Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Diplomacy with Iran: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Don’t be diverted by the Bush administration and the Iran hawks who are now on the defensive with their “neck-snapping spin” over the newly-released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. Responses from Congress and around the world indicate that direct U.S. diplomacy with Iran is an idea whose time has come.

Numerous members of Congress are calling for a change in the direction of U.S. policy toward Iran. Following the release of the report, republican Senator Chuck Hagel responded: “The United States must employ a comprehensive strategy that uses all elements of its foreign policy arsenal, in particular offering ‘direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks’ with Iran – where all issues, ours and Iran’s, are on the table, including offering Iran a credible way back from the fringes of the international community, security guarantees, and other incentives. Our strategy must be one focused on direct and comprehensive engagement and diplomacy…backed by the leverage of international pressure, military options, isolation and containment. Now is the time for America to act in light of the NIE report and the momentum generated by the Annapolis Middle East meeting last week.”

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today: “In light of yesterday’s remarkable new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, I urge the President at his press conference today to announce a top-to-bottom review of his Iran policy and a diplomatic surge to advance U.S. interests with regard to Iran. He should announce that his Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense are prepared to meet anytime, anywhere with their Iranian counterparts to conduct vigorous diplomacy to advance U.S. interests and address the challenges of Iran.”

European allies expressed relief at the release of NIE and say it strengthens their arguments for negotiations with Tehran. Francois Gere, an Iran specialist and head of the French Institute of Strategic Analysis, noted that “Europeans were, and remain, in a logic of diplomacy.” However, European officials are also arguing that pressure must be maintained on Iran and they are supporting the US drive for a further round of sanctions at the United Nations. "We must maintain pressure on Iran," said French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Pascale Andreani. According to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's spokesman Michael Allam, "The report confirms we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons. It also shows that the sanctions program and international pressure has had some effect."

While the United States and European allies are still pressing ahead with a third round of sanctions against Iran at the Security Council, China says that the new intelligence estimate raises questions about the new punitive measures. China’s response follows a meeting in Paris last weekend, where, according to U.S. Undersecretary of State Nick Burns, progress was made on a comprised text for sanctions that could be circulated as early as Friday. South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo said he doesn’t see how the new NIE means there should be a new sanctions resolution at the Security Council: “What would be the justification now because of what is now being said? So let's leave it to the IAEA.”

While there has been no official response to the public release of the key judgments of the NIE, Russia maintains that it does not see any evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. The day following the release of the NIE, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in the outskirts of Moscow. Putin told Jalili, "We welcome the extension of your cooperation with the IAEA. We expect that your programs in the nuclear sphere will be open, transparent and be conducted under control of the authoritative international organization.” Jalili pledged that Iran would quickly answer all outstanding questions of the International Atomic Energy Agency and following the meeting told reporters that the NIE created "a good atmosphere for resolving many other questions concerning cooperation between Iran and the IAEA."

International Atomic Energy Agency Director Mohammed ElBaradei said the new intelligence report “tallies with the agency's consistent statements over the last few years that, although Iran still needs to clarify some important aspects of its past and present nuclear activities, the agency has no concrete evidence of an ongoing nuclear weapons program or undeclared nuclear facilities in Iran.” He added that the report “should help to defuse the current crisis. At the same time, it should prompt Iran to work actively with the IAEA to clarify specific aspects of its past and present nuclear programme.” ElBaradei called on “Iran to accelerate its cooperation with the agency” and urged immediate negotiations, saying these were needed “to build confidence about the future direction of Iran's nuclear programme” and “to bring about a comprehensive and durable solution that would normalise the relationship between Iran and the international community.”

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