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US 'how to' guide on talking to Iran – in 1979 – emerges from WikiLeaks

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The cable posits that, “Perhaps the single dominant aspect of the Persian psyche is an overriding egoism” stemming from the “long Iranian history of instability and insecurity which put a premium on self-preservation.” The result, the cable says, is “an almost total Persian preoccupation with self and leaves little room for understanding points of view other than one’s own.”

A time of little love for Americans

The Aug. 13, 1979, cable came at a time of great change in Iran, and little sympathy for Americans, when Islamic revolutionaries had toppled the pro-West Shah and were consolidating their power. Militant students had already once made their way into the US Embassy in February – and been forced to leave. “Death to America” was a common slogan; US flags were increasingly burned.

In that troubled milieu, the cable portrays Iranians as almost impossible to deal with or even to befriend, and as acting irrationally at times with a “socalled ‘bazaar mentality’ so common among Persians, a mind-set that often ignores longer term interests in favor of immediately obtainable advantages and countenances practices that are regarded as unethical by other norms.”

More than a few Iranians might not recognize themselves in the two-page description. But among the “lessons,” the cable concludes: “Finally, one should be prepared for the threat of breakdown in negotiations at any given moment…. Given the Persian negotiator’s cultural and psychological limitations, he is going to resist the very concept of a rational (from the Western point of view) negotiating process.”

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