Bush's final Iran blunder?
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/JJ07Ak02.html
By announcing that the United States is no longer interested in opening a consular office in Iran, the George W Bush administration has forfeited a golden opportunity for a timely diplomatic breakthrough with Iran. Instead, it prefers to exit the White House with a veneer of foreign policy consistency, given Bush's labeling of Iran as a member of the "axis of evil", along with Iraq and North Korea.
This announcement came a day after a major foreign policy speech by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York at which he used the opportunity to reiterate Iran's genuine interest in this possibility.
Responding to a question, Mottaki even went further and expressed his frustration with the US government, wondering
aloud how much longer Iran should wait for Washington's "official request" to open an interest section in Tehran. Not only that, Mottaki also stated clearly and unambiguously Iran's willingness to consider a "freeze-for-freeze" option on its nuclear program. In terms of this, for six weeks or so Iran would freeze its uranium-enrichment activities in exchange for a reciprocal freeze in the implementation of sanctions on Iran. Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, has echoed Mottaki on this subject and, yet, Iran's new signs of compromise have fallen on deaf ears in the US.
One can only speculate on the stated and hidden reasons behind the White House's decision to discard a realistic step toward rapprochement with Iran and to completely ignore Tehran's strong signals welcoming this idea. US commentators have focused on the opposition by Republican presidential hopeful Senator John McCain, who in his debate with his Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama, reiterated his steadfast objection to any direct contacts with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Had Bush given a green light to a diplomatic presence in Iran, it would have undermined McCain's foreign policy objectives, benefiting Obama.
But, more than the election concerns, the role and influence of pro-Israel lobbyists deserves consideration. This is in light of Israel's constant alarms about Iran�s nuclear program and a seeming growing willingness to attack Iran's nuclear facilities in the name of Israel's national security.
Whatever the primary reason behind Bush's decision not to initiate a mini-breakthrough with Iran during his waning days in office. it simply means that no major changes in the US's Iran policy will be introduced under the outgoing administration and the policy options on Iran remain wide open for the next president.
Bush's decision is yet another blunder that ranks with the negative reaction of the White House to an Iranian peace initiative in 2003. The US scolded the Swiss diplomats who had funneled the comprehensive peace proposal, and then rejected it without a pause for reflection.
These episodes demonstrate a structural US inability to reverse its unilateral decision of 28 years ago to break diplomatic relations with Iran in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution and seizure of US hostages.
Much may have changed in global affairs since 1980, yet US-Iran diplomatic estrangement is one constant that belies the pretensions of "smart diplomacy" on the US's part. Rather, all the vital signs indicate a Washington paralysis with regard to Tehran that absorbs the recent half-steps, such as dispatching a high-ranking diplomat to Geneva for direct dialogue with Iran on the nuclear issue, not to mention the three rounds of security dialogue on Iraq.
As for Iran, the news from the White House takes care of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's promise of "good news" on his return from last week's UN General Assembly meeting in New York.
The message that is being read behind the US's rejection of a consulate in Iran is that no matter how much interest Iran shows in the idea of a modus vivendi with Washington, the latter still prioritizes other "strategic options", such as regime change or even an outright attack on Iran. This is at a time of financial crisis in the US, when the pursuit of peace and tranquility in the thorny relationship with Iran would seem a better option.
If anything is to change, the next US president will have to fight off the corrosive influence of pro-Israel lobbyists. Such political will has not been seen in Washington since 1991-92, when the elder H W Bush feebly opposed Israel for reneging on its peace pledges toward the Palestinians.
The signs are not good, in light of the strong commitment of both the Republican and Democratic nominees for presidency to the "cause of Israel". Indeed, this may soon reach the threshold of Washington's green light for an Israeli strike on Iran, something that per recent media reports the White House refused to give visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
But with Olmert having resigned and the prospects for a stronger Israeli government high, the White House's decision to turn down the golden opportunity of a diplomatic presence in Iran may simply be tied in with the drumbeats of war sounded by Israel.
In that case, Bush's latest blunder may may yet rival his other greatest blunders, including attacking Iran's neighbor Iraq under the false pretext it had weapons of mass destruction. In Iran's case, even US intelligence's own estimate is that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program. This has been scoffed at in the Israeli media and by the government from the moment the estimate was leaked - for one good reason: any good news that Iran is not a threat is bad news for Israel.
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction. For his Wikipedia entry, click here.