US, Iran in High-Level Talks
US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart are sitting down Thursday for the highest level talks between the two nations in 34 years.
CNN reports Kerry and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are meeting in New York to hash out a deal on restarting talks about Iran’s nuclear program and ending devastating economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
In addition to the US and Iran, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany are participating in the historic meeting. Washington and Tehran have been at odds since 1979, when an Islamic revolution ousted a US-backed monarchy and diplomatic ties between the nations were severed.
The thaw in relations was made possible by the recent election of moderate president Hassan Rouhani, who replaces the blustery, Holocaust-denying Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and by the Obama administration’s more peaceful stance toward the Iranian regime, which it had previously threatened with attack over its nuclear program.
Iranian leaders claim their country is developing nuclear power for peaceful purposes, like any sovereign nation has a right to do, while the US and Israel accuse the regime of coveting nuclear weapons. All 16 US intelligence agencies, as well as many Israeli leaders, however, concur that Iran is not trying to develop a nuclear arsenal.
President Rouhani said he wants to reach a nuclear deal within months, and that he has the backing of the nation’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“We need resolution in a reasonable time,” Rouhani told the Washington Post. “The only way forward is for a timeline to be inserted into the negotiations that’s short. The shorter it is, the more beneficial it is to everyone.”
On Thursday, Rouhani also called for an end to nuclear weapons, calling disarmament Iran’s “highest priority.”
“As long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of their use, threat of use and proliferation persist,” he told the United Nations General Assembly, speaking on behalf of the global Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
Rouhani also called on Israel, which has an unacknowledged nuclear arsenal of as many as hundreds of warheads, to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which bans the spread of nuclear weapons.
“No nation should possess nuclear weapons, since there are no right hands for these wrong weapons,” he said during his General Assembly address.
Last week, Rouhani reached out to the United States, publishing an op-ed piece in the Washington Post in which he wrote about the need for talking about “how to make things better” and the need for “constructive interaction.”
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama extended an olive branch to Iran during his General Assembly speech.
“I do believe that if we can resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, that can serve as a major step down a long road towards a different relationship, one based on mutual interests and mutual respect,” the president said, acknowledging that Khamenei “has issued a fatwa (religious edict) against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic Republic will never develop a nuclear weapon.”
Earlier this week, there was speculation that Obama and Rouhani would shake hands or even meet at the UN, but numerous media sources reported the Iranians rebuffed the US proposal as “too complicated.”
Iran has backed up its dovish rhetoric with action. Last week, Iranian authorities freed scores of political prisoners, including prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. Also released was Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, a 44-year-old Canadian citizen sentenced to death for allegedly spying on Iran and having ties to an opposition group.
Rouhani also distanced himself from the Holocaust denial of his predecessor Ahmadinejad, calling the Nazi slaughter of millions of Jews and others “reprehensible.”
“Any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis committed against the Jews, as well as non-Jewish people, is reprehensible and condemnable,” he declared in an interview with CNN. He did, however, qualify his condemnation by blasting Israeli crimes against Palestine.
“This does not mean on the other hand that you can say, ‘Nazis committed crimes against a certain group, now therefore [Israel] must usurp the land of another group and occupy it,'” Rouhani said. “This too is an act that should be condemned in our view.”
The Jewish population of the territory that comprises the modern nation of Israel was less than 10 percent from ancient times until the early 20th century, after Zionist Jews began emigrating to Palestine, culminating with an Israeli declaration of independence– and a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Arabs– in 1948.
Although there are promising signs of rapprochement between the US and Iran, deep-seated feelings of mistrust and apprehension remain. Obama said as much in his UN speech, acknowledging that “Iranians have long complained of a history of US interference in their affairs,” notably, “America’s role in overthrowing” the popular, democratically elected government of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh.
Mossadegh was replaced with Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, an often brutal monarch who ruled with the help of massive amounts of US aid and SAVAK, the dreaded internal security service notorious for horrific torture techniques, many of them taught by the CIA.
While the US has condemned Iranian support for militant groups such as Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as Tehran’s support for the murderous Assad regime in Syria and, previously, Iraqi militants fighting the US occupation of their country, Iranians have a much longer list of grievances against the US government.
In addition to the 1953 CIA-backed coup, Iranian have been angered by US and Western exploitation of their natural resources. They also seethe at US encouragement of Saddam Hussein’s 1980 invasion of Iran, the beginning of an eight-year war of attrition that claimed more than a million lives and saw Iraqi use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops and civilians, weapons whose components were providedby US and other Western nations. Iranians resent the 1988 US Navy downing of Iran Air 655, an accidental attack that killed all 290 passengers and crew and to which Vice President George H. W. Bush infamously responded by declaring, “I will never apologize for the United States of America, I don’t care what the facts are.”
Iranians also bristle at the hypocrisy and double standards of targeting Iran with crippling economic sanctions over its non-existent nuclear weapons while lavishing billions of dollars of aid and assistance upon nuclear powers Israel and India, as well as Washington’s incessant saber-rattling under both the Bush and Obama administrations.
The US has done more than just threaten Iran with war– a covert assassination campaign targeting Iranian nuclear scientists and cyberwarfare against Iranian computer networks have been attributed to the US, Israel or both. Washington also trained and supports the Iranian exile terrorist group MEK, which has carried out attacks against regime targets.
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