Commentary Magazine


Why Kazakhstan? Symbolism Matters

The saddest thing about American diplomacy in the age of Obama is that the State Department does not know when the Islamic Republic is laughing at them. Take the previous round of talks: When the Iranian government suggested they would meet in Baghdad on May 24, 2012, the State Department jumped at the opportunity. After all, if the Iranians were willing to talk, who cares when and where the meeting takes place? Dialogue is the most important thing, the logic goes.

Yet, Iranian authorities had a reason for the date and place: May 24, 2012 marked the 30th anniversary of the Liberation of Khorramshahr, once of the most decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq War. In the Iranian mind, Saddam Hussein had far greater American support in that war than reality would suggest (though any American support for Saddam while he occupied Iran was wrong). Therefore, by rebuffing the Americans, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his proxies could claim once again he had won a decisive victory against the Americans against the backdrop of Iraq. From Press TV:

Pointing to the liberation of Iran’s city of Khorramshahr from Iraqi occupation on 24 May, 1982, Esma’il Kowsari said, “With the sacrifice of the proud Iranian youths in those times, Khorramshahr brought about a wave of honor for the nation.”  “And now that negotiations with the P5+1 group (Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States plus Germany) are being pursued; victory will certainly once again be ours,” the deputy head of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, added.

As for the supreme leader, he addressed a military audience on the eve of Liberation Day:

“In ‘The Decade of Progress and Justice’ the pioneering Iranian nation will continue its accelerated movement towards more progress and administration of justice. And in spite of its propaganda, the camp of oppression, arrogance and bullying is in decline… During the Sacred Defense Era, the Armed Forces gained timeless experiences and it is necessary to make use of them.”

The talks were not about nuclear resolution, they were stage-managed American humiliation.

But what about Kazakhstan? Here, the reason was simple. From the Islamic Republic News Agency:

Kazakhstan which is the host of the next round of talks between Iran and the G5+1 is not enforcing US unilateral sanctions against Tehran, a senior Foreign Ministry officials said Wednesday. Deputy Foreign Minister for Asia-Pacific Affairs Abbas Araqchi, made the remarks while commenting on the reason behind choosing Kazakhstan as the host of the upcoming talks between Iran and G5+1 which is to be held on February 26.

Symbolism matters. And, for all its self-congratulations regarding it cultural sensitivity, it seems that the State Department remains aloof and naïve. Sometimes, the best way to ensure successful diplomacy is a willingness to push back and, if necessary, walk away until the Iranians show conflict resolution rather than propaganda to be their chief goal.

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