Thursday, April 13, 2006

Is a new approach to Iran possible?

Is A New US Approach to Iran Possible?

Arab American News
April 13, 2006



The world community is watching what the Security Council will do at the end of April, when Iran’s deadline to comply with the UN demand to halt covert Uranium refinement expires? UN sanctions are not easy to impose, given the Sino Russian resistance to punitive measures against Iran, an economic ally.
The US and Israel are observing Iran’s emerging status as a prospective nuclear power with great concern. Despite April 17 shocking revelation ( “Would President Bush Go to war to stop Tehran from getting the Bomb?” ) of Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker, both countries are well aware that a military strike at the Iranian nuclear sites is technically difficult and may precipitate a diplomatic Tsunami in the region.
To appreciate the complexity of the current crisis that Iran poses to the US, Europe and Israel, read Kenneth Pollack’s book, The Persian Puzzle (Random House 2005).
Pollack advocates a three-tier foreign policy for the US on Iran’s developing crisis: first, “a big bargain”, i.e. intensive negotiation leading to normalization of relations between the two countries. In addition to this big “bargain approach”, Pollack recommends two simultaneously active alternatives for the US policy: the threat of escalating sanctions and the threat of a military attack on Iran’s nuclear installations. The question remains how can the US integrate deep and honest diplomacy, on one hand, and sanctions or war on the other, the best selling author, Pollack , does not manage to explain well.

The US has not acknowledged Iran’s emerging political status yet. Iran today, enjoys formidable political power in the Middle East. This country is a prime mover in Iraq (Shiite power) a player in Afghanistan recovery (border country), an ally of Syria and a close partner of Hamas and of Hezbollah. Moreover, increased oil revenues have reinforced its government’s influence within and outside its borders. Iran is also a leader of the Shiite political revival. It claims ascendancy in Islamic statehood ideology and resistance against Westernization, not modernization. In the Muslim world, Iran today, outranks Egypt, Turkey, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, in political influence.

Facing so much difficulty in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US may have to radically shift its Iran and larger Middle East policy. A visionary US foreign policy requires three new elements: intense high level dialogue with the Iranian regime, a creative program of exchange with Iranian society and a fair response to Iranian related Middle East trouble spots.

There are plenty of reasons for the US to dislike the post Shah Iranian autocratic regimes: e.g. the hostage ordeal, support of militia activities abroad, militant theocracy and vociferous anti Israel politics. Similarly, Iranians, have their own reasons to dislike American policies. The US is seen as an imperialist power. There is wide evidence showing US strong meddling in internal Iranian affairs over the last six decades. The US military shadow over Iran is heavy. As a punitive measure, since the mid nineties, the US legislators have placed selective sanctions on trade with Iran. The US trade sanctions have not worked well since many countries have mutual interest in dealing with this oil producing country. The US has demonized Iran since the Hostage crisis.
Neither the US or Iran can fairly claim that their crisis today is solely caused by the other side. US dialogue with Iran may need to be secretive, comprehensive and bilateral. It should cover at least the following issues: nuclear development, Iraq’s stability, Middle East peace, Hezbollah and Hamas. There is now too much pride and rage on both sides to allow face to face candid and comprehensive dialogue.
But insecurity softens pride. If Iraq turns into a deeper quagmire, US reconciliation with Iran may become a priority. And if the Iranian rulers run into a growing domestic crisis, they may seek accommodation with the US. Dialogue does not look like a realistic option now.

The second dimension for a new diplomacy is fostering international cultural exchange with the people of Iran. The US is not building sound socio cultural ties with internal Iranian reformers. Instead of encouraging Iranian people to people exchange, the US is slowing cultural, economic and educational sharing with Iran. If the Soviet transition to democracy is a model, containment of the Islamic regime would allow time and opportunity for the reformers to mobilize. Given appropriate Western support, Iranian society has a promising potential for generating a new post Khomeini revolution, blending authentic Islam with modernity, separating the state from religious authority without total secularization. One can not predict the pace and quality of social change in a transitional society like Iran. But Iran remains an excellent candidate for achieving a future Islamic renaissance, given its historical experience with freedom, its youthful demography, intellectual aspirations and rich economic resources.

Iran is at the political nerve center of the Middle East. US foreign policy should alter its approach to other urgent problems in the region in order to restore harmony between the US and the Arabs, and with Iran.
Accelerating departure from Iraq will help enhance America’s relations in the region. Coordinated planning with Iran to enhance Iraq’s future stability would be a confidence building measure. Reviving the Arab Israeli peace process is crucial. Through a US rejuvenated Middle East peace process that includes the Syrian Golan Heights, Hezbollah and Hamas may be enticed to integrate their militias in the national armies of Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority, respectively.

Ironically, the US foreign policy in the Middle East has significantly strengthened Iran thus creating a precarious American-Persian power tension. For its own survival and for the region’s wellbeing, the current US Administration needs a new Middle East peace “road map” that runs through Tehran.

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