The so-called "nuclear issue" has always been a diversion designed to focus attention on a phantom while the living monster, wielding blood-soaked dagger, goes around spreading mayhem and murder. Pictured: A ballistic missile on display during a military parade marking the annual National Army Day in Tehran, on April 18, 2019. (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)
To talk or not to talk? For Joe Biden's administration in Washington this is the question with regard to "frozen" negotiations with Iran over its so-called "nuclear ambitions". Initially, Biden appeared keen to team-roll the process so that he could revive what his former boss Barack Obama still presents as his greatest foreign policy achievement, thus loosening the lasso that Donald Trump has tightened around the mullahs in Tehran.
On the way to the forum, however, two things happened.
First, the so-called "moderates" in Tehran, who have always talked like people from the fringes of the US Democratic Party, were booted out of the Islamic power banquet and replaced by a coterie that says it wants to turn the White House into a Hussyeniah once global Khomeinism has seized control of the United States.
Next, the FBI threw a bombshell by reporting a plot to kidnap Masih Alinejad, a US citizen and a campaigner for human rights in Iran, and whisk her from New York to Tehran via Venezuela. This was all the more disturbing as Ms. Alinejad, who has a vast following in cyberspace, works for Voice of America, an organ of the US government. That made Biden's plan to re-open the cash taps for Tehran all the more difficult.
So, to talk or not to talk?
The answer is the Japanese "mu" which means "un-ask" or "re-ask" your question beyond a simple yes or no.
Re-asking the question the Japanese way could give us this: whom to talk to and on what subject?
Only an arch-ego centrist like Obama might think that as long as he is doing the talking it doesn't matter who he is talking to and on what subject.
The answer to our re-asked questions could only be yes. Thus Biden must begin by finding out who he would be talking to: puppets of a star in the darkest recesses of the Islamic Republic or the puppet-master himself.
Next, and more importantly, he should decide what he needs to talk about. As I have often argued, the so-called "nuclear issue" has always been a diversion designed to focus attention on a phantom while the living monster, wielding blood-soaked dagger, goes around spreading mayhem and murder. The same technique is used by circus magicians who attract attention to one hand while the other hand pulls the rabbit out of the hat.
Obama roared in triumph because he supposedly persuaded the mullahs stop enriching uranium above five percent, something that they didn't need, couldn't use and couldn't financially afford. But he failed, or refused, to ask the real questions: is the Islamic Republic not a threat to regional peace and the global rule of law with or without its ridiculous uranium enrichment show?
Hasn't the Islamic Republic been the world's number one sponsor of international terrorism for four decades with or without enriching uranium? Was the seizing of over 600 hostages from 32 countries, including the US and all major European states, ever linked to uranium enrichment? In fact, for the past four decades the Islamic Republic has not spent a day without holding some hostages. What about raiding the embassies of 17 countries in Tehran and terrorist raids on US and French embassies and military bases in Lebanon?
Were the hundreds of US troops who lost their lives in Iraq to roadside bombs from Tehran victims of enriched uranium? What about the assassination of 118 dissident Iranians in 20 world capital including Washington, Berlin, London and Paris, and Dubai? Ms. Alinejad is not the first target of Khomeinist kidnapping gangs. By best accounts, over the past 40 years, the Khomeinist regime has abducted over 50 opposition activists without using enriched uranium.
The AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires was not blown up with enriched uranium, nor was the Saint-Michel metro station in Paris. Terror attacks on a residence of US contractor in Khobar and a number of targets in Thailand, Pakistan and Kuwait did not involve enriched uranium either.
The Islamic Republic pushed Lebanon to the edge of national catastrophe by dragging it into deadly adventures that have nothing to do with Lebanese national interests. Tehran's policy of prolonging the war in Yemen, fomenting trouble in Bahrain, weakening the authority of the Iraqi government by sponsoring mercenary units, and acting as foot soldier for Russia in Syria have also no connection with the uranium issue. And what about trying to prop up the Taliban in Afghanistan in the hope of proving that, as the daily Kayhan says, the US has sustained "another defeat".
The irony in all this is that the US has tried to talk to the mullahs about enriching uranium, something which is perfectly legal within the parameters set by the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and is routinely done by at least 18 other nations across the globe while never raising the illegal, not to say criminal, activities they foster in defiance of international law -- activities such as blowing innocent people up in London or Paris and kidnapping people in Washington and Istanbul.
A global map of terrorism in the past four decades would show that the Islamic Republic has been involved, directly and indirectly, in more attacks in more countries than its ideological siblings from Al-Qaeda and Taliban to ISIS and Boko Haram.
The mullahs assume that as long as they can hoodwink the world, notably the Americans who are suckers for self-deception, by propelling the "nuclear" phantom they could have a free hand to kill and kidnap and destroy the very fabric of statehood in several regional countries while receiving cash rewards from the US and its major allies who pretend to be guardians of global law and order.
It may take a few more weeks before Tehran can deploy its new negotiating team which may or may not include the flatterer-in-chief Muhammad Javad Zarif. That gives the Biden administration time to obtain a long spoon before returning to the banquet in Vienna. That long spoon could be made of a simple reversal of the order in which the talks are held. First, let's talk about terrorism, exporting revolution, money laundering, kidnapping and hitmen without frontiers. Only then we could talk about uranium enrichment and the unfreezing of assets.
There is even no need for Biden and allies to talk about "human rights" and things like that which have become a staple of hollow global diplomacy, because those who demand respect for such rights don't really mean it and those who hear them know that they don't.
So, by all means, do talk to the mullahs in Tehran but make sure the talk is about something relevant with a clear message: cease and desist!
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987.
This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.