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Context of 'January 26, 2009: US to Engage in ‘Direct Diplomacy’ with Iran, Seek Engagement Concerning Afghanistan'

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In December 1978, President Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski says, “An arc of crisis stretches along the shores of the Indian Ocean, with fragile social and political structures in a region of vital importance to us threatened with fragmentation. The resulting political chaos could well be filled by elements hostile to our values and sympathetic to our adversaries.” [Time, 1/8/1979] There is widespread discontent and rioting in Iran at the time. State Department official Henry Precht will later recall that Brzezinski had the idea “that Islamic forces could be used against the Soviet Union. The theory was, there was an arc of crisis, and so an arc of Islam could be mobilized to contain the Soviets.” [Scott, 2007, pp. 67] In November 1978, President Carter appointed George Ball head of a special White House Iran task force under Brzezinski. Ball recommends the US should drop support for the Shah of Iran and support the radical Islamist opposition of Ayatollah Khomeini. This idea is based on ideas from British Islamic expert Dr. Bernard Lewis, who advocates the balkanization of the entire Muslim Near East along tribal and religious lines. The chaos would spread in what he also calls an “arc of crisis” and ultimately destabilize the Muslim regions of the Soviet Union. The Shah will later comment in exile, “I did not know it then, perhaps I did not want to know? But it is clear to me now that the Americans wanted me out. Clearly this is what the human rights advocates in the State Department wanted. What was I to make of the Administration’s sudden decision to call former Under Secretary of State George Ball to the White House as an adviser on Iran? Ball was among those Americans who wanted to abandon me and ultimately my country.” [Engdahl, 1992] While there is later debate about US policy towards Iran actually is at this time, it will be noted that the Carter administration had “no clear policy” due to internal divisions and confusion. [Keddie, 2003] The Shah abdicates on January 16, 1979, and Ayatollah Khomeini returns from exile to Iran on February 1, 1979, taking over the government. Brzezinski will attempt to create a de facto alliance with Khomeini’s new fundamentalist government, but his efforts will come to a half with the Iranian hostage crisis in November 1979 (see February-November 4, 1979).

Entity Tags: Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., George Ball, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Bernard Lewis, Henry Precht, Seyyed Ruhollah Khomeini

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

After the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi is deposed in Iran and Ayatollah Khomeini takes over as Iran’s new leader in February 1979, the US is interested in continuing to work with the Iranian government. At first the US is taken aback by the new fundamentalist Islamic government, and National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski contemplates fomenting a military coup to stop Khomeini. But Khomeini is fiercely anti-communist, and Brzezinski soon decides that Iran’s new government can become part of an effective anti-Soviet alliance he calls the “arc of crisis’ (see November 1978-February 1979). The US embassy in Teheran, Iran, remains open, and more US officials come to Iran and begin tentative talks there. [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 236-243] The CIA in particular begins secretly collaborating with Iranian intelligence, providing information about the Soviet Union, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The CIA and Iran both covertly work to destabilize the pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan. [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 264-265] In early November 1979, Brzezinski secretly meets with Iranian Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan, as well as Iran’s foreign minister and defense minister, in Algiers, Algeria. But shortly before the meeting, the US agrees to allow the Shah, dying with cancer, to come to the US for medical treatment. Khomeini is enraged, and on November 4, just three days after the Algeria meeting begins, Khomeini arranges for students to take over the US embassy in Teheran and seize hostages. This realigns political forces in Iran and allows Khomeini to sideline Bazargan and other others meeting in Algeria, rendering the negotiations there moot. Brzezinski’s attempts to create a de facto alliance with Iran collapse. The US hostages will be held for over a year before finally being freed. [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 240-243]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Mehdi Bazargan, Seyyed Ruhollah Khomeini, Zbigniew Brzezinski

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

President Jimmy Carter issues Executive Order 12129, “Exercise of Certain Authority Respecting Electronic Surveillance,” which implements the executive branch details of the recently enacted Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) (see 1978). [Jimmy Carter, 5/23/1979] The order is issued in response to the Iranian hostage crisis (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). [Hawaii Free Press, 12/28/2005] While many conservatives will later misconstrue the order as allowing warrantless wiretapping of US citizens in light of the December 2005 revelation of George W. Bush’s secret wiretapping authorization (see Early 2002), [Think Progress, 12/20/2005] the order does not do this. Section 1-101 of the order reads, “Pursuant to Section 102(a)(1) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1802(a)), the Attorney General is authorized to approve electronic surveillance to acquire foreign intelligence information without a court order, but only if the Attorney General makes the certifications required by that Section.” The Attorney General must certify under the law that any such warrantless surveillance must not contain “the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party.” The order does not authorize any warrantless wiretapping of a US citizen without a court warrant. [Jimmy Carter, 5/23/1979; 50 U.S.C. 1802(a); Think Progress, 12/20/2005] The order authorizes the Attorney General to approve warrantless electronic surveillance to obtain foreign intelligence, if the Attorney General certifies that, according to FISA, the communications are exclusively between or among foreign powers, or the objective is to collect technical intelligence from property or premises under what is called the “open and exclusive” control of a foreign power. There must not be a “substantial likelihood” that such surveillance will obtain the contents of any communications involving a US citizen or business entity. [Federal Register, 2/4/2006]

Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

About 500 Iranian students take over the American Embassy in Tehran and hold 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) is one of the groups that supports the take-over. [US Department of State, 4/30/2003; PBS, 1/15/2006]

Entity Tags: People’s Mujahedin of Iran

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iran-Contra Affair

Shortly after the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981), President Jimmy Carter issues Executive Order 12170 freezing Iranian government assets held in the United States under the authority of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). [US President, 11/14/1979] Iran has an estimated $12 billion in bank deposits, gold, and other properties, including $5.6 billion in deposits and securities held by overseas branches of US banks. [US Department of the Treasury. Office of Foreign Assets Control, 11/1979]

Entity Tags: James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr.

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Ronald and Nancy Reagan celebrate winning the presidency.Ronald and Nancy Reagan celebrate winning the presidency. [Source: Medal of Freedom (.com)]After winning a sweeping election victory against President Jimmy Carter in November 1980, Ronald Reagan is sworn in as US president. The same day that Reagan is sworn in, Iran releases the remaining 52 hostages it has held captive at the US Embassy in Tehran for 444 days (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). [PBS, 2000]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair, Elections Before 2000

Neoconservative academic Michael Ledeen, who left the Defense Department under suspicion of engaging in espionage on behalf of Israel (see 1983), gains a position at the National Security Council. His boss is Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North (see July 7-10, 1987 and May-June, 1989). According to Iran-Contra investigators, it is Ledeen who suggests to North “that Israeli contacts might be useful in obtaining release of the US hostages in Lebanon” (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). Ledeen is granted high-level security clearance. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Ledeen, National Security Council

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair, Neoconservative Influence

The conservative National Review publishes an op-ed article by Sam Dealy titled “A Very, Very Bad Bunch,” commenting on the Iranian opposition group known as People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK) and “its surprising American friends.” Dealy’s piece is an attack on Congresspersons who support the MEK despite the exile group’s past history of anti-Americanism (see 1970s and November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). “How has a terrorist group managed to win the support of mainstream US politicians?” he asks. “Simple: Its political representatives in the US have worked hard to repackage the group as a legitimate dissident organization fighting for democracy in Iran—by whitewashing its record and duping our leaders.” Dealy emphasizes that the group’s initial ideological underpinning had been influenced by the likes of Marx, Ho Chi Minh, and Che Guevara, whose ideas the MEK attempted to apply to Shiite society. [National Review, 3/25/2002]

Entity Tags: People’s Mujahedin of Iran, Sam Dealy

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Susan Rice, speaking at the UN.Susan Rice, speaking at the UN. [Source: Agence France-Presse]The newly named US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, says that the Obama administration will reverse years of Bush administration policies and engage in “direct diplomacy” with Iran. Such direct diplomatic efforts have not been tried with Iran since before the 1979 Iranian revolution (see February-November 4, 1979), when Iranian radicals captured 52 Americans and held them hostage for well over a year (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). [Associated Press, 1/26/2009] Israel’s Arutz Shiva calls the announcement a “not-unexpected bombshell.” [Arutz Shiva, 1/26/2009]
Iran Open to Engagement - Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki says Iran is “ready for new approaches by the United States.” Mottaki adds that Iran would consider the idea of allowing the US to open a diplomatic office in Tehran. The last US diplomatic office was closed in 1979.
US Still 'Deeply Concerned' about Iran's Nuclear Program - Rice says that Iran must meet UN Security Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment before the US will be willing to discuss its nuclear program. “The dialogue and diplomacy must go hand in hand with a very firm message from the United States and the international community that Iran needs to meet its obligations as defined by the Security Council,” Rice says. “And its continuing refusal to do so will only cause pressure to increase.” Rice says the US remains “deeply concerned about the threat that Iran’s nuclear program poses to the region, indeed to the United States and the entire international community.” She adds, “We look forward to engaging in vigorous diplomacy that includes direct diplomacy with Iran, as well as continued collaboration and partnership” with the other four permanent members of the Security Council—Britain, China, France and Russia—as well as Germany.
NATO: Iran Must Be Included in Decisions Regarding Afghanistan - NATO Secretary General Japp de Hoop Scheffer says that Iran must be part of the engagement process of escalating the war in Afghanistan. “We need a discussion that brings in all the relevant players: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Russia—and yes, Iran,” he says. “We need a pragmatic approach to solve this very real challenge.” Bush officials have long sought to isolate Iran from having any influence over the events in Afghanistan, even though its ruling Shi’ite theocracy has long opposed Afghanistan’s Taliban. [Associated Press, 1/26/2009; Arutz Shiva, 1/26/2009]
Clinton: 'New, Perhaps Different Approach' - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says: “Obviously, the incoming administration views with great concern the role that Iran is playing in the world, its sponsorship of terrorism, its continuing interference with the functioning of other governments, and its pursuit of nuclear weapons. There is an ongoing policy review that the Obama administration has undertaken, but… our goal will be to do everything we can, pursue through diplomacy, through the use of sanctions, through creating better coalitions with countries that we believe also have a big stake in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon power, to try to prevent this from occurring. We are not taking any option off the table, at all. But we will pursue a new, perhaps different approach that will become a cornerstone of what the Obama administration believes is an attitude towards engagement that might bear fruit.” She says that the US continues to view an Iranian nuclear program as “unacceptable.” [Arutz Shiva, 1/26/2009]

Entity Tags: Hillary Clinton, Arutz Shiva, Bush administration (43), Japp de Hoop Scheffer, Manouchehr Mottaki, Susan Rice, United Nations, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

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