Analyst on NPR lets the cat out of the bag – briefly – about Washington’s Iran obsession

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Karim Sadjadpour

Karim Sadjadpour

On Sunday’s “All Things Considered,” new host Arun Rath interviewed Karim Sadjadour,  senior associate in the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, about the six-month agreement over Iran’s nuclear program. The Carnegie Endowment is a thoroughly-mainstream, at best moderately-liberal Beltway thinktank, and to judge by a quick review of his recent writings and media comments on Iran, as well as most of his discussion with Rath, that same description seems to fit Sadjadpour.

In the course of the interview, Rath said:

You’ve written very interestingly about one sticking point – is how Iranian leaders feel that they’re defending their country against unfair policies. Could you talk about that?

That question was evidently a reference to “The Neuroscience Guide to Negotiations With Iran,” an article by Sadjadpour and colleague Nicholas D. Wright published last week at The Atlantic’s website.  That piece, which I too found very interesting, reviews neuroscientific findings suggesting that humans have a “natural instinct to reject perceived unfairness,” even if they pay a substantial price for doing so. The authors then argue that “this impulse to reject perceived unfairness has seemingly motivated Iran’s nuclear ambitions far more than an actual need for an indigenous nuclear energy program.”

Surprisingly, Sadjadpour didn’t jump at Rath’s invitation to explain this analysis (and to promote his latest publication). Instead, he took off in a very different direction:

You know, I’ve argued before, Arun, that the real source of tension between America and Iran is actually not the nuclear issue. It’s Iran’s policy toward Israel.… I think especially for U.S. members of Congress, it’s very difficult to allow Iran to have advanced nuclear capability while they continue to be so belligerent toward Israel.

And how does the NPR host follow up on this provocative thesis? By quickly changing the subject:

Mm-hmm. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry both acknowledge that there’s a long road ahead. You … expect there’s going to be a strong desire on both sides to cooperate. And why do you feel that way?

Prompted by Sadjadpour’s note that he’s made the point about Israel before, I checked out some of his previous publications. In a 2008 (updated last year) political profile of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he wrote:

For many close observers of U.S.–Iranian relations the Islamic Republic’s uncompromising stance on Israel represents the greatest impediment to U.S.–Iranian relations…. At the same time, however, Khamenei has made a concerted effort to put into context the statements of President Ahmadinejad that Israel should be “wiped off the map.” He has stated consistently that Iran’s goal is not the military destruction of the Jewish state or the Jewish people, but the defeat of Zionist ideology and dissolution of Israel through a “popular referendum.”

Unfortunately, Sadjadpour doesn’t appear to have any particular sympathy for this perspective: In a brief op-ed for the New York Times last November, he dismissed the Iranian leadership’s position on Israel and Palestine as part of its “antiquated ideology” and “revolutionary dogma.”

Still, his realism about the source of Washington’s obsessions with Iran is a rare and welcome departure from the mainstream media’s usual treatment of the ginned-up nuclear controversy. NPR newscasters interviewed Sadjadpour five times last year. Now that they know he just might wander off script, I wonder whether they’ll keep bringing him back this year.

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