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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2835

Spurning Iran’s Letter Diplomacy

The hastiness with which the United States has tossed away and almost refused to acknowledge the letter written to President George W. Bush Junior by his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is an indicator that Washington has no faith in ‘letter diplomacy’ and is not ready to give up the option of attacking Iran following the latter’s persistent refusal to stop its uranium enrichment programme.

The 18-page missive from Tehran might not have offered anything ‘new’, as the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, says, but its significance lay in the fact that it was the first direct communication from Iran’s head of state to his US counterpart since the 1979 crisis when US diplomats in Tehran were held hostage in their chancery for an incredibly long time by Iranian revolutionaries’.

The Americans thought the letter was just a ruse to further postpone action against Iran by the Security Council where the US diplomats are using all their skills and power to get a sanctions resolution passed against Iran. The fate of the resolution rests with the Russians and the Chinese who are unwilling to go along with the Americans clamour for a precipitate action against Iran. That makes the US more desperate because it feels time is running out. If Tehran presents ‘the bomb’ as a fait accompli then there is little anybody can do to roll back the ‘genie’.

Much of the rambling letter from Ahmadinejad that talks of religion, philosophy and history may not be relevant to the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme. Many analysts have also wondered if Ahmadinejad wrote the letter on his own initiative or it was an amanuensis assignment taken on behalf of another centre of power in his country before transmitting it to Washington. It can barely be denied that while the majority in Iran seem to be backing Ahmadinejad’s ‘confrontation’ with the US, there are sections keen to see tempers cool down in the interest of Iran.

The exercise taken by the ‘hard-line’ Iranian president, whether voluntarily or on someone else’s behalf, had kindled some hope which would have gathered force had it been followed by some kind of formal recognition by the US. The Americans and the Iranians have not been talking to each other for long and here was a chance to break that impasse. Even the recent announcement that the two countries would talk Iraq—and nothing else—has also not made much headway so far. While President Bush has been hawkish on Iran, he has also been saying that he would like the Iran controversy sorted out diplomatically, before looking for other options.

The Iranian president’s letter may not have touched upon the issue that has raised the possibility of another war in an already volatile region, but the Americans could have still used the opportunity to open a direct line of communication with the Iranians, instead of talking through proxies. Washington could have stated, for instance, that a developing ‘pen-friendship’ between the two presidents should be used to thrash out their differences rather then dwell on esoteric subjects and lessons in history and religion.

There is, of course, no guarantee that an American acknowledgement would have elicited an appropriate response from Ahmadinejad. It is likely that the Iranian leader would have taken advantage of the American reply to start a lengthy round of polemics. But that sort of tactic would have gone against Ahmadinejad who like Bush already suffers from some image problem for making remarks like questioning Israel’s right to exist and describing the Holocaust as fiction. On the other hand, an American response to his letter might have shown that the Bush administration is willing to come out of the box approach and ready for fresh efforts to talk to Iran directly in order to resolve the long-standing enrichment issue.

The neocons who rule Washington apparently prefer the option of attacking Iran for its continuous refusal to heed to appeals by the UN and its nuclear watchdog. They say that prolonged ‘inaction’ carries its own risks. Yet, the neocons cannot be unaware of the consequences of a military intervention in Iran. Had it not been for this fear, the US would have launched a ‘pre-emptive’ strike against Teheran long time back.

Perhaps sadder and wiser after ‘misadventure’ in Iraq, the US has to give more consideration to the pros and cons of attacking Iran and the grounds on which it will be justified. There is almost no chance that Iran will pre-empt the Americans by launching an armed attack on the American soil. So there can be no retaliatory action by the US in ‘self-defence’. But the US could still attack Iran, referring to the ‘imminent’ threat that Iran poses to Israel. The UN recognises Israel’s right to exist, and all members of the UN are expected to subscribe to that view.

Frankly, all the White House rhetoric against Iran suggests that more than its desire to defend Israel against a deemed threat to its existence, the US thinks that its doctrine of pre-emptive strike is just an extension of the UN-sanctioned principle of self-defence. Any precipitate action will multiply American problems in the Muslim world, where its popularity is already at its nadir, if it is seen as invading a Muslim country on behalf of Israel. And most of the non-Muslim world is also unhappy with the American policy of ‘intervention’ in other countries.

Aware of this ground reality, the US is working on a Security Council resolution that will ‘punish’ Tehran with sanctions. This may help in selling the option of war on Iran only as a ‘last resort’. But how effective will sanctions be?

Assuming that Iran is brought under sanctions what will happen is that top officials of Iran may not be allowed to travel abroad freely and the supplies of military hardware to Tehran will be officially banned. Iran may also face some trade restrictions. But Iran has repeatedly said that it will not be deterred by sanctions. Many analysts also believe that Iran will be able to bear whatever pain sanctions bring to it.

On the flip side, it can be said that sanctions or military intervention by the US will make Iran more intransigent than it appears today. Iran has already threatened to quit the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT). After sanctions or any sterner action Iran will find further justification for using its enriched uranium for a nuclear weapons programme.

- Syndicate Features -

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