasion and occupation just turned 16 years old, and is now the USA’s oldest war. Nothing Christian about it, really, with 22 US Veterans committing suicide a day.
Israel is an important regional ally of of US, there is no disputing that. But the facts of life in the Occupied Territories, for the Palestinians, are not so spiritual. Modern day Zionism is like Big Brother. Israel, with its illegal expansions, settlements, and checkpoints, seems to have lost the heart of compassion. A regional, interfaith spiritual renewal can help. To help create peace in the Middle East, we have to speak a language that connects with people, articulating common ground with what matters in the Middle East: human rights, and equal respect for all religions.
I wonder if the Christians who support these killings realize that the Muslims have more in common with them than they might think? The right-wing version of Christianity likes to turn our spiritual traditions into a “Crusade” against Islam. History knows better. So before our so-called “Christian Nation” identity gets manipulated into attacking another Muslim country, it would be good to learn more about what is rich, and real, and wholesome, about Islam.
For example, in Tehran, last year, one highlight of my trip was meeting Nadir Talebzadah, a filmmaker and TV host who made the film, “The Messiah.” It’s quite good. There’s a bootleg of it on YouTube. It tells the life of Jesus from a Muslim perspective. It’s worth your time.
Because what is the future of the Middle East? It can’t go on like this. There are spiritual forces at work in human history, and human belief helps shape the future.
Islam is a major world religion, and 24% of the Earth’s people follow it. After 9/11, Bush claimed that the “War on Terror” was not a war on Islam. But his actions spoke otherwise.
By their fruits, you shall know them.
4. US Should Declare MEK a Terrorist Group
Back on the ground in the modern day Middle East, it’s worth pointing out and bringing attention to one of the most bizarre alliances, a product of so-called “US Intelligence.” The US Intel and Military communities seem so desperate to work with anyone who might be able to destabilize the Islamic Republic of Iran, even a Marxist splinter group cult makes the cut. Take the Mojahedin-E Khalq (MEK), please. The MEK was taken off the US Terrorism Watch List, but Iran would appreciate it very much if the USA would put it back on. It's certainly on Iran's list as a terrorist group.
With approximately 280 members, the MEK group's core members were for many years confined to Camp Ashraf in Iraq, particularly after the MEK and U.S. forces signed a cease-fire agreement of "mutual understanding and coordination" in 2003, according to Wiki. The group was later swept up and relocated en masse to Albania. Maybe the CIA realized they were too weird to work with to destabilize Iran.
After all, this MEK group is a bunch Iranian communists who took Iraq’s side when Iraq invaded during the bloody Iran/Iraq conflict. But, oh, and by the way, the USA took Iraq’s side there too, secretly backing the psychotic, chemical weapon-using Saddam Hussein.
5. US Should Apologize Formally for the Shoot-Down of Flight 655, and the Backing of Saddam against Iran.
Although this is highly contested, obscured with doublespeak, and generally covered-up with a thick coat of US State Department fog, the sad fact is that the US backed Saddam Hussein in his 1980 invasion of Iran. The forces of US military aide were always in the shadows, always clandestine, through intermediaries, like the Saudis, or the French. When Saddam Hussein visited the Saudi King Fahd in August of 1980, "President Carter gave the Iraqis a green light to launch the war against Iran through Fahd," according to Al Haig, President Carter’s former Secretary of State.
This conflict dragged into an eight-year war, in which 300,000 Iranians died. Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons and bombed Iranian civilians. Today the Iranians explain the atrocious experience with an informative, rather spooky museum in Tehran, and refer to the fight as the “Holy Defense War.” Life-like statues of martyrs memorialize personal sacrifices. Huge dioramas give you a sense of life in the desert trenches.
At the end of it, in 1988, when Iran was exhausted and demoralized, the US Military shot down Iranian civilian airliner Flight 655 over the Persian Gulf. All 290 civilians aboard were killed. The crew of the USS Vincennes claimed to have been confused as to whether the Airbus A300 was a civilian or military fighter jet. Iranian officials were outraged, and showed that the plane had been transmitting a “squak” signal signifying civilian mode.
In 1996, in international court, the US agreed to pay $62 million in compensation, but has never formally apologized, nor admitted wrongdoing. In court, the Iranians claimed that the shoot-down was not an accident, and was a provocative extension of the Iraq & US attack on Iran. Iran claimed that at the very least, the US Military was guilty of negligence.
Around this time, George H.W. Bush, on the campaign trail and elsewhere was often quoted as saying, “I will never apologize for the United States — I don't care what the facts are... I'm not an apologize-for-America kind of guy."
We Americans have to start to care what the facts are.
Re-establishing diplomatic relations with Iran can be done, if the US is willing to come clean about the past and declare a new future. Part of that future would be to show that the US has a truly independent foreign policy, not beholden to Israeli or Saudi pressure. After all, Saudi Arabia is an oppressive monarchy in which women have no rights, and hands of thieves are routinely chopped off. But we are junkies for their oil and they have twice as much as Iran. The US/Saudi relationship is so tight right now, even Saudi Prince Bandar’s 17 appearances in the suppressed “28 Pages” of Congress’s 9/11 report has yet to prompt legal action in the US courts or government. It sure helps if your nickname is “Bandar Bush.”
A new US foreign policy would put a premium on universal values: peace, understanding, humility, and mercy. These values are at the core of all religions, and are the highest values of humanist/secular cultures.
Iran is an Islamic republic dedicated to truth, God, and Islam, and it is one of the most vibrant democracies in the Middle East. With high voter turnout, the Iranian people just re-elected President Hassan Rouhani, whose moderate policies often times are harmonious with the interests of the United States. Iran is not perfect, and some of Ayatollah Khamenei’s rhetoric about all “Emmigrant Jews” leaving the region of Israel-Palestine is unrealistic. Many in the region right now call for a “Decisive War” to end the tensions between the two sides. But the promise of that war being “decisive” is a seductive illusion, born of patriarchal aggression and brute force.
Today in the region, Iran is the only country totally opposed to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. When Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) went to Syria, Syrian citizens begged her to stop the US funding of ISIS. She returned to Congress and proposed HR 608, the Stop Arming Terrorists Act. On the ground in Tehran, when I asked Saudis and other Arabs and people in the region, who is funding ISIS, people either named Saudi Arabia or the USA.
So, a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran would help to re-orient regional rivalries, and lead to more of a balance of powers.
Only good can come of it.