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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2489

Talking with the Satan

By Tukoji R. Pandit - Syndicate Features

At last some influential Americans have started to question the Bush administration’s aggressive posture against Iran. The chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, a Republican member, has said that he would like the US to engage Iran in direct talks over the thorny issue of Iranian nuclear programme. He also wants the US to talk Iran with both Russia and China, the two veto-armed members of the UN Security Council who have openly announced opposition to the US threat of getting the Security Council to impose sanctions against Tehran.

Assuming that Lugar’s views finally persuade President George W. Bush to agree to direct talks with Iran, it is certain that a positive response from Tehran may not be easily forthcoming. Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sounded as hawkish as Bush over since their countries opened verbal hostilities over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The Iranian president does not deserve any commendation for threatening the existence of Israel and questioning the Holocaust. Such words only strengthen the belief that his intentions are anything but peaceful.

Even Bush is not going to find it easy to jump at the opportunity offered by Lugar and those who support his view. After all Bush had received almost universal flak for adopting a unilateral approach to Iraq while now he is being confronted by some leaders of his own party with a request that he give up his preference for seeking a multilateral solution to the Iran nuclear issue.

But diplomacy does not and need not always be riveted to past. Iraq and Iran are separate issues, requiring different routes to find solutions. If Iraq has brought some lessons to Bush he will be unwise to repeat them in Iran. Bush and Ahmadinejad may have taken tough and apparently unbending positions but it does not mean they will not relent if they are really interested in resolving the crisis that has the potential to adversely affect not only Washington and Tehran but the rest of the world too.

It will be wrong to assume that Iran has no constituency for peace or leaders who would like to see their differences with the US settled through direct dialogue. The previous regime in Iran had left sufficient hints that it was ready to enter into a dialogue with Washington to resolve the bilateral problems between the two countries. The Iranians are well aware that a serious and prolonged confrontation with the US is not going to bring any particular long-term benefits to them. Any ‘retaliatory’ step that Iran contemplates like shutting off oil supplies to outside or non-Muslim world in response to a US provocation would only add to their isolation and all that flows from it.

It has to be seen how the US goes about the business of engaging Tehran in direct talks— if at all. An outright rejection of the suggestion from Lugar would add to the growing number of critics of US policies in the Middle East, both within the US and outside the country. If President Bush is willing to talk directly to Iran over the Iraq situation why should he shy away from talking to Iran over any other matter?

Of course, the only reason to say ‘no’ could be the argument that Iran has repeatedly ruled out any change in its programme to enrich uranium—the core of the problem. Iran’s contention is that its nuclear programme is meant to augment its energy supplies, though not many seem to believe that. Perhaps a window of opportunity has been provided here by an Iranian announcement that has otherwise not gone down well in Washington: Iran says it has succeeded in enriching weapons grade uranium.

Though Iran has always denied that its nuclear programme is designed to make the bomb, having claimed success in enriching weapons grade uranium Iran could perhaps be persuaded to halt, at least temporarily, its controversial nuclear programme. This ‘persuasion’ will have to come from friends of Iran, rather than the US. But once that happens, the way may be opened for direct talks between Iran and the US, the two countries, which have in the past had strong military alliances during much of the Cold War era.

Agencies like the UN, International Atomic Energy Agency, the group of three European nations engaged in efforts to dissuade Iran from continuing with its uranium enrichment programme have so far reported failure. These failures make it hard to pin much hope on any further multilateral approach, unless it can be said with certainty that UN-approved sanctions would be very effective. A minor question: will Russia and China agree to UN sanctions against Iran? What then is the harm in US trying out a unilateral approach?

It is important to note that while he has been busy issuing all kinds of threats to Iran, President Bush has also been pledging his faith in ‘diplomatic efforts’, which, of course, do not necessarily mean direct engagement with the ‘axis of evil’.

One option that Bush says is open but is clearly hesitant to use is the use of military force against Iran. With each day swelling the numbers of the critics of his Iraq policy, from not only ordinary Americans and US think tanks but also from the American security elite of former Generals, the chances of Bush agreeing to resolve the Iran imbroglio through armed intervention do not look imminent.

However, a quick ‘surprise’ attack on certain nuclear facilities in Iran can still not be ruled out—either by the US or by Israel with US backing. But again the question is: has the US assured itself that the consequences from such a course will not harm its global interests?

Iran has made no bones about the fact that it will do all it can to disturb the already precarious oil scenario which means that oil prices will crash through the $100 barrel ceiling—maybe reach $200 barrel. This will undoubtedly lead to disastrous consequences on world economy.

But for the US, a more threatening consequence will be destabilisation of an already unsettled Iraq. The so-called war on terror will have to be fought anew, the task manifold more difficult. The world’s sole super power will look more vulnerable than ever before.

- Syndicate Features -

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