Return from Tehran
We have just returned from Tehran having had important meetings with president Ahmadinejad and former president Khatami. Its been an important week. Tomorrow (Monday) morning we will hold a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington DC. I will post our statement and other details of the press conference after that.
For now, let me continue from where I stopped.
Ali Akbar Rezaei (left) Deputy for North and Central America at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who initiated the idea and coordinated our trip is a graduate of the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at the Eastern Mennonite University, with Dr. Jalili (right) Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Europe and North America.On Wednesday, we met with Dr. Jalili, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran who gave us an approximately 40 minute presentation on the Iranian perspective on the current crisis. He made some significant points.
The following are my reflections on his main points.
1. There are two narratives that are deeply etched in the psyches of the Iranian People and US Americans.
The Iranian narrative of its relationship with the US begins almost 54 years ago in 1953 when a coup initiated by the US government toppled the legitimate government of Iran and installed the Shah. This led to 25 years of dictatorship.
The US narrative begins in 1979 when 54 US diplomats were taken hostage at the American Embassy and held for over a year. Our delegation was the first group of Americans who had a meeting with senior government officials such as Dr. Jalili and a sitting Iranian president in 28 years.
For Iranians 1979 is a great celebration -- the toppling of a dictator and the start of the Islamic revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This according to Dr. Jalili is a grassroots government and a democratic one.
2. In the 1980s the US supported Saddam Hussein in the eight year war of Iraq against Iran but during that time there was not one UN resolution against Saddam. Dr. Jalili says that WMDs -- chemical weapons -- were used by Saddam against Iranian citizens but at the time Donald Rumsfeldt supported Saddam. Yet, Iran supported the political process in Iraq after Saddam was defeated, including its establishment of the constitution.
3. Iran supports human rights and justice for Palestine. They are a people who need to come back to their land. The president (Ahmadinejad) supports having a plebiscite so that people of the area can determine their own destiny, said Dr. Jalili. However, in my view, this is not an accptable position. Such a process will necessarily undermine the existence of Israel. I support a non-violent political solution. But it requires a deeper level of diplomacy to determine how a two state solution of peace and security be established.
4. Iran has a 20 year economic plan, said Dr. Jalili. For this we need 20,000 mega watts of nuclear power, he said. Iran had negotiated a nuclear deal during the Shah's time. But that is not taken into account now, he said. President Ahmadinejad spoke at the UN that nuclear weapons should be eliminated. But Prime Minister Olmert of Israel admitted to Israel's possession of nuclear weapons. There were no repercussions for that, he said.
Iran has the right to develop nuclear energy according to the NPT (Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty). We are not going to develop nuclear weapons (It is against Islam), he said. But these things can be worked out through dialogue, he said.