Lecture called for diplomacy between U.S. and Iran

Saturday, February 16, 2008 | 4:35 p.m. CST; updated 2:42 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — A former New York Times foreign correspondent and the president of the National Iranian American Council came to MU on Friday night to share their expertise on U.S.-Iran relations.

Sponsored by the Columbia Peace Coalition, Mid-Missouri Peaceworks and MU Friends of Peace Studies, Stephen Kinzer and Trita Parsi’s speech, titled “The Folly of Attacking Iran,” drew about 150 people to Middlebush Hall.

Kinzer, an author on the subject and a former New York Times foreign correspondent, jokingly thanked attendees for turning down an evening of pizza at Shakespeare’s to attend the event, which is part of a 22-city tour sponsored by the independent and non-partisan organization Just Foreign Policy. His talk emphasized the importance of the historical context of foreign policy related to Iran.

“If Americans know one thing about U.S.-Iran relations, it’s the (1979) hostage crisis,” Kinzer said.

He explained the importance of 1953 as the year U.S. covert intervention led to the overthrow of Iran’s then-prime minister, Mohammed Mosaddeq. This change in regime sparked a chain of events that led to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Iranian hostage crisis and the current strained relations between the countries, he said.

“When you violently intervene, it is like letting go of a wheel at the top of a hill,” Kinzer said. “You don’t know how it will roll.”

Parsi, an author and the president of the National Iranian American Council, focused on the impact negotiations would have with Iran. He said that in 2003, Iran proposed negotiations with the U.S., but President Bush’s administration gave no response.

“There is absolutely no guarantee that negotiations will work, but it’s un-American to not give them a chance,” Parsi said.

Parsi said it is important that people encourage their representatives to support House Bill 5056, the Iran Diplomatic Accountability Act of 2008. According to the Library of Congress, the bill calls for the appointment of a U.S. representative to Iran for the purpose of reducing tensions between the two countries.

Postcards that urged representatives to support the bill were given to the audience as a way to begin that communication.

For Tom Sager, a retired professor from Rolla, the chance to see Kinzer in person was what drew him to the event. When Sager heard about the event through his involvement in Mid-Missouri Peaceworks, he and his wife made the 90-minute trip to Columbia.

“I was very excited to hear that he would be so close,” Sager said. “He’s definitely one of my favorite writers. He’s very clear and concise.”

Lily Tinker Fortel, community outreach coordinator for Mid-Missouri Peaceworks, said she was excited by the turnout of the event, which she helped bring to Columbia.

“(U.S.-Iran relations) are really a pertinent issue,” Fortel said. “It was great to have the opportunity to have two experts here talking about an issue that is often times slighted by the mainstream media, but is obviously important to people.”

Matt Cone, who teaches an independent study class at Rock Bridge High School, heard about Friday’s event when he picked up copies of Kinzer’s books for his students. He and 11 students met with Kinzer for an hour Friday afternoon.

“My students really got a new perspective of the world,” Cone said. “They realized you should really look at conflicts before they occur.”

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