Iran can't afford to take sides with the United States before or during a war with Iraq, an Iranian foreign policy analyst says.
Neutrality is the only answer, Nasser Hadian told an audience this week at the University of Utah. This is the fifth lecture in a nine-week series exploring the Iraqi crisis.
If Iran supported the United States in a war to oust Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader would likely fire Scud missiles, and their payloads of biological or chemical weapons, at Tehran's 10 million inhabitants as "an act of revenge," Hadian said.
Iran's approach to events swirling on the other side of its border is still being debated in Tehran, said Hadian, former director of political development in the Center for Strategic Research in Tehran and currently a visiting professor at Columbia University.
Iran's previous support of the United States during the war in Afghanistan didn't win his country many points, Hadian noted. "Iran fully cooperated with the U.S., but what came next was the 'axis of evil,' " President Bush's characterization of Iran, Iraq and North Korea.
To understand the Iranian perspective of the Iraqi-American conflict, one must first understand the country's complex amalgam of political factions. For the sake of simplicity, Hadian said, he lumps these dozens of groups into two categories, the reformers and the conservatives.
The reformers, he said, are made up of 18 groups with four major orientations: old leftists (who participated in the revolution that overthrew the Shah), the new left (made up of religious intellectuals, including current Iranian President Mohammed Khatami), pragmatists (who promote a free-market economy), and the "freedom movement."
Iran's conservatives consist of 12 groups that can be divided into three basic groups: the "rational conservatives" (who want to improve the country's standard of living); the "cultural conservatives" (including most of the clergy, who worry about the erosion of Islamic values); and the "radicals" (who favor violence against the reformers).
All these groups are part of the current debate over what to do about Iraq and America, two of Iran's enemies who are now enemies of each other. "Any cooperation with the U.S. can only hurt Iran," Hadian concluded. He expects that most Iranian political leaders concur with this approach.
But even if Iran remains neutral, the United States will need Iran after the war to help create a stable government in Iraq, especially the stabilization of Iraq's Shiite and Kurdish populations, he said.
Although some Iranians believe that Washington will want to attack Iran after it's finished in Iraq, Hadian doesn't foresee this, at least in the near future. "I don't think the U.S. will go after anyone right away — not North Korea, not Iran, not Syria." Bush, mindful of what unseated his father in 1992, will want to focus on the economy and on his re-election, Hadian predicted.
The United States should take steps to make Iran feel like more of a "legitimate player . . . a normal state," he said, including unfreezing assets.
The Iraqi Crisis lecture series will continue Tuesday at 2 p.m. with "Paris and the Middle East: Making Sense of French Policies," in the Dumke Auditorium of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts on the U. campus.