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The War on Gaza and Iran-US Talks

By Afsaneh Ahadi, Expert on Strategic & US Affairs (Source: Iran Review)

The debates on the necessity of holding direct negotiations between Tehran and Washington, which had started just before the recent presidential elections in the United States by American political and journalistic circles and were even supported by such renowned analysts as Henry Kissinger, have been marginalized for a while. In fact and despite early optimistic views, with the end of the election campaigns, the media hype over Iran's direct talks with the United States has also abated. Although some experts had previously expressed hope that negotiations would start in November, that month ended with no sign of possible negotiations between Tehran and Washington anywhere on the horizon. The proponents of negotiations are now content with the perspective of direct talks between Tehran and Washington within the framework of negotiations over Iran's nuclear energy program between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 group (including the US, Britain, Germany, France, China, and Russia). However, according to the most optimistic forecast, Iran's talks with the P5+1 will not get underway sooner than December 2012 or even January 2013. It seems that political developments, which followed the US presidential polls and the most important of which was probably Israel’s eight-day attack on the besieged Gaza Strip, have been effective in taking the sizzle out of Iran-US negotiation debates.

As the eight-day war on Gaza started, domestic opponents and critics in the United States such as John Bolton (former US ambassador to the United Nations), saw their chance to slam any plan for direct negotiations with Iran. By taking the incumbent US President Barack Obama’s policies to task, they argued that despite serious threats posed to Israel by Iran, Obama still thinks that he can find a way to negotiate with the Islamic Republic over its nuclear energy program. They even emphasize that the recent war between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza has been, in fact, an indirect war between Iran and Israel. The reports published by the Western media have been full of emphatic remarks by radical Western politicians in this regard. Some of them have claimed that Iran has provided the Palestinian resistance movement, Hamas, with medium-range missiles and is able to provide them with more advanced missiles to hit more distant targets. On the other hand, they have also claimed that Israel has been practically surrounded by Hezbollah, Hamas and other groups which are blessed by Iran's capabilities. Therefore, they have concluded that the Islamic Republic is a potential and great threat to both Israel and the United States.

However, analysts inside Iran believe that the war on Gaza has had positive impact on Iran's regional standing. Some experts analyzing this war have even argued that the Gaza war has proved that Iran sways a great amount of influence on regional equations. As a result, Tehran has been able to boost and establish its own power and that of its allies in the region and change regional political equations in their favor. Therefore, this issue can have a positive effect on Iran's negotiations with the P5+1.

In the meantime, there are also some analysts who believe that the Israeli attacks on Gaza actually represented a plot by Israel to obliterate all chances of direct talks between Iran and the West. From this viewpoint, any kind of negotiation or agreement either through direct talks with Israel or through negotiations with the P5+1, is considered unacceptable by Israel. Although such an analysis cannot be considered as the sole cause of the eight-day attack on Gaza, American experts are of the opinion that the cost of direct dialogue with Iran has been increased for Obama administration from a political viewpoint. In fact, some analysts maintain that the United States’ domestic policies are a major reason behind the failure of all efforts made to initiate direct negotiations between Tehran and Washington. However, disagreement of other parties, especially Israel, with such talks cannot be ignored either. The viewpoints of Israel and Arabs, which are known as political allies of the West in the region, constitute an important factor which has served to set the general direction of the White House’s policy with regard to negotiation with Iran. Although consultations with Iran in such cases as the war in Afghanistan, helped the United States to, for example, topple the Taliban in Afghanistan, on the whole, most American political experts believe that US measures in Afghanistan and Iraq have only worked to increase Iran's influence in these countries.

Although the aftermath of the eight-day war on Gaza can be considered from this viewpoint as well, it is noteworthy that despite general optimism and remarks made by certain American officials, including the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, about readiness of the United States to engage in direct negotiation with Iran, passing new sanctions by the House of Representatives and the US Senate was the first step to be taken by the political system in the United States following the recent presidential election. The Senate sanctions are of more interest. According to a plan discussed by the US senators, the new sanctions will cover all foreign banks which are engaged in transactions with various Iranian industries including marine transport, ports, shipbuilding and energy sector. The new sanctions have also put a total ban on any form of financial transaction with people or organizations dealing with Iran whose names are on Washington’s black list.

These developments have caused negotiations to be pursued through the P5+1. Such prominent political experts as Zbigniew Brzezinski support this kind of negotiation with Iran. He is among analysts who believe in a model similar to the strategy that the United States has already adopted in various cases, including with respect to the former Soviet Union, China and North Korea, and argue that such strategy will be responsive in the case of Iran as well. However, recent remarks by the European officials show that even negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 lack a clear-cut schedule and such vague phrases as “in the first possible opportunity” have been used to declare how top European diplomats are mulling the best time for further negotiations with Iran. On the other hand, as sharp rhetoric is on the rise between the Western and Iranian officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), some IAEA sources have noted that the window of diplomacy has been already closed.

On the whole, debates on the necessity of direct negotiations between Iran and the United States reached their peak at the height of presidential election campaigns in the latter country and cannot be considered the established policy of Obama administration. In fact, it seems that direct negotiations with Iran have no place on Washington’s political agenda. The sanctions passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate right after the US presidential election prove that the political system in the United States is pursuing another track. As a result, people like Stephen Walt have had serious doubts about the Obama administration’s offer of talks with Iran and also about conditions set by Washington for those talks, and have opined that such conditions mean that any negotiation between Iran and the United States would be doomed from the very beginning.

An analysis of the existing conditions will make one reach the conclusion that maintaining the status quo is the current dominant policy followed by Obama administration. According to this policy, no final solution is going to be found for Iran's nuclear issue. On the other hand, waging war on Iran can, by no means, be the best approach to Iran by the Western countries under the present circumstances. However, maintaining the status quo and mounting all-out pressure on Iran could be an acceptable option for the West. A contained Iran with limited or reduced influence is more desirable to the West. On the opposite, ending the crisis through negotiation is apparently not an attractive option as it does not help to meet the Western countries’ interests in any way.

More By Afsaneh Ahadi:

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