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DateLine Sunday, 20 May 2007





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Global scrutiny:

US-Iran talks could ease regional tensions

MASHHAD - IRAN: Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks under the portrait of late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni during a meeting with clerics in Mashhad, 950 kms northeast of Tehran, 16 May 2007, Khamenei said talks between Iran and the United States would only take place to “remind the occupiers” of their duties in Iraq. AFP

World view by Lynn Ockersz Talks between the US and Iran on Iraq could propel the international politics of the Gulf region and that of South West Asia into a qualitatively new and historic phase, if they materialize. They could also mean that 30 years of persistently strained relations between the states are finally coming to an end.

Much would depend on the degree to which the US "constructively engages" Iran; a process which was initially mentioned by The Iraq Study Group a few months back in a report detailing foreign policy recommendations for the US in the context of Iraq.

The Group consisted of eminent US personalities who had made a deep impression on the affairs of the country and was headed by former US Secretary of State James Baker.

Coming close on the heels of talks in Egypt between US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Syrian counterpart in what amounted to ground-breaking deliberations, a meeting of minds between the US and Iran on Iraq, could not only help in containing the conflict in Iraq but even establish the foundation for a normalization of US-Iran relations which reached breaking point in 1979 with the explosive breaking out of the US hostage crisis in Tehran. By then, Iran's Islamic Revolution was already a solid reality.

Needless to say, the Islamic Revolution ushered in a sea change in the international politics of the Persian Gulf region. For instance, Iran attracted Western hostility which in turn gave rise to a new polarity in world politics centering around deeply politicized Islam and the hegemony-seeking West, headed by the US.

Such a polarization culminated in the now notorious characterization of Iran, Syria and North Korea as being part of an "Axis of evil", by present US President George Bush.

These developments form the backdrop to the current divisions and tensions in global politics which could have been expected to escalate relentlessly if not for the wise course taken by the US of engaging Arab opinion on the Iraqi and Middle East conflicts, including Syria.

Close on the heels of this opening-up to Syria comes the news of the impending US-Iran talks which could have a decisive impact on the course of world politics if informed by a constructive spirit. A positive outcome from the latter talks would depend considerably on the degree to which the parties defer to each others legitimate interests.

Mutual accommodation of these interests forms the basis of success. The US cannot approach the talks from the viewpoint of a global hegemon nor could the other side be carelessly dismissive of the US' deepest concerns, particularly those linked to security.

However, a major snag to an improvement of US-Iran ties could come in the form of hardline opinion within the Republican establishment on the Iranian nuclear and connected issues.

There is, for instance, US Vice President Dick Cheney who was quoted saying recently on the deck of a US aircraft carrier in the Gulf, that: "We'll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region".

Lending his voice to this hardline stance was former US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton. Calling for a get-tough policy on Iran, Bolton said: "If we can't get enough other countries to come along with us to do that, then we've got to go with regime change by bolstering opposition groups and the like, because that's the circumstance most likely for an Iranian government to decide that it's safer not to pursue nuclear weapons than to continue to do so.

And if all else fails, if the choice is between a nuclear-capable Iran and the use of force, then I think we need to look at the use of force".

There is clearly, then, a division of opinion within the Republican administration on the handling of Iran. If these voices for a get-tough policy with Iran are allowed to prevail over those calling for a more reconciliatory stance, current global tensions would be further heightened.

Therefore, a task for the present is the formulation of a constructive consensual position within the Republican administration on Iran. The tensions arising out of the US-Iran confrontation could be defused only through a policy of mutual accommodation between the states concerned.

There is no question here of the will of one side being made to prevail over the will of the other, on account of the vast influence wielded by both sides in global politics.

A keen sensitivity to each others security concerns could be a sound starting point for a constructive dialogue on weighty, divisive issues.



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