President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced today that Iran will complete its nuclear program within the next four months. The country claims that it plans to use enriched uranium solely as a source of energy, but the U.S. believes that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.
The United States and allies are currently seeking a UN Security Council resolution to impose economic sanctions on Iran until it suspends its nuclear program. There is also discussion of a regime change strategy in the country, which has already been proven highly dangerous and unsuccessful in Iraq.
Five years ago, President Bush overruled policy professionals and military leaders, and manipulated intelligence agencies for false evidence in order to justify the invasion of Iraq. The disastrous consequences are now evident every day on the streets of Iraq, where just today 150 people were abducted.
The Bush administration states it wants to resolve the Iranian nuclear challenge diplomatically. If so, it has to be willing to engage Iran directly.
President Bush has already passed up on a key opportunity to build a more constructive relationship with Iran. The country was a great help to the United States during invasion of Afghanistan; shortly after the fall of Baghdad, Iran presented the United States with a roadmap to resolving a full spectrum of issues. Now it is time to test Iran’s willingness to become part of the regional and global solution rather than the problem.
Some interesting developments may create an opening for the Bush administration to change its approach to Iran as well as Iraq. The United States may find that cooperation with Iran to stabilize the situation in Iraq may build some momentum and confidence on both sides to tackle other issues, such as Iran’s nuclear intentions and its sponsorship of terrorist groups like Hezbollah. One individual who may support such an approach is Robert Gates, to be the next Secretary of Defense. Gates suggested in a Council on Foreign Relations report two years ago that the United States engage Iran directly.
Iran is likely still five to ten years away from actually building a nuclear weapon, but the United States must act now. Negotiations coupled with economic sanctions will prove to the Iranian people that their own leaders are to blame for economic suffering, not the United States.
America has everything to gain from direct diplomacy and very little to lose over the next several years. The time to act is now.
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