Iran and Syria directly confronted the Bush administration Wednesday by declaring they will form a "united front" to confront possible threats against them by the United States. The move was announced after a meeting in Tehran between the Vice President of Iran and the Syrian prime minister. We speak with former Iranian diplomat Mansour Farhang. [includes rush transcript]
The announcement came on the same day that Iran accused the United States of using satellites "and other tools" to spy on its nuclear sites and threatened to shoot down any American surveillance craft.
The potential for conflict was further heightened just hours later when an explosion near a nuclear facility in southern Iran was initially reported as a missile strike. The news caused a surge in oil prices and rattled financial markets. It later emerged the explosion was caused during the construction of a dam.
Also on Wednesday, Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom said Iran was just six months away from building a nuclear weapon that would be able to target "London, Paris and Madrid" by the end of the decade. Back in Washington, CIA director Porter Goss told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Iran poses a serious security threat to the United States.
- Porter Goss, CIA Director speaking before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Feb. 16, 2005.
CIA chief Porter Goss speaking yesterday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. To talk about the latest news on Iran, we are joined in our studio by Iranian-born author and former diplomat, Mansour Farhang.
- Mansour Farhang, Iranian-born author and former diplomat. He served as revolutionary Iran’s first ambassador to the United Nations and working as a mediator in the early months of the Iran-Iraq war. He left Iran as a dissident in 1981 and now teaches international relations and Middle Eastern politics at Bennington College, Vermont. He is the co-author of "U.S. Press and Iran: Foreign Policy and the Journalism of Deference" (Univ. of California, 1987).
AMY GOODMAN: Back in Washington, CIA Director, Porter Goss, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Iran poses security threat to the United States.
PORTER GOSS: Previous comments by Iranian officials including Iran’s Supreme Leader and foreign minister indicated that Iran would not give up its ability to enrich uranium. Certainly, it would be right for Iran to have the capability to produce fuel for power reactors. But we’re more concerned about the dual-use nature of the technology that could also be used to achieve a nuclear weapon. We do not have transparency. In parallel, Iran continues its pursuit of long range ballistic missiles, such as an improved version of the 1300-kilometer range Sahab 3 MRBM, to add to the hundreds of short range scud missiles it already has.
AMY GOODMAN: CIA Chief, Porter Goss, speaking yesterday of before the Senate Intelligence Committee. To talk about the latest news in Iran, we’re joined in our studio by the Iranian-born author and former diplomat, Mansour Farhang he served as revolutionary Iran’s first ambassador to the United Nations, working as a mediator in the early months of the Iran-Iraq war. He left Iran as a dissident in 1981, and teaches International Relations and Middle-Eastern Politics at Bennington College in Vermont. We welcome you to Democracy Now!
MANSOUR FARHANG: Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: Juan.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Tell us, your response to this latest news of Syria and Iran beginning to form some kind of a united front to confront these threats from the United States?
MANSOUR FARHANG: Let me first say that I’m an opponent of the theocratic dictatorship ruling Iran, and nothing I say in this conversation should be interpreted as a defense or justification of the Iranian regime. The latest incident symbolizes that the nature of the confrontation between United States, and Iran as well as the United States and Syria, as entirely two different objectives. The first of the United States’s putting pressure on Syria is to force them to withdraw their troops from Lebanon, and perhaps control the borders with Iraq more effectively. With respect to Iran, it is an intimidation to create a crisis, and therefore, force Iranians to submit to the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency or the three European countries negotiating with Iran concerning the abandonment of enrichment uranium.
JUAN GONZALEZ: There seems to be major differences now between the United States’s position on what’s going on in Iran in terms of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, and the International Atomic Energy Commission.
MANSOUR FARHANG: Yes, there is a difference. We have to understand the Iranian behavior or the nuclear ambition, it is important to remember that the Middle East is the most lucrative arms market in the world, and the United States is the leading arms exporter to the region. Second, the only country in the world that has extensive military bases in the region in Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, central Asia, Uzbekistan and the rest, is the United States. In other words, Iran is surrounded by a ring of American military bases. Therefore, the feeling of insecurity created in the region could only be an incentive for states in the region to pursue nuclear as a deterrent against external military threats. Now, Iran has achieved the necessary technology and gained the materials to enrich uranium and separate plutonium inside the country today. That is to have a completely independent fuel cycle in the country, which is completely consistent with the requirements of NPT, Non-Proliferation Treaties. European countries want to persuade Iran to dismantle its enrichment technology and facilities permanently, in exchange for normalization of relations, trade and export of technologies and so forth. The United States seems to be opposed to the idea of Iran pursuing nuclear energy, and refuses to join the Europeans for the peaceful settlement of this conflict. The real problem in the refusal of the United States to join the negotiation is that what Iran wants, Iran wants a guarantee against military attacks from outside. Iran wants to be able to join international trade organizations. And also, Iran wants all of the sanctions, economic sanctions against it lifted. All three objectives of Iran are in the hands of United States. So, the US refusing to give Iran what it wants in these negotiations is virtually a guarantee of the failure of the negotiations.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking with Mansour Farhang, the former Iranian ambassador to the United Nations. This issue of the drones that are flying overhead. There was a piece in the paper that quoted Iranian military, saying ’We’re not stupid. Half of us were trained in the United States. We know what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to get us to turn on our radar so they can target the radar and map it out Iran.’ But now, this discussion of the possibility of the shooting down of the drones. Can you talk about the significance of US drones flying over Iran?
MANSOUR FARHANG: I think that there is really nothing new about US drones flying over Iran, spying and learning about Iranian nuclear facilities or military installations and industries in general. At this particular moment, when the negotiations between the three European countries, England, Germany, France and Iran has reached a critical stage, the United States is provoking Iran, putting pressure on Iran, creating a sense of crisis, and trying to project the impression that the military attack on Iran is imminent. Therefore, it is forcing it to negotiate, to submit to the demands of the United States. And the demand of the United States is extremely interesting. The United States is asking Iran to compromise its national sovereignty in order to serve global or human interests. As an ideal principle, we all cherish this, that the national interests should be subservient to human and global interests. However, the United States has very little credibility to propose such course of action to country like Iran or any other country, because the United States is the number one opponent of global cooperation in the realm of security, environment, and nuclear proliferation. It doesn’t really have any kind of impact on it, but what it does to Iran is make it more intransigent, to put pressure on the democracy movement. In other words, the provocation of the United States, the pressure of the United States on Iran is an act against the democracy movement, and opponents of the regime in Iran. It does not particularly intimidate or weaken the regime at the present time.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Let me ask you, you mentioned at the beginning of the show that you are a critic and an opponent of the theocratic government in Iran. To what degree do you think that these external threats to the Iranian nation, what impact are they having on the ability of progressive or dissident groups within Iran to press for a more progressive government?
MANSOUR FARHANG: From the very beginning, this confrontation has helped the regime. For example, during the Iran-Iraq war, for eight years, the Reagan administration, there is an abundance of evidence to demonstrate that the Reagan administration did everything in its power to prolong the Iran-Iraq War thinking that these two enemies should be at each other, and the United States and other permanent members of the Security Council sold arms to both side during the entire conflict. While the war actually strengthened the Iranian regime. War is usually a positive force for the reactionary and right wing forces. This was also the case in Iraq. And an overwhelming majority of the people in Iran who died in the war came from the least privileged sectors of the Iranian society, like the people dies in Iraq today. What the pressure is doing is to put the progressive forces on the defensive. This feeling of xenophobia, confronting enemies from the outside helps the regime to consolidate its base and create a sense of fear and urgency, and use it against the progressive forces. And the progressive forces are pursuing the peaceful struggle, and this type of confrontation can only work against them. Recently, last week, Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel Laureate, wrote a very interesting piece in the New York Times, as an opinion piece, providing how the American threat is damaging human rights activities in Iran.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about Ibrahim Jaafari, slated to be the prime minister of Iraq, saying that he wanted to increase ties to Iran, but first play a clip of the CIA Director, Porter Goss, speaking yesterday.
PORTER GOSS: Even since 9/11, Tehran continues to support terrorist groups in the region, such as Hezbollah. It is a state sponsor and could encourage increased attacks of Israel and Palestinian Territories to derail progress toward peace there. Iran reportedly is supporting anti-coalition activities in Iraq, and seeking to influence the future character of the Iraqi state.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response?
MANSOUR FARHANG: Yes. For 20 years, the Shia of Iraq were under pressure and they were persecuted and decimated. The only country in the world that helped them, gave them protection and sanctuary was Iran. So the Shia intellectuals and activists all went to Iran and they received a great deal of assistance. Now, we know that the Iranian regime didn’t do that out of humanitarian motives, but nevertheless, the Iraq dissidents did receive assistance from Iran. They feel indebted to Iran. So there is this close tie between the Shia of Iraq, activists, and the Iranian regime. But this does not mean that the Shia of Iraq are subservient to the Iranian rulers. The close cooperation between the two and the sense of affinity will continue, but it would be a mistake to assume that the Shia of Iraq get orders from the Iranians, or that the Iranians are necessarily doing anything subversive in order to influence them. The influence comes from 20 years of close cooperation and assistance to the Iraq Shia during Saddam’s regime.
AMY GOODMAN: Mansour Farhang, thank you very much for joining us.
MANSOUR FARHANG: Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Iranian ambassador to the United Nations.