Why Not Strike Bargain With Iran?

By Haroon Siddiqui

May 4, 2006

Canada - Toronto Star - Original Article (English)

Iran's Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei,
the Real Power in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Here is the
Great Man With Government Officials Last Year. (above).

[RealVideo Khamenei Shrine, For The Real Fan]

President George W. Bush: European Hopes of Restraint
from the White House Have Been Dashed Before, and May
Be Again With Iran. (below)


The world is only marginally less polarized on Iran than it was on Iraq three years ago. But the big difference this time is that George W. Bush is doing his bullying more skilfully.

While almost everyone opposes nuclear proliferation, the American-Israeli drive to stop the Iranian nuclear program is fully backed only by Britain.

France and Germanyare reluctant recruits to the cause and do not endorse all of America's hardball tactics, even if their names are on the anti-Iran resolution introduced in the Security Council yesterday.

Russia, slowly finding its feet on the world stage, is putting up stiff resistance.

China, keen on keeping its growing bilateral trade with the U.S., may meet Bush only halfway.

And as these big guys duke it out, Iran's neighbours Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan and others are practically begging to be left out of the fray.

The rest of the world, which does not count for much in this geo-political standoff, is appalled at Washington's double standards:

-- Preaching nuclear non-proliferation while planning to upgrade its own nuclear strike force.

-- Dictating new rules while sabotaging the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty.

-- Winking at the Israeli, Indian and Pakistani nuclear arsenals while going after Iran, which is said to be nowhere near developing a bomb.

-- Saying, with a straight face, that the Security Council's "credibility" would suffer if it does not act against Iran, while ignoring longstanding council resolutions calling for the Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories.

-- Negotiating with North Korea while refusing to talk to Iran.

There is, however, a method to this madness.

Having seen North Korea go nuclear on his watch, Bush is determined to avoid a repeat in Iran, especially because Tehran is so ardently anti-Israel.

As Nicholas Burns, the State Department point man on the nuclear file, put it: "The difference in the two situations is that in Iran you have a state situated in the most volatile area of the world, where they are the leading central backer of terrorist actions."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's odious anti-Semitism has augmented the American case, which is this:

Iran has a legal right to enrich uranium but it can no longer be trusted to.

Therefore, "the Iranians should not have a nuclear weapon, the capacity to make a nuclear weapon, or the knowledge as to how to make a nuclear weapon," according to Bush.

Not a single centrifuge should spin in Iran.

To that end, the U.S. will not rule out attacking Iran, which it keeps under constant surveillance with drones and spy satellites, as does Israel.

But the American mantra is that it will pursue a diplomatic solution. However, that "diplomacy has to be hard-edged," according to Burns.

That means isolating Iran and contrary to the friendly counsel of Germany and others not even talking to Tehran, until it capitulates.

If it doesn't, the U.S. will continue to build a Security Council case under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter that would allow diplomatic and economic sanctions and, if need be, war.

At the very least, it would provide a fig leaf to a bombing campaign against Iran, perhaps at some politically opportune moment in the Bush presidency.

If veto-bearing Russia and/or China won't go along with Bush, he would go it alone with as many or as few allies as he could muster.

In the case of the Iraq war, his was "a coalition of the willing." In the case of Iran, it's "like-minded nations."

What is Iran's game?

More than making a bomb, it wants to have the latent capability to.

It wants security guarantees against a U.S.-engineered "regime change." It feels vulnerable surrounded by nearly 160,000 American troops and bases in Iraq, Afghanistan and Central Asia, plus the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf.

Europeans sympathetic to that view, including Germany and France, wonder: Why not talk to Iran and strike a bargain?

Why not allow a small civilian nuclear enrichment facility, keeping it under constant surveillance by international inspectors? Or, better still, enrich Iranian uranium in Russia?

Why not normalize relations in return for Iran's help in Iraq and the ending of its support for Hamas and Hezbollah against Israel?

After all, the clerical regime in Tehran has shown itself to be pragmatic, giving its consent for the American toppling of the Taliban as well as Saddam Hussein.

The Iranians themselves constantly remind the world that Iran has never attacked anyone in 250 years.

But Bush won't budge. Iran is the only card he holds in his fading presidency.

Haroon Siddiqui, the Star's editorial page editor emeritus, appears Thursday and Sunday.