Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Iran's Invitation

June 6, 2006
Prepared by: Michael Moran

nuclear iran-Nearly a week has passed since Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice offered, under certain conditions, to do something the United States has steadfastly refused to do since 1979: talk directly to the Iranian government. Now the proposal, including economic incentives and 'safe' nuclear power technology (AP), has been presented to Iran officially by EU Foreign Minister Javier Solana. Tehran’s reaction, still in its formative stages, so far appears mildly positive (BBC).

Indeed, the whole initiative brought mildly positive reactions among Europeans and Americans long advocating a direct dialogue. Britain’s Guardian newspaper, for instance, and Sen. Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations panel, depicted this as comeuppance for the Bush administration, but also as important progress. "I think it’s long in coming, but very welcome," says Biden.

Yet the Bush administration remains quite divided. Some of its allies—the Wall Street Journal's editorial board, for instance—note Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resisted the initiative fiercely. A WSJ editorial worries the offer amounts to "implicit U.S. recognition" that lends legitimacy to the Iranian regime. Rice quickly moved to address such fears, saying no "grand bargain" is in the offing and portraying the move as a turning of the tables on Iran (FOX).

What happens next remains uncertain. Rice and other officials resist the idea of a deadline for the offer. Iranian officials have issued vaguely conflicting statements but there appears to be some official interest in the offer. CFR Senior Fellow Charles Ferguson says Iran may find it irresistible, though much hinges on the administration's condition: Tehran's willingness to stop enriching uranium before direct talks. He tells's Bernard Gwertzman: "There might be some wiggle room in here, and I think we will see in coming days, from both sides, how they are going to define what they mean by suspension."

Still, everyone appears to agree this is a milestone in U.S.-Iranian relations: "a major crossroads" as Rice put it Sunday. China's People's Daily called it "a tactic adjustment" forced on Washington by the fact that "the U.S. threat to 'resort to military force' is no longer credible amid declining American support for the Iraqi war." In contrast, James Phillips, Middle East analyst at The Heritage Foundation, calls it Iran's "One Last Chance," presumably to avoid a military confrontation.

Another Iran expert, Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, says no one should underestimate the importance of the offer: "The Americans' stated willingness to join the so-called European Three (EU-3–Germany, Britain, and France) and shun any unilateral initiative with regard to Iran is a good omen for multilateralism" (AsiaTimes).

For a deeper look at Iran's nuclear ambitions, the Center for Strategic and International Studies offers a new report on "Iran's Weapons of Mass Destruction" (PDF), while the Oxford Research Group's report, "Iran: Consequences of a War," suggests serious difficulties pursuing any "military option." Experts made the same point at a recent CFR Symposium on the Iran question.
posted by ali ghannadi-irannuk


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