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    Middle East
     Aug 11, 2007
US diplomacy with Iran is working
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

Whereas the United States' new diplomatic approach toward Iran has already yielded tangible results, in light of Iran's enhanced cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the US-Iran dialogue on Iraq's security, the opponents of this approach in the US and Israel are nonetheless upping the ante against Iran, pushing for a military confrontation with the Islamic Republic, which is bound to have disastrous consequences for regional stability and global peace.

Led by such conservatives as William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, and the policymakers clustered around Vice President Dick Cheney, the "get tough on Iran" advocates have 

based their argument on the premise that the diplomatic approach championed by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has not had any results in checking Iran's nuclear and regional "ambitions" and must therefore be regarded as a "failure".

But is it? Probing the answer on the two key dimensions of nuclear and regional issues, an objective and unbiased mind may, in fact, reach a diametrically opposite conclusion. Sure, Iran has not suspended its uranium-enrichment program as initially requested by the United Nations Security Council exactly a year ago, but Iran has complied with other aspects of the council's, and the IAEA's, demands pertaining to greater nuclear transparency, access, and the resolution of "outstanding questions".

If the IAEA's reports of Iranians slowing down on the centrifuge program and openly entertaining the "time out" option do not constitute progress and a major plus, then what does? Any undue impatience with the diplomatic approach is uncalled for and indicative of a lack of a sound policy approach by the White House, seemingly riveted by contradictory influences by the moderate-hawk voices coming from different branches of the government.

Indeed, it is rather curious that the Pentagon has ratcheted up the accusations against Iran, increasingly blaming Tehran for the deaths of US troops in Iraq from roadside bombs, precisely at a time when significant progress has been made as a result of the US-Iran dialogue on Iraq's security.

After three rounds of face-to-face meetings, diplomats from both the US and Iran in Baghdad have reported tangible progress, by agreeing to set up joint expert committees, with participation by the officials of the Iraqi government, which has been aggressively pushing for this dialogue.

Just this week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki visited Tehran and received a positive response from the Iranian leaders about his plea for Iran's enhanced cooperation with respect to Iraq's insecurity. Iran's diplomats in Iraq, on the other hand, have flatly denied the US military's accusations and demanded that the United States prove its allegations by coming up with evidence.

Iran participated in this week's meeting of "Iraq and its neighbors" in Damascus, which was boycotted by Saudi Arabia, a main culprit of instability in Iraq, per the admission of the former US envoy to Baghdad and current ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad.

Increasingly, a number of Iranian political experts have come to the conclusion that behind the United States' stepped-up accusations against Iran is less the situation in Iraq and more the nuclear standoff - ie, the US is laying the groundwork for an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities and other related targets, since it is being deprived of other justifications in light of Iran's new nuclear openness.

Some Iran analysts go even further and brand Moscow as Washington's emerging junior partner in this "thickening plot", per the words of a Tehran University political scientist, who tells the author that the timing of news regarding Russia's unwillingness to deliver nuclear fuel to Iran as long as Iran has not complied with the UN demands is "curious to say the least".

After all, the very purpose of such news from Moscow may well be to torpedo the new path of Iran-IAEA cooperation, by removing Iran's incentives to continue this path in light of its perceived futility in steering the UN Security Council away from further sanctions.

"We remember very vividly when the Russian foreign minister was in Tehran not a long time ago and he rebuked the Americans' suggestion that Russia should not complete Bushehr [power plant]," said the Tehran professor, who wanted to know why the Kremlin has changed its mind now. Is it because of what the Iranians like to refer to as the "Kennebunkport deal", referring to last month's meeting of Presidents George W Bush and Vladimir Putin at Bush's summer retreat in the US state of Maine?

Irrespective of whether or not a "Kennebunkport deal" was struck over Iran that is beginning to show its feathers now in the form of news about Russia's new line on the nuclear fuel for Iran, without citing any official sources or without any responses by Moscow one way or another, thus tacitly corroborating those reports, the fact is that major trust between Iran and Russia has been broken. As a result, Iran has become ever more determined to lessen its foreign dependency when it comes to nuclear fuel and, in turn, this represents another wrench in the ongoing wheel of diplomatic talks over Iran's nuclear program.

At this point, a pertinent question: What exactly does the United States want from Iran? The US is leaning toward a "tougher stance against Iran", per a recent report in the Washington Post, irrespective of the tangible progress cited above, taking contradictory steps such as vilifying Iran's role in Afghanistan.

Does the US really want steady progress in Iran-IAEA cooperation or, in fact, does it dread such a thing? Does the US really want an Iran that cooperates on Iraq's security or, in fact, is it dismayed that Iran has not turned away from the direct dialogue in the face of mounting accusations?

In a perfect Middle East according to the US policymakers, a compliant Iran would play the part without an iota of fear or concern about the United States' power projections trampling on the sovereign rights of the regional powers such as Iran, as if this is realistically feasible. It is not, and the more realistic goals prescribed by the Iraq Study Group need to be followed without the constant resurfacing of the opposite pills prescribed by the leftover Washington neo-cons and their allies in the White House and the Pentagon.

The fact is, US diplomacy toward Iran is working, slowly but surely, and it requires two things the lame-duck White House is apparently lacking: time and patience.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.

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