Pen-Palling With the Ayatollah

Pen-Palling With the Ayatollah Only ideologues and the ignorant don't understand that Obama's letter to Khamenei is just pragmatic politics. ã BY TRITA PARSI-NOVEMBER 7, 2014 If wearing a tan suit at a press conference is enough to bring on adeluge of criticism, President Barack Obama probably shouldn't be surprised that sending a letter to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has made some heads spin. That's too bad. Obama's letter to Khamenei just points out the obvious: that Iran an
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  Pen-Palling With the Ayatollah Only ideologues and the ignorant don't understand that Obama's letter to Khamenei is just pragmatic politics. ã BY  TRITA PARI! O#$%B$R & ()*+I, -earing a tan suit at a press con,erence is enough to bringon adeluge o, criticism President Barac Obama probably shouldn't be surprised that sending a letter to Iran's upreme /eader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has made some heads spin. That's too bad. Obama's letter to Khamenei just points out the ob0ious1 that Iran and the 2nited tates share a common interest in de,eating the Islamic tate and that real cooperation cannot tae place until the nuclear issue is resol0ed. The real outrage is that communicating -ith ey players in the %iddle $ast in order to ad0ance 2.. security is still considered outrageous in ,ar too  many policy and political circles in 3ashington. The 4outrage4 en. 5ohn %c6ain has e7pressed reminds us -hy the American public o0er and o0er again has rejected %c6ain's ,oreign!policy 0ision. It's not as i, President 8eorge 3. Bush didn't understand the importance o, Iran to regional politics. 9is administration started secret negotiations -ith  Tehran a,ter :;** and coordinated -ith Iran both in the military campaign against the Taliban and subse<uently in the campaign to establish a ne- constitution ,or A,ghanistan. Once Tehran's help no longer -as deemed necessary Bush put Iran in the 4A7is o, $0il4 and ruined the opportunity ,or the 2nited tates to collaborate -ith Iran ,or years to come. Incidentally not long therea,ter Iran and the 2nited tates ended up competing in Ira< and A,ghanistan -hich in turn rendered the stabili=ation o, these t-o countries all the more di>cult.ome -ere angered by the letter to Ayatollah Khamenei because Obama didn't get 4appro0al4 ,rom Israeli Prime %inister Benjamin etanyahu or audi Arabia's King Abdullah ?rst. But the president o, the 2nited tates has no obligation to see permission ,rom Israel audi Arabia or any other country -hen it comes to ad0ancing his country's security. The emergence o, the so!called Islamic tate threatens the 0ery ,oundation o, the state system in the %iddle $ast. @espite their many ,aults the realityis that strong states in the %iddle $ast are less dangerous to each other andto their populations than ,ailed states. The Islamic tate's success -ouldn't  just turn the %iddle $ast into a region -ith ,ailed states it -ould turn it into a ,ailed region. uch a problem could not easily be contained. pillo0er eects into $urope 6entral Asia and beyond are all but certain. $0ery  policymaer in the %iddle $ast !! and in the 3est !! reali=es this. The 2nited tates cannot and should not shoulder the responsibility ,or stopping the Islamic tate alone. or can 2.. bombs alone pa0e a path out o, the %iddle $ast's perilous situation. Real cooperation and coordination is needed bet-een ey players. Iran !! the %iddle $ast's second!largest country by population and a major inCuence on the hiite %uslim -orld !! is one o, these ey players. %oreo0er Iran shares :)) miles o, border -ith Ira< and has good relations -ith go0ernments in both Baghdad and @amascus. /ie it or not Iran is an una0oidable player in the ?ght against the Islamic tate.In ,act according to both the Ira<i go0ernment and the Kurdish Regional 8o0ernment Iran -as the ?rst country to pro0ide support ,or the ?ght against the Islamic tate by sending both -eaponry and ad0isors. Recentlypictures sur,aced o, 8en. Dassem uleimani the leader o, Iran's elite Duds Eorce posing -ith Kurdish Peshmerga ,orces a,ter ha0ing -restled se0eral Ira<i 0illages out o, the hands o, the Islamic tate.But i, Obama reali=es that he needs Iran as a ind o, ally in Ira< right no- he also has his eye on a longer!term strategy !! certainly ,ar more than Bush did. Republicans claim that by raising the issue o, the Islamic tate -ith the Iranians the president has -eaened the 2nited tates' hand in the nuclear tals. In reality the changing regional conte7t has made continuing enmity -ith the 2nited tates !! on the nuclear issue and more !!harder ,or the Iranians to eep up. A door could be opening ,or a broader understanding bet-een the t-o countries.According to press accounts the letter made clear that the mutually bene?cial collaboration bet-een the 2nited tates and Iran against the  Islamic tate could only tae place once the ongoing dispute o0er Iran's nuclear program has been resol0ed. As an added incenti0e ,or Iran to agree to intrusi0e inspections o, its nuclear ,acilities and strong limitations on its enrichment program Obama raised the prospects o, e7panded collaboration on areas o, mutual interest. Tehran's need to stop the Islamic tate's rampage across the neighborhood gi0es Obama le0erage. I had a lengthy con0ersation -ith a top Iranian o>cial only a ,e- days a,ter %osul ,ell to the Islamic tate jihadists in 5uly o, this year. 9e told me that e0en the upreme /eader no-n to be more hard!line than the go0ernment o, President 9assan Rouhani agrees that neither the 2nited tates nor Israel constitutes the main threat to Iran's security at this point. unni jihadists and the spread o, sectarianism shine brightest on Iran's threat radar not only because a region de?ned by the unni!hiite ri,t is one in -hich the majority o, Iran's neighbors -ould become its enemies but also because sectarianism can unra0el Iran's internal ethnic and religious balance. The Iranian o>cial readily admitted that Iran could not on its o-n de,eat the Islamic tate lest it add ,uel to the sectarian ?re. At the same time neither the 2nited tates nor Ira< can ?ght bac the Islamic tate on their o-n. Only through broad collaboration could this common threat be de,eated the o>cial said. But he added Tehran has to mae up its mind pointing to the debate in Iran on -hether a nuclear deal should open the door ,or better relations -ith 3ashington.But this is e7actly -hat those stirring the pot in 3ashington ,ear the most. Iran is simply too 0aluable o, an enemy. A nuclear accord that eliminates an
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