Zbigniew Brzezinski is one of America’s leading strategic thinkers. He was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter at the time of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and during the ensuing hostage crisis. He spoke with The WorldPost about the recently negotiated agreement with Iran on its nuclear program.
WorldPost: How do you see the impact of the Lausanne agreement on the Iranian outlook? Does this signal an opening to the world in the same way as the early days of China’s opening to the U.S.? Since your time dealing with Iran at the time of the revolution, the whole legitimation of the regime has been its anti-American stance. Now what?
Zbigniew Brzezinski: The impact of the Lausanne agreement on the Iranian outlook can be quite significant. It undermines the outlook that has predominated in official Tehran over the last two or so decades. It introduces the possibility of the Iranian elite seriously considering even some forms of cooperation with the United States.
However, there are also significant differences between this opening and the earlier Chinese opening to the United States engineered first by Nixon and Kissinger and then transformed into more [of] a formal relationship by President Jimmy Carter. The Chinese at the time were increasingly not only hostile to the Soviet Union but concerned that the Soviets might actually take direct action against them. An opening to America thus had a sense of urgency to it. It was focused initially, at least, largely on economic issues as well as some informal signals of possible political collaboration. Those signals under Deng Xiaoping, became more formally a strategic accommodation with a strong and overt anti-Soviet sting to it.
WorldPost: What are the strategic implications from the U.S. side of what some are already calling Obama’s “pivot to Persia?”
Brzezinski: The strategic implications for the United States are, in the short-run, that it reduces the possibility that the United States will be driven into a war against Iran, which would then contribute to a wider outbreak of violence and disorder in the region as a whole. Very few countries in the immediate proximity of Iran really wish that to happen. And neither do the established major countries which participated with the United States in the tentative accommodation that is now underway.
If this effort at achieving some stability and continuity in consolidating a wider and deeper accommodation with Iran is successful, it will be a major contribution to tempering conflict in the region. It is quite evident that, currently, the obvious alternative is escalating chaos, possibly complicated by a further and potentially more significant regional war which some of the critics of the agreement seem to be advocating without much concern for its consequences.
WorldPost: What seems to have been lost in the controversies surrounding the Iran deal is the fact that China signed on as a guarantor. China has also worked with the U.S. on trying to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions — thus it is a “non-proliferation partner.” And China also has a climate change deal with the U.S..
Brzezinski: You make a very important point here: China is a major power and China in effect has signed on as a guarantor of the process. Equally important is also the fact that Russia has done pretty much the same. In other words, there is a shared understanding among the major powers about the importance of stability and on the avoidance, therefore, of reckless adventurism.
“There is a shared understanding among the major powers about the importance of stability and the avoidance of reckless adventurism.”
That arrangement, assuming it lasts, also maximizes the possibility of the American-Chinese relationship becoming more substantive. I say this despite the recent mishandling of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank issue, where close allies of the U.S. such as Great Britain, France and Italy joined up despite Washington’s admonition not to. But that in some respects is not as critical as wider strategic cooperation, which both countries need to promote and consolidate.
One has to conceive that both non-proliferation and climate change are long-range issues, regarding which current U.S.-China cooperation is only at a very early stage of developing. That relationship can go either way and, in any case, it will not be significantly productive for some time. Thus the decision of the Chinese to cooperate with the United States on Iran is at the moment one of the more important aspects of the evolution that the America-Chinese relationship is still undergoing.
Copyright: The World Post