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Avoiding the Slippery Slope to War with Iran

Beneath the hawkish bluster on Capitol Hill, many observers and seasoned security officials see peaceful negotiations—followed by containment, if necessary—as the optimal way forward for the U.S. relationship with Iran.

Inter Press Service

Amidst reports that stalled negotiations with Iran over its controversial nuclear programme may soon be jump-started, many in Washington are arguing that a mutually negotiated settlement remains the most effective option for resolving the dispute and averting the threat of war.

“We believe there is time and clearly there is an interest from all parties to reach a diplomatic solution,” said Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, co-host with the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) of a conference here today titled, “Making Diplomacy Work”.

“Diplomacy is the obvious option, but it’s not obvious how to make diplomacy succeed,” said NIAC president Trita Parsi, who chaired the event that aired on C-SPAN Monday.

The U.S. and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since the 1979 Iranian revolution. The conflict has been mostly cold, but the threat of war spiked this year following a pressure campaign by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Obama administration has set the U.S.’s “red line” at development of a nuclear weapon, but the Israeli red line is Iran’s acquirement of nuclear weapon-building “capability”, or Iran crossing into a so-called “zone of immunity” where it can create a nuclear weapon at Fordow, the underground uranium enrichment facility that’s impenetrable by Israeli air strikes.

Asked how he would advise the president if the Israelis carried out a strike against Iran, keynote speaker Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former National Security Adviser under President Jimmy Carter, said he would have appropriately advised the president before that point and that U.S. national security should not follow that of another country.

“It’s very important for clarity to exist in a relationship between friends. I don’t think there’s any implicit obligation for the United States to follow, like a stupid mule, whatever the Israelis do,” said the famed geostrategist.

Jim Walsh, a nonproliferation expert at MIT, stated that military strikes against Iran would compel it to expel International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) inspectors and dash for a nuclear weapon as a deterrent against future attacks.

“What do we get if there’s war?” asked Walsh. “An Iran with nuclear weapons.”

In contention with the Israeli red line is the notion that Iran already has the ability to create a nuclear weapon, should it make the decision to do so, according to experts.

“Since 2007, Western and U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed that Iran is nuclear capable,” said Kimball, who previously told IPS that the objective should thus be aimed at affecting Iran’s will.

“We must be honest about this, there’s no difference between a centrifuge at Fordow and Natanz, it’s only harder to bomb Fordow,” said Walsh.

Walsh also noted that “mistrust” between the U.S. and Iran and a focus on singular issues are impediments to the diplomatic process.

“They both want to get a deal around issue of 20-percent (enriched uranium), they want to play small ball, get something and push the can down the road. This is a mistake. You are shrinking the negotiating space,” noted Walsh.

Ahmed Sadri, a professor of Islamic World Studies at Wolf University, argued that the next few months provide the perfect window of opportunity for the U.S. and Iran to seriously move the diplomatic process forward.

“Now is the right time, after American elections and right before Iranian elections,” he said, adding that “if there is no relationship (between the U.S. and Iran), negative feelings are reinforced.

“Leader Ali Khamenei has a very conspiratorial and paranoid mind…But just because you’re paranoid that there’s a crocodile under your bed doesn’t mean there isn’t a crocodile under your bed,” said Sadri.

According to Rolf Ekéus, the former head of the United Nation Special Commission on Iraq, sanctions-relief must be on the table to provide Iran with enough incentive to give up its alleged ambitions.

“Iraq was praised by the IAEA…but it turned out they were cheating, that’s why one had to create another arrangement…containing a very important U.N. dimension that respected boundaries and the independence of Iraq,” said the Swedish diplomat.

“This was a functioning system which allowed good behaviour to get sanctions relief; bad behaviour was met with tough language from the Security Council, not individual governments, Israel or anyone,” said Ekéus.

Ekéus also emphasised that “regime change must be taken off the table” as Iranians should be “left to take care of it” and the U.S. should stop “hiding behind the P5+1” and engage Iran on mutual regional interests.

“Iran is huge now, its influence is enormous, but it’s shaky all over. The P5+1 is not the appropriate player if you want to deal with Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said.

Brzezinski emphasised that the diplomatic process is not dead, but listed options the U.S. should consider if negotiations completely fail.

The worst choice would be a U.S. joint or Israeli attack, which would “produce a regional crisis and widespread hatred particularly for the U.S.,” said Brzezinski, dismissing it as an “act of utter irresponsibility and potentially significant immorality of the U.S.”

The least objectionable of the worst options – all of which should be considered only after the U.S. failed to achieve its desired outcome through negotiations – would be a type of containment.

“We combine continued painful, but not strangulating sanctions – and be very careful in that distinction – with clear political support for the emergence of eventual democracy in Iran…and at the same time an explicit security guarantee for U.S.-friendly Middle Eastern states, including Israel, modeled on the very successful, decades-lasting protection of our European allies from an overwhelming Soviet nuclear threat,” he said.

Brzezinski added that Iran has not endured as a sovereign state for centuries because it was motivated by suicidal tendencies like initiating a war that would invite a devastating U.S. attack.

“The sooner we get off the notion that at some point we may strike Iran, the better the chances for the negotiations and the better the chance for stability if we couple it with a clear commitment to the security of the region, designed to neutralise any potential, longer-range, Iranian nuclear threat,” he said.

Jasmin Ramsey blogs at IPS’s foreign policy blog, www.lobelog.com.

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