U.S.-Iran Talks: Much To-Do About Nothing

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On Monday, May 28, 2007, the United States and Iran engaged in a rare face-to-face discussion regarding the security of Iraq. Both sides described the event — the first official meeting between the two foes in over 27 years — as “positive,” but the two nations did not accomplish much.

Both Ryan Crocker, who headed the U.S. delegation in the meetings, and Hassan Kazemi Qomi, his Iranian counterpart, suggested in their separate press conferences that no detailed exchanges took place, and that no criticisms of the other were addressed. This should not be surprising: the two sides, after all, came to the table with diametrically opposed goals. One side wants to escalate violence and further subvert the country, while the other wants to reduce tension and stabilize the nation. One seeks to establish a radical theocratic state modeled after its own, and the other a secular Iraq.

The Iranian regime had three objectives in attending these talks: winning the release of the five commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) arrested by American forces in January; the expulsion from Iraq of Iran's main opposition group, known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, which is based 100 miles north of Baghdad; and pushing for the full U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, which is necessary for Iran's ultimate goal of establishing global Islamic rule.

Iran believes that the 3,800 members of the MEK have played a significant role in unifying the more moderate voices of Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis against the Iranian influence in Iraq, and therefore is the biggest obstacle to the Iranian regime's ambition of establishing a sister Islamic republic in Iraq.

The MEK has also been instrumental in exposing major nuclear sites of Iran as well as its clandestine terror network in Iraq. The group is now guarded by the United States military as "protected persons" under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Administration officials and military officers acknowledge that the MEK has been the most helpful to the U.S. on Iran.

Going into the meeting, the United States had one request: that Iran stop destabilizing Iraq. Crocker stated that Tehran, which asserts that it wants a stable Iraq, had to put a stop to the alleged involvement of Iranians in arming and training Iraqi insurgents. "Iranian actions on the ground have to come into harmony with their described principles," he said. "Their actions are at cross purposes to their stated policy. I laid out to the Iranians direct, specific concerns about their behavior in Iraq and their support for militias that are fighting Iraqi and coalition forces."

Qomi told the Americans that the training of the Iraqi army was proving to be "too slow" and ineffective, and offered to train and equip Iraqi security forces to create “a new military and security structure.” The Iranian regime also proposed what it called a “trilateral mechanism” in which the U.S., Iran, and Iraq could coordinate security matters in Iraq.

Qomi offered a second round of talks, but Crocker said the purpose of the meeting had been to lay out U.S. concerns, and that had been achieved. "In terms of what happens next, we are going to want to wait and see — not what is said next, but what happens on the ground; whether we start to see some indications of change of Iranian behavior," he said. This formed the bulk of America's demands of Iran, and for good reason.

According to my sources inside Iran, the Explosively Formed Projectiles (EFP) used against the Multi-National Force in Iraq are built in Iran on the confidential order of the Qods Force — the same force the five IRGC commanders captured by the U.S. are a part of — which moves these deadly weapons to Iraq by its Iraqi agents and distributes them among various terrorist proxies.

Iran has also set up command headquarters for the Qods Force of the IRGC in Iran to coordinate its terrorist activities in Iraq. Currently, Iran has as many as 32,000 Iraqis on its payroll, including senior officials in the Iraqi police, ministries, the National Assembly, and other institutions.

Moreover, using a well-coordinated network, Iran has been sending millions of dollars into Iraq every month, both as cash and through wire transfers.

In addition, the Qods Force has allocated several bases in Tehran, Karaj, Qom, Isfahan, as well as the provinces of Kermanshah, Ilam, Kurdistan, and Khuzestan for the military training of Iraqi death squads and terrorist networks. These individuals travel to Iran in groups under various covers, using both legal and illegal borders.

Since February 2006, Iraqi militias have been trained in Qods Force camps in Iran including the Imam Ali Garrison in northern Tehran. This base has been IRGC's main location for training foreign terrorists in Iran, but is now allocated entirely to the training of Iraqi militias.

In short, despite Iran's repeated proclamations that it wants a stable, secure Iraq, its support for terrorism in Iraq has been bedrock of its foreign policy. As Crocker put it after Monday's meeting, “We all are pretty much in the same place in terms of declaratory policy. The problem lies, in our view, with the Iranians not bringing their behavior on the ground into line with their own policy.”

Qomi's request for another meeting between the two countries is a delay tactic. Just as with the nuclear issue, the regime keeps talks alive in order to buy time to further its own agenda, and Iraq is no different. This is likely what was in Crocker's mind when he said in response to Qomi's request that he'd wait to see changes in Tehran's actions on the ground before continuing talks.

For the Iranian regime to offer training to the Iraqi Forces as well as to have a direct hand in the security of Iraq is like the fox volunteering to guard the chicken house. Instead of complying with Iranian demands, the Unites States should insist on the need for Iran to halt its terrorism in Iraq. For the mullahs in Iran, every inch that the U.S. concedes is interpreted as a sign of weakness that further emboldens the Iranian ruling clerics, and invites more terrorism and sectarian violence.

Given its massive investment in Iraq to date, the probability that Tehran will give up its network in Iraq and decommission its Qods Force is next to zero. Any concessions made by the U.S. would therefore only serve to undermine its own agenda.

The problem in Iraq is neither a civil nor a sectarian war. Iraq is now a battleground for the clash of two alternatives: the Islamic extremist option, which gets its orders from Tehran and seeks to establish an Islamic republic in Iraq, and a democratic alternative seeking a pluralistic democracy in the country.

Iraq will be secure and stable when Iran's influence is cut off, its agents arrested, militias disarmed and Tehran's proxies purged from the Iraqi government. At the same time the coalition of secular and nationalist Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds should be empowered. To accomplish that, the Unites States should be ready to take drastic measures regarding Iran.

War is not a viable option, but pressuring the Iranian regime, disrupting Iran's operations in Iraq and empowering the moderate voices in Iraq are all practical and effective steps that can, and must, be taken. Indeed many members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, including presidential candidates, argue that the U.S. can best exercise its leverage against Iran by removing the Iranian opposition, the MEK from the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO). According to these members of congress, the U.S. State Department included the MEK on the FTO list a decade ago in an effort to placate the mullahs in Tehran. In addition to allowing the MEK to use its full resources to counter Tehran's agenda in Iraq, such a move would send to the Iranian regime the unmistakable signal that the U.S. is serious about halting Iran's terrorist influence in Iraq and the rest of the region.

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"Dear Alireza,
Great to read your opinion on FOXNews.com! It is about time that the U.S. government lifted its head out of the sand, took off its gloves and made clear to the Iranian regime that enough is enough. The only way to deal with this regime is head on. As you say, the U.S. must remove the MEK from the FTO list. Maintaining restrictions on the greatest threat to the Iranian regime is not in the interests of the U.S., nor is it in the interests of peace and stability in Iraq, the Middle East region and the wider world. If the MEK is removed from the FTO list, the ground beneath the feet of the 'filth' that is the Revolutionary Guards will tremble. At the same time, the brave men and women of Iran who have for many months now been taking on the regime's oppressive forces on the streets of Iran will stand firm knowing that the organization that speaks for them and is the backbone of their struggle against the mullahs has had the greatest obstacle in its path removed. By the way, you should know that you have a lot of fans here in London and that a lot of people have become familiar with FOX through your involvement. Keep up the good work! I have no doubt that with your efforts and the efforts of your colleagues, the U.S. government will come to its senses sooner rather than later and will realize that no amount of talks or concessions will get the regime in Iran to change its evil ways. My simple message is to let the MEK and the Iranian people kick the scourge on humanity that is the mullahs' regime into the dustbin of history. That is in the interests of peace and stability in Iran, Iraq, the entire Middle East region and the rest of the world." — Masoud (London)

ALIREZA: Dear Masoud,
Thank you for your kind words. You are right in saying the U.S. must finally stand up to the Iranian regime and stop placating it. As you say, everyone who is concerned for the stability and security of Iran, Iraq and the Middle East must make it clear to the U.S. government that enough is enough, and that Tehran must be held accountable for its defiance on the nuclear issue, intervention in Iraq, and suppression of its own population.

"Dear Sir,
Once Iran gains hegemony in the neighborhood, is it not itself vulnerable to terrorism? Perhaps someone might bring in a suitcase-weapon (or two) to Tehran? That's the problem with trying to assert control. It's like the American game of 'loco' played by children, where each person tries to run to the end zone, should they manage to gain possession of the ball; the person carrying the ball is opposed by every other player. Iran is loco in the psychotic sense, but also with the international game they're playing, too. Should we not remember that they have a potential Kurdish population, too, just as Turkey and Iraq? They could lose some of their own territory if they push the wrong buttons. And when they keep funding the Iraqi insurgency, don't they run the risk of alienating their own population, spending money that is therefore unavailable to the Iranian people? (It's been hard on President Bush for the same reasons, with American dollars and American debt.) Meanwhile, perhaps we should hold their 'diplomats' for, say, 444 days? Perhaps we should add to the collection of Iranian 'diplomats'? Maybe a couple dozen? A couple hundred? In any case, I suspect that the Iranians only have the power to destroy, not to build. It is a lot more expensive to build something than to reduce it to rubble." — Jim (Lynchburg, VA)

ALIREZA: Dear Jim,
The vast majority of the Iranian people are opposed to the Iranian regime. Internal dissent is the Achilles heel of the Iranian regime. It is the younger generation of Iran as well as the defiant women who are the main preoccupation of the Iranian ruling clerics.

"No question, I just wanted to thank you for a well-written, in-depth article. I learned a great deal from it, which is quite unusual for an open-source article." — William (La Mesilla, NM)

ALIREZA: William,
Thank you for the kind note!

Alireza Jafarzadeh is a FOX News Channel Foreign Affairs Analyst and the author of "The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

Jafarzadeh has revealed Iran's terrorist network in Iraq and its terror training camps since 2003. He first disclosed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.

Prior to becoming a contributor for FOX, and until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.