Tehran University professor and outspoken Iranian analyst Sadegh Zibakalam has written an op-ed on the front page of Reformist Bahar newspaper questioning the enmity between Iran and the United States, blaming part of the problem on what is “in the minds” of Iranians.
“Without any exaggeration,” Zibakalam began, “no issue has been a topic of discussion in the last 34 years since after the revolution as much the enmity between us and America and all of its various dimensions.” He continued, “The question from all of the foreign reporters at the press conference of the president was about the conflict between Iran and America. Sixteen years ago, when CNN’s Christiane Amanpour interviewed [Mohammad] Khatami, the first and perhaps only important question she asked was, ‘What are you going to do with America?’ Sixteen years later, the question from all of the foreign reporters is ‘What are you going to do with America?’”
Zibakalam stressed that US-Iran relations are also key to solving Iran’s nuclear file, saying, “In reality, the nuclear issue is tied to the American issue.” He added that unless “steps are taken in the direction of solving the issue with America, it is difficult to imagine [those that] will be taken to end the dead end with the P5+1.”
Zibakalam said that Rouhani’s comments to reporters were the same as Khatami’s sixteen years ago in saying that “The US has to show good intentions; they need to speak to us in one voice.” Zibakalam mentioned that there are even other groups that “are radical” in Iran who want even more from the United States, such as “ending their imperialism” or support for Israel, among many other demands, before any type of relations or talks with the United States begin. (Nearly a third of Zibakalam’s column listed the demands of various groups from the “moderate” side to the “radical” side.)
“Assume Rouhani with all of these pressures, threats and protests … sits down to negotiate with the Americans. In consideration of the culture and the literature and daily propaganda of the last 34 years, even if Rouhani receives all the concessions from America, and the Americans sign a deed to all of the world to Iran, some in Iran will say, “Rouhani went and betrayed us to the Americans and he retreated at the orders of Rafsanjani.” (Rouhani and Zibakalam are both considered to be close to the head of the Expediency Council, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani.)
“Whatever action the Americans take and whatever step they take, from our view it was not a step at all,” Zibakalam wrote of the perception of hard-liners in Iran. “And assuming we accept that their action was correct, we will say that they took that step in order to deceive us.” He continued, “In other words, [with] the state of mind against America which exists today, there is no possibility of negotiations between us and the Americans.”
Zibakalam continued, “At beginning of negotiations with America, we first have to have a serious and realistic talk amongst ourselves. The basis and framework of this talk has to be this simple and fundamental question: Essentially, what is the reason for our enmity toward America?”
In regard to some of the arguments against negotiating with America, Zibakalam wrote, “If we believe that that our enmity toward America is that because we want to be independent, and we want an Islamic system in Iran but America does not want us to be independent, and they want us to be their servant, then in that case there is no room for negotiations or relations with America. We are not ready to harm our independence. We are not ready to step back one millimeter from our independence or Islam. Therefore, our enmity with America is forever.” Zibakalam also wrote that if the United States wants Iran to be “subordinate” to them at the international level, this, too, will make negotiations pointless.
Zibakalam concluded by perhaps for the first time in the column stating his own position, which is that if “we want to sit down with America and negotiate with them, for the first time, we have to present this question, which for 34 years we have assumed its answer to: Really, what is the reason for our enmity toward America? The smallest reason for the importance of this question [is] all that we claim about America and that we created ourselves, at least a large part of it is not true, and is the result of what is in our mind. This mentality is not enough of a reason to justify the necessity or the cause of our enmity with America.”