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POLITICS: A Softer, Gentler Era of U.S., Iran Relations?

Omid Memarian

BERKELEY, United States, May 3 2007 (IPS) - Tehran’s high-level presence at the meeting this week in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt to discuss Iraq’s security boosts the chances for eventual negotiations between Tehran and Washington over their long-running disputes, say analysts here and in Iran.

Tehran’s high-level presence at the meeting this week in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt to discuss Iraq’s security boosts the chances for eventual negotiations between Tehran and Washington over their long-running disputes, say analysts here and in Iran.

Even if direct talks do not occur this round, indications are that both sides are seeking a way out of the impasse while saving face. White House officials have lately modified their rhetoric on Iran, even though Iranian officials have rejected substantive face-to-face meetings at the summit.

Iranian officials have said that Tehran is ready to negotiate so long as it is “without any preconditions”. The United States severed diplomatic relations with Tehran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In recent months, U.S. officials have accused Iran of helping Iraqi Shiite militias launch attacks on U.S. troops by infiltrating advanced explosive device technology across the border. Iranian officials have repeatedly denied these allegations, and Washington has produced no solid evidence to support them. Meanwhile, the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme remains at a standoff.

However, while U.S. President George W. Bush has repeatedly said all options, including the use of force, are “on the table” to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, analysts believe that talking about Iraq’s stability could sideline this course of action and allow space for diplomacy.


After the costly catastrophes in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iranian analysts believe that the United States has already eliminated the possibility of military action against Iran. Although the Bush administration has tried to put pressure on Tehran by supporting U.N. Security Council sanctions over its nuclear programme, there has been a shift from the “use of force” to harsh diplomacy.

“A gradual sanctions scenario is currently under review in the U.S. In this scenario, there are increasing steps of sanctions against Iran,” prominent Iranian journalist and analyst Mashallah Shamsolvaezin told IPS from Tehran. “The West believes the Iranian economy will not be able to tolerate these sanctions on the one hand, and on the other hand they believe that when Iran is completely exhausted by the sanctions, it will come to the negotiating table about its nuclear plans.”

He believes that the U.S. failure in Iraq and Afghanistan removes the possibility of Washington contemplating a military option, politically or economically.

“The only country that can prevent a cumulative crisis in both Iraq and Afghanistan is Iran. If Iran becomes destabilised, the situation will become gravely dangerous,” added Shamsolvaezin, editor-in-chief of several reformist newspapers that have been shut down by the government.

“Any attack on Iran will create tension in the region with a ripple effect from northern Afghanistan’s border with China all the way to the end of Iraq and Jordan, and this is why it is not very likely that such an attack will take place.”

Dr. Abbas Milani, director of Hamid and Christina Moghadam Iranian Studies at Stanford University, also believes that the new trend among politicians in Tehran and Washington is reinforcing diplomacy rather than war rhetoric.

“While there are certainly dedicated minorities in Iran and America who, for different reasons, crave a military confrontation, even an attack on Iran, and while in the expected discourse of diplomacy ‘keeping all the options on the table’ is believed to be simply wise policy, I think a majority of policy-makers in Washington and in Tehran have realised that at this moment, direct negotiations, even if they end up in failure, is much more in their interest than a military confrontation,” Milani told IPS.

“While the apologists of the Islamic Republic have for years advocated ‘direct negotiations’ between the U.S. and Iran, and have long argued that the U.S. must give the mullahs what they want, there is another way of approaching such negotiations,” Milani said.

“The U.S. and Iran, according to this other paradigm, must engage in direct negotiations over all the outstanding issues between them, including the question of the human rights of the Iranian people,” he said. “While the U.S. must recognise that democracy in Iran can and must only be created by the people of Iran themselves, it can, and hopefully will, nevertheless, continue to oppose the obvious breaches of the Iranian people’s human rights by the regime in Tehran.”

The idea of direct negotiations between Iran and the U.S., now the hottest topic in the Iranian news media, has received mixed reactions from the conservative newspaper Kayhan. In its main editorial last week, Kayhan asked the Iranian government to take full advantage of this historic opportunity to punish the U.S. in the region.

According to the editorial, “Bush wants to rescue the U.S. from the trap in which they are caught, thereby saving [the Republican Party] from a definitive loss in the next elections, hence the U.S. is attempting to get closer to Iran to use it to solve its own problems.”

The hardliner paper, known to be aligned with Iran’s supreme leader and which represents the most radical faction of conservatives in the country, urged Iranian officials to ignore international requests for Tehran’s support for stability in Iraq.

“It is true that the U.S. is snarled in problems today, the solution to which might solely rest in Iran’s hands. It is natural for U.S. to wish to utilise Iran’s unique position to reduce its headaches; however, it is feared that once these headaches diminish, the U.S. will become a new headache itself for Iran and for the region,” Kayhan argued.

Of course, for many Iranians, Kayhan’s view is interpreted as official propaganda. A political analyst in Tehran told IPS that the hardliners’ stance on the question, despite appearances, actually reflects their eagerness to negotiate.

“Remember the arrest of 15 British sailors last month? This newspaper was among the very few radicals who asked for their trial and even death, while they claimed that the sailors have been spies,” he told IPS on condition of anonymity.

“But the president released them as an ‘Easter gift’, and gave them a plethora gifts in a very unusual ceremony, while the same people who protested in the streets against the sailors said nothing and even admired the government,” he added. “The more the ayatollahs’ rhetoric gets harsh, the more they tend to talk and negotiate. That’s an Iranian style of negotiation.”

*Omid Memarian is an Iranian journalist and civil society activist. He has won several awards, including Human Rights Watch’s highest honour in 2005, the Human Rights Defender Award.

 
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POLITICS: A Softer, Gentler Era of U.S., Iran Relations?

Omid Memarian

BERKELEY, United States, May 3 2007 (IPS) - Tehran&#39s high-level presence at the meeting this week in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt to discuss Iraq&#39s security boosts the chances for eventual negotiations between Tehran and Washington over their long-running disputes, say analysts here and in Iran.
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