Thursday, June 22, 2006

Bush forces Europe to take a stand on Iran

Vladimir Simonov
- Washington seems to be teasing Iran with a carrot and a stick.

In a surprise move on May 31, it agreed to join the direct talks between Iran, Russia, China, and the European Trio (France, Britain and Germany) if Tehran verifiably suspended its uranium enrichment program. U.S. administration moderates, led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, had convinced Congress to make one more, last, attempt to solve the Iranian crisis diplomatically.

It was the biggest American step yet towards a more reasonable policy regarding Iran. Before that, Washington had been avoiding direct contacts with Tehran since 1979, when radical Iranian students took the staff of the U.S. embassy hostage.

But on June 19 President George Bush again showed Iran a stick. He said: "If Iran's leaders reject our offer, it will result in action before the [UN] Security Council, further isolation from the world, and progressively stronger political and economic sanctions."

He was obviously referring to the offer put forth by the six world powers negotiating with Iran - the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany - which Javier Solana, the European Union's High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, took to Tehran on June 6.

Sources say the package is generous and substantial. Iran is promised light-water reactors, deliveries of enriched uranium, and U.S. spare parts for civilian aircraft, as well as support for Iran's membership in the World Trade Organization and access to American agricultural technology.

Moreover, as some sources claim, the package includes an almost unprecedented promise to let Iran continue independent uranium enrichment programs for research purposes under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Bush assessed Iran's initial reaction to the offer as promising. On June 19, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad again said in the presence of top officials of his government that the package was "a step forward" and that Iran was considering its response.

Why then did the U.S. president publicly shake the stick on the same day, darkening the future of talks at a very delicate moment?

His harsh rhetoric was most likely directed at Europe, not at Tehran. Bush wants to strengthen U.S.-European unity on Iran and suspects that Tehran is searching for loopholes in trans-Atlantic solidarity. He insisted shortly before the U.S.-EU Vienna summit in June that the United States, the EU, Russia and China unanimously agreed that the latest package of offers was a historical chance for Iran.

Bush is right in that unity has been attained, but will it last?

The American president knows very well that Iran's rejection of the offer would again create a deep divide between the U.S. on one hand and Europe, Russia, and China on the other, forcing them to again discuss additional sanctions or, God forbid, the use of military force.

Bush's phrase about "progressively stronger political and economic sanctions" and Iran's "further isolation from the world" was designed to remind the 5+1 countries, especially the European ones, that they needed unity at the diplomatic stage and even more so if the crisis is aggravated.

The U.S. administration's vacillation between reasonable patience and fits of hostility against Iran largely depends on who has the White House's ear - the neoconservatives from Vice President Dick Cheney's and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld's teams, or the "peacemakers" rallied around Condi Rice.

However, few people know that both groups are seeking - and getting - the assistance of two of America's ethnic communities, which are playing a growing role in the U.S. policy vis-a-vis Iran.

The pro-Israeli lobby in Congress and the White House insists that diplomatic efforts will not succeed. They say that the Islamic radicals who have come to power in Iran do not understand the language of arguments that are not backed by a show of force.

In the last few months, this faction has leaked an alarming rumor that Israel, which bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, is planning a new air strike against Iranian targets. The Pentagon and intelligence strategists are using this information - or misinformation - to tell U.S. officials that Israel should not be forced to the boiling point, and that the U.S. should plan the operation itself and carry it out with surgical precision.

The big, wealthy and highly educated Iranian diaspora in America has taken the opposite stance.

For 20 years after the Islamic revolution, Iranian immigrants in America had been the biggest haters of the Tehran regime. But they have grown old and politically weary, and are handing over the levers of influence to their sons and grandsons, who were brought up in the U.S. and feel partly American.

The younger Iranian Americans say Washington should hold direct talks with Tehran. "We're not saying you have to love the Islamic regime," they tell U.S. officials, "you only have to switch from the language of threats to ordinary language." According to them, talks would be less silly, expensive and self-destructive for the U.S. than one more war in the Middle East.

It appears that the Bush administration shares these sentiments - so far. But there are two scenarios for the future of the Iranian nuclear fuel crisis.

The first scenario is optimistic: Tehran accepts the offer, though irritatingly slowly and with numerous detours to the accompaniment of tedious, and often aggressive, rhetoric. The crisis is settled, everyone is happy.

Moscow shares this cautious optimism. At their recent meeting in Shanghai, Russia's President Vladimir Putin told Ahmadinejad: "All countries, including Iran, have a right to implement their plans in the high technology sphere to benefit their development." But their moves towards this end should not spur "the international community's non-proliferation concerns."

Moscow's initiative to create a joint uranium enrichment venture could be instrumental in this sense, the Russian president said. He had a positive view of the results of his meeting with Ahmadinejad, and said the Iranian president was ready to discuss the latest offer with the six powers.

After recent talks with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, Putin said the Iranian nuclear problem could be returned to the oversight of the International Atomic Energy Agency, preventing the UN Security Council from taking punitive measures against Tehran.

Iran respects Russia's efforts, as exemplified by Ahmadinejad's statement in Shanghai: "If not for the bilateral cooperation (between Russia and Iran), the situation in the region would have exploded."

However, the above factors do not rule out the possibility of the second, pessimistic scenario. Tehran may refuse to budge, giving American neoconservatives an airtight argument in favor of a military solution. If Russia and China attempt to block sanctions in the Security Council, the hawkish wing of the U.S. administration might insist that the United States and its allies should act outside the UN legal framework. If they fail to attain their goal, they might demand a unilateral surgical strike on a limited number of Iranian targets.

According to the AFP news agency, Javier Solana informed Tehran that its answer was expected no later than June 29, when the G8 foreign ministers are to meet in Moscow. The moment of truth is less
than a week away.
source:ria novosti
posted by ali ghannadi-irannuk


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