Guardian: absurd to demand Tehran make concessions


Richard Moore

     Ask anyone in Washington, London or Tel Aviv if they can
     cite any phrase uttered by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the
     chances are high they will say he wants Israel "wiped off
     the map". ...The remarks are not out of context. They are
     wrong, pure and simple. Ahmadinejad never said them.

Original source URL:,,1788481,00.html


If Iran is ready to talk, the US must do so unconditionally

It is absurd to demand that Tehran should have 
made concessions before sitting down with the 

Jonathan Steele
Friday June 2, 2006

It is 50 years since the greatest misquotation of 
the cold war. At a Kremlin reception for western 
ambassadors in 1956, the Soviet leader Nikita 
Khrushchev announced: "We will bury you." Those 
four words were seized on by American hawks as 
proof of aggressive Soviet intent.

Doves who pointed out that the full quotation 
gave a less threatening message were drowned out. 
Khrushchev had actually said: "Whether you like 
it or not, history is on our side. We will bury 
you." It was a harmless boast about socialism's 
eventual victory in the ideological competition 
with capitalism. He was not talking about war.

Now we face a similar propaganda distortion of 
remarks by Iran's president. Ask anyone in 
Washington, London or Tel Aviv if they can cite 
any phrase uttered by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the 
chances are high they will say he wants Israel 
"wiped off the map".

Again it is four short words, though the 
distortion is worse than in the Khrushchev case. 
The remarks are not out of context. They are 
wrong, pure and simple. Ahmadinejad never said 
them. Farsi speakers have pointed out that he was 
mistranslated. The Iranian president was quoting 
an ancient statement by Iran's first Islamist 
leader, the late Ayatollah Khomeini, that "this 
regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the 
page of time" just as the Shah's regime in Iran 
had vanished.

He was not making a military threat. He was 
calling for an end to the occupation of Jerusalem 
at some point in the future. The "page of time" 
phrase suggests he did not expect it to happen 
soon. There was no implication that either 
Khomeini, when he first made the statement, or 
Ahmadinejad, in repeating it, felt it was 
imminent, or that Iran would be involved in 
bringing it about.

But the propaganda damage was done, and western 
hawks bracket the Iranian president with Hitler 
as though he wants to exterminate Jews. At the 
recent annual convention of the American Israel 
Public Affairs Committee, a powerful lobby group, 
huge screens switched between pictures of 
Ahmadinejad making the false "wiping off the map" 
statement and a ranting Hitler.

Misquoting Ahmadinejad is worse than taking 
Khrushchev out of context for a second reason. 
Although the Soviet Union had a collective 
leadership, the pudgy Russian was the undoubted 
No 1 figure, particularly on foreign policy. The 
Iranian president is not.

His predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, was seen in 
the west as a moderate reformer, and during his 
eight years in office western politicians 
regularly lamented the fact that he was not 
Iran's top decision-maker. Ultimate power lay 
with the conservative unelected supreme leader 
Ayatollah Khamenei. Yet now that Ahmadinejad is 
president, western hawks behave as though he is 
in charge, when in fact nothing has changed. 
Ahmadinejad is not the only important voice in 
Tehran. Indeed Khamenei was quick to try to 
adjust the misperceptions of Ahmadinejad's 
comments. A few days after the president made 
them, Khamenei said Iran "will not commit 
aggression against any nation".

The evidence suggests that a debate is going on 
in Tehran over policy towards the west which is 
no less fierce than the one in Washington. Since 
2003 the Iranians have made several overtures to 
the Bush administration, some more explicit than 
others. Ahmadinejad's recent letter to Bush was a 
veiled invitation to dialogue. Iranians are also 
arguing over policy towards Israel. Trita Parsi, 
an analyst at Johns Hopkins University, says 
influential rivals to Ahmadinejad support a 
"Malaysian" model whereby Iran, like Islamic 
Malaysia, would not recognise Israel but would 
not support Palestinian groups such as Hamas, if 
relations with the US were better.

The obvious way to develop the debate is for the 
two states to start talking to each other. Last 
winter the Americans said they were willing, 
provided talks were limited to Iraq. Then the 
hawks around Bush vetoed even that narrow agenda. 
Their victory made nonsense of the pressure the 
US is putting on other UN security council 
members for tough action against Iran. Talk of 
sanctions is clearly premature until Washington 
and Tehran make an effort to negotiate. This 
week, in advance of Condoleezza Rice's meeting in 
Vienna yesterday with the foreign ministers of 
Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, the 
factions in Washington hammered out a compromise. 
The US is ready to talk to Tehran alongside the 
EU3 (Britain, France and Germany), but only after 
Tehran has abandoned its uranium-enrichment 

To say the EU3's dialogue with Tehran was 
sufficient, as Washington did until this week, 
was the most astonishing example of 
multilateralism in the Bush presidency. A 
government that makes a practice of ignoring 
allies and refuses to accept the jurisdiction of 
bodies such as the International Criminal Court 
was leaving all the talking to others on one of 
the hottest issues of the day. Unless Bush is set 
on war, this refusal to open a dialogue could not 
be taken seriously.

The EU3's offer of carrots for Tehran was also 
meaningless without a US role. Europe cannot give 
Iran security guarantees. Tehran does not want 
non-aggression pacts with Europe. It wants them 
with the only state that is threatening it both 
with military attack and foreign-funded 
programmes for regime change.

The US compromise on talks with Iran is a step in 
the right direction, though Rice's hasty 
statement was poorly drafted, repeatedly calling 
Iran both a "government" and a "regime". But it 
is absurd to expect Iran to make concessions 
before sitting down with the Americans. Dialogue 
is in the interests of all parties. Europe's 
leaders, as well as Russia and China, should come 
out clearly and tell the Americans so.

Whatever Iran's nuclear ambitions, even US hawks 
admit it will be years before it could acquire a 
bomb, let alone the means to deliver it. This 
offers ample time for negotiations and a "grand 
bargain" between Iran and the US over Middle 
Eastern security. Flanked by countries with US 
bases, Iran has legitimate concerns about 
Washington's intentions.

Even without the US factor, instability in the 
Gulf worries all Iranians, whether or not they 
like being ruled by clerics. All-out civil war in 
Iraq, which could lead to intervention by Turkey 
and Iraq's Arab neighbours, would be a disaster 
for Iran. If the US wants to withdraw from Iraq 
in any kind of order, this too will require 
dialogue with Iran. If this is what Blair told 
Bush last week, he did well. But he should go all 
the way, and urge the Americans to talk without 

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

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