IMAGE: Maggie Gardner
The resident Iran expert is Cyrus Partovi, a 63-year-old senior lecturer at Lewis & Clark since 1992. The Iranian-born Partovi earned his expertise in part as the foreign affairs director general (the equivalent in the U.S. of assistant secretary of state) of the Shah’s Department of the Imperial Court before the Shah’s ouster in 1979.
WW asked Partovi four questions about what his adopted country of citizenship could do to make peace with his native country, and one question about his background with the Shah.
Should U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have met with her Iranian counterpart last week at the international conference both attended in Egypt?
Partovi says there’s “no problem opening a dialogue with one’s enemies. We did it with the Soviets. I am all for it, as long as we follow Ronald Reagan’s motto: Trust but verify.” He adds that Iran’s existence in the Persian Gulf region can’t be denied, but the U.S. needs to change Iran’s behavior. “So we talk and tell them what we have said publicly: don’t interfere in Lebanon, don’t help Hamas, don’t help the insurgency in Iraq, obey United Nations Security Council resolutions...and stop suppressing the Iranian people,” Partovi says.
Why has Iran been more aggressive recently with the West?
He considers it largely a diversion to rally Iranians after the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed two resolutions opposing Iran’s nuclear program. And Partovi says it’s intended to send a “clear message to the dissatisfied Arab masses that Iran is now the leading power confronting Israel and the West.”
How worried should we be about Iran?
Partovi says Iran is no joke when it comes to threats to world peace. He characterizes the country as “an oil-rich Shiite theocracy” and compares current president president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to “another demented mind who in the 1930s rose to power in Germany.” He also notes that Iran can block the Straits of Hormuz—a narrow 21-mile stretch between Oman and Iran that is an open sea passage for petroleum-exporting countries. Twenty percent of the world’s oil passes through the pivotal strait.
Should the U.S. declare another “pre-emptive” war?
“This is exactly what Iranian policy makers want,” says Partovi. He sees such a scenario as ripe for Iranian leaders to exploit and manipulate their people’s strong nationalism.
Why should we be taking advice from a guy who was on the wrong side of history with the Shah, whom most Americans remember as a despot?
Partovi unabashedly argues that his former boss was on the right side of history, and makes no apologies for working in a government that human rights critics at the time said killed and imprisoned thousands of people. Although not perfect, the Shah, Partovi contends, “was far more concerned about women’s rights and the prosperity of the average Iranian than the clerics who followed him.” He also adds that the Shah helped contain the Soviet Union, which, Partovi says, eventually led to its collapse.
CORRECTION: The man in the photo that ran with the print version of this story was not Cyrus Partovi. WW apologizes for the error.