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expert: Iran-U.S. dialogue should create direct communication link

Neocon impulses of Bush administration have largely evaporated

TEHRAN, May 25 (MNA) — Diplomats from Iran and the United States are scheduled to meet in Baghdad on May 28 to discuss the deteriorating security situation in Iraq. It is the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that officials from Iran and the U.S. will be meeting face to face.

Even though Iranian and U.S. officials have stated that the security situation in Iraq is the only topic on the agenda of the talks, some analysts say that the meeting provides a good opportunity to discuss other differences between the two countries, particularly the standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Bahram Rajaee, the director of international and external relations for the American Political Science Association, told the Mehr News Agency in an interview on Tuesday that he believes the most important goal of the planned talks between Iran and the U.S. should be to “establish a direct avenue of communication regarding regional affairs.”

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: What do you think of the planned Iran-U.S. negotiations on Iraq? Do you think the negotiations will only focus on Iraq or will the discussion be expanded to include other subjects as well?

Rajaee: Given that the security situation in Iraq has deteriorated markedly since 2003, I believe U.S.-Iran talks on Iraq are long overdue. The Bush administration is facing increasing domestic pressure to demonstrate it can demonstrate progress, and engaging Iraq’s neighbors such as Iran in a bid to tamp down the violence in Iraq is one way of doing so. From my perspective, it is highly likely that the talks will focus heavily on Iraq. Officials from both governments have already said that this will be their focus, and this is probably a good thing as dragging other issues into the process now may be premature and serve to undermine mutual confidence. I believe the most important goal, aside from working to reduce instability in Iraq, is for the U.S. and Iran to establish a direct avenue of communication regarding regional affairs.

Q: What points will be discussed in the negotiations?

Rajaee: Most likely, the immediate points of discussion will be Iran’s alleged support for various Shia militias, or alleged ties to other insurgent groups, and its intelligence/counterintelligence/military operations presence on the ground. In addition, Iran’s intentions regarding Iraq’s future government will also likely come into play. For its part, Iran will likely question the duration of the U.S. presence in its neighbor, allegations of U.S./Israeli cross-border operations into Iran, U.S. intentions regarding the Iraqi Shia, and the future of the MEK (the terrorist group Mojahedin Khalq).

Q: Some analysts argue that moderates in the Bush administration are winning over the dwindling ranks of neoconservatives. What is your view?

Rajaee: I agree that it is abundantly clear the “neoconservative” impulses of the Bush administration have largely evaporated under the costs of their own actions and heavy domestic political opposition. Even if this worldview were still in place, virtually the entire political universe around the president has shifted since 2003 in a way that makes acting on this perspective nearly impossible. Simply put, the American public and most American politicians have come to realize the very heavy costs the president’s ideology has imposed on them — with no end in sight. The case of Iran is one instance where this shift is gradually becoming apparent, but North Korea is another. In both cases, while there is still significant pressure to use greater force, the administration has opted for a diplomatic path for now. Again, this may well be more a belated recognition of their political inability to achieve their goals than a true shift in perspective, but nevertheless this is the political reality of Washington today.

Q: What do you think of the combined influence of Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on the Iran-U.S. dialogue?

Rajaee: I think the roles of these individuals in the process of adopting a different approach to U.S. foreign policy is instrumental, but I would draw a clear distinction between Sec. Rice and Sec. Gates. Rice has been part of George W. Bush’s inner policy making circle since 1999/2000 and was intimately involved in the post-9/11 response as well as the planning and execution of the Iraq war. She also apparently shares the president’s predilection for viewing the world in black-white terms (“good vs. evil”) and even as she has chosen or been forced into being more of a diplomat recently, she will not be able to escape this past. However, I understand that she is increasingly relying on experienced senior advisors in the State Department (such as Nick Burns) who arguably favor diplomacy over the use of force regarding Iran — but tough diplomacy that aims to achieve U.S. objectives.

Robert Gates has a quite different background and arguably his entry into the administration — and the departure of Rumsfeld — was a huge turning point and major step in the erosion of the neoconservative hold on U.S. foreign policy. He is a well-known pragmatist and moderate. I think his ability to encourage more flexible approaches in both Bush and Rice will serve the U.S. well — both in these upcoming talks with Iran as well as larger deliberations on U.S. regional policy.

Mehr News, May 25, 2007


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