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Professor Walsh predicts normalized Iran-US relations

New York, Feb 1, IRNA -- Professor Jim Walsh from University of Massachusetts says that he predicts normalized relations between Iran and the United States.

Dr. Walsh, who is a Research Associate at MIT's Security Studies Program, said in an interview with IRNA that broader change is on horizon consistent with Iran-US ties.

First question: Is Barack Obama in your view going to pursue the policy of change as he has claimed in his campaign or is he going to continue the same nature of policies as his predecessor?

Dr. Walsh: Of course at this time it is simply a guessing game and there is a little bit of evidence for both propositions. Had we to judge solely on the campaign and the first couple of weeks into the transition we would have... might have guessed that it's going to be more of the same. Yes Obama had said that he would drop the pre condition of uranium....suspension of uranium enrichment and would engage in direct dialogue. But a lot of the campaign talking points were similar to the sorts of thing we had heard from Bush campaign or McCain campaign except for the sort of kinder and gentler face on them. And then there was talk of Denis Ross being the special envoy to Iran and that ... doubts on the part of a lot of people as to whether that would produce a real change in strategy as opposed to tactics.

Well, recently though we've signs that might point to a broader change in approach. We had general David Petraeus said last week that we should, the US and Iran should cooperate on issues of common concern like Iraq and Afghanistan. We had president going on Al Arabiya television you know President Bush didn't do that. In his first week in office he goes on an Arab language television station and reminds people that he has family members who are Muslim. He went to school and lived in a Muslim country. And that the US should do more listening than talking. That the Middle East is a priority. And that it was important to speak to other countries with respect. So... that is very much the sort of change in tone that many of my Iranian friends have been looking for in American policy. At the end of that interview though you get a little bit more of traditional talking points...American talking points about Iran a nuclear program and support for terrorism and the like.

But Obama said something at the end of that interview which is important, .. That.. they are in the process of coming up with their strategy and would be doing so for the next several months they would be rolling out a new frame over the next several months. And this echoes comments that Hillary Clinton made in her confirmation hearing, where she was reluctant to endorse any particular approach to Iran because she said they are in the middle of trying to work it out. So I think what we are looking at here is several months of them getting on their feet, getting all their mid level appointments, you know, confirmed and in place. Rethinking of the policy. By that time of course we 'll be close to Iranian presidential elections.

So it is probably not going to be a major diplomatic initiative till after. But we may see some interim steps by this president. For example picking up special envoy, perhaps hopefully he'll open up direct flight between Tehran and New York. Small steps that signal the seriousness about dialogue. So I think I am consciously optimistic. If you had asked me two weeks ago I would have been more consciously pessimistic. I think Obama is a type of person that if he gets personally involved in policy making as opposed to delegating it to the State Department or delegating it to Defense Department, he is the type of individual with convictions that even though he is cautious to take a fundamental look at Iran policy. I'd say that if we were betting people and I am not that the odds are gone up somewhat in the last couple of weeks that we might actually get something that is more fundamental than cosmetic.

Thank you very much, the next question is that again in your view how Obama is going to be able to create stability in the Middle East using Iran's assistance as it is in the view of some analysts.?

Walsh: There are several ways in which that can happen. Obviously the fundamental problem in the Middle East is the Israelis and the Palestinians and the broader Arab- Israeli dispute. He is making it a priority; he has appointed George Mitchell which is a significant appointment. I can be a little bit skeptical about how quickly things will improve, just because I don't care who you are talking about, wether it is the Middle East or Africa or Europe or united states, if you are trying to negotiate and one of the sides of negotiation is split and fighting each other in this case Hamas and Fatah then it is very hard to get a diplomatic resolution so I think it is going to be difficult but in spite of the difficulties, he seems to be putting some of his presidential capital into this and is talking about it . That's obviously very different from either Clinton or Bush.

But in terms of the other areas, Afghanistan and Iraq in particular and perhaps with regard to Lebanon and may be even Israel, an improving US-Iran relationship, a working relationship is the key to bring stability to these countries.

At the end of the day Iraq is not going to be stable unless Iran and the US work together towards that outcome. Iranians cannot do it for Iraq on their own. And Iraqis do not want to be Persian puppets. An US can't do it on their own and it is in fact going to be a drawing down on its troops. The problem of Iraq is significantly large enough that only the combined effort of Iran and the US together in support of Iraqi sovereignty has the possibility of producing stability in that country.

For Afghanistan, the equation is a little different and Pakistan is the most important player in that, with the US and Iran important but less important, and the US is even less important as far as the side of Afghanistan goes. But again the solution is similar in which Iran and the US and Pakistan have to be engaged and on a common basis in fact if the Karzai government is going to survive and achieve stability there. And there is no way to achieve these things unless the key players in each case are engaged and joined in a cooperative effort.

Now if the US and Iran manage to make progress in their bilateral relations, and that involves of course finding a way to resolve the nuclear issue, because it is going to be difficult to have too much progress, unless for that nuclear issue some sort of negotiated resolution is found, but if that is possible then I think there is all sorts of things that, now you know it is not possible to talk about with respect to the US- Iranian relationship.

And that brings us the final question with regards to the role that Israel is playing in the region. Some share the view that Israel is not, or actually is worried about the improvement in US-Iran relations and is trying to create obstacles to prevent such improvements. Do you agree with that view?

Walsh: Well, yes and no. From the strategic stand point one of the few things that Arabs and Israelis agree on is that they don't like a better relationship between the US and Iran because it's not in their interest. Neither one wants to lose influence which is understandable. Again you can substitute the names of other countries and it would all be the same. I mean Russia won't be happy if Iran and the US are to have better relations. Because they will lose the Russian influence. Arabs have the fear that if we have better relations with Iran they will lose their status and Israelis fear that if we have better relations with Iran it will hurt their interests. So both have to be re assured. And Iranians have to, well Iran as a country wants to be treated with respect as a sovereign nation which I have always respected but if Iran wants to be a member of that club then you have to be an adult and a part of being an adult means recognizing that the only way this is going to work for the US and Iran have better relations is that the US re assures the Arabs and Israel that if they are going to do that bring them along in this process too. You cannot abandon all your friends to start a new relationship with someone so it is going to require that they are reassured. That is a part of the answer and the second part is that I think the Israelis have accepted the fact that the US and Iran are getting engaged in some level of direct talks and diplomacy. There have been a series of Israeli foreign ministry officials who have come recently to the US. And the message they have been delivering is that they do not oppose engagement but they have certain benchmarks that they would like to see met. So that is a big change on Israeli part and a part of it is because they see the writing on the wall, they see that this is going to happen and rather than fruitlessly fighting something that is going to happen anyway, they decided that " if you can beat them then join them" as the old American phrase goes. So they have joined this call for engagement but they want to be at the table and they want their input or two cents to be counted. And in this case what they are trying to do is to say that well fine, talk to Iran but you have to hold Iran accountable and you have to have certain benchmarks. But that is very much a change. Yes if they could wave a magic wind, they would prefer that the US and Iran not to have any relations but they are realistic and they realize that it is going to happen so I think they are not going to do anything that undermines their positions . If the US has decided to engage Iran they are not going to cut their throat over it.

... Payvand News - 02/01/09 ... --

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