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Why the US Doesn't Talk to Iran

By       Message Ismael Hossein-zadeh     Permalink
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The unrelenting diplomatic and geopolitical standoff between Iran and the United States is often blamed on the Iranian government for its "confrontational" foreign policies, or its "unwillingness" to enter into a dialogue with the United States. Little known, however, is the fact that during the past decade or so, Iran has offered a number of times to negotiate with the United States without ever getting a positive response from the U.S.

The best known of such efforts at dialogue, which came to be known as Iran's "grand bargain" proposal, was made in May 2003. The two-page proposal for a broad Iran-U.S. understanding, covering all issues of mutual concern, was transmitted to the U.S. State Department through the Swiss ambassador in Tehran. Not only did the State Department not respond to Iran's negotiating offer but, as reporter Gareth Porter points out, it indeed "rebuked the Swiss ambassador for having passed on the offer."

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Since then Iran has made a number of other efforts at negotiation, the latest of which was made by President Ahmadinejad ahead of his recent (2010) trip to the United States to attend the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly. Regrettably, once again the United States ignored President Ahmadinejad's overture of meeting with President Obama during his UN visit.

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The question is why? Why have successive U.S. administrations been reluctant to enter into a conflict-resolution dialogue with Iran, which could clearly be in the national interests of the United States?

The answer, in a nutshell, is that U.S. foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, is driven not so much by broad national interests as they are by narrow but powerful special interests--interests that seem to prefer war and militarism to peace and international understanding. These are the nefarious interests that are vested in military industries and related "security" businesses, notoriously known as the military-industrial complex. These beneficiaries of war dividends would not be able to justify their lion's share of our tax dollars without "external enemies" or "threats to our national interests."

Embezzlement of the lion's share of the national treasury was not a difficult act to perform during the Cold War era because the pretext for continued increases in military spending--the "communist threat"--seemed to conveniently lie at hand. Justification of increased military spending in the postCold War period, however, has prompted the military-security interests to be more creative in inventing (or manufacturing, if necessary) "new sources of danger to U.S. interests."

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Thus, when the collapse of the Soviet system and the subsequent discussions of "peace dividends" in the United States threatened the interests of the military-industrial conglomerates, their representatives invented "new threats to U.S. interests" and successfully substituted them for the "threat of communism" of the Cold War era. These "new, post-Cold War sources of threat" are said to stem from the so-called "rogue states," "global terrorism" and "Islamic fundamentalism." Demonization of Iran and/or President Ahmadinejad can be better understood in this context.

Now, it may be argued that if it is true that beneficiaries of war-dividends need external enemies in order to justify their unfair share of national treasury, why Iran? Why of all places is Iran targeted as such an enemy? Isn't there something wrong with the Iranian government and/or President Ahmadinejad's policies in challenging the world's superpower knowing that this would be a case of David challenging Goliath, that it would cause diplomatic pressure, military threats and economic sanctions on Iran?

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Ismael Hossein-zadeh is a professor of economics at Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa. He is the author of the newly published book, The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism His Web page is http://www.cbpa.drake.edu/hossein-zadeh

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