Tuesday, June 06, 2006

It's your move, Iran

June 5, 2006

nuclear iran-In some quarters, perhaps even including Vice President Dick Cheney's office, President Bush is being accused of going soft on Iran for agreeing to direct, face-to-face talks with Tehran over ending its uranium enrichment program.

There is a critical precondition: The White House insisted that Iran suspend the program. The immediate response from Tehran was a blustery no, which diplomats are not treating as final.

The move was welcomed by the alphanumeric groups already involved in talking with Iran, the P5 plus 1, the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, and the EU3, Germany, France and Great Britain. The White House said it got "positive responses" from the two leaders most reluctant to confront Iran, Russia's Vladimir Putin and China's Hu Jintao.

And by showing it was willing to exhaust all diplomatic options, the Bush administration greatly strengthened its hand at getting the United Nations to impose sanctions on Iran if its overture is rebuffed. The sanctions being considered are serious weapons against a modern, commercial nation. One would sever Iranian banks from the world banking system and access to reserve currencies like the dollar, euro and yen.

Over the two years of talks, Iran has seemed to be trying to run out the clock, stalling for time while racing ahead with its incipient nuclear weapons program. But a flat refusal to negotiate in good faith, following Mr. Bush's initiative, could mean sanctions as early as midsummer. As the White House likes to say, the ball is in Iran's court.

The change in administration policy was engineered by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, reportedly over the objections of the vice president; if so, it is testament to her clout. It is also a welcome sign that the Bush administration is willing to work with coalitions in foreign affairs rather than going solo.

The Bush administration's offer to talk directly to Iran can't hurt and it may help. It's worth letting Ms. Rice give it a try.
posted by ali ghannadi-irannuk


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