After a hiatus of 28 years, the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran finally held an openly acknowledged dialogue. Actually to date there have been two such meetings, both held in Baghdad, (May 28, 2007 and July 24, 2007) and both specifically dealt with the security situation in Iraq, and were ostensibly limited to that subject alone.
Although newsworthy because of their unusual occurrence within the last 28 years, these meetings and any future follow-ups should be reviewed for their significance, efficacy, and political repercussions. The following essay is a first attempt to do such.
Before continuing, it should be pointed out that dialogue has been taking place during much of these nearly three decades; however it has been at a low level in the diplomatic hierarchy and well away from the spotlight. One should not think that all dialogue had been curtailed; it simply was limited to what is termed “back channels” or through third party mediation and assistance.
Why did the US choose to reverse its policy, and why did Iran’s leadership agree to hold such public meetings? The continuing difficulties for the Bush administration in Iraq, coupled with mounting internal American pressure for success or withdrawal, led the administration to look to the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report which it had initially rejected. As dialogue was a major component of that report’s recommendations, and international pressure pushed for such, the administration acquiesced. For its part, the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) saw at least two positive outcomes from a renewal of formal contacts. First was the propaganda coup to be scored by the US publicly recognizing Iran’s importance to regional stability. The second concern of the IRI was to reiterate its demand that the US dismantle the Iranian resistance group the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MeK), or at least that the US and her allies maintain the MeK and the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) on the State Department and EU “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” (FTO) lists as pre-condition to any discussions. Given the rising rate of dissatisfaction within the general Iranian population with the theocratic regime in general, and with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in particular, the Iranian government desperately wants to keep its number one enemy, the MeK, hobbled by the “terrorist” label so as to immobilize it and prevent it from galvanizing the Iranian people to revolt and overthrow the regime.
Now that the two meetings have occurred, what if anything has been accomplished? From the Iranian side, their two goals appear to have been met, at least for now. From the American side the immediate goal of preventing further bloodshed and violence in Iraq clearly has failed—violence instigated by Iran actually increased after the May 28th meeting. The evidence of Iranian support for attacks on coalition forces by both radical Sunni and Shi‘ite insurgents mounts daily. The July 24th meeting apparently allowed US Ambassador Ryan Crocker to tell his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, that the US is not happy with the Iranian lack of cooperation on that score. Reports indicate that Qomi neither acknowledged the charges nor accepted them gracefully. Nonetheless, new reports indicate that the US and Iran have agreed to establish a joint subcommittee to address issues relating to security in Iraq. Whether the joint subcommittee’s discussions will generate any positive results for US interests remains to be seen, but more than one regional expert already has suggested the unlikelihood of such, given the fact that Iran definitely has significant influence with the al-Maliki government and control of southern Iraq at present and has little incentive to cooperate with the US.
In one area the Iranians definitely did not win; in fact they are rolling backwards. I am referring to Iranian attempts to upgrade the dialogue to a higher level—one between US Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice and Iranian Foreign Minister Dr. Manouchehr Mottaki. Not only did the administration rebuff Iranian attempts at the upgrade, but it is also reported that sometime after Crocker’s first meeting with Qomi, Under-Secretary of State Nicholas Burn’s assessment that the US would still be in dialogue over Iran’s nuclear program as of January 2009, caused Bush to take the Iran portfolio away from Condi and gave it back to Cheney. That definitely was a blow to Iran’s sense of security.
When one factors in the recent harassment and imprisonment of the four Iranian-born American citizens on charges of endangering national security and anti-regime activity as a poorly disguised attempt to acquire hostages to swap for the five Sepah-e Qods agents of Iran’s Islamic Revolution's Guards Corp(IRGC / Sepah-e Pasdaran) that were arrested in Irbil on January 11, 2007, it should be self-evident that Iran is not acting as a partner in Iraq but rather as a dangerous adversary, one with no scruples.
As regards the political repercussions of the US-Iran talks, Max Boot gave a fine analysis in his July 12, 2007 presentation to the House Armed Services Committee. I quote that report now (emphasis mine):
Iran [is] skillfully waging a proxy war against the United States in Iraq that, if current trends continue, could well leave Iran as the dominant player in most of the country. The Iranians are doing with the Jaish al Mahdi and other front groups in Iraq what they have already done with Hezbollah in Lebanon: expanding their sphere of influence. Why Ayatollah Khameini and his inner circle would voluntarily want to end this policy, which is achieving their objectives at relatively low cost, remains a mystery. The thing most likely to dissuade them from their current path would be the threat of serious military and economic retaliation, ranging from air strikes to an embargo of refined petroleum imports to Iran. …
Failing some pretty hefty carrots and sticks, talks with the Iranians…are extremely unlikely to find a negotiated solution of the kind envisioned by the ISG and by such eminent other voices as Senators Richard Lugar and Hillary Clinton.
So, what types of carrots would get Iran to both cease its interference in Iraq and end its drive for nuclear weapons? Well, how about an offer of the keys to the White House to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a similar offer of the keys to the US Capitol Building and the US Supreme Court to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei? That, along with a similar offer of Buckingham Palace, etc. in London just might do the trick.
If it isn’t clear so far, I will spell it out now: in this writer’s view, the current US-Iran dialogue will do nothing to serve US interests in the long term; Iran will only use such talks to its advantage, a delay tactic to buy more time to go nuclear. The Islamic Republic of Iran cannot afford to have a successful secular democratic government on its doorstep as its own population would demand a similar government at home. The current Iran regime therefore will never work in good faith to help the United States in Iraq. To do so would be an act of suicide for the mullahs. If still not sure, just see what Ahmadinejad and Khamenei had to say following the Crocker-Qomi meeting lat week: Iran will never stop its nuclear program (Ahmadinejad), and the United States remains Iran’s principle enemy (Khamenei). With a track record of twenty-eight years of lies, deceit, obfuscation and terror, the Iranian regime’s modus operandi should be clear to all with decent vision. For those still failing to see it, my glasses are available for the asking.
 Actually there have been earlier meetings such as that of National Security Advisor Robert C. McFarlane in what developed into the infamous “: Iran-Contra Scandal” as well as those held starting in November 2002 and running to the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003 in which the US attempted to secure an Iranian promise to stay out of Iraq. These meetings were clandestine at the time but later on were acknowledged.
 Ibid, p.7 (see first sentence on page)
 67 year-old Haleh Esfandiari (director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars), Kian Tajbakhsh (had ties with the Open Society Institute of U.S. billionaire George Soros), Parnaz Azima (journalist for the U.S.-funded Radio Farda), and Ali Shakeri (a founding board member of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California at Irvine). See also: http://www.payvand.com/news/07/jul/1301.html.