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U.S. shift in strategy toward Iran?

News analysis

Published Jun 10, 2006 12:24 AM

The U.S. government, through Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, announced on May 31 that it would be ready to participate in meetings with Russia, China, Germany, Britain, France and Iran over the nuclear issue.

Over the past 27 years, the United States has refused to meet directly with the Iran ian government, except on some occasions through a third party, and involving low-level officials.

The question of Iran agreeing to suspend its uranium enrichment project is tightly inter-related with its receiving a security guarantee that the U.S. will not interfere in its internal affairs, politically or militarily. But according to an article in the New York Times of June 7, the U.S. administration “rejected entreaties by the other powers to give Iran explicit security guarantees that the United States would not intervene politically or militarily in Iran’s internal affairs....” Given this inter-relationship, Iran cannot afford to shut down the two processes of conversion and enrichment of uranium, temporarily or otherwise, as long as the United States does not put aside its clearly hostile intention.

Analysts around the world are divided on the question of whether the U.S. has made a “major policy shift” or is merely carrying out a tactical maneuver, a sort of “diplomatic game.” It would be a major policy shift only if the U.S. has decided to modify its objectives with regard to Iran and the entire Middle East. However, it would be naïve to think that the U.S. has given up its aim of hegemony and its plan for domination over the oil resources in the region.

The U.S. entered into the multilateral negotiation process under the same old directive: that its participation is conditioned upon Iran’s suspension of all activities relating to uranium enrichment. At a press conference, Secretary of State Rice said that “as soon as Iran fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities, the United States will come to the table.”

Another source of threat to Iran comes from a close ally of the United States: Israel. Amazingly, the background for this latest “overture” in diplomacy came on the heels of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s visit to Washing ton. On May 24, given a forum to speak to the U.S. Congress, Olmert leveled poisonous and rabid anti-Iran propaganda, saying that it “stands on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons. With these weapons, the security of the entire world is put in jeopardy.... This challenge, which I believe is the test of our time, is one the West cannot afford to fail.” He added, “Our time is now. History will judge our generation by the actions we take now, by our willingness to stand up....”

Does this invitation to Olmert fit the demeanor of a government that claims it is ready to carry on negotiations with Iran? However, the attacks against the Islamic Republic of Iran do not end here.

Just a few days later, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, at an international conference in Singapore, called Iran “one of the leading terrorist nations in the world.” Is this the way that any government prepares the diplomatic ground for real negotiations?

Some say that the U.S. administration is divided between a camp of neo-cons—Vice President Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld and UN Ambassador John Bolton—on the one hand and George Bush and Rice on the other. The famous Iranian historian Ervand Abrahamian, author of “Between Two Revolutions,” strongly suggests that the U.S. ruling class is at this point divided on the issue of how to deal with Iran’s nuclear technology. (WBAI-FM’s Wake Up Call, June 5 interview)

Whether or not there is a division at the White House level, one thing remains certain: the pre-conditions set out by the U.S. offer contradict the essence of negotiations. Even Hans Blix, the former chief UN weapons inspector during the period before the start of the Iraq war, recently said that one cannot demand the suspension of uranium conversion and enrichment that itself is supposed to be the subject of negotiations. Furthermore, at no time has the Bush administration taken the option of war off the table.

U.S. on defensive

After having heard Rice say a few times on selected news channels that the United States has decided to accept a situation where Iran could have nuclear energy production, some Iranian liberal analysts reached the ultimate conclusion that Iran should jump at this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, embrace the U.S. offer and, as the condition requires, suspend the process of uranium enrichment.

This group of pundits pays little attention to the fact that the new package with all its “incentives” is not fundamentally different from the old one, which required that the fuel necessary for Iran’s nuclear facilities be processed in another country, possibly Russia or the United States. Is this a strategic concession? Absolutely not.

Let us look at the U.S.-Iran nuclear dispute from another angle. The U.S. is well aware of growing world public opinion against Washington’s threats toward Iran and its discriminatory policy of embracing some countries with nuclear weapons—such as Israel, India and Pakistan—while denying Iran the right to have civilian nuclear energy facilities.

It is interesting to note that the U.S. offer of negotiations with Iran was announced one day after a meeting of the 114-nation Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Malaysia. A communiqué issued by the NAM countries emphasized the right of all nations “without any discrimination” to enjoy the benefits of civilian nuclear energy and warned against any attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Accord ing to the French press agency AFP, the NAM communiqué warned the U.S. that “any attack or threat of attack against peaceful nuclear facilities—operational or under construction—poses a great danger to human beings and the environment, and constitutes a grave violation to international law.”

It is easy to reach the conclusion that the U.S. is on the defensive.

Another reason, but not less important, is the gradual but persistent tendency of Iran of establishing economic, diplomatic and even security relations with countries in Asia and Latin America, including China, Russia, some republics of the former Soviet Union, Indonesia, Venezuela and Cuba. For the U.S. empire, it is strategically important to stop or even slow down the cooperation tendencies and new alliances among these countries.

Russia is already in the final stages of finishing Iran’s first nuclear plant in the southern city of Bushehr. A week before the U.S. made the “new” offer, on May 23, the chief executive officer of the Russian energy giant Gazprom, Alexei Miller, held a talk with Iran’s ambassador in Moscow, Gholamreza Ansari. According to a Gaz prom statement, the discussion included “possible cooperation in gas production, transport and use.”

In a fascinating analysis in Asia times. com entitled “U.S. ‘allies’ keep Iran option open,” veteran diplomat M.K. Bha dra kumar says that “an expanded energy part ner ship cementing a strategic axis involving Russia, China and Iran—this would be an ultimate nightmare for Washington.”

The U.S. State Department recently sought “clarification” from Moscow as to why President Ahmadinejad of Iran was invited to attend the Shanghai Cooper a tion Organization (SCO) summit scheduled for June 15. Clifford Kupchan, a former U.S. diplomat currently with Eurasia Group, a Washington-based think tank, says, “The potential realignment ... crystallized by those participating in the SCO meeting is new and is of concern to U.S. interests.”

It is wishful thinking to assume that the U.S. as a hegemonic power is ready to revamp its plan of domination over the Middle East and recognize Iran as an independent regional power with its own geopolitical and economic space to grow.

Vice Presi dent Dick Cheney once said that the country that controls Middle East oil can exercise a “stranglehold” over the global economy.

How could the United States shift its strategy toward Iran when Bush as recently as last month once again declared Iran a “number one state sponsor of terrorism”?

Either the “shift” should not be taken seriously or the U.S. must acknowledge that it has misrepresented Iran’s foreign policy for years. Iran has pursued a principled position of non-aggression and anti-occupation with regard to oppressed nations in the region. Its support for the Palestinian people, Syria and Lebanon must be recognized as an effort in defense of their emancipation from the atrocities of the Zionist regime of Israel and its paymaster, the United States.

Elements for a REAL shift

The most important elements in the mix of any real shift away from current U.S. policy toward the Middle East would include its departure from Iraq and Afghanistan and the dismantling of the U.S. military bases in those two countries, as well as in the Persian Gulf states and in republics of the former Soviet Union. Other changes would include the nuclear disarmament of Israel and a just resolution to the Palestinian question by Israel’s complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the entire West Bank, so that the Palestinian people can establish their own state, independent of the control of Israel, the U.S. and Europe.

With regard to these strategic issues, is U.S. policy moving in the direction of the relaxation of tensions, eradication of regional insecurities, respect for the sovereignty, independence and national integrity of the countries in the region?

NATO’s frenzied construction of military bases in the countries of Eastern Europe and Washington’s intelligence and military involvement in Azerbaijan tell us otherwise. It didn’t go unnoticed by the peoples in the Middle East that, on the same day that Rice announced U.S. plans to negotiate with Iran, eight NATO ships arrived at Haifa port in Israel and it was announced that in July Israeli naval craft would participate for the first time as an “integrated force” in a NATO exercise.

To make its offer to Iran rosy and attractive, the U.S. on June 5 made an announcement through the European Union’s foreign policy director, Javier Solana, that Washington was ready to allow Iran to purchase aircraft parts from Boeing and to purchase U.S. agricultural machinery, wai ving trade sanctions it had imposed against Iran 27 years ago. The next day MSNBC revealed that the package of so-called incentives included U.S. agreement to provide its own nuclear technology to Iran, but with the same restriction: that Iran give up its project of nuclear fuel enrichment.

It is not hard to see that the U.S. government is still using every threat to get what it wants in Iran, including trade san ctions, possible Israeli aggression, U.S.-provoked unrest among Iranian national minorities in Kurdistan, Azer bai jan and Iran’s southern province of Khoozi stan, and freezing Iran’s assets in the U.S. All these threats belie assertions that the U.S. is sincerely offering honest and fruitful negotiations. Should the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran expect such rectitude and forthrightness?