Very high up on the list of foreign policy
challenges for President Barack Obama will be Iran. During the long campaign,
then-candidate Obama repeatedly defended his willingness to open a dialogue with
Iran. But the path to any potential U.S.-Iranian reconciliation is tricky and
lined with hazards.
Is a thaw in the 30-year-long diplomatic deep freeze between the U.S. and Iran
coming during the Obama administration? Many analysts believe it is. Talk among
foreign policy experts of some kind of dialogue with Iran has intensified since
Mr. Obama's election. And many analysts believe the road to a U.S.-Iranian
rapprochement runs through Baghdad.
Brian Fishman, the director of research at the Combating Terrorism Center at the
U.S. Military Academy at West Point and co-author of a new paper on Iranian
strategy in Iraq, said a common interest in what happens in Iraq could open the
door to some thaw in the U.S.-Iranian relationship.
"There's certainly a lot of room for antagonism; I hesitate to use the word
'conflict.' But there's a lot of room for cooperation because Iran wants a
stable Iraq. We want a stable Iraq. Iraqis want a stable Iraq. And that, at its
core, is a place to start. It certainly isn't the end game, and there are a lot
of hurdles. But it provides the basis for a potentially productive relationship
between the two countries," he said.
Iran is deeply disturbed about the prospect of a U.S.-Iraqi agreement that would
allow a U.S. troop presence to remain on its western flank in Iraq until the end
There have already been several rounds of talks on Iraq between senior U.S. and
Iranian officials. However, previous talks achieved few concrete results in part
because of disputes over Iran's support for Iraqi Shi'ite militias.
Talking with Iran is a difficult policy to sell. Tehran's alleged pursuit of
nuclear weapons - which Iranian officials deny - is a major stumbling block.
Iranian support for groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Shi'ite militias in
Iraq and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threat to destroy Israel have also
reinforced negative views of Iran. Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni said
after the U.S. election that discussions with Iran would be, as she put it, a
message of weakness.
Former CIA field officer Gary Berntsen is a self-described hawk on Iran who was
a New York state veterans coordinator for Republican candidate John McCain. He
said talking to Iran is pointless.
"I recognize that there have been discussions right now on how we deal with
Iran. But in negotiations with Iran, what would we give them? The Iranians want
to dominate the region. They've talked about destroying Israel. They want to
expel us from the area. I mean, what is it that we could give them?" he asked.
But another former CIA officer, Bob Baer, disagreed.
"Yes, we can talk to them. All of their demands in Baghdad have been very
reasonable. We share a common interest with them on security in Iraq. Neither of
us wants a civil war. And in Afghanistan, neither of us wants the Taliban back
in Kabul. And these are certainly points we could go through one by one and come
to a solution fairly easily," said Baer.
Brian Fishman said Iran has evolved into a nation motivated as much by national
interests as revolutionary ideology.
"If this was a country that was driven only by ideology, then it would be very
difficult to influence it. But when you recognize that they are also driven by
old-fashioned national interest, that gives you some levers to play in a
productive way, where you can put pressure on the regime, but you can also offer
it things that are useful," he said.
In his paper, Fishman recommended that the United States separate - decouple, in
diplomatic parlance - the Iraqi question from other contentious issues of
Iranian behavior or policy, such as the nuclear program.
As for the nuclear issue, Bob Baer said that Iran can be persuaded to drop any
ambitions to be a nuclear power.
"We can talk these countries out of [nuclear] deterrence. It happened with
Brazil. It happened with Libya. But you have to give them something in return.
In return for the Libyans stopping making a bomb we lifted sanctions. We'd have
to do the same thing with Iran. I think you can talk them out of it," he said.
Baer suggested that secret discussions be opened with Iran through a back
channel on an agenda for talks. Then, Baer said, the Obama administration should
send a secret envoy to Iran to follow up.
"If they refuse or you show up in Tehran and no one comes to the meeting, well,
there's your answer. You get back on the plane and come home. But you're not
going to know unless you actually send somebody," Baer said.
Analysts all warn not to expect too much. After all, both sides have 30 years of
mutual distrust and hostility to get past. And, as usual, Iran is sending mixed
signals. President Ahmadinejad sent a letter of congratulation to
President-elect Obama - the first such letter to an American president since the
1979 Iranian Revolution. A week later, Iran test-fired a missile with a
purported range that would put it within striking distance of Israel.
... Payvand News - 12/11/08 ... --
© Copyright 2008 NetNative
(All Rights Reserved)