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
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
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
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
Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.