Are American-Iranian Relations the Same?

By Abid Mustafa

On 15 September 2008 the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran had repeatedly blocked a UN investigation to probe allegations that it had tried to make nuclear weapons. The findings of the report were once again seized upon by western powers to portray Iran as a pariah state and a menace to its neighbors. America, France, Britain and Israel have raised the specter of a new set of sanctions to punish in their view Iran’s intransigence over its peaceful nuclear programme. White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, "We urge Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities or face further implementation of the existing United Nations Security Council sanctions and the possibility of new sanctions." French Foreign Ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said,”We have no other choice than to work in the days and weeks to come toward a new (UN) Security Council sanctions resolution”. Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office spokesman Mark Regev said, “This is another clear signal that the Iranian regime is playing games with the international community with a policy of deception. … It is now incumbent upon the international community to ratchet up the pressure on Teheran."

Iran on the otherhand defended its stance and rebuffed American claims about its nuclear programme. "We do not think there should be an open forum so America can bring up a new claim every day and pass it on to the agency, expecting Iran to address any claim," said Alaeddin Borujerdi, head of parliament’s national security and foreign affairs commission. Iran has every right to be angry. There is no tangible evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons programme. A number of prestigious western think tanks and intelligence agencies in the past have unequivocally stated that Iranian nuclear bomb is many years away. Furthermore, the recent IAEA report stresses that at the very least Iran is 2 years away before it will possess enough uranium to make a bomb—even then the process is tedious to master and many observers predict it will take years.

Over the past 5 years, the bellicose natures of US-Iran relation have followed a well-trodden trajectory, and the tiff over Iran’s nuclear programme and the ascendency of Ahmadinejad has played a pivotal role. That is to say fiery rhetoric employed by Washington and Tehran interwoven with covert collaboration between the two, has resulted in America consolidating its presence in the region. The pacification of Iraq and Western Afghanistan, new security arrangements with the Gulf countries, impetus behind the deployment of US missile shield programme in Europe are some of the benefits accrued by US policy makers. Even now, Iranian air force exercises, the Revolutionary Guards new responsibility to defend the Persian Gulf and US navy maneuvers should be viewed within this context.

Increasingly, behind the scenes there are growing signs that US-Iranian relations are heading towards normalization. The presence of William Burns in the Geneva talks in July, the prospects of the establishment of a US diplomatic mission in Tehran and Obama’s repeated mantra of engagement with Iran signal a warming of relations. On Monday, five former US Secretaries of State among them Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Warren Christopher, Henry A. Kissinger and James A. Baker III called for greater engagement with Iran. The only sticking point for American policy makers is Israel’s insistence on neutralizing Iran’s imagined nuclear threat. Hitherto, America has snubbed Israeli advances to attack Iran. America played down Israel’s show of air power over the Mediterranean a few months ago, and has refused to sell the powerful GBU-29 bunker-busters bombs. Nonetheless, the decision to sell GBU-39 bomb a smaller version is America’s way of assuaging Israel’s concerns. With the Bush administration embroiled in election fever, it is unlikely that the US will be at war with Iran. In fact the opposite is likely to happen—warming of ties between the US and Iran is on the cards.

-Abid Mustafa is a political commentator who specializes in Muslim affairs. He contributed this article to

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