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PV Vivekanand: Will to end conflicts is lacking
January 08, 2012
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The oral war between the US and Iran has risen to a highly dangerous level, and a small error of judgement on either part could spark an armed conflict in the Gulf.

No one wants the events taking that direction. An overwhelming majority of people in this region and elsewhere do not want a military conflict here and they are fearful that things could get out of control. Among the few people who would applaud military action against Iran would be the Israelis and their allies and supporters in the West.

True that no one in this region or beyond wants Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Iran does have the right to exploit nuclear energy for useful purposes; so do all signatories of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). And it is the responsibility of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to investigate suspected deviations from the NPT and it is for the targeted country to put to rest concerns that it is engaged in such activities.

That is the diplomatic norm. But diplomacy has all but disappeared from the US-Iran equation, with provocative statements and threats flying around.

Iran is behaving as if it wants to invite foreign military action against it. It has no business or right to threaten the free flow of oil from the Gulf to the international market notwithstanding the question whether it has the capability to do so. The US has rejected the threat and vowed to maintain the free flow of oil.

If anything, the escalation of the crisis owes itself to the machinations of the pro-Israeli lobby in Washington that pressured the administration of President Barack Obama into toughening US sanctions against Iran to the point that the focus has been shifted from the nuclear dispute to regime change in Tehran.

Iran has asserted that any physical blockade of its oil exports would be considered as an act of war and that it reserves the right to retaliate in any manner it chooses. Against that backdrop, diplomacy would seem to be out of place because of the deep animosity between the US and Iran.

However, Obama has an opportunity to prove himself as a true leader of the world. Tehran knows the eventual outcome of the tough sanctions will be very painful, but it will not be ready to back down under threats. At the same time, Obama should also realise that sanctions alone would not solve the problem and that he needs to exercise diplomacy that would enable Iran to back down from confrontation without “losing face.”

Obama needs a broad strategy to solve the crisis. It starts with a self-assumed immunity against all domestic and Israeli pressure to opt for military action against Iran.

He should follow all international norms and stop behaving as if the US has centuries-old enmity towards Iran, or any other country for that matter in the region.

Washington should declare the Middle East a region free of nuclear weapons and the doctrine should be first applied on Israel’s nuclear arsenal. Obama should not tolerate any Israeli nonsense and should insist that the Jewish state takes steps to comply with his call in the context of an agreement among all regional countries. That would be the first meaningful step towards convincing Iran that the US means business this time around in improving relations through mutual confidence-building measures.

The US president should publicly declare that he is not seeking regime change in Tehran, thus meeting a long-standing but implicit Iranian demand. Regime change in Iran is no easy mission and the push could prove very costly and perhaps not very rewarding to the US. As such, Obama should have no qualms about publicly announcing it rather than keeping the Iranians guessing about US intentions.

Obama should seek to engage Iran in a meaningful dialogue on all issues of concern to both sides. These should include the proxy wars that the US and Iran are fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and concerns that the West is fuelling internal Iranian dissent. Switching of the US-funded television and radio transmissions in Farsi language aimed at the Iranian people exhorting them to revolt against the regime would be an indicator of good faith.

In return to the confidence-building measures, Iran should give close attention to the pledges that Obama made in his famous June 2009 speech from Cairo University of better relations between his country and the Muslim World. Tehran should appreciate that Obama represents the best opportunity to put an end to the decades of Iranian-US animosity and open a new chapter in bilateral relations. The Iranians should realise the incumbent US president would be in a much better position to work towards that objective only in a second and final term at the White House. But he needs to be re-elected in November.

If he hopes to be re-elected, Obama cannot be seen as timid in the face of the Iranian threats and warnings. And that is where the Iranian response to his overtures really matters. Can the theocratic regime be trusted or expected not to thump its chest and boast about how it brought the superpower to resort to attempts at reconciliation in the face of a tough Iranian posture?

That is of course a secondary question. The primary question is whether the Tehran regime will be ready to shift away from its quest for regional domination based on a confrontational and aggressive approach or continue on its current path where it believes that its conflicts with the international community are the best bet to keep itself in power. One could easily see that Tehran is gloating over its newfound influence in Iraqi affairs and would definitely want to expand it further in the region.

Equally importantly, Israel should start appreciating that its edge in military power, supported by its nuclear weapons, is not the answer to its security concerns. Israel’s security rests with fair, just and equitable peace with the Arab and Muslim worlds that would drag the carpet from under all arguments calling for continued hostility towards it.

One could easily see that Israel thrives on regional crises and would not want to settle its conflicts with the Arabs and Muslims if only because it would lose grounds to project itself as a small democratic country surviving in a sea of hostility and deprive itself of its self-assumed right to demand support from the West, particularly the US.

What the situation needs today is a revamping of policies and approaches on the part of all parties involved. However, it is wishful thinking because no one seems to be ready to accept that decades-old conflicts and disputes could not be solved through decades-old but failed approaches. There does not seem to be a genuine desire to settle the conflicts and disputes without imposing conditions. And that translates into perpetual regional tensions.

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