Tuesday night at Asia Society New York, author and journalist Christopher de Bellaigue spoke with Asia Society Vice President of Global Policy Programs Suzanne DiMaggio about his latest book, Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Tragic Anglo-American Coup, in which he revisits the 1953 American-led, British-backed coup that deposed Iran's democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh.
In the following highlights from the event, Bellaigue explains how the coup not only impacted the Iranian political scene but also changed the Western balance of power in the region. As British power and influence were already waning by 1953, they needed American help to overthrow President Mossadegh. But contrary to British expectations, the United States emerged as the more dominant power in the Middle East following this event.
Drawing on parallels between Mossadegh and present-day President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Bellaigue notes that the Islamic Republic continues to appeal to Iranian nationalist sentiment by drawing on the idea of something's being "non-negotiable" — such as the country's perceived right to nuclear power — because it represents honor or dignity.
Another interesting point Bellaigue makes is that the only way American officials can ever hope to understand what Iranians mean by respect is by "spending time with the Iranians, is by having a relationship, is by having a kabob with them and chilling out and actually working out what makes these people think." His recommendation seems especially important in light of the upcoming P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran.
Video: Highlights from Christopher de Bellaigue's Asia Society talk (11 min., 6 sec.)