[OPINION] Some promising events regarding Iran

By Park Sae-jin Posted : August 17, 2023, 17:45 Updated : August 22, 2023, 07:59
Arthur I Cyr
[Arthur I. Cyr]

[This article was contributed by Arthur I. Cyr, author of “After the Cold War -- American Foreign Policy, Europe and Asia” (NYU Press and Palgrave/Macmillan). He has taught at the Universities of Chicago and Illinois, Northwestern University, and Carthage College (Clausen Distinguished Professor).]

KENOSHA -- On August 10, Iran released four Americans held in a notorious Tehran prison. They joined a fifth in less restrictive house arrest, with the understanding all will leave the country in the near future.

In exchange, negotiations are underway to release $6 billion in Iran assets, frozen in South Korea, for use in humanitarian purposes. The funds may be moved to a third country, where their release and use could still be directly and closely monitored.

Switzerland’s diplomats in Iran have played a central role in these important talks. The governments of Oman and Qatar are also being helpful.

Meanwhile, on August 7 U.S. officials announced the arrival of 3,000 new Navy and Marine Corps personnel to the Middle East, along with aircraft and ships. Over the past two years, Iran has seized or attacked 20 internationally flagged commercial ships in the area.

Iran continues to be a focus of frustration for United States foreign policy. The fundamentalist Islamic regime in Tehran has long voiced hostility to Israel as well as the U.S., punctuated from time to time with public threats of apocalyptic destruction.

Consequently, the steady expansion of Iran’s uranium enrichment program causes understandable concern. The possible development of nuclear weapons is an ongoing menace. The Trump administration withdrew from an international nuclear agreement to restrain this.

Immediately after World War II, Soviet troops occupied northern Iran. The Truman administration successfully pressured Moscow to withdraw. Later, British and CIA operatives overthrew the elected government.

Domestically, Iran experiences continuing public demonstrations. Economic conditions are one cause. Last September, Mahsa Amini, a young woman, died in police custody, sparking mass public protests. Her "offense" was not properly wearing the headscarf decreed by authorities.

In 1979, Islamic revolutionaries overthrew the pro-U.S. Iran regime. This abruptly ended Iran’s previous posture as a close American ally.

After ousting the autocratic Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, militants seized the American embassy, took hostages, and held them for months. The lengthy crisis poisoned Tehran-Washington relations and helped Ronald Reagan decisively defeat incumbent President Jimmy Carter in 1980. During the Reagan administration, the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in a lengthy eight-year war with Iran.

The 2009 presidential election sparked mass demonstrations against alleged election fraud. The use of cell phones to report the demonstrations revealed broad public discontent. Dictators can no longer completely suppress information, though Tehran tries.

The Shah’s modernization policies over the long term fostered a relatively well-educated population. There is a sizable middle class. The urban population has been expanding steadily.

Women have influential roles in a wide range of professions. The relatively modern economy – and society – contrast with other nations where fundamentalist Islam plays a major or dominant role.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, actively analyzed Iran's developments until his death in 2017. He regularly noted that the fundamentalists running the country face fundamental problems.

 Brzezinski believed Iran could move in the same direction as Turkey. That nation constitutionally is a secular state, and remains a member of NATO, even though a fundamentalist, sometimes challenging political party controls the government.

Nearly a decade before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, former President Richard Nixon in his book "Beyond Peace" argued that invading provocative Saddam Hussein’s Iraq would be a mammoth blunder and the invasion would destabilize the region and expand the influence of Iran, our actual regional diplomatic and strategic rival.

Here as elsewhere, events confirm President Nixon’s insights and should inform policy.
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