Those of us who have short — or selective — memories may not fully comprehend Iran’s persistent hostility towards the United States, but in assessing the controversial nuclear agreement with Tehran reached late Saturday it may be helpful to examine some pertinent facts.
For example, in 1953 America was deeply complicit in the overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh.
The Americans were persuaded by their British allies that Mossadegh must be ousted because he was intent on nationalizing Iran’s oil operations, which were run by a British company. Although Washington (and especially Secretary of State Dean Acheson) initially opposed the intervention, President Eisenhower was elected in 1952 and eventually supported the plan.
Iranians haven’t forgotten that, nor have they forgotten that the United States sided with Iraq when these neighboring nations went to war in the 1980s and hundreds of thousands of lives were lost.
So, it’s not terribly surprising that we frequently hear “Death To America!” chants from resentful Iranians, especially when they are encouraged to do so by their political leaders.
Thirteen years ago former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told an audience of American business leaders that “it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs.”
Not that Albright was excusing Iran’s behavior since Mossadegh was driven from office and replaced by the pro-American and deeply authoritarian Shah of Iran. She correctly accused the Iranian government of religious persecution and seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
And of course there was the unforgettable and unforgivable 1979 seizure of the American embassy in Tehran and the holding of hostages for 414 days. That outrageous act was led by Iranian students who were furious that the United States provided medical care to the recently ousted shah and refused to send him home to face prosecution for his alleged crimes.
In short, the fragile relationship between the United States and Iran has many threads, and there’s plenty of blame to be shared.
Although Iranian leaders consistently denied they were trying to develop nuclear weaponry, their agreement to stop doing so would appear to be a tacit concession that the United States and its allies were right all along. They signed off on the agreement in exchange for a temporary relaxation of the tough economic sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
Joining The United States in the negotiations with Iran were the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China. Two of America’s strongest allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, were deeply distressed by the pursuit of the agreement with Iran.
The Saudis have even begun talking about creating their own nuclear arsenal and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Saturday’s agreement as “an historic mistake.”
Because Israel has so many supporters of both parties on Capitol Hill, President Obama can expect to be sharply criticized for his role in reaching this agreement with Iran.
Obama’s critics are not without ammunition because the Geneva settlement, as welcome as it may be to most of us, doesn’t erase many advances Iran has made to shorten the time it takes to build a nuclear weapon.
Also, although Prime Minister Hassan Rouhani may be a moderate in Iran the final authority rests with the conservative religious leadership, and there’s no guarantee that it will support Rouhani’s initiatives.
Finally, there’s the example of North Korea, which reached a similar deal with the West (and President George W. Bush) five years ago but since has restarted its nuclear reactor.
North Korea ignored its agreement. Couldn’t that happen with Iran too?