TAU professor: US should talk to Iran

Director of Center for Iranian Studies says MK talking does more harm than good.

rice on iran 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
rice on iran 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Israel should be more silent on Iran's nucelar program, the US should be more open to talks with Iran, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might become the next "Nixon in China," Prof. David Menashri, director of the Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University, said Tuesday.
When it comes to the nuclear issue, Israeli politicians are causing more trouble than good, according to Menashri. "The Israeli response to the Iranian nuclear issue plays into Iran's hands," he told The Jerusalem Post on the sidelines of a two-day conference on Iran at the university. "I wish Israeli politicians would be more silent. You don't have to wave the stick. It's enough to keep it at your side. I'm sure the Iranians know what Israel can do."
Regarding American intervention, Menashri said, "I think the US as a superpower needs to set conditions and sit down and talk with Iran. Why give Iran the privilege of dictating the rules of the game? An American initiative is important to put an end to the waste of time.
"Even if America decides it wants to do something against Iran, it cannot [do so] without exhausting the diplomatic channel. The problem is that both sides have climbed a tree too high," he said.
The US has an advantage with President George W. Bush in the White House, said Menashri, who was raised in Iran. "The Iranians are scared of him. They think he is irrational and could do anything."
Both parties, the US and Iran, are in a weak position, he said. The US is engaged in continuous warfare in Iraq, and it has both China and Russia, whose interests differ from the West, to worry about.
Iran is weak because it is isolated, both economically and politically, he said. Nevertheless, if Iran were to enter into negotiations with the US, it would have "wide maneuvering space," said Menashri, because "Ahmadinejad has turned the nuclear issue into a national [pride] issue. He makes it seem like it is an Iranian-Israeli issue."
Most of the speakers at the conference were Iranians, Jews or Muslims who live in America or Israel.
Iran faces a conflict between reformists who want political justice and conservatives who want social justice, said Menashri. Ahmadinejad won election by gaining the support of the poor and the religious for social justice, he said.
"Say what you want about the current regime," said Dr. Mehrzad Boroujerdi, an Iranian-American who teaches political science at Syracuse University, "but it advocates a populist policy and has strong support. We Westernized intellectuals may want to discount it, but they carry the ball."
Menashri compared Ahmadinejad's power in the Iranian political system to that of "a deputy prime minister in Israel" but said he could produce a breakthrough in US-Iran relations.
"Ahmadinejad is very extremist and very radical," said Menashri. "He is the first president who is more popular after being elected. He is also the first president who became more extremist after he got in office. Iran is now speaking in two languages. They don't close the door, they leave it open. Now a change has happened - Iran is willing to speak to the US - and it is very significant. If he changes his attitude - everyone speaks of Nixon in China - I think he could change things significantly."
The Iranian president's statements on the Holocaust come from a lack of information, according to Menashri. "I think he's ignorant," the TAU professor said. "He doesn't know. He didn't intend to make an issue out of it, but his statements have helped him upgrade the status of Iran - at least in the Muslim world."
The Islamic Republic of Iran's interpretation of Islam has changed since the revolution of 1979, said Bernard Hourcade, a senior research fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris.
"After 27 years of experience ruling a major state, Islam has [been] deeply transformed in Iran," he said. "A new, modern Islam is now rooted in Iran. It's sophisticated."
Prof. Farhad Kazemi, a political scientist at New York University, said that today "there are many non-fundamentalist leaders in the Islamic Republic." Dr. Faegheh Shirazi, a lecturer at University of Texas at Austin, said Iran was now showing more openness in speaking about domestic violence, drugs, prostitution, and other social problems than many Western countries.