Sunday, April 23, 2006

Iran's Letter deserves US attention

Iran’s letter deserves U.S. attention

By Ghassan Rubeiz -- The Arab American News:

One wonders why Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would, out of the blue, call upon the President of the United States to live up to Christian values, to be morally fair, to reflect on the true motives behind Iraq’s occupation and to have sympathy for the Palestinian cause. The Iranian President's eighteen-page letter of May 9 to President Bush was a long interfaith and social justice sermon. Its real intent, however, was probably to contain the damage of Ahmadinejad’s negative international diplomacy.
Iranians do not doubt for a moment their rights to venture into nuclear energy development, but they may have recently realized that their emotional president has weakened the nation’s case for nuclear energy. His unnecessary remarks about Israel’s existence and "Satanic" U.S. hegemony have positioned him, in image, next to Saddam Hussein, the late Idi Amin and the younger Mu’ammar Qaddafi.
When President Ahmadinejad expressed his outrageous wish to "wipe Israel off the map" and questioned the historical validity of the Holocaust, he surprised the world, even the Arab community. And without realizing it, he made himself and his nation highly vulnerable to political opponents who had for several decades desired regime change in Iran. The rhetoric of this inter-culturally naïve president was the political equivalence of a series of simultaneous "Jihadi" suicide attacks.
Iran’s unexpected verbal assault on Israel was not only politically unwise and morally wrong; it offered a political plum to Israel and U.S. hard-liners. His unfortunate anti-Semitic verbiage weakened the argument for Iran to advance its nuclear power planning. His verbal attacks made it easier for Iran’s adversaries to paint the regime as a rogue state.
It is as if Ahmadinejad's volatility has opened a moral bankruptcy account for Iran, and its main adversaries have been cashing in politically on Iran’s diplomatic credit decline. Hawkish Israeli and American decision-makers have already started planning for Iran’s regime change through sanctions or military force; even a nuclear attack on Iran is not ruled out.
It took Iran several months to realize that its president's rhetoric is hurting its nuclear planning, weakening further the Middle East peace process and diverting world attention from the U.S. debacle in Iraq. Not only is the U.S. leading a political campaign to abort Iran’s nuclear enrichment, Israel is getting bolder in its unilateralism by dictating territorial peace terms to the Palestinians.
Is the unexpected Iranian letter an attempt to start normalizing the country’s diplomacy? Has the more sober side of the Iranian rulers pressured Ahmadinejad to send a letter to the world (through Washington) that was conciliatory? Is the document a sign for a desire to change the climate of negotiations?
Though the letter does not respond to the nuclear issue directly, it could be viewed as a new opportunity for comprehensive dialogue amongst Iran, the Arab World and the U.S. Mohammad El Baradie, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has hinted to the U.S. that Iran is seeking a regional approach to deal with hard core issues. Turkey’s president has recently declared that only diplomacy can resolve the nuclear crisis of the region. But the U.S. has no patience for Iran’s increasingly assertive position and for regional contrasting voices. The U.S. has unfortunately ignored the letter.
Experts are divided on whether the dismissal of the letter was wise. Those who support its rejection focus on the letter’s exact substance. But those who favor a serious response from the U.S. administration would appreciate the connection between the nuclear factor and Iran’s regional issues, which are candidly raised in the document.
For too long, the U.S. has myopically preferred to treat the problems of the Middle East in isolation, one by one and step by step. To the Palestine problem the U.S. assigns an illusory "roadmap;" to Iraq, western democracy building; to Syria and Hizbullah a threatening U.N. resolution; to Islamic fundamentalism, neo-crusader militarism. Are any of these policies working? The failing record is clear to most observers.
Do we need then a new foreign policy that is fair, consistent, regional and integrated? Do we need a foreign policy that admits costly U.S. mistakes and that treats adversaries with more respect?
Experts who do not see the need for basic change in U.S. foreign policy would advocate ignoring the letter from Iran. The letter deserves appropriate cultural interpretation and political contextualization. It can be used as a segue to a wider regional process of conflict resolution.

The author, a Lebanese American, is former Director of Middle East Desk of the World Council of Churches. He can be reached Grubeiz@adelphia.net

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