Sunday, June 11, 2006

Possibility of U.S.-Iran talks grows stronger

John Hall
Published: Sunday, Jun. 11, 2006
nuclear iran--Where is Iran, the “evil empire” which was to have suffered unspecified but drastic consequences if it pursued its current reckless course toward developing nuclear weapons?

Gone with the wind. The Bush administration, in collaboration with its European allies, is now on a new path promising not pain but rewards, from jetliners to new military aircraft, if Iran will listen to its better angels and behave itself.

This is starting to sound like the Iran-Contra deal of Ronald Reagan’s second term – except it is all out in the open. The peace offensive is being run by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, not some back-channel colonel in the basement of the White House.

In the late 1980s, cash from the secret sale of aircraft and parts to Iran for its war with Iraq were used to arm the Nicaraguan “Contras” without congressional authority.

In the 21st century sequel rolled out by the United States and world powers last week, money isn’t the object. The point of this elaborate diplomatic waltz is to make it as attractive as possible for Iran not to raise the nuclear sword of Damocles over Israel and the region.

Sound naive? Could be they are chortling about this under their turbans and behind their beards in Tehran’s mosques the same way they reportedly howled at the wacky American delegation that offered a cake and a Bible to the Ayatollah Khomeini as a token of goodwill.

Nonetheless, the package has backing from the five veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council – Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States – as well as Germany and the European Union.

The deal is that Tehran must relinquish its current uranium enrichment program that can be used to produce nuclear warheads.

In return, it would receive a list of concessions fit to set before a king, an offer, according to the Associated Press, to supply European Airbus aircraft for Tehran’s civilian fleet, long-banned American Boeing airliners if they would prefer; “dual use” technology, with both civilian and military applications, now also on the banned list; help in building nuclear reactors and a guaranteed supply of fuel to a nation with the biggest reported oil reserve in the world.

According to diplomats in Vienna, the United States will even supply Tehran with some nuclear technology if it stops enriching uranium.

This would go to a country that kidnapped American embassy officials less than three decades ago, and whose current president openly questioned whether the Holocaust occurred and denied Israel’s right to exist – an implicit threat to blow the Jewish state off the earth if Tehran ever gets nuclear warheads.

The main bauble dangled by the West in front of the eyes of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was an offer for direct talks with the United States – provided, of course, that Iran stops fooling around with uranium enrichment.

That precondition is a show-stopper, Ahmadinejad declared right off the bat. Nonetheless, he initiated the contact and welcomed Bush’s response. That is something.

Just talking to each other may not achieve much, of course. If a breakthrough is, indeed, imminent or even possible, the question is how far either Iran or the United States is willing to go.

Would either side be open to a mutual non-aggression and no-first-use pledge with Israel brought in as a co-signatory?

Some skeptics have suggested this is all a ruse to allow President Bush to say later on, just as he did before the Iraq invasion, that no stone was left unturned to seek a diplomatic solution to the Iran problem.

The offer for direct talks with Iran, however, has a ring of credibility that Bush’s late-inning Iraqi peacemaking efforts at the United Nations did not. He and Rice were said to have decided on the direct talks option without participation from Vice President Cheney or Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

There reportedly have been some military operations directed at Iran, including the use of CIA surveillance drones. But these have been miniscule compared to the forward momentum of gigantic ocean supply convoys and troop movements that preceded the Iraq invasion and made it almost a fait accompli.

Iran would be foolish not to take this overture seriously.

John Hall is the senior Washington correspondent of Media General News Service. E-mail
posted by ali ghannadi-irannuk


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