CAN IRAN BE TRUSTED?
By Dr. Michael Rubin
But will diplomacy be enough to stop the Islamic Republic's acquisition of nuclear weapons? What enables diplomacy is trust that the opposing side will honor its commitments. Tehran's track record does not create confidence. In its formative revolutionary years, the reformist heyday, and even today, the Iranian leadership has had a consistent record of antipathy toward diplomatic convention and of violation of agreements.
U.S. officials sought to let cooler heads prevail. On November 6, 1979, National Security Council officials leaked to the Washington Post that there would be "no change in the status quo -- no military alert, no movement of forces, no resort to military contingency plans."  Any effort to give diplomacy a chance backfired. Both Khomeini's son and Khomeini's future successor and current Supreme Leader, Ali Kha-manei, visited the Embassy soon after its seizure, underscoring official contempt for international protocols. 
But can poor decisions more than a quarter century ago be applicable to Iranian diplomacy today? Not by themselves. While the Iranian leadership often demands apologies for transgressions both real and imagined,  it continues to uphold the righteousness of hostage seizure, underscoring the prevalent attitude in Tehran toward diplomatic convention. Photographs taken earlier this year inside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran show bound mannequins dressed in U.S. military uniforms and a banner quoting Supreme Leader Khamenei celebrating Iranian "neutralization" of "arrogant plots." Individual trees in the Embassy garden are draped with banners calling for America's demise.
Outright Iranian lying should not surprise us; what should is how Western governments repeatedly fall prey to such deceptions. On September 24, 1998, the Iranian government said it would do nothing to harm Rushdie, acceding to the British Foreign Office's chief condition for the restoration of diplomatic relations.  But, on February 14, 1999, Iranian security officers reaffirmed their intention to carry out Rushdie's death sentence.  On May 19, 1999, a day after London and Tehran agreed to once again exchange ambassadors, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran radio commentary called Rushdie an "apostate," making his murder lawful under Islamic law. The incident is not forgotten in Iran. On February 12, 2005, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps issued a statement declaring, "The day will come when they will punish the apostate Rushdie for his scandalous acts and insults against the Koran and the Prophet." 
The Iranian government has also shown that it subordinates its contracts and commitments to the efficacy of official ideology. On May 8, 2004, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps rolled tanks onto the runway at the new Imam Khomeini International Airport to prevent the Turkish-Austrian consortium TAV from taking over operation of the facility.  Contractual and diplomatic obligations meant little. The airport remained closed for much of the following year. Finally, on March 3, 2005, Iranian Transport Minister Mohammad Rahmati said, "We have separated the fate of Imam Khomeini Airport from that of TAV."  The Revolutionary Guard won. Later that year, the Intelligence Ministry and hardline parliamentarians helped scuttle a signed $3 billion agreement with the Turkish cellular phone company Turkcell because, they said, the Turkish company was insufficiently opposed to Israel.  Most importantly, it is these military and security forces, and not the diplomatic corps, which hold the files on advanced weaponry and the military nuclear program. Even if Iran's diplomats were sincere, they would not necessarily know about -- let alone have the power to negotiate on behalf of -- these other bureaucracies.
Afghanistan is often lauded as a successful model for U.S.-Iranian cooperation. While United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan praised Iran's "great support"[ 17] to Afghanistan, and a former National Security Council staffer lauded Iranian cooperation with Washington over Afghanistan,  the reality was less rosy. Both former parliamentary speaker and leading cleric Ali-Akbar Nateq-Nuri and Hussein Ibrahimi, Khamenei's personal representative for Afghanistan, urged Afghan clerics to resist U.S. plans and goals for Afghanistan.  On March 8, 2002, Afghan commanders intercepted twelve Iranian agents and proxies who were organizing armed resistance among Afghan commanders.  Iranian assurances of noninterference were false.
Still, U.S. and British officials sought to obtain an agreement that Iran would not interfere prior to the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw elicited a promise from Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, who pledged Iranian noninterference. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's Ambassador to the United Nations, repeated this pledge to Zalmay Khalilzad, then President George W. Bush's Envoy to the free Iraqis. But Iran's diplomacy was a diversion. Soon after Saddam Hussein's fall, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, with the acquiescence of the Islamic Republic's supreme leadership, moved to infiltrate into Iraq 2,000 fighters, militiamen, and Qods Force personnel replete with radio transmitters, money, pamphlets, and supplies.  Whether Kharrazi and Zarif knew of the duplicity or not is irrelevant. Either they lied outright or they revealed themselves to be out of the decision-making process and, therefore, not credible negotiating partners. If they were not sincere, they revealed how ill-advised entering into diplomatic agreements with Tehran is. It was not long before the White House acknowledged concerns over the infiltration.  By October, 2003, Coalition forces had detained more than a hundred Iranians in Iraq. 
Again, the Iranian Foreign Minister promised good behavior. On November 18, 2003, Iran's official news agency reported that Kharrazi had promised Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and rotating President of the Iraqi Governing Council, that Iran would not interfere in Iraqi affairs. This time, Kharrazi, aware of Iranian activities in Iraq, lied outright. Ali Nurizadeh, an Iranian reporter in London often viewed by analysts as close to former President Mohammad Khatami and the "reformist" camp, subsequently reported on a growing Iranian intelligence and Qods Force network across Iraq.  The following week, Nurizadeh reported on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps's involvement with Iraqi firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr's militia.  Nevertheless, the top Iranian diplomat in Baghdad -- himself a member of the Qods Force -- insisted that "Iran will not accept anything that destabilizes Iraq."  Four months later, Iraqi forces captured thirty Iranians fighting alongside Sadr's militia,  and Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, Secretary of the powerful Guardian Council, praised Sadr's resistance. "I should really thank and praise those who are resisting the blood thirsty wolves," he said as guest orator at Iran's official Friday sermon. U.S. officials in Iraq say that such Iranian duplicity still continues there. 
On December 14, 2001, Rafsanjani, arguably the second most powerful man in Iran, declared:
Iran Emrooz (Iran Today) quoted Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer Kharrazi, Secretary-General of Iranian Hezbollah, as saying in a February 14, 2005, speech:
On May 29, 2005, Hojjat ol-Islam Gholam Reza Hasani, the Supreme Leader's personal representative to the province of West Azerbaijan, declared possession of nuclear weapons to be one of Iran's top goals. "An atom bomb . . . must be produced as well," he said."That is because the Qur'an has told Muslims to 'get strong and amass all the forces at your disposal to be strong.'"  Hasani's unpopularity among many Iranians is irrelevant. As a confidant of the Supreme Leader, Hasani provides a window into his thinking. In February, 2006, Rooz (Day), an Iranian website close to the Islamic Republic's reformist camp, quoted Mohsen Gharavian, a Qom theologian close to Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, one of the Islamic Republic's staunchest ideologues, as saying it was only "natural" for the Islamic Republic to possess nuclear weapons. 
Distrust over Iranian intentions is not based solely upon Iranian statements, but also upon Tehran's actions. In December, 2002, satellite photos confirmed reports that the Iranian government was building an undeclared uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, about 130 miles south of Tehran, and a heavy water plant at Khondab, about thirty-two miles northwest of the town of Arak. 
In February, 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) sent a team of inspectors to confirm Iranian statements that "the activities of the Islamic Republic are totally transparent, clear, and peaceful."  Their subsequent report showed the depth of Iranian subterfuge. Iran had completed 164 centrifuges, was working on 1,000 more, and had designed the facility to house at least 50,000. Furthermore, the inspection revealed that Tehran had not acknowledged import of almost a ton of uranium from China, nor could the Iranian nuclear agency account for some missing processed uranium. 
The Iranian government's initial claims that its program was indigenous and entirely peaceful were false. As the IAEA noted, "The role of uranium metal in Iran's declared nuclear fuel cycle still needs to be fully understood, since neither its light water reactors nor its planned heavy water reactors require uranium metal for fuel." 
After inspectors caught Iran in a lie, Iranian officials changed their story. They abandoned previous statements about the indigenous nature of their program and blamed the presence of highly enriched uranium traces on contaminated equipment imported into Iran,  most likely from Pakistan. Patrick Clawson, coauthor of Checking Iran's Nuclear Ambitions, observed, "If true, that means Iran has in fact had substantial foreign assistance and has been effective at concealing that assistance." 
Iranian scientists later acknowledged experimenting with the chemical separation of polonium. Polonium-210 is used to initiate the chain reaction leading to the detonation of a nuclear bomb.  Although Iranian officials then assured the IAEA that they would shortly stop enriching uranium, they did not.  Again, Tehran had lied to win shortterm diplomatic goodwill. On August 10, 2004, Kharrazi said that Iran would not resume uranium enrichment unless there was a significant change in national interest.  The pause in enrichment lasted just seven weeks more, even though there had been no significant change; if anything, with U.S. forces engaged in a bloody counterinsurgency in Iraq and gasoline prices at records highs, Tehran's geopolitical position had grown more secure. Whether Kharrazi intended to deceive should be irrelevant from the Western perspective. In April, 2004, the IAEA again found traces of bomb-grade uranium at other sites.  Iran had lied again. On September 24, 2004, the IAEA Board of Governors met in Vienna, Austria, and, after recalling a litany of Iranian mistruths, found that "Iran's many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply with its NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] Safeguards Agreement . . . constitute non-compliance." 
If not lying outright, Tehran also continues to violate the spirit of the NPT by signing -- albeit refusing to ratify -- the Additional Protocol. In effect, this means that the Iranian government gains the advantages of access to technology sharing, but does not adhere to the more rigorous inspection demanded by the agreement.  Iranian authorities also broke their pledge to uphold the Additional Protocol's standards pending ratification.  Earlier this year, according to the Associated Press, the Iranian government turned away IAEA inspectors from the nuclear facility at Natanz, a violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. 
Reagan's diplomacy was successful. The Soviet Union, at the time, was a far more powerful adversary. Rather than engage in diplomacy for its own sake, the White House ensured that mechanisms were in place to make sure Moscow kept its word. With regard to Iran's nuclear program, the reverse is true. Tehran has repeatedly promised, but never verified.
While diplomacy necessarily involves talking to adversaries, it is dangerous to assume that both Washington and Tehran operate from the same set of ground rules. From its very inception, the Islamic Republic eschewed the convention of international relations and diplomacy. Khomeini sought to establish a theocracy on Shi‘ite religious principles. As such, his writings are illuminating. In several essays, he spoke of the Shi‘ite concept of taqiya, religious dissimulation. Railing against the plots of the West in a series of lectures delivered in Najaf in 1970, Khomeini spoke of the necessity to engage in such religiously sanctioned lying.  While many analysts are unaware of taqiya and many academics stigmatize discussion of its extent and derivations for fear of portraying Iran in a negative light, the concept nonetheless influences Tehran's diplomacy. If the Islamic Republic perceives itself as under threat,  its leaders may not only feel compelled to lie, but may also feel justified in so doing. From a religious and political perspective, the ends justify the means. Hence, Khomeini saw nothing wrong with his statement to the Guardian, shortly before the Islamic Republic:
Tehran may still conduct diplomacy to fish for incentive and reward -- and they may demand apologies and use the rhetoric of victimization to win further concessions and position -- but, at its core, Iranian diplomacy is insincere. The Iranian leadership will say anything and do anything to buy the time necessary to acquire nuclear capability.
2. Warren Christopher, ed., American Hostages in Iran (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 11.
3. John M. Goshko and J. P. Smith, "Bazargan Government Resigns; Carter, Security Aides Meet Twice," Washington Post, November 7, 1979. Then-National Security Council staffer Gary Sick later described the meeting in "Military Options and Constraints," in Warren Christopher, ed., American Hostages in Iran, 144-47.
4. Massoumeh Ebtekar, Takeover in Tehran: The Inside Story of the 1979 U.S. Embassy Capture (Vancouver: Talon Books, 2000), 86.
5. At one point, Iranian officials demanded that President Jimmy Carter apologize to Iran in order to secure hostage release (Scott Armstrong, "Top-Secret 'Iran Papers' Outline Role of U.S. There," Washington Post, September 19, 1980). In 1999, the Iranian government demanded that President Bill Clinton apologize for the 1988 downing of an Iranian passenger jet by the U.S.S. Vincennes. President Ronald Reagan had already expressed regret for the incident more than a decade before. On March 17, 2000, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright acknowledged "responsibility" for such transgressions as supporting the 1953 coup against Prime Minister Muhammad Musaddiq, the quarter century of "sustained backing to the Shah's regime," and for U.S. support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War (Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, remarks before the American-Iranian Council, March 17, 2000, Washington, D.C., Office of the Spokesman, U.S. Department of State). Still, two years later, Iranian President Muhammad Khatami demanded that the United States apologize for "misdeeds of the past" (Islamic Republic News Agency, July 14, 2002).
6. Nora Boustany, "Beirut Magazine Says McFarlane Secretly Visited Tehran," Washington Post, November 4, 1986; Stanley Reed, "'Beirut Rag:' Al Shiraa Magazine," The Nation, December 20, 1986.
7. John Tower, The Tower Commission Report (New York: Bantam, 1987), 51.
8. Jonathan Randal, "Novelist Apologizes to Moslems," Washington Post, February 18, 1989. Many Iranian intellectuals and Arab writers have acknowledged the Iranian leadership's improper treatment of Rushdie. See Pour Rushdie: Cent Intellectuels Arabes et Musulmans pour la Liberté d'Expression [For Rushdie: One-Hundred Arab and Muslim Scholars for Freedom of Expression] (Paris: La Découverte, 1993).
9. Ian Black, "Rushdie Breakthrough," Guardian (London), September 25, 1998.
10. "Threat to Rushdie Reaffirmed," Financial Times, February 15, 1999.
11. "Iran Hardliners Say Rushdie Still Faces Execution," Agence France Presse, February 13, 2005.
12. "Iran Agrees to Help Find Israeli Flier Ron Arad," Agence France Presse, November 8, 1996.
13. "Iran Denies Helping to Find Israeli Pilot," Agence France Presse, November 11, 1996.
14. Aftab-e Yazd, May 8, 2004; "New Tehran Airport Remains Closed," Fars News Agency, May 11, 2004; Karl Vick, "Politics on Collision Course at Shuttered Iranian Airport," Washington Post, August 10, 2004.
15. "Iran to Reopen New Airport," Gulf Daily News (Bahrain), March 3, 2005.
16. "Iran Government Faces Opposition to Turkish Investment," Turkish Daily News, July 28, 2004; Mohsen Asgari and Gareth Smith, "Conservatives Flex Muscles in Iran's New Parliament," Financial Times, September 24, 2004; "Turkcell Provides Update on the Progress of Its Investment in Iran," Wireless News, September 25, 2004; and "Irancell Replaces Turkcell with South African MTN," Islamic Republic News Agency, September 11, 2005.
17. Office of the UN Secretary General, "Press Conference with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi" (press conference, Tehran, Iran, January 26, 2002).
18. CFR.org, "Flynt Leverett: Bush Administration 'Not Serious' about Dealing with Iran," Council on Foreign Relations interview, March 31, 2006.
19. Bill Samii, "Tehran Continues Afghan 'Psyops,'" Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Iran Report, January 28, 2002.
20. Douglas Jehl, "A Nation Challenged: Outside Influences," New York Times, March 9, 2002.
21. Ali Nurizadeh, "Revolutionary Guards Accompanied Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution," Ash-Sharq al-Awsat, April 25, 2003.
22. Ari Fleischer, White House press briefing, April 23, 2003.
23. "Tehran Makes Official Protest to US over Arrests of Iranians in Iraq," Agence France Presse, October 23, 2003.|
24. Ali Nurizadeh, "Former Iranian Intelligence Officer: Tehran Is Deploying Its Agents in Iraq from North to South," Ash-Sharq al-Awsat, April 3, 2004.
25. Ali Nurizadeh, "Iranian Source: Revolutionary Guard Trains 1,000 Muqtada al-Sadr Supporters on Guerilla Warfare," Ash-Sharq al-Awsat, April 9, 2004.
26. Hambastegi (Tehran), April 18, 2004.
27. Michael Howard, "Iraq Crisis: Rift Grows as Iranians Caught Fighting for Sadr," Guardian, August 13, 2004. Additionally, Nurizadeh reported remarks by Qods Force commander Qasem Soleymani, who bragged about Iranian assistance to terrorist leader Abu-Mus'ab al-Zarqawi (Ali Nurizadeh, "Iranian Admission of Providing Facilities to Al-Zarqawi," Ash-Sharq al-Awsat, August 11, 2004.)
28. Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran, August 13, 2004.
29. Jonathan Finer and Ellen Knickmeyer, "Envoy Accuses Iran of Duplicity on Iraq," Washington Post, March 24, 2006.
30. "Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy Center of Iran's Strategy," Fars News Agency, August 28, 2006.
31. Islamic Republic News Agency, December 14, 2001.
32. "Iranian Hardliner Says Iran Will Produce Atomic Bomb," IranMania.com, February 14, 2005.
33. Baztab News Agency, May 29, 2005.
34. Colin Freeman and Philip Sherwell, "Iranian Fatwa Approves Use of Nuclear Weapons," Daily Telegraph, February 19, 2006. Gharavian later backtracked from his comments (Islamic Republic News Agency, February 21, 2006).
35. Glenn Kessler, "Nuclear Sites in Iran Worry U.S. Officials," Washington Post, December 14, 2002. In defiance of the United Nations, the Iranian government began operating the Khondab plant on August 26, 2006 (Ali Akbar Dareini, "Defying U.N., Iran Opens Nuclear Reactor," Associated Press, August 26, 2006).
36. Kamal Kharrazi, as quoted by the BBC, "Iran Defiant on Nuclear Plans," December 14, 2002.
37. IAEA, Board of Governors, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," GOV/2003/40, June 6, 2003.
39. Ibid., GOV/2003/63, August 26, 2003.
40. Patrick Clawson, "Gaining Support for Action on Iran's Nuclear Program," Policy Watch 784 (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Washington, D.C., August 27, 2003).
41. IAEA, Board of Governors, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," GOV/2004/11, March 13, 2004.
42. Ibid., GOV/2004/60, September 1, 2004. In November 2004, Iranian authorities again agreed to suspend enrichment; on August 15, 2005, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced an "irreversible" resumption of uranium enrichment (Islamic Republic News Agency, August 15, 2005).
43. "FM Says Iran Has Suspended Uranium Programme," Deutsche Presse-Agentur, August 10, 2004, citing the Iranian Student News Agency.
44. Louis Charbonneau, "More Bomb-Grade Uranium Found in Iran," Reuters, April 2, 2004.
45. IAEA, Board of Governors, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran," GOV/2005/77, September 24, 2005.
46. Chen Zak, Iran's Nuclear Policy and the IAEA: An Evaluation of Program 93+2 (Washington: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2002), 10-18; IAEA, "Iran Signs Additional Protocol on Nuclear Safeguards," staff report, December 18, 2003.
47. IAEA, "Iran Signs Additional Protocol on Nuclear Safeguards," staff report, December 18, 2003.
48. Michael Slackman, "Iran Defiant on Nuclear Program as Deadline Approaches," New York Times, August 22, 2006.
49. "Excerpts from President's Speech in California on U.S.-Soviet Relations," New York Times, August 27, 1987.
50. Imam Khomeini, "Islamic Government" [Hukumat-e Islami], in Islam and Revolution, Hamid Algar, ed. (London: KPI, 1981), 34, 72, 95, 133, 144, 147.
51. There is no way to sidestep or ameliorate the pressure the Islamic Republic feels. It has little to do with either U.S. involvement in Afghanistan or Iraq; Iran's nuclear program predates both. At its core, the problem is that the Islamic Republic is not a status quo power. It seeks to export its ideology and interprets resistance as hostility.
52. Guardian (press conference with Ayatollah Khomeini, November 16, 1978), as quoted in Jalal Matini, "The Most Truthful Individual in Recent History," Iranshenasi 14, no. 4 (Winter 2003).
Islamism & Jihadism -- The Threat of Radical Islam
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Dr. Michael Rubin, a Ph.D. in History (Yale University) and a specialist in Middle Eastern politics, Islamic culture and Islamist ideology, is Editor of the Middle East Quarterly and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Dr Rubin is author of Into the Shadows: Radical Vigilantes in Khatami's Iran (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001) and is co-author, with Dr. Patrick Clawson, of Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Dr. Rubin served as political advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad (2003-2004); staff advisor on Iran and Iraq in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense (2002-2004); visiting lecturer in the Departments of History and International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2001-2002); visiting lecturer at the Universities of Sulaymani, Salahuddin, and Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan (2000-2001); Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (1999-2000); and visiting lecturer in the Department of History at Yale University (1999-2000). He has been a fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, the Leonard Davis Institute at Hebrew University, and the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs.
The foregoing article by Dr. Rubin was originally published in the AEI Middle Eastern Outlook, September 1, 2006, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum.
AEI Research Assistant Jeffrey Azarva provided research assistance and Editorial Associate Nicole Passan worked with Dr.
Rubin to edit and produce the September 1, 2006, issue of the AEI Middle Eastern Outlook.
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