Political Debate Over Iran
The Political Debate Over Direct Talks with Iran
By Sarah Ann Haves
On Assignment in Washington, DC
The U.S. State Department hosted a meeting with UN Security Council members on Friday, September 19 to discuss new ways of stopping Iran from fulfilling its nuclear ambitions. However, Russia made it clear that it would not support a new round of sanctions. In the face of Russia’s oppposition, it is doubtful that there will be stiffer sanctions imposed on Iran following the annual UN General Assembly Session in New York that began the week of September 22. Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the Assembly, condemning Israel, and scolding the United States, as Iran continues to pursue its nuclear ambitions. [Note: On September 27, the UN Security Council reaffirmed the existing sanctions against Iran.]
In the wake of these meetings, five former U.S. Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, James Baker III, and Warren Christopher met at George Washington University, recently, to discuss the Iranian situation. Kissinger said that the U.S. should begin direction negotiations with Iran, initiating high-level discussions without conditions.
U.S. President George W. Bush has characterized Iran as a rogue state and part of an axis of evil. He has not been supportive of direction negotiations, although he did send U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns to a meeting in Switzerland earlier this year that included discussions between European Union delegates and Iran’s top nuclear official. But, the Bush Administration has insisted that Iran stop its nuclear enrichment program as a precondition before any serious direct U.S.-Iranian talks can take place.
Meanwhile, with a U.S. presidential election on the horizon, the statements by these former secretaries of state confirm that some American politicians are continuing to look for a diplomatic solution before any significant consideration of a military option against the Islamic state. Yet, opinions are split within the Democratic and Republican parties. Democratic candidate Barak Obama has called for direct talks with Iran while Republican candidate John McCain has been opposed to such talks.
New evidence presented to the International Atomic Energy Agency seems to confirm that Iran has been trying, for some time, to acquire nuclear warheads to fit on ballistic missiles which are being adapted to carry heavy payloads that will go longer distances. Iran has already developed missiles capable of hitting Israel, as well as U.S. and European interests in the Gulf region. Worried about these developments, pro-Israel senators have voiced their concerns on Capitol Hill.
Senator Joe Lieberman, an Independent who caucuses with the Democratic Party, but recently gave a speech in support of Senator McCain’s presidential candidacy, is a long time supporter of Israel. He opposes direct talks with Iranian leaders. Yet, he supported Undersecretary Burns being at the European-Iranian negotiating table — a move by the Bush Administration that further proved Iranian intransigency on the nuclear issue. This reinforced Lieberman’s argument that the problem is not the U.S. but Iran. In the opinion of a senior Lieberman staff member, the Iranian regime will only respect the U.S. if it takes deeper action against the Islamic state. But, deeper action on Capitol Hill among many senators, including Lieberman, means stiffer UN Security Council sanctions, not a military option.
Ana Navarro, Legislative Assistant to Republican Senator Norm Coleman, says that the military option is the last resort, but that this option should always be on the table because the international community needs leverage over Iran. According to Navarro, Coleman supports pre-conditions and certain parameters before direct negotiations with Iran would begin, and it would be better if the talks involved back-channel conversations.
Both Lieberman and Coleman have indicated they would be supportive of Israel if the Jewish nation felt it needed to strike Iran militarily.
Senator Ben Nelson, a Democrat from Nebraska does not always support his party when it comes to foreign policy. And, Nelson has strong views about Iran’s president, who has repeatedly called for Israel’s destruction. But, at the same time, Nelson strongly supports meeting Iranian leaders face to face.
“Clearly, Ahmadinejad, who I consider a nit wit, has been making these pronouncements for a long time, including the denial of the Holocaust. So, you put him into a category, maybe all by himself, which is why I think we need to have a discussion with Iran, because while he may be speaking for them, he may not be the only person speaking for them. We need to know how much he does speak for them, and the publicity he gets, as opposed to others, in terms of differing views.”
Understanding that it is the Iranian mullah’s that often make government decisions, including Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Senator Nelson added, “You don’t have to capitulate; you don’t have to agree; but, I think it would be beneficial for us to have a conversation, and this conversation with more than Ahmadinejad.” In Nelson’s opinion, to avoid the military option, the U.S. must talk with its adversaries.
But, while U.S. congressional leaders debate the pros and cons of direct talks with Iran, Israelis continue to be skeptical that such discussions will stop Iran from “going nuclear.” Many Israelis see face-to-face talks with Iran as an appeasement policy set in place by international leaders who fear implementing tougher sanctions and preparing for a military option.
American leaders like Senator Nelson think that it’s important to meet with other representatives of Iran who may be more moderate than Ahmadinejad. Yet, Israeli analysts claim that Iran’s mullah’s like Khamenei are not more moderate than Ahmadinejad. Reportedly it is Khamenei that calls the shots when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program. Furthermore, it was Khamenei’s decision to elect Ahmadinejad as president, and he now wants the Iranian president to serve another term in office. Khamenei’s statements, like Ahmadinejad’s reflect Iran’s determination to isolate and dominate Western interests, worldwide.
Ana Navarro in Coleman’s office believes it’s important not to waste time talking to a regime that continues to represent an existential threat to Israel. Senator Nelson supports Israel’s right to a military option, but he still hopes it will not get to that point. “And, one of the best ways not to get to that point is to have talks with Iran.”
While some American politicians continue to insist that direct talks are necessary, others are voicing their concern that something must be done soon about Iran’s nuclear ambitions before time runs out. In a speech before a European conference on security policy in Munich earlier this year, Senator Lieberman said, “If we do not work together to get Iran right, a great deal else in the world is likely to go very wrong.” He added, “The dangers of a nuclear Iran cannot be denied, diminished, or dismissed. There is no room for complacency, and no excuse for inaction, about this threat.”
Currently, American politicians seem to be setting a new course, determined to find out who in Iran is actually responsible for its nuclear development. But those, like Lieberman, are focusing on the danger, itself, seeing the necessity of dealing with that danger before it is too late.
Looking towards the future, if direct talks fail, or further UN sanctions are unable to stop Iran, the Israeli government is preparing a military option, even if it means acting alone against Iran’s nuclear threat. If time runs out for any other available option to be considered, the Jewish state will be ready to defend its sovereignty, doing all it can to responsibly provide safety and security for millions of its citizens.
“The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.” Psalm 46:7
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting from Israel on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues affecting the nation.
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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.