Transcript: Ambassador Andrew J. Young Speech at AIC Met Event

Ambassador Andrew J. Young Keynote Address

Delivered at the American Iranian Council Policy & Fundraising Event

The Metropolitan Club- June 20, 2016

This speech is something I asked for.  I asked for it because it’s been a concern of mine since the very first days that I went to the United Nations.  Now, Iran was not my business, but I had a classmate from the Harvard Theological Seminary who had lived and worked in that region since I went to Georgia in 1954. He went to the Middle East.  He was fluent in all the languages.

So when I went to the United Nations, I said “look, can’t you send me some of your papers, some of your notes, some of your lectures.”  He happened to be on sabbatical at Harvard. He said, ”You know I don’t have any but why don’t I start trying to write up something.”

He ended up writing 300 pages.  But the first 20 pages were about Iran.  I had been to Iran with a fellow who I consider my mentor George Shultz who was Secretary of Treasury then and we were on the way to Kenya.

And we spent a day or so sightseeing and were hosted royally, to say the least.  And so when my friend gave me this paper he said please don’t let anybody read it.  Because I have lived in this region now for almost 40 years and I was very honest with you and if my friends knew what I was saying, it would get me in a whole lot of trouble.  When I read the first few pages about Iran and the Shah, I called him and I said look, I’d like to just take those pages out and give them to President Carter. And that was my first national security council meeting. And I think we’re beyond the deadline now where I can talk about it.  [laughter]

Because all I have to say is that everyone laughed at what he said.  And what he said was that if you and Carter are serious about human rights, you need to start with Iran.  And you need to give the Shah more support and really you need to take a look at the parliamentary undergirding of his rule.  The middle class is alienated and they need to be involved in keeping the country stable.

Well that was my first experience with our national security mechanism.  And they laughed.  There was no problem. Everything was fine with the Shah.  In fact he was stronger than ever before.  What I didn't realize was that the only thing they were looking at was the Tudeh party.  And that they were not sensitive to everything else that was going on.  You know that at that time there were probably more students from Iran in this country than from any other country in the world.  In the 70’s.

And those students were going back with new ideas.  They were not anti-American ideas; they were not even anti-Shah ideas. They were ideas about developing their country.  Now, that didn't work. You know what happened. But I’ve never forgotten that.

And the one thing I have tried to do in everything that I face is.. Takes me back to the WWII cultural anthem.. You all remember the Andrews sisters?  Andrews sisters.. You got to accentuate the positive.  Eliminate the negative.  Latch on to the affirmative and don’t mess with mister in-between.  And so I’ve always tended to look at countries that way. And life that way.  Ask not why things are the way they are, as Robert Kennedy said, but ask how you can make them as they can be.

And.. I do a lot of reading in my travels since I got an Ipad with big enough print to let me see. [laughter]   And I’ve run into a number of books that have shaped my view of what’s going on in the world.  And one of the revenge of geography.  And when you look at the geography of the region, clearly Iran is the dominant geographic force in the entire region. And politics can't change that.  If you look at population. You can’t change that. It can only increase. And…

Then I read a little book called Going to Tehran by a woman who had been with Rumsfeld when he gave weapons to Saddam Hussein to invade Iran.  And she was a top level State Department person to get in that room and her husband was the head of the CIA.  And everything I read that they said basically documented all of the things that America has done to Iran and little or nothing about what Iran has done to the United States.  [applause]

I don’t want to be cynical.  But … then I started thinking about this election. And I started thinking about what is it in this world that can be solved without bluster and with macho egocentric force.  Absolutely nothing.  That by and large anything that we do and anything that we have done, has started with the respect for people who disagree.

Now I went to South Africa in 1970. And in 1974 everybody was convinced that there was certain to be a bloodbath. I went with Arthur Ashe to a tennis tournament where he was playing tennis and they sat us in the government box.  So for a solid week I’m sitting there with the South African government officials, the people who had supported Adolf Hitler, the people who were lynching and killing and who were scared to death, and yet sitting there with them for a whole week I decided you know these people are not as bad as everybody thinks.  They’re scared.

And I spent most of my time that week assuring them that I knew not Nelson Mandela, but I knew his wife, I knew his children, I knew the schools that had educated him, I knew the missionaries that taught people in Mozambique and Zimbabwe and Namibia, and I said you know we can work this out.  And at that time they didn’t believe me.  But I spent my time spinning visions of possibilities. And I said “what if,” and everything that I said “what if”... they said “that would be alright. That would be fine.” And it was that everybody was thinking only of the worst case scenario.  And when someone suggested that there was a better scenario that was easily as workable and far more profitable, they jumped at the opportunity.

Now it took us from ‘74 to ‘94 to make it happen, but I said if we had not started dreaming impossible dreams in the 70’s we probably would not have had the 80s and the 90s as peaceful in southern Africa as they have been. And in spite of all of the problems the stable democracy is not perfect, but companies are doing business, people are prospering and society is moving on.

Now, that makes me believe that if we can do it in Africa and if we can do it in the deep south, which I frankly thought was worse than Arica when I was growing up. [laughter]  And that turned out to be wrong.  It turned out in Atlanta that the business community and the black community realized that they had more in common than people who were afraid of the future. And so there is a coalition of the business community and the intellectuals at Atlanta University that have by and large called the shots in Atlanta since before us.

End result, Atlanta has grown from less than a million to now six and a half million. That we’re building... already have the world’s busiest airport and we’re adding another six and a half billion dollars of construction to it with a G concourse.  That’s a terminal for the super big 380’s or whatever they are. And a sixth runway and a hotel.

And the mayor sat down with the president of Delaware, and they signed an agreement period. No discussion in the press. No arguments. No fuss. Why?  Because that’s about the 10th time we’ve done that. And that 20 to 25 billion dollars that we put in that airport… in 2014, generated over 40 billion dollars and almost half a million jobs. So everybody sees, and it didn’t cost the taxpayers a penny.  We did not use taxpayer money. We used tax exempt municipal bonds. And we found a way to get people to bring their money out of the so-called safe havens and invest it because they were getting a better return with us.

And all we had to do was promise, and live up to the promise, that to do business in Atlanta your business will be safe.  Nobody’s going to take it from you. Your business will be honest. Nobody is going to cheat you and you don’t have to bribe anybody.  And your business is going to be efficient.  And because we could guarantee those three simple things, pretty effectively, the money has just flooded in.

When I first said this in 1980’s, at a meeting of our bankers, they said “well.. where the hell did that crazy nut come from?” And I said well you know…  “watch.”  And we went to Germany and we brought German business. And we went to Holland and we brought Dutch business in. And before we knew it we now have 2200 German companies in metropolitan Atlanta.  And they’re not costing us anything; we’re not overtaxing them.

They found a good place to do business with brilliant people and hardworking people that have learned to live together in spite of the fact that some are black, some are white, some are Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Jew, some are gay some are straight and nobody bothers anybody else’s business, and we work together on the things on which we agree.

I am convinced that for the world to survive that has to happen between three improbable partners.  And that would be Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel.  That if any one of them collapses, the economy of the world will have great difficulties.

And maybe most important Saudi Arabia, because there are so many young people and the mosques and madrassas that they have established around Africa… if they are not guided well from Mecca and Medina then there is no telling what might happen.

Africa is supposedly going to have four and a half billion people by the turn of the century. There will be a billion Nigerians.  The land is far from developed.  And it has the capacity... I mean nobody in America is worried about the Chinese, not because .. they are not concerned, but they see such wealth; they see such great expanses of land and people, that they feel like they can come in late and compete.

I’m saying though that I wish we could believe that it’s possible for us as Martin Luther King said, “We have to learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will perish together as fools.” I am convinced that this institution, this organization is one of the key features in helping us in that region, not to solve problems and not to get into anybody else’s business, but simply to keep the American public and the state department and correct American intelligence when it is misinformed….

And when you pay for intelligence, you usually get what you pay for.   And that’s not necessarily true, when my friend here came back with her mother and said to me in the last election there were more women elected than there were clergy.  I said that’s phenomenal for that region... but I haven’t seen a word about it in the press. I haven't seen anybody… but because the key for Saudi Arabia..  I won't get into their politics, but you cannot develop a country with only half of its brainpower. And its wisdom. [applause]

And insofar as Iran becomes more and more open to the diversity of its country and celebrates its differences however is not my business, but it is necessary that we keep peace. There is another little book (inaudible) that scares me.  That makes this challenge something we can’t escape. It’s Jim Clifton of Gallup polls. Wrote a book about the coming jobs role.  And when he wrote it there were 1.2 billion jobs serving 6 billion people on the planet. By now there are close to 7 billion people on the planet.  But jobs are not growing.  The answer to wars is jobs.  

And as we create jobs, as we feed hungry people, as we find ways to preserve and protect our environment, we can have peace and prosperity through what Jimmy Carter and I call the “politics of respect.”  We’re not always right, but we respect differences and we listen to what people have to say and we try as much as possible to accommodate their needs. Maybe not their wishes but certainly their needs. And if we can accommodate eachother’s needs, we can create jobs, and I can't think of a greater and better job creator on the planet.

I mean, if I have to put Iran, right now, up against any country in Europe, Iran is clearly going to be the winner.  With the appropriate capital access and the appropriate technology… not for weapons, but for feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, preserving the water.  And protecting the life, the wildlife and resources that God has blessed you with.

And so that’s why I came to say, “Please count me as part of your team and anything I can do to move with you toward peace on this planet. I think it’s well worth the rest of my life.”  I turn 85 in a couple of months.. And .. well… a little more than a couple of months... I’m feeling 85....[laughter]... in my knees.

But I figured I’ve got 15 years, and some of the things we’re doing through our foundation are directly related to this, though they have nothing to do with this.  We’re trying to teach farmers my age to grow as much food in a room this size aquaponically as they used to be able to grow in in 10 acres of dirt.  And its possible to do it and it’s possible to do it with much less energy and much less expense, and it’s possible to do it almost anywhere in the world. That the climate is warm…. You know, at least half the year.

And so….. I’ll close with an old spiritual, which says “let's walk together children and don't you get weary because there is a great camp meeting in the promised land.” God bless you.


Kayvon Afshari

Kayvon Afshari managed the campaign to elect Hooshang Amirahmadi as President of Iran. In this role, he directed the campaign’s event planning, publicity, online social media, web analytics, and delivered speeches. Mr. Afshari has also been working at the CBS News foreign desk for over five years. He has coordinated coverage of Iran’s 2009 post-election demonstrations, the Arab Spring, the earthquake in Haiti, and many other stories of international significance. He holds a Master in International Relations from New York University’s Department of Politics, and graduated with distinction from McGill University in 2007 with a double major in political science and Middle Eastern studies. At NYU, his research focused on quantitative analysis and the Middle East with an emphasis on US-Iran relations. In his 2012 Master’s thesis, he devised a formula to predict whether Israel would launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, concluding that an overt strike would not materialize.