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  • Iran and the United States: An Insider’s View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace by Seyed Hossein Mousavian with Shahir Shahidsaless
  • William O. Beeman
Iran and the United States: An Insider’s View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace, by Seyed Hossein Mousavian with Shahir Shahidsaless. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014. 344 pages. $35 cloth; $30.99 eBook.

This extraordinarily timely book may arrive too late to affect the current round of talks between the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany (the P5+1 nations) and Iran over Iran’s nuclear program, but it should be required reading for those diplomats involved and for anyone wishing to deepen their understanding of the tortured relationship between Iran and the United States over the past four decades. Iranian political actions are often seen as opaque in the West. Iran and the United States convincingly goes beneath the surface to show the motivations and emotional landscape of Iranian officials in their frustrating dealings with the West.

Many readers will be astonished at the major conclusion of this book: that Iran’s leaders have been on a continual quest to achieve rapprochement with the United States for the years since the Iranian Revolution of 1978/79, only to be undermined by forces hostile to improved relationships between the two countries. These include anti-Iranian forces inside the United States, the government of Israel, and Iranian groups such as the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran or Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) who have sabotaged every move toward improved relations down to the present.

Dr. Seyed Hossein Mousavian has been intimately involved in Iran’s political life since the Iranian Revolution of 1978/79. He has an extraordinary, authoritative pedigree in Iran’s foreign policy community having held a large number of foreign affairs posts as advisor and ambassador. He has also been a seasoned journalist as editor of the influential Tehran Times newspaper, an authoritative source for information about Iran’s internal political dynamics.

The principal value of this book is Dr. Mousavian’s personal experience. He has been a direct witness to, and major influential figure in Iran’s major foreign policy decisions. His intimate connections to Iran’s highest officials are illustrated in the book by extensive accounts of his interactions with them. Presidents ‘Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, as well as Supreme Leaders Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Ayatollah ‘Ali Khamenei are all treated first-hand.

There are many surprises in the book. Ayatollah Khomeini is shown to have disapproved of the taking of American hostages in the US embassy in 1979. Contrary to popular American opinion, Ayatollah Khomeini was in the city of Qom at the time and did not even know about the embassy takeover until it was a fait accompli. On hearing of the crisis, his first question was: “Who are these people?” When told that they were students, and apprised of the international implications for the crisis, he ordered, “Kick them out” (pp. 57–58).

The authors go on to show that Khomeini was powerless to stop the occupation, so he accepted it and tried to find a way to end it that would not endanger the fragile Islamic Republic. Iran’s chief condition for the release of the hostages was a guarantee that the US would never again intervene in Iranian internal affairs — a provision of the Algiers Accords that ended the crisis. The [End Page 141] US agreed to the nonintervention clause (pp. 71–73), but has blatantly ignored it in subsequent years.

Dr. Mousavian’s fascinating narrative illustrates the Iranian chagrined reactions to US support of Saddam Husayn and the MEK in the eight-year Iran-Iraq War (pp. 96–102), the Iranian view of the Iran-Contra scandal under President Reagan (pp. 92-96), the strange hostility toward Iran’s overtures for improved relations during the Clinton Administration (pp. 126–32), and their shock at the US fetishization of the 40-year-old Iranian nuclear program under President George W. Bush — a shock that continues to the present day.

One surprise in the book is the account of the extraordinary...


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pp. 141-142
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