Monday, February 9, 2009

Rethinking Iran

NPR article here

Rethinking Iran: Perceptions On U.S.-Iran Relations
by Scott Simon

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Weekend Edition Saturday, February 7, 2009 · As the Obama administration establishes its foreign policy, it must grapple with a strategy for U.S. relations with Iran, which has continued a controversial nuclear program and launched a satellite into orbit this week.

Weekend Edition Saturday has invited several guests to talk about Iran, share their advice for President Obama and examine the impact of the Iranian Revolution, which brought Muslim clerics to power 30 years ago.

The discussion launches a new segment on Weekend Edition Saturday called "On the Couch." The idea is to put guests of different backgrounds together to speak with one another — discovering different points of view and perhaps sparking some unexpected ideas.

There are certainly different points of view on Iran, a country with a 2,500-year history that is now ruled by the world's first modern theocracy. Iran's influence seems to be growing in parts of Afghanistan and Iraq, even as the ruling mullahs contend with young Iranians who are exercising more liberties and growing impatient for change.

Neighboring states in the region are impressed but uneasy. What has this society become, and what will it mean for America?

Perspectives On Iran, And Messages To Obama

Patrick Clawson is deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the author or editor of numerous articles and books, including The Last Resort: Consequences of Preventive Military Action Against Iran.

On nuclear proliferation: "Iran signed on to the nonproliferation treaty many years ago, and it was its membership in that treaty which gave it the right to have access to lots of nuclear technology. One thing Iran gave up when it joined the nonproliferation treaty was the right to build a nuclear weapon. The reason countries sign on to this treaty is not because they are doing good for the world, but because they're doing good for themselves. They don't want to start arms races where all of their neighbors also develop nuclear weapons and the region where they live becomes more dangerous, without any improvement to their own security. … That's the great risk with the Iranian program … that it would start an arms race in the region that would leave everyone in the region worse off, including Iran."

Patrick Clawson's Message To Obama

Rudi Bakhtiar, a former CNN anchor, is now director of public relations for the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans, a lobbying group.

On diplomatic ties: "PAAIA conducted a Zogby survey where we found that a majority of Iranian-Americans would like to see diplomatic negotiations between the two countries. ... And I think that we at PAAIA all agree on one thing: Negotiating is always better than a military option. But what I would say to our new president, who has become the hope of the whole world, I think, is that when you do think about negotiating with Iran, think about the fact that you are going to do things that affect a people."

Rudi Bakhtiar's Message To Obama

Joseph Cirincione is president of the Ploughshares Fund, a nonprofit foundation that supports nuclear disarmament. He teaches at the Georgetown University Graduate School of Foreign Service and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

On negotiations with Iran: "The Iranians rejected various overtures by the United States, particularly in the last few years of the Clinton administration. But we rejected overtures from Iran, as well, particularly in 2003, when they tabled an offer to talk about their nuclear program — before it was advanced as it is now — as well as their relationship with Israel, their support for Hezbollah. But at that time, the Bush administration wasn't interested in negotiating with Iran. We had just toppled Saddam Hussein, and there was a lot of heady talk in Washington about serial regime change in the Middle East. So both sides have made miscalculations. The question for me is whether the current Obama administration can learn the lessons of that and have a consistent policy that, over a period of time, works to engage both the Iranian people and their leaders, and understands that there are vying factions in Iran. That sometimes the hardliners don't want to see the reformers get the credit, and that we've got to make sure we're appealing to the right factions."

Joe Cirincione's Message To Obama

Azar Nafisi is an acclaimed writer and academic. She is the author of the award-winning book Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books and the newly published book Things I've Been Silent About: Memories.

On transparency: "I think that negotiations between Iran and the United States should be made public. People of both countries have a right to know how their fates are being decided, and what is being given and what is being taken. … We have a president named Barack Hussein Obama … the fact is that this is a sign of changing times because millions of Husseins around the country will now think we don't have to be considered as terrorists; we can be considered even as presidents of this country. But also he's a Hussein who is Christian so it shows that the world is changing, that identity politics doesn't work. We can have Husseins and Allees who can be Christians or Jews, and you can have Jeffreys and Hillarys who can be perhaps Muslim, you know? And I think we can use this to open relations without compromising our principles."

Listen: Azar Nafisi's Message To Obama


Kevin Hermening was a Marine guard at the U.S. embassy in Tehran and the youngest of the 52 Americans held hostage there 30 years ago. He is now a certified financial planner in central Wisconsin.

On U.S. policy: "I actually don't think that the United States, yet, has a coherent policy with regard to the country of Iran. Clearly, back during the first Gulf War, it was the goal of the first George Bush to not take out Saddam Hussein. Because Iran and Syria would have filled that void if Hussein had been taken out of power — two largely Shia populations going into the Sunni area. And you've got the challenge right now of: Is it regime change we want or is it a behavioral change of the current regime that we would really like to change? And that is the challenge that our government has failed up to this point to articulate. Not just to the American people, but even to the Iranian people — forget the leaders of Iran — but the Iranian people, who really I think most of us feel is our real audience."

Listen: Kevin Hermening's Message To Obama


Niloufar Talebi is an award-winning translator as well as the editor and translator of Belonging: New Poetry by Iranians Around the World.

On free expression: In her book, Talebi says many Iranian writers still succeed in sharing their ideas with the world despite challenges to free expression. "Over the past three decades, writers who stayed in Iran have continued creating literature under censorship, the number of women writers has multiplied, and a huge body of criticism about writers living both inside and outside Iran has emerged," she writes. "Censorship has affected their work. Some have been silenced. … Those Iranian writers living outside Iran and afforded new freedom of speech have sometimes battled self-censorship. … Nevertheless, they have also created a rich body of work — in many languages. And despite all these challenges, Iranian literature, and literature by Iranians, has marched on, now being written all over the world