[VIEWPOINT]U.S. must ease its rigid position on IraqIran recently staged a surprise week-long military exercise in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman.
A new high-speed torpedo that can move underwater at 100 meters (109 yards) per second and a missile that can carry multiple warheads and evade radar were shown off. The show of force drove home the point that the Strait of Hormuz, through which about 40 percent of the world’s oil is transported, is under Iran’s control.
Iran has also reportedly sent, timed to coincide with the military exercise, a high-level delegation to Washington to sound out the possibility of dealing directly with the United States. The Financial Times reported that it was the first time since the Islamic revolution in 1979 that Iran has extended its hand to the United States for such a dialogue. It is a classical diplomatic maneuver: Iran frowns at Washington outwardly, but casts amorous glances in practice.
The United Nations Security Council issued an ultimatum on March 29 that Iran stop uranium enrichment within 30 days and comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s requirements.
This step can lead to the imposition of economic sanctions. Toward the end of April, when the 30-day ultimatum ends, the Security Council will likely add to the diplomatic pressure on Iran. However, a hot debate is expected over possible sanctions on Iran under Chapter VII of the UN Charter which authorizes “action required to carry out the decision of the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security.” It is likely that the United States and the European Union, whose positions favor the imposition of sanctions, will collide head-on with China and Russia, who object to the idea.
A resolution for sanctions will be possible only if their objections are overcome. If China and Russia, which hold veto power on the Security Council, insist on their positions, it will not be possible for the United Nations to impose sanctions. If things go that far, the United States has no choice but to bypass the United Nations, as it did going into the war on Iraq.
Before it can call for a coalition of countries willing to participate, the United States will have to impose sanctions unilaterally. But it is not clear how many countries will join. The diplomatic fallout from the war on Iraq, launched in the absence of a UN resolution, still persists. And worries are high that chaos will ensue in the international oil market if the supply of Iranian crude is disrupted. Doubts over the effectiveness of sanctions in which China and Russia do not participate also make the imposition difficult.
Military action will also be difficult to use as a solution. Iran’s territory is four times larger than Iraq and its population three times larger.
Some 130,000 U.S. troops are still in Iraq. Under current conditions, it would not be possible to stage an all-out war against Iran. Surgical strikes at nuclear facilities are being considered, but it is easier said than done. Damage to civilian facilities such as schools and factories would be unavoidable. Considering the passion for martyrdom among Shia Muslims, such strikes will most likely fuel the fire.
There are reportedly 210 U.S. Central Intelligence Agency staffers working on Iran affairs. But the dominant mood within the agency is that there is no solution to Iran’s nuclear program.
If the U.S. changes its way of thinking, however, it is not impossible.
The United States has to learn a lesson from the North Korean nuclear negotiations.
The administration under President George W. Bush lost precious momentum by insisting on multilateral negotiations and refusing to deal with North Korea directly.
Last year, it seemed a way forward to a solution was found at the six-party talks, but it became deadlocked again due to the sudden emergence of the “supernotes” counterfeiting issue.
The only way to solve Iran’s nuclear problem is for the United States to try to deal directly with Iran.
Washington must look for a practical solution that would induce Iran to abandon its nuclear ambition by addressing Iran’s anxiety over national security.
Negotiations can be carried out on the basis of allowing Iran’s civilian nuclear development on a limited scope, while getting assurances from Iran that it will maintain a peaceful co-existence with Israel.
As long as the United States confines itself to a dogmatic position that it will not have dialogue with a regime that supports terrorism, espouses Islamic extremism and is part of an “axis of evil,” there is no solution.
The most horrible nightmare for the United States is that Iran ― an oil-producing Middle East country that is determined to “erase Israel from the map” ― comes to possess nuclear weapons. Iran also wants peace in the Middle East, as well as the world, and to remove worries over soaring oil prices. The United States should learn its lesson from the negotiations on the North Korean nuclear issue.
* The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok