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Opinion

How to silence that Iran war drumbeat

War is not inevitable. Bold, transparent diplomacy can work.

By John K. Cooley / June 18, 2008



Athens

Increasing signs that either Israel or the US might attack Iran before President Bush leaves office have many people in Europe, the Middle East, and around the world on edge.

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Whether the rumblings are real or overinflated rumors, it's time to reverse any momentum that could unleash a potentially calamitous Middle East conflict, killing thousands, sending oil prices to $200 a barrel and beyond, and accentuating global recession.

After talks with Mr. Bush on his tour through Europe, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown didn't mention war explicitly, but did say that European states would agree to impose new financial sanctions on Tehran. Bush noted that "all options are on the table," and that the ball was in Tehran's court.

Tehran, meanwhile, seems to continue to ignore the threat of sanctions.

Beyond official statements, the latest clues to war parallel proposed and actual sanctions against Iran. Immediately after a high-profile visit to Washington earlier this month, Israeli cabinet minister Saul Mofaz publicly called an Israeli attack on Iran "unavoidable" unless Iran reined in its nuclear activities.

Members of a Bush delegation in mid-May reportedly assured Israeli officials in secret that a US attack on Iran was planned, according to Israeli Army Radio and in The Jerusalem Post as well as in American blogs and websites.

Also last month, the Asia Times claimed that US Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California and Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana were given classified briefings about a planned US strike – not on Iran's nuclear sites but on headquarters of its Revolutionary Guard Corps. The purpose, the paper claimed, was to "send a message" to halt Iranian support for anti-US militias in Iraq. Offices for both senators vigorously denied the report.

To avoid further inflaming this kind of talk, the West must end Iran's race to nuclear weapons – not by force, but by bold transparent, and imaginative diplomacy.

This should include direct and comprehensive US-Iranian talks on the basic issues that have plagued Washington-Tehran relations since the Islamic Republic overthrew the late Shah in 1979 and the ensuing hostage crisis.

One immediate step the Bush administration could (but most probably won't) take is to make absolutely clear its intensions regarding long term presence in Iraq. Both Iraq – which is worried about its sovereignty– and Iran – worried about military threats – are anxious about the possibility of permanent US bases there.

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