Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

UASR's Session on Iran Carried by C-Span

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

UASR's Session on Iran Carried by C-Span

Article excerpt


There was good news and bad news from the United Association for Studies and Research (UASR) symposium entitled "U.S. and Iran, Time to Talk," held May 9 in the Crystal City Marriot Hotel in the national capital area following the closing luncheon of the American Muslim Council's 1999 national convention.

The good news was that the program, featuring an address by former Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Robert Pelletreau, director of the American-Iranian Council, before an audience of some 300 people was televised on C-SPAN to an audience estimated in the millions throughout the United States.

The bad news was that the other scheduled major participant, Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations Sayyid Hadi Najad Hossenian, was barred at the last moment by the U.S. State Department from participating. UASR Symposium hosts Ahmed Yousef and Anisa Abdul Fattah invited executive editor Richard Curtiss of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, whose magazine has presented a wide spectrum of sharply opposing views on Iran almost since the establishment of the Islamic Republic there, to fill in for the ambassador. Noting that the program was being held on Mothers' Day, program moderator Dr. Imad ad-Deen Ahmad of the Minaret of Freedom Institute recalled an injunction to his followers by the Prophet Mohammad that "paradise lies at the feet of your mothers."

Ambassador Pelletreau said "it's long past time for Iran and the U.S. to move toward a more normal relationship," and added that "it's a movement which I think has already begun." Pelletreau said that although he first visited Iran in 1968 with his wife and daughter, "it was only later that I realized how important Iran was to the U.S. and what an important player it was in the international petroleum industry."

Keeping his prepared remarks brief in order to leave maximum time for questions, Pelletreau said Iran-U.S. relations "were never completely normal" and "the U.S. probably never realized that the things we were doing in Iran were creating such resentments." On the other hand, the former career diplomat, who directed Near East Affairs in the State Department from 1994 to 1997, said the action by student revolutionaries of taking the U.S. Embassy staff in Iran hostage for 444 days following the 1979 popular revolution that brought down Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlevi "created a great deal of resentment in the U.S. and put that part of the world in a very special spotlight."

Responding to questions critical of the U.S. "dual containment" policy in the Middle East, Pelletreau said the U.S. government action cancelling a major Iranian petroleum exploration and development contract with Conoco "should never have happened." Asked about U.S. exploratory contacts with Iran, Pelletreau cited as an unhappy precedent the opening of the U.S.-PLO dialog in Tunisia when he was American ambassador there. "We spent years talking past each other," he said.

Nevertheless, he said he believes Christiane Ananapour's CNN interview with then-newly elected President Mohammad Khatami of Iran was "the beginning of a meltdown of mutual suspicions."

Pelletreau said the controversy between Iran and the U.S. "is not an ethnic conflict or a territorial conflict. The differences are political and should be treated politically and diplomatically."

Beginning his talk, Curtiss said that a few years ago when he and a friend struck up a conversation with the Iranian driver of a Washington, DC taxi, the friend, a retired U. …

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