Will U.S. and Iran find a common language?

10.05.06

MOSCOW. (Gennady Yevstafyev for RIA Novosti)

It is important to keep in mind several facts when analyzing the debates on
the Iranian nuclear file in the UN Security Council on May 9. To start with,
on April 28 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear
watchdog, presented a new report on the Iranian nuclear program. IAEA
Director General Dr Mohamed ElBaradei reported on some additional Iranian
explanations. He also said that some of his previous concerns and suspicions
had not been allayed. Moreover, the IAEA has not yet analyzed some of Iran's
replies.

The main news so far is that the Iranians are successfully carrying out a
pilot uranium-enrichment project, just as they have declared. (As of May 1,
enrichment reached 4.8%). By so doing, they are displaying total disregard
for the wishes of the world community. Tehran has irritated even those who
were eager to help it avoid the dangerous confrontation.

But these were merely "wishes." Under the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT),
Iran has the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, while readiness
to implement voluntary confidence-building measures is not a legal
commitment, and their duration cannot be indefinite.

As usual, the IAEA report displayed the unparalleled skills of UN
bureaucrats to quote enough arguments to substantiate any position. But the
conclusion is obvious - there is no definite evidence of Iran's military
nuclear program, and, hence, no reason to submit a resolution on sanctions
to the Security Council. As before, its five permanent members are not
unanimous on settling the situation.

In his report ElBaradei used a politically correct term "suspension of all
enrichment." This is what the EU3 suggested in its initial compromise
proposal, which was logical and left much room for maneuver at the talks.
But once Condoleezza Rice came into play, this potential carrot disappeared
from the EU3 proposal, and was replaced with the term "cessation." In
effect, this has frustrated EU3 mediation.

Moreover, it seems that neither the U.S., nor Iran were too unhappy about
this failure. Many analysts believe that for all the public statements of
U.S. high-rankers, by and large Washington was neither interested in the
success of the Moscow proposal to set up for Iran a joint uranium-enrichment
center on Russian territory.

Iran's contradictory and dubious attitude to this proposal shows that it has
its own plans on settling the situation around its nuclear program.

We know little about decision-makers in Tehran - merely that they belong to
a very narrow circle of the ruling elite, the dowreh. But it is abundantly
clear that many of them are convinced that U.S. help is indispensable for a
comprehensive solution, also involving bilateral relations. Apparently, the
recent unexpected U.S.-Indian nuclear deal has made a great impression on
the Iranian top leaders and convinced them that in principle it is possible
to strike a deal with Bush Jr. without go-betweens.

This is exactly what Washington wants to achieve tacitly. It does not want
to allow other countries, even its NATO allies, not to mention the reviving
Russia, to take part in solving any major geopolitical problems,
particularly when it comes to a former strategic ally and key player on the
oil market.

This explains the obvious deadlock of the problem. The clandestine forces
are subverting the visible negotiating process.

We see two real scenarios of settling the problem. In principle, they are
both peaceful although it is not possible to rule out altogether the use of
force or asymmetrical response. But this would be a third scenario - a
disaster for the Iranians and Gulf and Mideastern Arabs, which would bring
disgrace upon all of its initiators.

Under the first scenario, the Security Council could issue a resolution,
which would sound as a warning to Iran. It should not contain any threat of
force envisaged by Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. The U.S. and other Western
countries have set forth a Chapter 7 draft resolution on implementing
large-scale economic sanctions, which Washington has been carrying out
without much success for several decades now. But the draft has been
compiled in such a way that it is easy to delete all the "extras," or amend
it in general. The authors knew beforehand that after Iraq they were not
going to receive international permission for the use of force or for
far-reaching sanctions.

But a modified Security Council resolution, if adopted, will be no more than
yet another step to the settlement of the Iranian nuclear problem. The IAEA
should remain the main instrument for exploring the history and real goals
of the Iranian nuclear program. It should be given much more time for
preparing detailed reports on the matter because the practice of monthly
reports does not allow it to conduct thorough inspections and collect the
information required for subsequent analysis. Resumption by Tehran of a
temporary moratorium on uranium enrichment and implementation of the
additional protocol requirements would be a litmus test of Iran's attitude
to the opinion of the world community, expressed in the UN would-be warning
resolution.

But the protocol is not a cure-all and the world community should continue
exploring ways for toughening control over dubious nuclear programs on an
agreed-upon basis. Of course, the impatient Pentagon guys and the U.S.
"hawk" in the Security Council - John Bolton - would be displeased, but the
world community should have a more responsible attitude to the issue of war
and peace than the extremists from among the U.S. ruling elite, who are
pursuing their narrow self-centered objectives. Iran also has sensible
political forces - not just Ahmadinejad, who is in a sense a mirror image of
his overseas critics.

Paradoxical as it may seem, but now that the U.S. has moved the case to New
York and almost regained its chief designer position in construing a
compromise, we can expect more action in the behind-the-scenes bilateral
conspiracy. The leading Republicans are well versed in the technique. The
same Defense Minister Donald Rumsfeld visited Iraq as a special envoy of
President Reagan on December 19-20, 1983. By that time the U.S. and Iraq had
had no diplomatic relations for six years. Rumsfeld promised Saddam Hussein
to prevent arms supplies to Iran. Interestingly, they met at the peak of the
Iraqi-Iranian war; by that time Iraq had been using chemical weapons for
almost a year. Donald Rumsfeld was in raptures over Saddam (this fact may
prompt the dictator's lawyers to register one more name on the list of their
client's references).

It won't be difficult to give up the markedly belligerent rhetoric of today,
especially considering that the U.S. paved the way to the construction of
joint enrichment plants in the Shah's Iran. The now declassified directive
of the U.S. National Security Council No. 292 of April 22, 1975, signed by
Henry Kissinger, starts with the decision to allow the use of American
materials for the production of fuel in Iranian reactors and its transfer to
third countries with which the U.S. was bound by agreements. This was under
a Republican administration as well. Iranian experts remember the good old
times and many are probably hoping that they will be back.

Prominent American political scientist Robert E. Hunter has succinctly
defined the key problem by saying that going to war with Iran was the worst
option. He said that the U.S. should offer Iran security guarantees. A few
days ago Zbigniew Brzezinski, the patriarch of American "hawks," also
criticized the line towards confrontation. Even such a recognized ideologist
of the U.S. Conservative establishment as Dick Cheney sounded quite peaceful
in Vilnius. There are other signals, so far not so big, pointing to a
gradual change in the atmosphere of debates on the nuclear program.

We should be ready for most unexpected turns in the U.S.-Iranian standoff.
It is important for us to find effective ways of upholding our political and
economic interests in Iran and ensuring the security of our citizens. For
the near future, the best option for us would be to find the golden mean,
and disassociate ourselves in calculated proportions from both confronting
parties.

In the past Gennady Yevstafyev served in the Foreign Intelligence Service
and retired in the rank of Lieutenant General. Now he is a senior adviser at
the Center for Policy Studies in Russia (PIR Center). -0-