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Travels Across Iran

From the Tehran Station


Less than two weeks in Iran does not make me an Iranian expert or even a seasoned Persian diplomatic hand, but it is more time than nearly all the members of Congress have spent collectively in the country that they chose to revile in celebrating, repeatedly, the speech that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered before the joint session on Capitol Hill.

As best as I can determine the only current or former American lawmaker to visit the Islamic Republic since 1979 is former Representative Jim Slattery (D-Kansas), who went there to a conference in winter 2015. He said of the continuing negotiations to freeze Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities, “They are very troubled by the prospect of … putting their best deal on the table, only to have US lawmakers reject it.”

Iranian negotiators who watched Netanyahu barnstorm across Washington and the Capitol can have little doubt that any Iranian-American treaty on nuclear arms that is submitted to the Republican majorities in Congress will suffer the recent fate of President Obama—that of marginalization in the call to arms against Iran.

As defined by Netanyahu and ratified by the Congress—at least in a series of standing ovations—Iran is a terrorist nation that is determined to develop a nuclear capability for possible use against Israel.

Implicit in the prime minister’s remarks is the inference that if the United States negotiates a “bad deal” with Iran, Israel will have little choice but unilaterally to take out the Iranian nuclear capability.

By giving Netanyahu a joint session of Congress to draw lines in the sand, the Republican majority was extending its approval of a such a preemptive strike, perhaps figuring that smoldering mountainsides in Iran will make for excellent 30-second outtakes in the next election.

Despite traveling to many corners of Iran—using trains and buses, going where I pleased, and paying my own way—I have no privy knowledge of its nuclear intentions nor its plutonium capabilities. Nevertheless, I did see the country on the ground, and the impression that it left is that of a nation that would serve best as an American ally rather than as an enemy.

Iran is Persian and Shiite, not Arab and Sunni, and most of its foreign policy tensions are with nearby Gulf states, Afghanistan, Sunni regimes, Azerbaijan, and Russia. Saddam’s Iraq—with chemical weapons—attacked Iran for eight years in the 1980s. America might be a global power, but it lies over the horizon, and in my travels no one mentioned the name Obama.

During the 1979 revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini, the specter of the United States played a useful role as the Great Satan, which had propped up the deposed Shah after, in 1953, it took down the government of Mohammad Mossadegh, who had nationalized Western...

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