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2/22/2007
AMANPOUR INTERVIEW: TOO MANY QUESTIONS UNANSWERED
CATEGORY: Iran, Media

Christiane Amanpour is one of the most respected foreign correspondents in the business. She has literally been everywhere and done everything - from wars, to famines, to natural disasters, to weighty meetings between world leaders - Amanpour, with a combination of tenacity and courage, has reported on most of the transformational events over the last 25 years. She has received 9 Emmys and numerous other awards recognizing her outstanding achievements in broadcast journalism.

She is also a left wing hack, at times willing to shill for anti-American Europeans as well as promote a clearly biased agenda against Republican Presidents. Some of her less distinguished moments include a fawning interview with former President Bill Clinton and her self-congratulatory rant about the press coverage of hurricane Katrina - since shown to be wildly inaccurate and little better than rumormongering. Some conservatives point to her marriage to former Clinton State Department spokesman James Rubin as proof of her bias but frankly, I find such charges based on who somebody is in love with ludicrous. One need only look at the Carville-Matlin partnership to give the lie to that canard.

When she plays it relatively straight, I find her a truly awesome reporter. Her coverage of the Balkans was searing. Her exposing the plight of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban prior to 9/11 was groundbreaking. I found her reports from Iraq in the aftermath of the first Gulf War heartbreaking. She was, I believe, the first journalist to report on how George Bush 41 abandoned the Kurds and Shias after urging them to overthrow Saddam, a betrayal that haunts US foreign policy to this day. And her reporting of elections in Iraq in 2005 for CNN was, I believe more nuanced and in-depth than any other media outlet. She didn’t downplay the sheer joy of the Iraqis nor the courage of the American and Iraqi soldiers and police who helped protect the voters from terrorists who had vowed to disrupt the vote. I remember thinking at the time that Amanpour is probably at her best in this milieu; great events illustrated by using human interest stories to highlight the magnitude of what was going on.

The point of this short look at Amanpour’s record is to show that she is much more than a journalist with an agenda. Although her bias is certainly part of the total package she brings to her reporting, it shouldn’t blind us to her real accomplishments nor to the reputation she has around the world among friend and foe alike. And she is usually no lackey when interviewing the thugs of the world, challenging them on human rights as well as some of their more outspoken criticisms of the United States.

But what to make of this interview with a “senior Iranian government official,” I just don’t know:

As I sat down recently with a senior Iranian government official, he urgently waved a column by Thomas Friedman of The New York Times in my face, one about how the United States and Iran need to engage each other.

”Natural allies,” this official said.

It was a surprising choice of words considering the barbs Washington and Tehran have been trading of late.

“We are not after conflict. We are not after crisis. We are not after war,” said this official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But we don’t know whether the same is true in the U.S. or not. If the same is true on the U.S. side, the first step must be to end this vicious cycle that can lead to dangerous action — war.”

He confided that what he was telling me was not shared by all in the Iranian government, but it was endorsed so high up in the religious leadership that he felt confident spelling out the rationale.

“This view is not off the streets. It’s not the reformist view and it’s not even the view of the whole government,” he replied.

But he insisted he was describing the thinking at the highest levels of the religious leadership — the center of decision-making power in Iran.

I asked whether he meant Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself.

“Yes,” he said.

A couple of things should be noted here, not least of which is that there have been rumors for months coming out of Iran of a deep split between Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad. Khamenei’s criticisms are more related to the President’s style rather than substance but he has also gotten an earful from what western reporters refer to as “moderates” in the regime - the old guard of original revolutionaries who were quite comfortable in their corruption and positions of power. Ahamdinejad blew into office and immediately began to get rid of most of the bureaucratic conduits used by the old guard to siphon money from the ministries, replacing them with men of little or no experience but who had the true faith.

And then last December, Khamenei, with the help of the Odd Couple of Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, both former Presidents and Ahmadinejad’s most vocal critics, engineered an electoral set back for the Iranian President as his lists for local and regional office as well as many of his radical candidates for the powerful Assembly of Experts went down to defeat. There have also been moves in the Iranian Majlis to shorten Ahmadinejad’s term of office as well as resistance to some of his more radical appointments to the ministries.

Taken together, all of this points to Khamenei trying to marginalize his outspoken President. But does this automatically mean a change in attitude toward the United States?

John Hinderaker isn’t buying what Khamenei is selling, pointing to recent statements by Iran’s Supreme Leader that are belligerent and threatening. Indeed, Khamenei’s rhetoric and the actions of the Iranian government have been far from friendly toward the United States in recent years. And, as John also points out, Amanpour allows the Iranian to give the impression it’s evil George’s fault:

Amanpour’s breathless report implies that only the belligerence of the President Bush, who unaccountably included Iran in the “Axis of Evil,” frustrates a full alliance between these nations, both of whom, she says, are bitterly opposed to al Qaeda.

Many others, of course, believe that top al Qaeda leaders are now inside Iran. And it is not hard to argue that from 1979 to the present, the foreign power that has most consistently been at war with the U.S. is Iran. Further, what are we to make of the claim that Ayatollah Khamenei considers his country to be a “natural ally” of the U.S.?

We have heard this “natural ally” theme for 25 years from those who wish to engage Iran in dialogue. It is said that the people of Iran have an abiding affection for Americans and wish to re-engage and requite this love affair so that they can benefit from trade and other contacts with the west.

The only problem with pushing this meme is that the Iranian leadership could give a fig what their people think about America and the west. In fact, every move they have made over the last 25 years has been to insulate themselves further from what they see as the degrading, sinful culture and influence that the west has on the third world.

Ahamadinejad is the synthesis of this movement. One need only read his “letter” to President Bush asking him to convert to Islam to realize what this 25 years of insularity has wrought; a leadership so out of touch with the real world that they have no clue how real nations interact with one another. When Ahmadinejad expresses surprise at the fierce opposition to his anti-Semitic rants by western governments, he is genuinely confused that they can’t see the logic and truth of what he is saying. When he suggests that the Jewish state should be lifted from the Middle East and set down someplace in Europe, the Iranian President actually believes that he is doing both Israel and the rest of the world a favor. He is genuinely surprised that people find his proposal monstrously insane.

So the question Amanpour should have asked is why the change of heart? What has happened recently to cause the Iranian government (at least the Khamenei faction) to approach a world-renowned journalist in order to carry a message of peace to President Bush?

I truly believe that the more pragmatic fanatics in the Iranian leadership are frightened of what might transpire in the near term. And it is more than the threatened military action by the United States. Surprisingly, the United Nations sanctions seem to be having a disastrous effect on the Iranian economy, far beyond either their intent or actual impact. Basics like food and fuel have skyrocketed in price in recent months as speculators believe that the current sanctions regime is just the tip of the iceberg. So too, may Khamenei. He is not oblivious to the voices of leaders like Chancellor Merkel of Germany who have made it clear that the west will do almost anything (short of military action one presumes) to prevent the Iranians from building a nuclear weapon.

And then there is the apparent stalling of the Iranian uranium enrichment program. After promising that they would have 3,000 centrifuges up and running by the end of February, it appears that the Iranians haven’t even started installing the machines. Given the technological challenges, most experts are not surprised. It may take a year or more for those centrifuges to become operational - and that’s if everything goes fairly well. And then perhaps another year and a half to two years before there is enough Highly Enriched Uranium and a workable bomb design. So, if Ahmadinejad thought that he would have a working nuke by the time the Americans were ready to attack, he’s coming up a little short.

Amanpour tried to draw out the Iranian on what exactly had changed recently to lead the Iranians to extend this olive branch:

When the official waved the column by Friedman in my face at the start of the conversation, his point was this:

That despite disagreement over Iran’s nuclear program, despite accusations that Iran is supporting anti-American killers in Iraq, despite even the 1979 hostage crisis, Iran and America are “natural allies” and the time has come to restore relations.

“We are natural allies. Why?” he said. “Because now the major threat for both Iran and the U.S.A. is al Qaeda…”

I pressed him about Iran’s sudden interest in extending an olive branch. “Why now? What’s motivating you?” I asked.

“Peace for the Iranian people,” he said. “But not only peace, peace with security. Peace based on mutual respect, mutual benefit and mutual security.”

Mindful of the heated rhetoric flying between Tehran and Washington — between both presidents no less — this official said: “If we give the impression that we welcome a battle, this is not because it is our first option. It’s our final option.”

All of this goes unchallenged by Amanpour - at least in the article on CNN’s website. Presumably, more complete answers would be forthcoming if there ever was a low level exchange of views between Americans and Iranians.

And it appears to me that the Iranian is broaching the very thing I wrote about here (and was roundly derided for by many of my friends) regarding a quid pro quo that included a guarantee of sovereignty for the Iranian regime in exchange for “peace with security” - perhaps intrusive and regular inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities?

This would be a non-starter at the present but could signal a real desire (or fear) on the part of the Iranians to talk. This is why I would not dismiss this interview out of hand despite the bias of Amanpour and the recent pronouncements of Khamenei. I respect the view of those who think that talking to Iran is worse than useless, that it would be delusional to believe that any agreement could be reached with the fanatics in Tehran. But does this mean we should close our minds to the possibility that, for the first time perhaps in 25 years, the Iranians have some good reasons to put out feelers to the west?

The so-called overtures made by Iran in 2003 can safely be dismissed for what they represented at the time; an attempt to drive a wedge between the US and our European partners by freezing the EU “Big Three” of Germany, France, and Great Britain out of any bi-lateral talks with the United States and weaken their resolve on the nuclear issue. As our negotiations with North Korea proved, multi-lateral and regional solutions to dealing with rogue states is the way to success - or at least the way to paper over conflict.

But this effort appears to be of an entirely different nature. The Iranians may be asking far more than we would be willing to give up at this point. But given the alternative of bombing and perhaps even military action that would facilitate regime change and the downside that would accrue to American interests in the region as well as our economy and our security, I would hope that the Administration looks upon this unusual demarche seriously and give it careful consideration.

UPDATE

Jules Crittenden doesn’t think much of the offer. This seems to be a pretty universal reaction from my conservative friends putting me once again at odds with the right on Iran. And since the left doesn’t think much of me either, it gets very lonely out on this here limb. I would appreciate it if no one sawed it off.

UPDATE II

Just as I was about to wallow in self-pity and whine about how lonely it is out here, up steps my brave friend Dave Shuler who, while not agreeing with me 100%, at least is a little more flexible than some:

Still, I have no argument with holding talks. I’ve heard Madeleine Albright say that the Iranian regime repeatedly snubbed the advances of the Clinton Administration. I guess that’s ancient history, too.

Talks are good. They don’t necessarily mean that you’re willing to surrender anything nor does it mean that they will be allowed to be used as a stalling tactic.

I might add that I oppose talking simply for the sake of negotiating. There must be an agenda and a framework before we sit down with a regime like the Iranians. Otherwise, Dave’s fears of the Iranians using negotiations as a stalling tactic would almost certainly be realized.

By: Rick Moran at 9:37 am
10 Responses to “AMANPOUR INTERVIEW: TOO MANY QUESTIONS UNANSWERED”
  1. 1
    Fritz Said:
    11:08 am 

    The Mullahs have made poor decisions and they want to survive, they are financially broke and worried about war. The Evil George Bush is not the problem, they want the Evil George Bush to prop up the Mullahs repressive regime. The Iranians could call for free and open elections tomorrow; allow the people of Iran to elect their wanted moderate government that would immediately cease the nuclear weapons program, offer renewed relations with the United States, cut off Hezbollah & Hamas and join the modern world. Iranians love the United States, it is their illegitimate government that is the problem. When he mentions weakness, he is referring to internal regime elements that are belligerent.

  2. 2
    The Thunder Run Trackbacked With:
    11:40 am 

    Web Reconnaissance for 02/22/2007

    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

  3. 3
    Cruiser Said:
    11:47 am 

    I have no problem with secret communications with the Iranians. The are going on all the time. The problem with public talks is that they create their own (sometimes unwarranted) momentum - like the Palestinian “peace process”. Once they start - they must end with a signature. I do not think we want pressure on any American administration to ink a “deal” with Iran just for the sake of having a deal done. That can produce awful long term results.

    Also, open talks confer a legitimacy on the mullahs that they have not earned.

    I think, like you do, that the interview is an interesting development. It clearly indicates that Iran is feeling financial pressure (I do not think they are feeling any military pressure from us since the Bush administration has already made it clear that the military option is off the table - even while Iran aids in the killing of US troops in Iraq). But the statement is simply another effort to buy time and to try to make the US look mean in Europe.

    The natural allies line is one of the most Orwellian constructs I have ever heard. Only totalitarians can mouth such things without busting into laughter. The truth is that Islamic revolutionary Iran and the US are natural eternal enemies. Like Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort, “neither can live while the other survives”. Ok, that was corny. But, we are natural enemies. Iran has been at war with us since the revolution began and will only cease to be at war with us when the revolution is undone. Do not ever expect them to truly or willingly bargain their revolution.

    We must keep the financial pressure on Iran and deny them any open talks. It would also help to restore a credible military threat. They must simply be forced by mounting problems at home into pulling back in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Territories, rather than induced by some hollow “deal” that they will never uphold. Hopefully one day their revolution will collapse. Then, it may be possible for us to be allies.

  4. 4
    Cruiser Said:
    5:27 pm 

    BTW Rick, I am a fellow resident of Illinois. I grew up in L-ville. You have a great site.

  5. 5
    Nikolay Said:
    8:42 pm 

    But, we are natural enemies. Iran has been at war with us since the revolution began and will only cease to be at war with us when the revolution is undone. Do not ever expect them to truly or willingly bargain their revolution.

    That’s quite a crazy logic.
    What business does US have with Iran’s inner political structure? I understand such requests as an official apology (and compensation?) for the hostage-taking, playing by the rules on the nuclear issue, no support for terrorism in whatever form, the acceptance of the two-state solution, human rights etc., but why do they have to undo their revolution?
    Quite a strange idea coming from an American citizen. Do they have to return to “legitimate” monarchy in your opinion, or what? How about U.S. undoing their own revolution?
    FYI, Iran certainly has more democracy now than Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and probably Russia.

  6. 6
    Cruiser Said:
    10:22 pm 

    Nicolay, what is crazy about it? Revolutionary Iran is more perfectly opposed to the United States than the Soviets were. While we and the Soviets were polar opposites on representative government and property rights, as least both the Soviets and the United States believed that the church and the state should not be one and the same.

    Revolutionary Iran requires the church to be the state, and has Soviet-like positions on representative government, property ownership, press freedom and individual liberty.

    I think we could work with an Iranian monarchy (as we did in the past). Monarchies aren’t ideological - they don’t need to propagate like viruses. We could even make deals with them, in a limited way, if they dropped the theocracy and just became plain old totalitarians (dropping the theocracy is what I mean by abandoning the revolution). But, we cannot work with them now. Now, they must destroy us to succeed in their vision of spreading theocratic Islam to the world.

    It is a disheartening view, but that does not make it crazy.

  7. 7
    Nikolay Said:
    7:07 am 

    While we and the Soviets were polar opposites on representative government and property rights, as least both the Soviets and the United States believed that the church and the state should not be one and the same.

    Actually, Soviets believed that the church should be demolished or, at best, barely tolerated. While the communism itself had a lot of religious features. I believe that’s quite a lot of difference.

    Soviet-like positions on representative government, property ownership, press freedom and individual liberty.

    You simply have no idea what are talking about. There’s nothing comparable to Soviet regime, even in its most benign, in Iran now. It is much more westernized than Soviet Union (pre-Gorbachev) ever was.

    Now, they must destroy us to succeed in their vision of spreading theocratic Islam to the world.

    Destroy to succeed in their vision of spreading theocratic Islam??? This is pure paranoid delusion. What vision? When in 28 years Iran did anything to implement this “vision”? Do you honestly believe that fighting against American interests in, say, Lebanon had something to do with this “vision”???
    Theocracy in Iran is just a power elite that doesn’t want to lose its privileges, much like communists in China. Sure, they have a radical wing, but they can’t even sustain economy, much less spread any “vision” across the world.

  8. 8
    Cruiser Said:
    9:53 am 

    If we are at the insult stage Nikolay (I’m crazy, have no idea what I am talking about, and suffer paranoid delusions), you are terribly naive.

    “There’s nothing comparable to Soviet regime, even in its most benign, in Iran now”. Yes, lets hold hands and sing kumbayah, the Iranian regime doesn’t mean any of the things it says. They really love us and want to emulate us.

    “Do you honestly believe that fighting against American interests in, say, Lebanon had something to do with this “vision”?” It has everything to do with it. Why on god’s green earth do you think they are investing so much effort and money in Hezbollah? They want to establish a theocratic Shiite state in Lebanon, one that will act in concert with their goals. You have to be daft not to see that.

    “When in 28 years Iran did anything to implement this “vision””. Right now - open your eyes Nikolay.

    “but they can’t even sustain economy” - I think my original comment acknowledged that we can hurt them economically. But, with the rest of the world willing to fill the gap - the economic hurt will not be enough. They can absorb a lot of economic harm without having to change their behavior - all totalitarian regimes can.

    “much less spread any “vision” across the world”. The Iranian regime (and all Islamists) take a very looooong view. They don’t expect to achieve their goals in 5 or 10 tears, they are willing to work at it over hundreds. In the meantime, things are progressing much better then even they had hoped - because the West has lost faith in itself.

  9. 9
    Nikolay Said:
    7:23 pm 

    Yes, lets hold hands and sing kumbayah, the Iranian regime doesn’t mean any of the things it says. They really love us and want to emulate us.

    1) I didn’t say anything about “kumbaya”. I said that Iran is nothing compared to Soviet regime. For example: a) in Soviet Russia there was _NEVER_, not a _single_ open election that could in fact influence country’s policy, in most cases there wasn’t even a choice between candidates; in Iran, while elections are not _free_, they can influence country’s future, and this happened numerous times, b) in Soviet Russia there was no private business at all (with the exception of a short pre-Stalin period), c) in Soviet Russia there could not be any crackdown on free press, because there was no free press in the first place; there never was any political discussion in the public discourse at all.
    2) What do you mean by the “Iranian regime”? Official newspapers that openly mock Ahmadinejad? Or the nut himself, who promised to be moderate in the international politics and to fix economy when he ran for office, and who’s now less popular in his country than Bush in US?
    3) I genuinely believe that in the long run Iran has better potential for turning into a civilized and advanced democratic country than almost any other country in the region. This is what many specialists think. This (an un-PC thought) probably has something to do with them no being Arabs.

    Right now – open your eyes Nikolay.

    Of course, they pursue, like any other country, their geopolitical interests. They would be foolish not to do so, especially with US being eager to do their dirty work for them and with Bush inviting “his Eminence” the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution to the White House. (Somehow Harry Potter was OK shaking the hand of _that_ incarnation of Revolutionary Voldermort). This has nothing to do with the world domination and “destroying America”.

    They can absorb a lot of economic harm without having to change their behavior – all totalitarian regimes can.

    Iran is not a totalitarian regime, and its citizens are really not happy (and make no secret of it) with the economic harm they suffer.

    The Iranian regime (and all Islamists) take a very looooong view. They don’t expect to achieve their goals in 5 or 10 tears, they are willing to work at it over hundreds.

    A project for the world transformation pursued by the patient individuals that are ready to wait for hundred years for their plans to be implemented? And you think that calling this “paranoid delusions” is insulting? Are “all Islamists” reptile-headed, I wonder. What you say is pure David Icke/”Protocols of the Elder Zion” stuff.
    The “Islamic revolution” has the same dynamic as “Communistic revolution”: the “rebel” movement either transforms itself into a power-hungry reactionary elite or, failing that, engages in endless destructive behavior which makes everybody hate them, a-la Al-Qaeda. Ahmadinejad is just a recurrence of the revolutionary mentality, whose victory in the elections was largely due to Iranian’s disappointment with the Reformist movement (caused, among other things, by their failure to get any meaningful results from their US-friendly policies). To think that this disconnected man is a meaningful part of some hundred-years conspiracy is truly delusional.

  10. 10
    Cruiser Said:
    6:10 pm 

    Clearly Nikolay, you and I perceive the world very differently. I maintain that you are the delusional one.

    For the proofs, only time will tell.

    But, I have one undeniable fact supporting my view: my view is consistent with the goals openly (screamingly) stated by all of the Islamists (Sunni or Shiite). If there is one major difference separating Americans at this time is between those who on 9/11 learned that we have to take the Islamists at their word when they talk about their goals, and those who did not learn it.

    You did not learn it Nikolay. Unfortunately, for all of us I am confident you will get another chance.

    As to your question “what is the regime” in Iran. The Supreme Leader (Khamanei) and the Mullahs who support him. Ahmadinejad (and Khatami before him) are little more than figureheads - pushed in front of the world to perform a b-rated good-cop/bad-cop routine (that everybody eats up).

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