Why President Trump Will Not Get His Meeting with Iranian President Rouhani Any Time Soon
By Marvin Zonis
President Trump has sought a meeting with Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani. But all his entreaties have failed. Rouhani has even refused to leave his hotel room in New York, attending the UN General Assembly Meetings, to avoid even a telephone call with Trump.
The chances of the U.S. President securing such a meeting with Rouhani are now zero. If the White House staff knew a little more about Iranian history they would understand why.
In 1979, the Iranians were consolidating their revolution. Ayatollah Khomeini had appointed Mehdi Bazargan, an Iranian scholar, politician, and committed Muslim as the revolution’s first prime minister in February 1979. Bazargan sought (and failed) to bring a liberal and democratic Iranian regime into being. He failed in the face of Khomeini’s commitment to clerical rule.
But Bazargan’s demise holds a powerful lesson for Trump. A little history:
The shah was admitted to the U.S. for medical treatment on October 29, 1979.
Bazargan met with Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser, on November 1, 1979 in Algiers. They were attending that country’s Independence Day celebration.
On November 4, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini’s radical student supporters stormed and seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and captured its diplomats.
November 7, 1979: Bazargan resigned and was replaced by a radical Islamic regime.
These events were directly connected. The shah’s admittance for cancer treatment generated panic in Iran among the revolutionaries – Khomeini foremost among them. They feared his entering the U.S. was the prelude to the launching of a U.S. coup against the revolution. Remember August of 1953. The shah had fled to Rome in the face of a failed attempt to overthrow Prime Minister Mossadegh. Then street demonstrations were launched with the encouragement (at least) of British and U.S. intelligent agents which succeeded in ousting Mossadegh. The shah returned in triumph.
The Islamic radicals feared a replay. Then when news of Bazargan’s Algerian meeting with Brzezinski surfaced, the panic blossomed. Bazargan, after all, had earlier proposed inviting U.S. military advisers back to Iran to train Iran’s military on the shah’s stockpile of U.S. weapons – a proposal hastily vetoed by the Ayatollah.
What followed was the Islamic radicalization of the revolution through the seizure of the embassy and the ouster of the Bazargan government.
President Rouhani is well aware of this history and of the continued revolutionary impulses of the Supreme Leader and the hardliners for whom any meeting with the U.S. would be considered treason.
President Trump is doomed to failure in his desire to meet with Rouhani unless the U.S. first makes significant concessions to Iran.