U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker on Iran
“I definitely do not recommend regime change as a policy”

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project
| June 13, 2013                         
[Updated November 12, 2013]

U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker on Iran

United States diplomat Ryan Crocker knows the Middle East well. He has served as Ambassador to Lebanon (1990-1993), Kuwait (1994-1997), Syria (1998-2001), Iraq (2007-2009), and Afghanistan (2011-2012). He has also lived in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Qatar, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon (where he survived the 1983 terrorist attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut).

In 2004, President George W. Bush dubbed Crocker “America’s Lawrence of Arabia” and awarded him the highest honor in Foreign Service, that of Career Ambassador. Crocker also serves as Dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.

Crocker’s views on Iran, however, veer closer to that of a Ron Paul than a Bush or Obama. He sees U.S. sanctions as largely unproductive, entrenching the regime deeper in its rigidness. “[I]t wouldn’t surprise me if the Iranian leadership is actually profiting from sanctions,” he remarks in a June 2012 interview.

Here are more recent observations from Crocker on the negotiating process with Iran.

Dallas Morning News Interview — November 8, 2013
by Tod Robberson [link]

Do they have legitimate reasons to distrust the U.S?

In their logic, they do. …We and the Brits overthrew the Mossadegh government in 1953. In Iranian eyes, we were the successors to the British, who occupied much of the country and controlled their oil and basically told them what to do. … Again, this is their narrative: They saw the 1964 Status of Forces agreement [allowing U.S. military basing in Iran] as being woefully one-sided. [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini famously said that an American dog has more rights under that agreement than an Iranian citizen. And that’s what got him forced into exile. He spent a decade and a half nursing that particular grudge. Again, in Iranian minds, it’s all a part of that pattern of imperial domination.

Fast-forward to 2001, the Iranians were ready to give it a try [with unfreezing relations because of mutual enmity toward al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan]. Common enemy might make common cause. We were cautious with each other. There were no great breakthroughs, obviously. Although our coordination … was what produced the Afghan Interim Authority [in December 2001].

Op-Ed in The New York Times — November 3, 2013
"Talk To Iran, It Works"

by Ryan C. Crocker [link]

The government of the Islamic Republic is clearly an adversary, but it is also a rational actor. And, like all governments, it is capable of being pragmatic and flexible when it is in its interest to do so. There is a chance that the Obama administration can replicate past successes if it applies four lessons from the 2001 talks.

First, American negotiators must understand that serious progress is likely to come only in direct talks between the United States and Iran. The involvement of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany should continue, but the heavy lifting will have to be done by the two central actors.

Second, the substance of the talks must be closely held. Revealing the details too soon will give ammunition to those who oppose the talks and limit the flexibility of the negotiators.

Third, America should be ready to introduce other issues beyond the nuclear file. Progress in one area can build confidence and facilitate progress in others. I mentioned this in a discussion with Iranian leaders in New York last month and they seemed receptive, mentioning Afghanistan and Syria as possibilities.

Finally, the United States must make clear that we do not seek to overthrow the Iranian regime. Iranian paranoia on this issue is virtually limitless and understandably so. In 1953, the American and British intelligence services ousted a democratically elected Iranian prime minister, an episode that very few Americans remember and no Iranian will ever forget.

Radio Free Europe Interview — June 12, 2013
by Golnaz Esfandiari [link]

What is the end goal when dealing with Iran? Ending Iran’s sensitive nuclear activities? Or regime change, as Iranian leaders seem to believe?

We’ve tried regime change once in Iran, as you know, with Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1953. That did not turn out well. And I think the seeds of the 1979 revolution were planted in ’53. So I definitely do not recommend regime change as a policy for the U.S. or anyone else. What we would like to see is a change in the policies and behavior of the regime. It’s up to the Iranian people to make their own decisions on their government. Regime change imposed from outside through a coup did not work well for the West in Iran and sensitivities among Iranians — not just the government but the population as well — of foreign interference are very high, and we need to understand and respect that.

The point of negotiations, again, is certainly not to bring down a regime but it’s to see if we can find some common ground that leads to some productive engagement. Again, I cited Afghanistan as a possibility where we do have some common interests, and then see if we can broaden that to a set of understandings that may cause the Iranians to say, "Okay, we can have a different relationship with the West and we really don’t need to pursue this nuclear issue any further."

Now, that may never happen. It certainly would take a long time in any case, but I think it’s worth pursuing. But again, this is about policy change. It’s not about regime change.

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Related links:

BBC Persian Interview with President Barack Obama (September 2010)

U.S. Ambassador to Six Countries Thomas Pickering on U.S. Options on Iran

Mohamed El Baradei: Sanctions on Iran Strengthen the Hardliners

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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