Tehran's Man Onstage in Manhattan
Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee, appeared this past Wednesday evening, Feb. 20, onstage at the Asia Society in New York, in a "conversation" with a former U.S. ambassador and under secretary of State, Thomas Pickering. The event, moderated by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, and titled "The U.S. and Iran: Road to War or Path to Peace," is being described by the Asia Society as "Unprecedented" -- yielding "Proposals for US-Iran Negotiations."
That might sound pretty intriguing, in the run up to next week's gathering in Kazakhstan of representatives of Iran and the P-5 plus 1 (which, in case you lost track of talks with Iran somewhere back in the days of the EU3, refers to the Permanent Five members of the UN Security Council -- Russia, China, France, the UK and the U.S., plus Germany).
Actually, the Asia Society missed the boat. Khazaee's appearance was unprecedented in the sense that he has not appeared previously onstage at the Asia Society. But Khazaee is the mouthpiece for the same Iranian regime that has brought New York its annual visits since 2005 by Iran's loquacious president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Whatever the differences of style or insinuation, they both track back to the same terror-based uranium-enriching domain of the modestly titled Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. And Khazaee has been rubbing elbows in Manhattan since he arrived in 2007 as Iran's envoy to the UN -- some details of that in my column, "Meet Iran's Ambassador to the UN." Last year, he gave an interview to PBS TV's Charlie Rose. At the UN he pops up interminably, speaking these days for the Iran-chaired 120-member Non-Aligned Movement, praising Iran's human rights record, deploring Israel, writing letters demanding that the U.S. issue visas pronto to the scores of Iranian officials who like to attend major UN events, etc.
As for Khazaee's "proposals" -- well, it boils down to the same ol' same ol'. You can watch them unfold in the video of the discussion, which went on for an hour and 40 minutes (in the time-buying game, chalk that up as another hour and 40 minutes for the progress of Iran's nuclear program). Or I can summarize it for you in one sentence: If the U.S. will just agree in advance to whatever Iran's regime wants, then Iran's regime is quite willing to negotiate. Amid the thanks and praise rendered unto him onstage for his willingness to say anything at all, Khazaee pretty much repeated variations on this theme for the entire discussion.
All of which did Khazaee a certain injustice, in that it was pretty dull. Khazaee is a much more interesting man than he seemed, stringing together his rote phrases on the Asia Society stage. This is, after all, an Iranian ambassador who has been described by U.S. federal prosecutors in the Alavi Foundation case as directing the operations of an alleged Iranian-government front foundation in the heart of midtown Manhattan. It might have been fascinating to hear his version -- true or false -- of what that was all about. But he was not asked.
There were so many big topics that never came up. What about that plot by Iran's Quds Force to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in 2011 by bombing him in Washington? What about the reports of Iranian scientists at North Korea's latest nuclear test? Was Iran involved in construction of the Syrian nuclear reactor built with North Korean help? Is it really a point of pride to represent a regime that runs Evin prison and leads the world in juvenile executions? Tell us about Hezbollah's arsenal, and how things are going with Hamas? What about the Iranian weapons smuggling via Sudan?
Yes, I know. It would have been impolitic. Undiplomatic. In the genteel setting of a well-heeled institution, decorated with lovely works of art, before a well-read, cosmopolitan audience, it would have been downright impolite to depart from courteous conversation to ask bluntly about some of the very rough and murderous realities that haunt this scene -- and which Iran's ambassador defends, protects, and indeed, represents. But in such a setting it is apparently so unprecedented that it simply wasn't done at all.