[Mb-civic] EDITORIAL An Opening to Iran LATimes

Michael Butler michael at michaelbutler.com
Tue Sep 7 14:53:20 PDT 2004



An Opening to Iran

 September 7, 2004

 One of the three parts of President Bush's "axis of evil," Iraq, is chewing
up U.S. money and troops. A second, North Korea, probably has nuclear
weapons and shows no sign of giving them up. The third, Iran, is the one to
which the Bush administration should be giving a lot more attention.

 Unlike Iraq, where inspectors looked long and hard for weapons of mass
destruction only to conclude they weren't there, Iran may indeed be seeking
nuclear weapons. Unlike North Korea, Iran sits in a region through which
about 40% of the world's oil flows.

 Last week's report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic
Energy Agency, indicates that Iran may have stopped stonewalling nuclear
inspectors; if so, this provides an opening for diplomacy rather than more
saber rattling. Iran's purge of political moderates this year and probable
dishonesty about its nuclear weapons program make it a difficult nation for
the U.S. to deal with, especially considering the poisoned relationship that
has lasted for a quarter-century. But what is Washington's alternative?
Regime change? Preemption? Those cards are off the table, thanks to the Iraq
folly. The only reasonable path is to attempt to persuade Tehran's leaders
that they would be better off scrapping atomic weapons in exchange for
expanded trade and regional stability.

 With the demise of Iranian reformers in February's elections, the U.S. and
its allies should deal with the only rulers left. At least the ruling
mullahs are pragmatic conservatives who can deliver on their promises.

 They also are likely to stick around. The American strategy on Iran seems
to involve covert efforts to foment a revolution, judging from an ongoing
FBI investigation. At the center of that probe is a classified document
allegedly passed to Israel by a Pentagon analyst that reportedly advocated
support for Iranian dissidents and radio broadcasts intended to destabilize
the Iranian regime. Yet a Council on Foreign Relations-sponsored task force
concludes in a July report that Iran is not on the verge of another
revolution. Washington is delusional if it insists on waiting for the regime
to collapse and the accession of democrats acceptable to the United States.

 In the last decade, Tehran has improved relations with Persian Gulf
neighbors such as Bahrain, Oman and other Gulf Cooperation Council members.
It also has expanded trade with other nations. Washington should be cheering
those developments, not trying to find government foes to back. The U.S.
experience with Ahmed Chalabi, once thought to be a credible Iraqi
opposition leader but now branded a Washington enemy, should demonstrate the
difficulty in determining who has support inside a country with which ties
were cut long ago.

 Iran has good reason to welcome better relations with the U.S. Its per
capita income has decreased by an estimated one-third since the 1979
revolution; high oil prices have helped this year, but the price probably
won't stay above $40 a barrel forever. Tehran needs much more foreign
investment but is unlikely to get it if investors worry about the threat of
invasion by U.S. troops in two next-door neighbors, Iraq and Afghanistan.

 Iran also has shown flashes of cooperation with Washington. It rejoiced
when the Taliban was booted from power in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein was
dethroned in Iraq; Tehran supported the U.S.-installed Iraqi Governing
Council last year and offered to provide water, electricity and technical
help. But the picture has become less clear in recent months, with Iraqis
charging that Iran is funding insurgents.

 More important for the long term is what Iran will accept to forgo nuclear
weapons. Britain, France and Germany thought they had the start of a deal to
help Iran develop nuclear energy if it scrapped them. But Tehran goes back
and forth on cooperating with the IAEA. When caught cheating with
centrifuges or enriching uranium, Iran denies all, but eventually and
defiantly owns up to the truth. Iran insists it just wants nuclear power
plants, despite its ample oil reserves, and a nuclear program has been a
constant goal from the time of the shah. Last week's report from the IAEA
said Iran was cooperating in many areas but still had not supplied all the
information requested. In the past, Iran has hidden its research at several
sites and not come clean on its development of machines that enrich uranium
for use in nuclear reactors.

 Washington has carrots to offer Iran, most notably the same promise it has
made to North Korea: It will not attack. It also can hold out the eventual
removal of the embargo on trade with Tehran if it cooperates with
international inspectors. The U.S. can stand aside as Iran seeks to join the
World Trade Organization as well ‹ again, if Tehran cooperates. On the other
side is the stick of U.N.-authorized sanctions if Tehran balks.

 As is true in the Middle East, North Korea and most areas of the globe,
U.S. intervention is needed to move diplomacy forward. The administration
has wasted months when it could have been talking with Iran to try to
determine the regime's intentions. Each delay gives Tehran more time to
develop nuclear weapons. If it succeeds, neighbors such as Egypt and Saudi
Arabia could travel the same path.

 Stopping the spread of nuclear weapons should top the administration's
foreign policy agenda. Iran is the place to start.

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 Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times

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