UPI: Last November, before Iraq’s election, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad received permission from President Bush to open direct dialogue with Iran on the issue of security in Iraq. United Press International
By RAMESH SEPEHRRAD
UPI Outside view Commentator
WASHINGTON, March 31 (UPI) — Last November, before Iraq’s election, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad received permission from President Bush to open direct dialogue with Iran on the issue of security in Iraq. In an interview with the Newsweek magazine last year, Khalilzad said: “I’ve been authorized by the president to engage Iranians as I engaged them in Afghanistan directly.” The talks never took place because Iran was confident that Iraqi elections in December of 2005 will swing in favor of Tehran’s Islamic Republic hence no need to have talks with the “Great Satan.”
Three months later, on March 15, 2006, in a mullah-style choreographed setting, Iraqi Shiite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the pro-Tehran Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq said, “I demand the leadership in Iran to open a clear dialogue with America about Iraq.” The day after, Ali Larijani, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator and secretary of the country’s Supreme National Security Council told reporters, “We agree to (talks with the United States).” So, how is it that such remarks come from Iran’s top nuclear negotiator instead of Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki?
Not to worry, Tehran’s regime is not one to follow such formalities. After all, the un-elected Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, holds the last word on all domestic or foreign matters. Of course, Khamenei too sanctioned the talks on March 22, as long as the United States does not “bully” Iran. The same person who last September said “the failure of the United States in Lebanon and Iraq, and in its political confrontation with Iran” were all signs of “the enemy’s front losing strength.” So, why the sudden urge to hold talk with the “failing” United States?
Because the Iranian regime is weakened due to ongoing protests at home, growing international pressure on its illegal nuclear development and the election results in Iraq which did not deliver the Shiite majority Tehran had sought.
Since last December, Iran’s civil society and non-governmental organizations such as women, union workers, bus drivers, teachers, students, workers and even non-violent Sufis have launched street protests, mass strikes, demonstrations and sit-ins.
For example, the women’s rally that took place on 2006 International Women’s Day had a clear message. In a phone interview with reporters, Mehri Amiri, a women’s rights activist, conveyed the message of March 8th rally that the only solution is change of regime in Iran. Protesters called the regime “illegitimate” and “enemy of Iranian people.” Calling for isolation of the regime, Amiri explained, “Our only demand from world community is to isolate this regime and recognize our voice for change.”
The indigenous and popular call for democratic change is an irreversible pattern that is far too familiar for the Iranian leadership and those who recall the years leading to 1979 anti-monarchic revolution.
Second, Iran’s nuclear file has been referred to the U.N. Security Council and is awaiting formal Council’s action. Whether a non-binding statement or a binding resolution is issued by the Council, Tehran’s Islamic Republic fears the mounting international consensus on its nuclear drive. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said the administration had concluded “the best way” to deal with the nuclear program is at the U.N. Security Council. He is correct. While Burns did not flatly reject Larijani’s overture to hold talks, he said “we have made the calculation … it is better to try to isolate the Iranian government” and that effort has caught Tehran’s attention.
Although there is still the diplomatic maneuvering with Russia and China, Secretary Rice has stressed Washington “won’t tolerate stall tactics” on Iran and is “confident” the United States and its allies will reach agreement on how to pressure Iran to abandon sensitive nuclear activities.
Third, the political development in Iraq since the December 15th election has not been in Tehran’s favor. Iraq’s political balance has not tipped in favor of Shiite alliance with close ties to Tehran. As explained by Maryam Rajavi, the leader of Iran’s main opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran: “Regime’s efforts to gain control over Iraq and to establish a puppet Islamic Republic in that country by influencing the parliamentary elections failed.”
In an interview with the New York Times last week, Larijani acknowledged that Iran prefers the presence of a strong Shiite dominated government that would be receptive to Iranian influence. On March 17th, Larijani qualified Tehran’s goal for the talks and said, “We are prepared to give our hand. But the condition is that the United States should respect the vote of the people.”
In recent days, many prominent Iraqi politicians and leaders, including Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites, have expressed concern over the proposed talks, its scope and possible links to Iran’s nuclear file. Rightfully so, Iraqis are worried about their own interests and are fully aware that Tehran’s Islamic Republic has no other interest in mind except its own.
Tehran is using Iraq to derail focus on its nuclear file at the UNSC. By supplying arms, funds and trainings to insurgents and other terror networks, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corp is controlling the levers of violence in Iraq. Early this month, U.S.-Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld referred to the notorious role of the Qods (Jerusalem) Force, the extraterritorial branch of the IRGC, in Iraq.
Given all this, one wonders how such talks can be in the interest of Iraqis or the Iranian people and the United States. The Iranian regime cannot be given any breathing room either on its nuclear file or its dangerous role in Iraq. If arming insurgents and terrorism in Iraq is indeed a concern, and it is, then holding talks will not resolve it just as talks on the nuclear issue for the past three years did not resolve anything.
Isolation and cutting all ties/talks is the only way to bring Tehran to its knees. The United States must stay the course of policy of isolation. And for the sake of peace and stability in the region, UNSC must move swiftly on smart-sanctions against Tehran’s regime.
(is president of the National Committee of Women for a Democratic Iran.)