Foreign Affairs

Iran: Hostage-taking as Diplomacy

The continued detention of Iranian-American scholars Haleh Esfandiari of the Woodrow Wilson Center, and four others is another reminder of the reliance of the regime in Tehran on hostage-taking as an instrument of foreign policy.  Over the past 27 years, they have mastered the timing of this strategy.  Every time they sense slight weakness and lack of resolve from the west, or need bargaining chips for better positioning, they get into action and as soon as they notice some determination and seriousness from the west, they quickly back off.  This time, however, the timing of imprisonment of Iranian-American scholars is clearly related to the weakness displayed by the State Department in begging the regime to just to talk to them about Iraq.  America showed weakness, and Iran’s response was to raise the stakes.  Regardless of the outcome of this episode, the Tehran regime will continue; the use of terror as an instrument of domestic and public policy for the simple reason that it succeeds.

A number of Iran experts and pundits blame the Bush administration for lack of progress in the negotiations with the Iranian regime. But among them there is a common theory that there must be unconditional negotiations with Iran, removing all economic barriers and admittance of the Iranian regime to the international trade organizations. These politicians and pundits assume that concentration on the "common interests" through direct contacts would reduce tensions and will eventually open the way for more constructive cooperation, if not a grand bargain.

This surficial logic suffers from a major flaw exposed by a simple question: Are those who favor admittance of Tehran to international trade organizations and other international clubs also demand a reciprocating commitment from the Tehran? Of course, they are not.  And this reveals the true lack of logic in their approach because their approach ignores the long track record of treaty and agreement violations by the Ayatollahs who currently control Iran.
 
Case in point: in the summer of 2005 the lead negotatior for Iran’s nuclear program bragged on Iranian state-run TV that the nuclear negotiations with Europe bought them the three years they needed to complete an enrichment plant at Natanz, hardly a sign that Iranian regime feels any obligation to its commitments or that it is interested in good-faith negotiation.  In spite of large amounts of equipment aid from Europe for the Iranian police to prevent drug trafficking, the regime has not been keeping its own word in preventing the flow of narcotics to Europe.
 
Has it stopped arming Hizbolah and Hamas even after promising to the contrary in numerous occasions?  Just this last week, a Syrian bound train from Iran which was carrying sophisticated weaponry was found crossing Turkey. Turkish authorities declared that a substantial amount of weaponry was among the cargo which was supposed to be limited to construction materials.
 
Taking into account the nature of the Islamic regime, it seems that they have absolutely no interest in negotiating with the United States, unless of course to continue the state of crisis through its gamesmanship to buy time to build its nuclear bomb.

There are no factions within the entire regime that has an iota of "common interest" with the United States.  Another recent example should be interesting to note. Let’s compare the arrest of the Iranian-American scholars with another much publicized arrest: that of Mr. Mousavian a top nuclear negotiator for selling top secret and classified documents to the United States. He was freed within a few days and Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani publicly supported him in his Friday prayer sermon. Why do the "moderates" in the regime do not use their influence to free these scholars who worked so hard to promote them in the United States and Europe?  The answer lies in the fact that when it comes to its survival, the entire regime acts in unison. And as far as negotiations with the United States goes they see no interest or benefit in the horizon.

They use the subject of negotiations with the United States just as a compass to guide their trouble making activities and just as a trial balloon to determine the direction of the wind.

Why should a regime that has survived for 27 years just by relying on terror to successfully advance its foreign policy change its modus operandi? Even the security guarantee by the United States is not worth much to the regime in Iran.

Going back to the original question that whether Tehran can be expected to honor its international obligations, even if Tehran was seeking an economic guarantee and ascension to the World Trade Organization, would they be able to meet the semi-liberalization standards required? The answer is constitutionally an emphatic no. In the very unlikely event of a change in the constitution, is the regime even physically capable of implementing such policy to make Iran safe for economic activities?  Of course, the regime is not in a position to shorten its life by allowing economic freedoms of any kind.

With regards to their denial of the international protocols, all factions of the Islamic regime are in total and complete agreement. They regard an open society as their greatest enemy. They thrive on their incompatibility with the international community and in keeping a closed society to just benefit the unelected few ant their cronies.
 
As such, any agreement with the United States is rightfully viewed by them as a step towards an open society and that is what they do not want. Let’s remember that the theocratic regime in Iran thrives on crisis and is only capable of living in crisis conditions.  For both factions of the regime, the subject of negotiations with the international community is only a game theory and not a policy.  When they see weak spot, they act bolder, and when they see strength they cave in. 

International community should also view these negotiations as just a game and not a policy.  The real change in the region will only come after the change of the regime in Iran and democracy in Iran can be guiding principle of any policy in the region.


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