Iran’s formal response to the Security Council carrot-and-stick package is a model of fudge, and will do little to quell the restlessness of the Bush Administration.
But any alternative to engaging the Iranian government in dialogue could have serious repercussions.
To its credit, Iran has offered to engage in ďserious talks.Ē To its discredit, it hasnít definitively offered to suspend its uranium enrichment by August 31, as the Security Council had demanded. It is very possible that the offer is just a stall for time, as the Iranians continue their uranium enrichment project. But Iran has to be given the benefit of the doubt.
Besides, the assumption that Iran is completely insincere is just thatóan assumption.
Trita Parsi, who is with the Washington-D.C-based Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, thinks that the Iranians are willing to bargain.
“The Iranians will likely agree to negotiations that may lead to at least a temporary suspension, but not agree to this as a precondition," Parsi told AFP after the Iranian announcement. "As disappointing as this response may be for Washington, it should not be seen as the end of the negotiating track.”
The first step the United States is likely to take is to ask the Security Council to impose sanctions on Iran. (Even this may not work, since China and Russia are hesitant to go down this path.) The Bush Administration has already indicated that it does not find the Iranian offer acceptable, and that it is working with other countries to figure out what to do next.
But what if sanctions do not have the intended effect? Will the Bush Administration then go into Iran guns blazing?
Scholar and historian Gareth Porter thinks so. In a recent analysis written for the Inter Press Service, he contends that the Bush Administration is setting the stage for a war, and has never been interested in offering the security guarantees that Iran has been looking for as an incentive to give up its nuclear project.
“Despite the desire of other members of the P5+1 for a genuine diplomatic offer to Iran that could possibly lead to an agreement on its nuclear program, the Bush Administration's intention was just the opposite,” Porter writes. “Bush's objective was to free the administration of the constraint of multilateral diplomacy. The Administration evidently reckoned that, once the Iranians had rejected the formal offer from the P5+1, it would be free to take whatever actions it might choose, including a military strike against Iran.”
Letís hope not, for the effect would be horrendous. The Oxford Research Group determined earlier this year that as many as 10,000 people could die in a U.S. assault on Iran.
“A U.S. military attack on Iranian nuclear infrastructure would be the start of a protracted military confrontation that would probably involve Iraq, Israel and Lebanon as well as the United States and Iran, with the possibility of west Gulf states being involved as well,” the group notes. “Iran would be expected to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty and engage in a nuclear weapons program as rapidly as possible. This would lead to further military action against Iran, establishing a highly dangerous cycle of violence.”
Plus, there would be economic costs.
“If Iran is attacked by the United States or Israel as a proxy, Iran may decide to destroy the region’s largest oil refinery in Saudi Arabia, which provides for 10 percent of the world’s refined oil,” Reza Rezazadeh, emeritus professor of political science at UW-Platteville, writes in the August 23 Wisconsin State Journal. “ Iran would not be worried about retaliation because it would hold the power to destroy or substantially damage other oil installations in the region, causing a global economic disaster.”
But President Bush seems to be blasé about such dangers. In his August 21 press conference, he made threatening noises about Iran and warned that “the final history in the region has yet to be written.”
The Bush Administrationís cheerleading section is even more belligerent, with Bill Kristol leading the charge.
“Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained?” Kristol wrote in July in The Weekly Standard. “That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussionsand they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement.”
In a FOX television appearance, he put forth another theory. “The Iranian people dislike their regime,” Kristol asserted. “The right use of targeted military force . . . could cause them to reconsider whether they really want to have this regime in power.”
Have these people learned nothing from the Iraq War? Are they impervious to reality?
The Bush folks still donít get a basic rule about how the world works: Jaw-jaw is better than war-war.
Amitabh Pal is the Managing Editor of The Progressive magazine.
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