Saturday, June 17, 2006

Iran's engagement with America

Published: 06/16/2006 12:00 AM (UAE)


By Tanvir Ahmad Khan

nuclear iran--Against a backdrop of widespread speculation that Iran and the United States were inexorably drifting into at least a limited military conflict, Washington's announcement that it was ready to join negotiations within the framework of the dialogue between the three European powers (EU3) and Tehran on the nuclear question was nothing short of dramatic.

That the offer was still conditional upon Iran suspending nuclear enrichment activities did not seem to detract from its impact; the only grey area was whether it was a change of tactics or of the basic objectives of Washington's Iran policy.

At the primary level, the United States could simply be responding positively to growing demands from Europe and an influential group of concerned American experts and legislators with a vast experience of foreign and security policies that the Bush administration should step back from confrontation and give diplomacy a chance.

The main argument was that negotiations through the proxy of EU3 could not adequately address Iran's fundamental concerns, especially the threat posed to its security by Washington's policy of a regime change in Tehran and the continued denial to it of its rightful place in the commerce of nations.

The five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany were also increasingly pushing for a package of incentives including cooperation in nuclear power production with guaranteed supply of fuel from outside Iran.

This package has since been delivered to Iran where the preliminary response classifies its proposals as acceptable, ambiguous and unacceptable. Nevertheless, Tehran confirms that it can be the basis for substantive parleys.

The initiative from Washington may, however, reflect a deeper review of the regional situation and its likely impact on the fortunes of the Republican Party in the November elections. While a diminishing group around President Bush continues to justify and rationalise current policy, pressure for a change has been steadily building up within the party.

In fact, there is a growing perception that the doctrines driving the policy of the administration with an almost theological zeal have been shown up by events as deeply flawed and need to be reconsidered. These critics of the present policy seem to have found resonance at least in Condoleezza Rice.

The foremost determining event is none other than the terrible mess in Iraq. For quite some time, the unintended consequences of the occupation have dwarfed the planned achievements. The concept of a federal Iraq is increasingly battered by sub-regional armies, sectarian militias and terrorist groups.

Nobody truly expects the death of Al Qaida leader in Iraq, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, to reduce the mayhem. Organised forces such as the battle hardened army of Kurdistan and the Mahdi militia have their own domestic and international agendas.

Spate of warnings

Analysts on both sides of the Atlantic have issued a spate of warnings that the new configuration of power favours Iran. It has played a deft hand particularly by resisting the temptation to make things much worse for the United States in Iraq.

The interest it has taken in Iraq's turmoil has been studied and calibrated. Its capability to exploit the situation on a much bigger scale has, apparently, not been lost on Washington.

Nor would the United States have missed the gains made by Hezbollah in Lebanon as a consequence of the Syrian pull-out from there. In fact, in a large swathe of territory from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean, Iran is the only rising power.

Viewed from Islamabad, the dynamics of the situation in the Middle East warrant a strategic decision by the United States, as, indeed, by the regional states to engage separately but constructively with Iran with a comprehensive agenda that goes far beyond the nuclear issue.

It means immediate cessation of the demonisation of Iran and an end to plans of a regime change engineered through overt or covert outside intervention. On its part, Iran must live up to its oft repeated promise of being a responsible regional power.

It must be recognised that it constantly reassures its neighbours the latest occasion being the visit to Egypt of Ali Larijani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council that it has a vital stake in regional stability and cooperation.

Once a great empire, Iran is now a developing republic, the demographic profile of which is dominated by its youth whose expectations can be ignored only at great peril. It has, therefore, a vital stake in breaking out of a perennial state of siege.

Given the right terms, it would seek a rapprochement with the United States. On its part, the sole superpower of our times may well be beginning to realise that Iran can help bring stability to a volatile and tortured region.

There are reasons to believe, notwithstanding the obvious pitfalls, that the quest for a modus vivendi has commenced. In the final analysis, there may well be a solution that accommodates a fully safeguarded Iranian nuclear programme effectively delinked from weaponisation. Iran's true destiny lies in integrating with a globalising world.

Similarly, it has to be an integral part of a sustainable regional order. It would be a great mistake to keep on creating obstacles in its path.


Tanvir Ahmad Khan is a former foreign secretary of Pakistan and a former ambassador to Iran
source:Gulf news
posted by ali ghannadi-irannuk

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