. . . starring Iran

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The Washington Times: The United States and the international community remain highly concerned by Iran’s intentions to attain nuclear capability, come what may. As Tehran pursues its aim to join the nuclear club, it is slowly but surely isolating itself from the rest of the world. The Washington Times

Commentary

By Claude Salhani

The United States and the international community remain highly concerned by Iran’s intentions to attain nuclear capability, come what may. As Tehran pursues its aim to join the nuclear club, it is slowly but surely isolating itself from the rest of the world.

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns explained the U.S. policy toward Iran Wednesday in a speech at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Mr. Burns noted the United States “has no relationship as, unique, complex and difficult as it has with Iran.” The United States, he said, has had no significant contact with Iran’s government since 1979, shortly after the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution ousted the shah and Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 U.S. diplomats captive for 444 days:

“Iran’s leadership has chosen, repeatedly, to turn its back on democracy, human rights, and responsible action on nuclear issues and terrorism. A new era of complex and troubled relations began between Washington and Tehran, characterized by direct Iranian support for Lebanese Hezbollah terrorism against the United States, beginning in the early 1980s.”

Yet paradoxically, despite mounting animosity between Washington and Tehran, a growing number of Iranian student make their way to the United States yearly just to enroll in educational institutions. By the mid-1970s, more than 200,000 Iranians, a phenomenal number, were studying in the U.S.

“But today the situation is drastically different. Two-thirds of Iranians today are below the age of 35 and have no personal memory of the revolution,” Mr. Burns said.

These young people are not responsible for the sins of their elders, nor for the multiple waves of terrorism launched by the Iranian revolution’s founders. Mr. Burns cited the tragedy “for the people of Iran [that”> the hard-line defenders of absolute clerical rule struck back to suppress reforms and, for the moment, appear to be prevailing.”

In February 2004, the ruling authorities blocked thousands of candidates from running for the Majlis — the parliament — including, said Mr. Burns, sitting members.

Since coming to power, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad opted for the hard-line approach to international politics. In his first week in power, reported Mr. Burns, the new president suspended negotiations over the nuclear issue with the EU-3: Britain, France and Germany. In September, Mr. Ahmadinejad defied the international community when he appeared before the United Nations in New York to announce Iran would pursue a nuclear future against the will of the rest of the world.

He also perturbed many in the Iranian political establishment, and indeed many Iranians in general, when he filled Cabinet positions with his old chums from the Revolutionary Guard. He ruffled more feathers when he cashiered 40 experienced ambassadors from the foreign service.

Then in a speech in a Tehran school last month, the Iranian president called for “Israel to be wiped off the map.” Mr. Burns said, “President Ahmadinejad is digging a hole for himself, and he appears determined to keep digging.” Indeed, he may drag many others into any such hole he digs.

With the Bush administration under pressure not only from Democrats but also Republicans to begin pulling U.S. troops from Iraq in the next six to 12 months, Iranian influence in Iraq is only likely to grow. Iran will likelier than not try to quickly fill the vacuum left by departing U.S. troops.

Naturally, one should not expect Iran to openly dispatch troops to Iraq: That is very unlikely. The ayatollahs will act much more discreetly. Rather, their intervention would be some form of support to their Shi’ite co-religionists in Iraq with whom they already enjoy close relations.

A power vacuum also would make it possible for the minority Sunnis to bring in more jihadis to fight the Shi’ites, whom some fanatics like Abu Musab Zarqawi consider apostates.

Of course before it starts withdrawing troops from Iraq, the Bush administration would like to see a change of regime in Iran. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says, President Bush prefers keeping open all options regarding Iran.

Mr. Bush said Wednesday time and patience are needed to achieve victory in Iraq. As in the past, the president refused to set a timetable for withdrawing American forces.

The president’s speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, along with White House release of an unclassified version of the war plan, was the most detailed explanation yet by the president about his war strategy — but it left many unanswered questions.

What will happen in Iraq after a U.S. pullout? Will Iraqi forces be able to assume responsibility for their own security, or will removal of American forces result in an all-out civil war between the minority Sunnis and majority Shi’ites?

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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