Saturday, May 27, 2006

Iran Proposal to U.S. Offered Peace with Israel

By Gareth Porter

IPS) - Iran offered in 2003 to accept peace with Israel and to cut off material assistance to Palestinian armed groups and pressure them to halt terrorist attacks within Israel's 1967 borders, according to the secret Iranian proposal to the United States.

The two-page proposal for a broad Iran-U.S. agreement covering all the issues separating the two countries, a copy of which was obtained by IPS, was conveyed to the United States in late April or early May 2003. Trita Parsi, a specialist on Iranian foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies who provided the document to IPS, says he got it from an Iranian official earlier this year but is not at liberty to reveal the source.

The two-page document contradicts the official line of the George W. Bush administration that Iran is committed to the destruction of Israel and the sponsorship of terrorism in the region.

Parsi says the document is a summary of an even more detailed Iranian negotiating proposal which he learned about in 2003 from the U.S. intermediary who carried it to the State Department on behalf of the Swiss Embassy in late April or early May 2003. The intermediary has not yet agreed to be identified, according to Parsi.

The Iranian negotiating proposal indicated clearly that Iran was prepared to give up its role as a supporter of armed groups in the region in return for a larger bargain with the United States. What the Iranians wanted in return, as suggested by the document itself as well as expert observers of Iranian policy, was an end to U.S. hostility and recognition of Iran as a legitimate power in the region.

Before the 2003 proposal, Iran had attacked Arab governments which had supported the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The negotiating document, however, offered "acceptance of the Arab League Beirut declaration", which it also referred to as the "Saudi initiative, two-states approach."

The March 2002 Beirut declaration represented the Arab League's first official acceptance of the land-for-peace principle as well as a comprehensive peace with Israel in return for Israel's withdrawal to the territory it had controlled before the 1967 war.. Iran's proposed concession on the issue would have aligned its policy with that of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, among others with whom the United States enjoyed intimate relations.

Another concession in the document was a "stop of any material support to Palestinian opposition groups (Hamas, Jihad, etc.) from Iranian territory" along with "pressure on these organizations to stop violent actions against civilians within borders of 1967".

Even more surprising, given the extremely close relationship between Iran and the Lebanon-based Hizbollah Shiite organisation, the proposal offered to take "action on Hizbollah to become a mere political organization within Lebanon".

The Iranian proposal also offered to accept much tighter controls by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in exchange for "full access to peaceful nuclear technology". It offered "full cooperation with IAEA based on Iranian adoption of all relevant instruments (93+2 and all further IAEA protocols)".

That was a reference to protocols which would require Iran to provide IAEA monitors with access to any facility they might request, whether it had been declared by Iran or not. That would have made it much more difficult for Iran to carry out any secret nuclear activities without being detected.

In return for these concessions, which contradicted Iran's public rhetoric about Israel and anti-Israeli forces, the secret Iranian proposal sought U.S. agreement to a list of Iranian aims. The list included a "Halt in U.S. hostile behavior and rectification of status of Iran in the U.S.", as well as the "abolishment of all sanctions".

Also included among Iran's aims was "recognition of Iran's legitimate security interests in the region with according defense capacity". According to a number of Iran specialists, the aim of security and an official acknowledgment of Iran's status as a regional power were central to the Iranian interest in a broad agreement with the United States.

Negotiation of a deal with the United States that would advance Iran's security and fundamental geopolitical political interests in the Persian Gulf region in return for accepting the existence of Israel and other Iranian concessions has long been discussed among senior Iranian national security officials, according to Parsi and other analysts of Iranian national security policy.

An Iranian threat to destroy Israel has been a major propaganda theme of the Bush administration for months. On Mar. 10, Bush said, "The Iranian president has stated his desire to destroy our ally, Israel. So when you start listening to what he has said to their desire to develop a nuclear weapon, then you begin to see an issue of grave national security concern."

But in 2003, Bush refused to allow any response to the Iranian offer to negotiate an agreement that would have accepted the existence of Israel. Flynt Leverett, then the senior specialist on the Middle East on the National Security Council staff, recalled in an interview with IPS that it was "literally a few days" between the receipt of the Iranian proposal and the dispatch of a message to the Swiss ambassador expressing displeasure that he had forwarded it to Washington.

Interest in such a deal is still very much alive in Tehran, despite the U.S. refusal to respond to the 2003 proposal. Turkish international relations professor Mustafa Kibaroglu of Bilkent University writes in the latest issue of Middle East Journal that "senior analysts" from Iran told him in July 2005 that "the formal recognition of Israel by Iran may also be possible if essentially a 'grand bargain' can be achieved between the U.S. and Iran".

The proposal's offer to dismantle the main thrust of Iran's Islamic and anti-Israel policy would be strongly opposed by some of the extreme conservatives among the mullahs who engineered the repression of the reformist movement in 2004 and who backed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in last year's election.

However, many conservative opponents of the reform movement in Iran have also supported a negotiated deal with the United States that would benefit Iran, according to Paul Pillar, the former national intelligence officer on Iran. "Even some of the hardliners accepted the idea that if you could strike a deal with the devil, you would do it," he said in an interview with IPS last month.

The conservatives were unhappy not with the idea of a deal with the United States but with the fact that it was a supporter of the reform movement of Pres. Mohammad Khatami, who would get the credit for the breakthrough, Pillar said.

Parsi says that the ultimate authority on Iran's foreign policy, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was "directly involved" in the Iranian proposal, according to the senior Iranian national security officials he interviewed in 2004. Kamenei has aligned himself with the conservatives in opposing the pro-democratic movement.

Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy analyst. His latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in June 2005. (END/2006)

source: Information Clearing House

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Iran Target of Apparent Disinformation Ploy

by Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - A story authored by a prominent U.S. neo-conservative regarding new legislation in Iran allegedly requiring Jews and other religious minorities to wear distinctive colour badges circulated around the world this weekend before it was exposed as false. The article by a frequent contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Iranian-American Amir Taheri, was initially published in Friday's edition of Canada's National Post, which ran alongside the story a 1935 photograph of a Jewish businessman in Berlin with a yellow, six-pointed star sewn on his overcoat, as required by Nazi legislation at the time. The Post subsequently issued a retraction.

Taheri's story, however, was reprinted by the New York Post, which is owned by media baron Rupert Murdoch, and picked up by the Jerusalem Post, which also featured a photo of a yellow star from the Nazi era over a photo of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Another neo-conservative publication, the New York Sun, also noted the story Monday, claiming that the specific report that special badges were required by the legislation had been "incorrect". At the same time, however, the Sun quoted two Iranian-American foes of the Islamic Republic as suggesting that dress requirements for religious minorities were still being considered by Iran's ruling circles. It offered no evidence to support that assertion.

The story, which was also noted in the Australian press, comes at a moment of rising tensions between Iran and both Israel and the United States over Tehran's nuclear programme which, according to the latter two, is designed to produce nuclear weapons. Both the U.S. and Israel have suggested that they may take military action against nuclear-related targets in Iran unless ongoing diplomatic efforts to freeze Tehran's programme bears fruit.

Juan Cole, president of the U.S. Middle East Studies Association (MESA), described the Taheri article and its appearance first in Canada's Post as "typical of black psychological operations campaigns", particularly in its origin in an "out of the way newspaper that is then picked up by the mainstream press" -- in this case, the Jerusalem Post and the New York Post. A former U.S. intelligence official described the article's relatively obscure provenance as a "real sign of (a) disinformation operation".

Taheri's original article, entitled "A Colour Code for Iran's 'Infidels'", dealt primarily with new legislation that it said was designed to ensure that Iranians wear "standard Islamic garments" that removed ethnic and class distinctions and that eliminated "the influence of the infidel" -- presumably meaning the West -- "on the way Iranians, especially, the young dress".

But it also noted in passing that it would "envisage" separate dress codes for religious minorities -- Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians -- who will be required to adopt distinct colour schemes to make them identifiable in public "so that (Muslims) can avoid shaking hands with them by mistake, and thus (become) najis (unclean)".

In particular, he explained, religious minorities will "have to wear special insignia, known as zonnar, to indicate their non-Islamic faiths. Jews will be marked out with a yellow strip of cloth sewn in front of their clothes, while Christians will be assigned the colour red. Zoroastrians end up with Persian blue as the colour of their zonnar," he wrote.

While Taheri did not evoke the Nazi precedent in his column, the National Post asked its readers at the end of the piece, "Is Iran turning into the new Nazi Germany? Share your opinion online at national"

That was compounded by the Post's publication of a front-page article by Chris Wattie which quoted unidentified "human rights groups" as "raising alarms over a new law passed by the Iranian parliament that would require the country's Jews and Christians to wear coloured badges to identify them and other religious minorities as non-Muslims".

"This is reminiscent of the Holocaust," Wattie quoted Rabbi Marvin Heir, the dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, as telling him. "Iran is moving closer and closer to the ideology of the Nazis."

The story also quoted one Iranian exile living in Toronto as confirming the story, as well as Canadian Jewish leaders and Prime Minister Stephen Harper as denouncing the legislation and suggesting that it was consistent with other recent moves made by Tehran.

Similarly, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, who, however, denied any specific knowledge about the alleged measure, called it "despicable" and reminiscent of "Germany under Hitler".

In fact, however, the legislation contained "absolutely no mention of religious minorities", according to Hadi Ghaemi, the chief Iran researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW), who said it included "only generalities with regard to promoting a national dress code and fashion industry that should be subsidised and supported by the government".

The article -- and especially its attribution to "human rights groups" -- was particularly unfortunate, he told IPS, because "it plays into the hands of the Iranian government that wants to discredit human rights issues that are raised at the international level". The actual legislation was indeed "a troubling development", but not for the reasons cited by the Post, he added, because "its main target is most probably Iranian women".

Other denunciations were quick to follow. One Jewish representative in the Iranian parliament, Maurice Motamed, insisted that colour requirements for ethnic minorities had "never been proposed or discussed in parliament", let alone approved. "Such news," he told the Associated Press, "is an insult to religious minorities here."

"This report is a complete fabrication and is totally false," he told The Australian newspaper. "It is a lie..."

Two Israel-based Iran experts, Menashe Amir and Meir Javedanfar, also denounced the original reports about the legislation, suggesting in a follow-up article in the Jerusalem Post Monday that they were based on outdated speculation about the impact on non-Muslims of the adoption of Islamic dress standards.

Nonetheless, the Sun, without endorsing the specific contents of the National Post articles, refused to drop the story, quoting "a leading spokesman for Iranian Jews", the secretary-general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation in Los Angeles, Sam Kermanian, as thanking "the world for its outcry" over the original reports and praising Taheri as "someone with fantastic credibility".

Taheri is a member of Benador Associates, a public relations firm that lists a large number of leading neo-conservatives, including American Enterprise Institute (AEI) associates Richard Perle, David Frum, Michael Ledeen, Michael Rubin, and Joshua Muravchik, among its clients. Major boosters of the war with Iraq, Benador clients, who also include former Central Intelligence Agency chief James Woolsey and former Israeli minister Natan Sharansky, have also called for the Bush administration to take a hard line against Iran.

The newspapers that so far have run the story are similarly identified with a hard line against Tehran. The National Post, which was bought by CanWest Global Communications from Conrad Black, a close associate of Perle's, is controlled by David and Leonard Asper, who have accused the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation of being anti-Israel, according to Marsha Cohen of Florida International University, who has closely followed the badges story.

Similarly, the Sun has consistently taken positions consistent with the right-wing Likud Party in Israel on Middle East issues, while Murdoch owns the strongly pro-Israel Weekly Standard and Fox News, in addition to the New York Post.

"I think the way these stories played -- particularly the references to the Holocaust -- was designed to arouse and play upon concerns and accusations that Ahmadinejad is another Hitler who needs to be dealt with accordingly," noted Cohen, who added that the Iranian president's questioning of the Holocaust and aggressive statements about Israel have made such stories more credible.

Copyright © 2006 IPS-Inter Press Service


source: Common Dreams