Should U.S. Make Deal With Iran?
LONDON, March 22, 2004
First Afghanistan. Then Iraq. Which country will be the next Islamic domino to fall?
A good bet is Iran, and the Bush administration is deeply divided over what to do about it.
No one in Washington is suggesting that America should invade Iran, although in Tehran you can find young people who say they would be happy to see the Marines land and sweep away their dysfunctional government.
Instead, the debate within the Bush administration is whether you do a deal with a charter member of the Axis of Evil and reap the benefits, as the U.S. has done with Libya. Or whether the United States should give Irans unpopular, undemocratic, regime a shove and wait for it to collapse. Both are possible.
There have been public hints for several years that the more pragmatic of Irans conservatives are ready to reestablish relations that were broken a quarter century ago, after the Islamic Revolution and the seizure of the American embassy.
Last May, we now know, those hints hardened into a secret Iranian proposal. It was a so-called grand bargain transmitted to Washington through the Swiss ambassador, who represents American interests in Tehran. According to a newly published report in Londons Financial Times, the offer was a road map to normal relations.
Iran would address most of Washingtons major concerns. It would coordinate policy on Iraq, stop promoting terrorism by cutting off support to the militant Palestinian organizations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, stop using Hezbollah in Lebanon to attack Israel, and consider a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What was not clear was whether Iran would give up its uranium enrichment program.
What was asked of Washington in return was recognition of Irans security interests, lifting of sanctions, forgetting about regime change and eventually re-establishing full relations.
The offer came from a senior Iranian official with the blessing of Irans supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Washington accepted it as authentic, but is still thinking about it.
Why the foot dragging?
Primarily because the administration is of two minds. Realists want to seize the opportunity and cut a deal that could eliminate Iran as a threat to reform in Iraq and perhaps get rid of its fledging nuclear weapons program. The hawks, or neo-cons as they are known these days, believe the Iranian regime is on the verge of collapsing and do not want to do anything to rescue it.
The recent Iranian legislative elections were a farce. The hard-line conservatives won because the small minority of Iranians who still support them were about the only ones who turned out to vote. The rest of the country stayed home because reform candidates had been barred from running.
But Iranians are not apathetic. They are increasingly resentful and even angry. Seventy percent of Iranians are under the age of 30, and no longer willing to bow to the strict rules of a theocracy that has tried to take all the fun out of life and cannot even offer them the prospect of finding jobs. Barred from getting rid of their unwanted rulers by democratic means, Iranians are increasingly ready to take to the streets.
What is the Bush administration likely to do? Nothing, in an election year when any attempt to do business with Iran could backfire as dangerously as the Reagan administrations ill-fated Iran-Contra affair. Iran will stay on the back burner.
The chances are that change, when it comes to Iran, will be violent. It will come from within that country, and perhaps with a little push from Washington if President Bush is re-elected. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/03/17/opinion/fenton/main606832.shtml
(CBS) Tom Fenton, in his fourth decade with CBS News, has been the networks' Senior European Correspondent since 1979. He comments on international events from his "Listening Post" in London.