How to silence that Iran war drumbeat
War is not inevitable. Bold, transparent diplomacy can work.
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Washington has forsworn such bases, but further reassurances are needed.Skip to next paragraph
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More realistically, the most powerful and technologically advanced nations, including the US, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, and China, should join in offering Iran much more cooperation in peaceful nuclear and other energy fields that would finally induce it to abandon uncontrolled enrichment of uranium or plutonium production and any related weapons programs. Though such offers have been periodically on the table for years, they can be effective now if we repeat and improve them, and make them more detailed.
Although nearly unnoticed in Western media, Iran made an official offer to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in May involving a package of "comprehensive negotiations" on everything from the nuclear issue to general disarmament and help toward a Palestinian-Israeli settlement. If this were taken seriously and acted on, the West could stymie Iran's dangerous growing isolation.
To ease tensions, both US presidential candidates should specifically renounce plans for permanent US bases and presence in Iraq. As US historian William Pfaff recently wrote in his column, insisting on a permanent presence in Iraq would "turn Iraq into an American satellite state." This would force Tehran and other neighbors to regard Iraq as a threat and provide incentive to speed nuclear weapons activity.
Years of US and UN sanctions haven't made Tehran change its policies. Why would it do so now?
In fact, some of the big Western banks have acceded to US demands to curb credits to Iran, hitting imports of products from refrigerators to children's toys. But Iranian importers have now turned to Chinese and smaller Western banks. What Iran is discovering is that it can deal somewhat successfully regardless.
By reopening a US diplomatic mission in Tehran, dropping sanctions except those involving military technology, and improving the old offers of Western and Russian IAEA-supervised peaceful nuclear technology, the US could help avert intensified tensions or an actual war.
The wisest path to peace would be to encourage rather than discourage Western investment in Iran's oil – natural gas and other (nonmilitary) industries – and engage immediately in direct, top-level dialogue with Iran's leaders.
We don't have to further back ourselves into a corner, from which neither the West nor Iran is able to come out without a fight.
• John K. Cooley is a former Monitor correspondent who covered the Middle East for more than 40 years. His latest book is "Currency Wars."