Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US, Iran Play a Game of Influence, Perceptions Two Nations See Each Other through a Glass Darkly; National Pride Clouds Their Views

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US, Iran Play a Game of Influence, Perceptions Two Nations See Each Other through a Glass Darkly; National Pride Clouds Their Views

Article excerpt

"Sacred Defense Week" in Iran kicked off with pomp and circumstance: a parade of menacing military hardware in Tehran, matched by customary anti-West rhetoric.

Burnished missiles, tanks, and artillery rolled past the review stand; paratroopers stormed "Freedom Square" from the air; and elite units of Iran's military forces marched past to chants of Alahhu Akbar-God is Great.

Also customary were the targets of the rhetoric: the United States and Israel, which together have been the bete noire of this Islamic regime since the 1979 revolution overthrew the US-backed leader, the Shah of Iran. But obstacles to peace between Iran and the US are far more complex and subtle than the recent saber-rattling in Tehran and Washington suggests. Both sides, say Iranian officials and diplomatic sources, view the relationship through a distorting prism of inflated self-importance and pride. The US policy of "dual containment" of Iran and Iraq in the volatile oil-rich Persian Gulf region is countered in Iran by similar "dual containment" thinking regarding the US and Israel. Though these policies now appear entrenched, 17 years after the revolution, Iranians and some Western officials are beginning to pinpoint mutual misperceptions, and to look toward eventual detente. But President Clinton signed a bill in August that toughens American sanctions against Iran and prevents US and Western companies from investing more than $40 million in either Iran or Libya. Iran tops the US State Department list of countries that sponsor international terrorism, and the law was billed as an "antiterrorism" measure. "The US government is living in the past and hasn't come to the reality of the situation," said Ebrahim Yazdi, head of the opposition Freedom Movement of Iran in Tehran. "They still believe this is the time of the cold war and the shah when they could dictate to Iran what to do. The Big Brother attitude is continuing." "Unfortunately, many Iranians also live in the past," he added. "Their memory is of US interference in Iran.... They created and trained Savak {the shah's hated internal security police}, so for many Iranians the US is part of the shah's crimes." Along with the fiery anti-American rhetoric, evidence of lingering suspicion is found throughout the capital. Still painted on the wall of the former US Embassy compound - where 52 Americans were taken hostage in 1979 - is the admonition of Iran's supreme spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the revolution: "We will make America face a severe defeat," it reads. And a corner shop called The Center for Publication of the US Espionage Den's Documents sells copies of the secret intelligence cables retrieved from sacks of shredded documents and painstakingly pieced together. Still, Iranians say that due to the history of US influence in the Middle East, there is a widespread belief among Iranians that the US is omnipotent in its reach, its understanding of Iran, and its ability to change the geopolitical balance in the Middle East. …

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