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Between Fighting and Flirting


William Burns, the US Under Secretary for political Affairs, said before yesterday that his country is not against Iran's ability to play a significant regional role, in accordance with its legal interests and capabilities, if the country cooperates with the international community, and not without it." These words summarize the background of the existing negotiations, which are nowadays underway, via several channels, between Washington and Tehran... The statements by Burns and the US defense secretary, William Gates, that Iran and the US were not close to a military confrontation, followed important statements last week by a number of Iranian officials, who relied in turn on calm, moderate and diplomatic rhetoric.... In fact, what Burns called a regional role for Iran, which he has no problem with enshrining, lies in the Gulf, which is centered on Iraq before anywhere else. Iran was able to play its role in reaching an agreement between the US administration and the Iraqi authorities over the presence of US forces in Iraq...

[45680]



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Between Fighting and Flirting

Walid Choucair, DAR AL-HAYAT

July 13, 2008

William Burns, the US Under Secretary for political Affairs, said before yesterday that his country is not against Iran's ability to play a significant regional role, in accordance with its legal interests and capabilities, if the country cooperates with the international community, and not without it." These words summarize the background of the existing negotiations, which are nowadays underway, via several channels, between Washington and Tehran.

Even though Burns' testimony before the US Congress came on the same day as Iran conducted a long-range test firing of missiles, one of which could reach Israel, Washington's rhetoric has shifted to diplomacy from war vis-à-vis Iran's demonstration of force. This shift is significant, as it coincides with waves of mutual escalation and threats of war and confrontation, at times, and stances that are moderate and conciliatory and involve negotiations, at others.

The Iranian maneuvers came after drills carried out by Israel three weeks ago, to prepare for a possible confrontation with Iran, and a week after maneuvers in the Gulf by the US Fifth Fleet, along with British and Bahraini sailors, to confront the possibility of Iran's threatening international maritime traffic and the world's "oil corridors."

The statements by Burns and the US defense secretary, William Gates, that Iran and the US were not close to a military confrontation, followed important statements last week by a number of Iranian officials, who relied in turn on calm, moderate and diplomatic rhetoric. These include Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, and the advisor to the Supreme Guide, Ali Wilayati, who have spoken of new horizons to reach a negotiated solution, while Mottaki has called for beginning to normalize ties with Washington by facilitating flights between the two sides.

It's a case of fighting and flirting at the same time, amid reports that many channels of US-Iranian communication are being prepared, whether "under the table" or in public. There was a role for Switzerland, along with the Sultanate of Oman and Qatar, some European states, some Iraqi officials who are friends of America and Iran, not to speak of the significant role of the Security Council, including China and Russia. For this reason, Burns said clearly before the House's Foreign Relations Committee that "the Iranians aren't completely closed off, and neither should the United States be. Careful consideration suggests that in certain contexts, we should have overlapping interests with Iran - for example, in a stable, unified Iraq at peace with its neighbors, in a stable Afghanistan..."

When Burns says that "we should not let the Iranian regime off the hook….. under the false pretext that it is under existential threat from the outside," and Mottaki calls for a multilateral solution with the west, this means that the maneuvers and martial rhetoric are understood by both sides as remaining within the framework of boosting each party's negotiation position with the other.

In fact, what Burns called a regional role for Iran, which he has no problem with enshrining, lies in the Gulf, which is centered on Iraq before anywhere else. Iran was able to play its role in reaching an agreement between the US administration and the Iraqi authorities over the presence of US forces in Iraq. Iran let the Iraqi government know that it was not entitled to decide on the fate of a US military presence in Iraq by itself, and allow it to continue, after the Security Council's mandate for coalition forces ends on 31 December. Tehran has a decisive opinion on this matter, which should not remain limited to Baghdad and Washington. Tehran has its interests in Mesopotamia and has the right to use negotiations over a security agreement, as part of its play for regional influence. Washington cannot ignore the fact that Tehran provided cover for the Maliki government's security campaigns against Iraqi militias, including that of the pro-Iranian Moqtada Sadr group. Thus, what should be monitored, on the sidelines of the fighting and flirting between Iran and the US over the nuclear issue, is what the stances on the Iraqi-US Status of Forces Agreement will lead to, since it will be an indicator of the direction of events between Tehran and Washington over the coming months.

There have been several signs with regard to the preliminaries to negotiating over Iraq. Iran is partly responsible of the "cooling-down" period between Hamas and Israel. The conciliatory speech by the secretary general of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, on the occasion of the announcement of a prisoner exchange, was also the work of Iran, partially if not totally.
However, this requires us to discuss a future Arab regional role. If the Israeli-Syrian negotiations are taking place with Turkish sponsorship and the US-Iraqi negotiations are taking place in the context of Iraqi-Iranian cooperation, then what is the Arab role in the coming regional phase?

* Published in the London-based DAR AL-HAYAT on July 11, 2008





:: Article nr. 45680 sent on 14-jul-2008 00:38 ECT

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Link: www.alarabiya.net/views/2008/07/13/53004.html



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