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The Toronto Star

US Needs to Engage Tehran, Not Order It Around

Haroon Siddiqui

Russia delivers nuclear fuel to Iran. Russia and China sign multi-billion dollar contracts to develop Iran's oil and gas fields, the auto and telecommunications sectors.

Both do so within two weeks of the U.S. intelligence agencies announcing that Tehran does not have a nuclear weapons program.

After six years of sabre rattling, George W. Bush's Iran policy is in shambles. It is so for the same reason his Iraq policy has been. It's fundamentally dishonest.

The U.S. does not want Iran to develop a bomb but it won't reduce its own huge nuclear stockpile, as called for under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It bullies Iran for allegedly doing what Israel, India and Pakistan have done: develop nuclear bombs covertly. Far from penalizing them, Bush has been courting each for strategic reasons.

Nor would he support a call by the International Atomic Energy Agency for a nuclear-free Middle East, including Israel.

Do what I say, not what I do.

Iran's nuclear program was started by the pro-U.S. Shah in the 1970s, with Washington's full backing.

The power plant at Bushehr lay dormant after the 1979 Islamic revolution. Since the Russians resumed work on it in 1995, the IAEA has kept an eye and will monitor the fuel that Russia has just shipped.

This is all legit work.

It is at another plant, at Natanz, that Iran is enriching uranium. That, too, is legit, under the non-proliferation treaty, of which Iran is a member.

So what's the problem?

The U.S. and its allies do not want Iran to have the know-how to enrich uranium, which can also be used to make a bomb. But Iran says it is not making one and does not want to.

We don't believe you, says the U.S., because you've cheated in the past.

Iran was indeed not forthcoming about all its activities, as required by the non-proliferation treaty. It's now working with the IAEA to explain its 1988-2003 record.

The issue boils down to deciphering Iran's "intentions." Bush says: "They can play like they got a civilian program and pass the knowledge to a covert military program."

But all nuclear nations built their bombs that way. So, his stance becomes: Okay, we did it but you can't. And you can't because you hate Israel and the U.S., and help Hamas and Hezbollah. That's why we must stop you, never mind the IAEA.

Hence the parallel American track at the UN Security Council, which passed two resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran.

Bush was trying for a third when his own intelligence agencies pulled the rug from under him.

If Iran has no weapons program, as the IAEA also says, the basis for the UN resolutions is gone. And there's no basis to bomb Iran.

Enter the Russians with the fuel, and they and the Chinese with the contracts to sign.

We are seeing a repeat of a historic American mistake.

In the 1950s, Dwight Eisenhower sent Egypt into the Soviet fold, from which it couldn't be pried for decades.

Bush needs to engage Tehran, not order it around. He wants to talk to Iran about Iraq but not Iran itself. You help us in Iraq but we won't help you anywhere.

The clerics in Tehran won't crumble under such coercion. But they do respond pragmatically, as they did against the Taliban, both pre- and post-9/11.

They want the U.S. to stop being belligerent, abandon its policy of regime change and respect Iran's territorial integrity. That's not a bad starting point to demand, in return, the suspension of the uranium enrichment program and a constructive Iranian role in Lebanon and in the peace talks in the Middle East.

Haroon Siddiqui, the Star's editorial page editor emeritus, appears Thursday in World and Sunday in the A-section. Email:

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