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Gary Sick points to likely opening of US interest section in Tehran by January

Berlin, Sept 27, IRNA - There is a real possibility that the US may open an interest section in Tehran by the end of the term of American President George W. Bush in January 2009, ex-US national security advisor Gary Sick told IRNA in Berlin in an exclusive phone interview.

"Right now, I would say for the remainder of the Bush administration until next January, there is a real window of opportunity in which they can take a number of steps. For instance, if they did open an interest section in Iran," he said.

"I think it's realistic for instance to open an interest section.

And that has implications for everything else. We are going to be actually physically present in Tehran. And that changes a lot. Setting up an interest section in Iran which is technically a small thing that would be a key turning point," added Sick.

The head of the Persian Gulf Project 2000 at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs stressed no new president coming in to Washington would want to undo the opening of the US interest section in Tehran.

"If that process gets started in the next four months, it would be extremely difficult for any (US) president to reject it. Obama would probably consider this to be a good thing even if Senator McCain does not like it. It's very hard for me to believe that he would come as president and say we gonna remove our people (diplomats) from Tehran," Sick said.

He made clear there had been some "very strong indicators that the Bush administration was in fact interested in making progress" in its rapprochement with Iran.

"With the (Bush) administration that has very conservative credentials and which is getting ready to leave office, they can in fact do things with a certain degree of credibility that another or new president with another background could not," Sick said.

Pointing to the recent speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the 63rd UN General Assembly and his interview with CNN, the former aide to ex-US president Jimmy Carter that it was his impression that Ahmadinejad was "very much interested in official contacts between the two countries but with no conditions involved." Referring to obstacles about initiating direct US-Iranian talks, Sick pointed to the problems of "domestic politics on both sides." "There is a political obstacle that has to be overcome which actually happens to be a very good moment to do that," he said.

"Leaders (in Iran and USA) have to be very careful about what they do. My own reading is that both sides are much more nervous than they need to be. The people in Iran and the US are really ready for this to happen but it will take a certain degree of leadership and boldness," Sick added.

"If explained properly by the leaders in the US and Iran, it would not be a political liability," emphasized the US expert on Iran and the Persian Gulf region.

"I think the whole process is about building an agenda and setting up the process in which we would begin serious negotiations which would at least clarify where we are and what could be done .We don't know the answer to the question until we stated it," Sick said.

"When you begin the process and yes the process can break down, but it is very hard to go back where you were before. To me, we are very close to something and it may not happen. I am not predicting this.

But it is a real possibility and if it does happen that will be extremely important," the scholar added.

Asked about how Tehran and Washington could find an agreement on the row over Iran's nuclear program, Sick replied, "We don't know because we have not talked to one another about. Basically we have to get down to the point where Europeans and the US have got to make very practical proposals to Iran."

He added that a western offer to Iran could include "lifting sanctions, providing greater foreign investments for Iran's energy sector and opening credit lines for Iran."

"We have to be able to offer them (Iranians) something in return for their actions. And up to now the US has not really participated in the process. The Europeans have negotiated in good faith. The Iranians have perhaps not taken the European offer serious enough," he said.

Sick pointed also out that the US lacked a coherent strategy vis-a-vis Iran over the past 20 years.

"I think the US has not had a coherent policy for Iran really the last 20 years or more. It is not just this administration." Sick rejected also calls for third countries to mediate for direct US-Iranian talks.

"We don't need somebody in between. We haven't tried direct talks. We have very good relations with Iran in trying to solve the Afghan problem," he added.

... Payvand News - 09/27/08 ... --

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