It seems that
dialogue has almost become a dirty word. Dialogue doesn't kill or destroy
cities yet it's been cast aside as a diplomatic tool to save this region from
another potential conflagration.
The question is why
does the Bush administration refuse to talk to Iran? Tehran has made tentative
approaches on numerous occasions and has been constantly rebuffed.
In 2003, Tehran
offered conciliatory concessions to the US that included help with the
stabilisation of Iraq, cessation of support for militant groups and the opening
up of it nuclear programme in exchange for amicable relations. This offer was
rejected by Dick Cheney.
In recent times,
Iranians President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sent olive branches to US President
George W. Bush and was either ridiculed or ignored.
If Iran is perceived
as a threat then surely the best deterrent would be to bring it into the
international fold. Put simply, friends don't normally bomb one another and
economic partners have nothing to gain from doing so.
In recent months, a
slew of prominent figures from all sides of the US political spectrum have
recommended that America engage with Iran.
director of European Studies at the Council on Foreign Relation, has said
"the Europeans are jumping up and down telling the US it's time to
engage". Engagement was also a staple of the shredded Baker-Hamilton
Last week in Davos,
chief of the nuclear watchdog Mohamad ElBaradei sought to defuse the current tensions by calling for a diplomatic
time-out and putting forward proposals whereby Iran would suspend uranium
enrichment in return for the postponement of UN sanctions.
Iran says it is
considering this offer and has asked Russia to act as an intermediary. It has
also asked Russia to come up with new proposals relating to enrichment on
reluctantly voted for limited sanctions against Iran, it has made clear its
objections to isolating Iran and has vowed to continue assisting it achieve its
peaceful nuclear objectives.
buildup in the region has made Russia nervous. On Saturday, the Russian Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov asked the US to explain its increased military presence,
saying, "What's it all about?"
According to Dick
Cheney the aircraft carriers, strike forces and nuclear submarines dispatched
to the neighbourhood are there to send "a very strong signal to everybody
in the region that the United States is here to stay, that we clearly have
significant capabilities, and that we are working with friends and allies as
well as the international organisations to deal with the Iranian threat".
Wait a minute! Iran
hasn't threatened the US and even if it wanted to it doesn't have the
capability to rain missiles on New York or Los Angeles.
to ElBaradei, Iran is years away from enriching uranium to
specifications and quantities needed for nuclear bombs and there is no evidence
to suggest its ambitions lie in that direction.
ElBaradei does say, however, that using force to
eliminate Iran's enrichment programme would "strengthen the hand of those
who say 'let us develop a weapon'."
In fact, this is
exactly what happened in Iraq. Before the Israelis bombed the Osirak facility
at Tuwaitha in 1981, the Iraqi programme was peaceful. Only subsequent to
Israel's aggression did Saddam Hussain call his scientists to ask them to build
In any event, even if
Iran did produce a nuclear weapon it would exist only as a deterrent or as a
tool to balance regional power.
It's unthinkable that
Iran would launch a preemptive nuclear strike on either the US or Israel as
that would equate to suicide given the latter's nuclear and military
superiority. And there is nothing to suggest the Iranian leadership has
So, in reality, there
is no Iranian threat. The threat is coming from a stubborn White House intent
on flexing its muscles and showing the region who's the boss.
As former UN weapons
inspector and author Scott Ritter recently said in a radio address,
"America's foreign policy in the Middle East is a vehicle of
Defuse the situation
If the White House
wanted to defuse the situation it could do so at any time by sending Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice to Tehran with offers of economic cooperation and
In response, Tehran
would undertake to lift its hand from Iraq and suspend uranium enrichment. It
may really be that simple.
If Iran were to reject
such sincere overtures then at least the White House could say it pulled out
all the stops for diplomacy's sake and return to banging the drums.
While urging the US
not to isolate Iran and Syria, Sergei Lavrov has this to say: "In general,
the problems that exist in the Middle East and the surrounding region are
linked to muddle-headed ideas about prestige."
If he's correct then
this is a shocking indictment of the way powerful politicians with massive egos
are playing with people's lives just to save face. But personally I think that
view is too simplistic.
administration's main players and their newly appointed like-minded generals
still adhere to the neocon game plan despite all the obstacles and opposition.
With two years to go, this is their last hurrah.
They're already down,
so they've little to lose and everything to gain like a gambler on a roulette
table down to his last wretched chip.
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.