Thursday, July 17, 2008

Engaging Iran: Is Bush now promoting diplomacy with Tehran?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Sensible people have for a long time been calling on the U.S. to adopt sensible policies towards Iran -- and by sensible I mean, of course, something other than the saber-rattling of the Bush Administration. I am no friend of the theocratic regime in Tehran, and would be happy to see it fall, but diplomacy and engagement seem to me to be far more effective tools than the various threats issued by the warmongers, from Bush and Cheney on down. Iran poses a threat to U.S. interests, to be sure, not to mention to the Middle East, but the best way to deal with that threat is not to try to bomb it out of existence, which wouldn't work and/or would produce new and perhaps worse problems (e.g., an unleashing of terrorist activity against U.S. interests), but to work towards an agreeable settlement and ultimately to reach a deal that is mutually beneficial.

Well, it seems now that the U.S., as The Guardian is reporting, is at long last getting sensible:

The US plans to establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran for the first time in 30 years as part of a remarkable turnaround in policy by President George Bush.

The Guardian has learned that an announcement will be made in the next month to establish a US interests section -- a halfway house to setting up a full embassy. The move will see US diplomats stationed in the country.

The news of the shift by Bush who has pursued a hawkish approach to Iran throughout his tenure comes at a critical time in US-Iranian relations. After weeks that have seen tensions rise with Israel conducting war games and Tehran carrying out long-range missile tests, a thaw appears to be under way.

This in addition yesterday's White House announcement that "William Burns, a senior state department official, is to be sent to Switzerland on Saturday to hear Tehran's response to a European offer aimed at resolving the nuclear standoff."

Of course, such diplomatic moves do not mean that there will be no war. A military strike is still possible, whether conducted by the U.S. alone, by the U.S. and Israel together, by Israel alone, by Israel with U.S. backing, or by a U.S.-led "coalition." And I have no confidence that Bush will follow through with these initial efforts to reach out to Tehran.

Still, as Democracy Arsenal's Adam Blickstein points out, the reestablishment of diplomatic ties with Iran "would represent a major shift by the Administration." Indeed, "we could actually be seeing diplomatic sensibility winning out over unproductive bellicosity when it comes to our policies towards Iran." (The warmongering, "bomb, bomb Iran" neocons must be having a hissy fit.)

Which is a big story, right? So then why is The Washington Post burying it on page A16? Regardless, it seems that Rice is behind it and that the president may have bought into it: "Bush's support suggests he increasingly is determined to put aside a possible military strike in an effort to reach a deal to end Iran's nuclear program in his final six months in office. In recent weeks, the White House already has approved a sweetened package of incentives to Iran that included a pledge to refrain from the use of force, supported a European gambit to begin preliminary talks with Iran and sent clear signals to Israel not to consider acting against Iran on its own."

Again, I have no confidence that Bush will do the right thing, but the fact that the U.S. seems to be open to talking directly to Tehran, and not just indirectly through the Europeans, is a promising sign. Perhaps -- it could also be a last-minute show of diplomacy before a military strike. (Remember how Bush talked up diplomacy with Saddam before the Iraq War?) "We tried diplomacy. Diplomacy failed. We're attacking them." This could be the line soon enough.

"Better late than never," says Kevin Drum, and I agree. I just hope it's more than a hollow gesture.

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