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Appeasing the Mullahs: Futile and dangerous

Hassan Dai and Keyvan Kaboli, 3.17.2012

As the new round of negotiations with Iran approaches, the US administration is sending friendly signals to the Iranian regime to show that the President is sincere in his overture. Barbara Slavin, has detailed several of Obama's gestures toward the Mullahs.  Meanwhile, Martin Indyk, has complained that the Israeli pressure and election year dynamics prevent Obama to reassure Tehran that he is not seeking a regime change

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Once again, Obama is extending a hand to the Mullahs. As the new round of negotiations with Iran approaches, the US administration is sending friendly signals to the Iranian regime to show that the President is sincere in his overture.

Barbara Slavin, an Iran expert at the Atlantic Council  and close to pro-engagement circles in Washington has detailed several of Obama's friendly gestures toward the Mullahs.  

Meanwhile, Martin Indyk, the former Assistant Secretary of State  in Clinton administration has complained that the Israeli pressure and election year dynamics prevent Obama to reassure Tehran that he is not seeking a regime change. He wrote in New York Times:

"The only way out of the vicious circle is for Khamenei to understand that Obama is not seeking his overthrow — that behind the negotiating door lies a path to Iran’s peaceful use of nuclear power and not a corridor to the gallows. But how, while pursuing sanctions designed to cut Iran’s economic jugular, can Obama credibly signal this to Khamenei without opening himself up to the charge of weakness? Any hint of reassurance to the Iranian regime will surely be seized upon by his Republican rivals as a sign of appeasement."

Indyk symbolizes those US officials who believe that friendly gestures could seduce the Iranian regime. More you give them, more they will be ready for a compromise. This misconception about the Mullahs has been a root cause for US failure toward Iran.

Ken Pollack, who served Bill Clinton as the director for Persian Gulf region at US National Security Council explained the US unilateral gestures toward Tehran:

"In the Clinton Administration in 1999 and 2000, we tried, very hard, to put the grand bargain on the table. And we tried. We made 12 separate gestures to Iran to try to demonstrate to them that we really meant it, and we were really willing to go the full nine yards." 1

We all know that Clinton failed.

George Bush's illusions about the Iranian regime resulted in a strategic misstep in US foreign policy as he planned and coordinated with Iran to topple Saddam Hussein n Iraq. Then, he handed this country to the Mullahs' proxies.  This blunder was rooted in a complete misunderstanding about the clerical rule.

The illusionary hope to befriend the Mullahs was also  the reason why President Obama ignored the Iranian uprising in 2009 and continued futile negotiations with Khamenei's envoys.

Contrary to Indyk and many other politicians who still believe in appeasing the Mullahs, there are also many other analysts and politicians who correctly preach s different approach. Gary Saymore the White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction is a brilliant example. In  2008 he told a Washington audience that:

"There is no doubt that there is some people in Iran who would see the kind of incentives the US could put on the table as attractive. But I think the significant part of Iran's power establishment who would find those kinds of carrots to be very unattractive. They would be poisoned carrots because they (Iranian leaders) build their political situation on hostility with the US. And for them, a better relation with US represents a cultural clash and will also weaken their domestic political position.

Saymore is right. After thirty years of US failure to seduce Tehran, it is wise to adopt a new approach as it was suggested in 2010 by Richard Haas, the president of the Council on Foreign Relation:

"The nuclear talks are going nowhere... Instead we should be focusing on another fact: Iran may be closer to profound political change than at any time since the revolution that ousted the shah 30 years ago... The United States, European governments, and others should shift their Iran policy toward increasing the prospects for political change."

1- Kenneth Polack, The  Brookings Institutions,  Saban Center, November 23, 2004