Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sen. John Kerry: Ultimately, we are going to deal with a government in Iran because the nuclear issue is so compelling, urgent, dangerous

Ha'aretz/Reuters: The Obama administration has rescinded invitations to Iranian diplomats to attend U.S. independence day celebrations on July 4, the White House said on Wednesday.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Iranian diplomats had in any case not replied to invitations already sent out. Initially, the administration had said that the invitation still stood, but by Wednesday afternoon announced otherwise.

"As far as I know not a single Iranian accepted the invitation to 4 of July celebration? said State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said earlier Wednesday. "They are celebration of our basic values of independence and freedom, which are exactly what Iranians demand on the streets."

U.S. officials and analysts believe that the political turmoil in Iran surrounding its contested June 12 presidential election has dimmed immediate prospects for U.S. dialogue with Tehran, but say U.S. President Barack Obama's hopes for engagement have by no means been snuffed out.

Officials acknowledge that the Iranian authorities bloody crackdown on street protests sparked by the election have made it less likely that Tehran will wish to engage and harder for the Obama administration to do so.

However, Obama has deliberately not withdrawn his open-hand policy toward Iran even as the authorities displayed an iron fist to intimidate demonstrators in the biggest anti-government protests since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

"The president's policy of engagement is obviously delayed, but we are going to have to deal with the government of Iran," Senator John Kerry, chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Reuters.

"The dust will have to settle but ultimately we are going to deal with a government of Iran because we have to, because the nuclear issue is so compelling, urgent, dangerous and important to us," he added.

Since taking office, Obama has made a series of overtures to Iran - including inviting its diplomats to July 4th parties at U.S. embassies around the world - as a way of trying to rebuild ties severed after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The U.S. hope is to coax Iran into a negotiation over its nuclear program - which Washington suspects is designed to produce atomic bombs but which Tehran says is to generate electricity - as well as other issues.

Jim Dobbins, a senior fellow at the Rand Corporation nonprofit research group and a former top U.S. diplomat who has dealt extensively with Iranians, said an assumption that the engagement policy was now dead took too short-term a view.

"Engagement with Iran is off for the foreseeable future, but the foreseeable future extends about a week," he said.

"If the regime succeeds in tamping down resistance, establishing effective control, and then proves willing to engage the United States in meaningful talks, my guess is that the administration will ultimately agree, although it will be more difficult as a result of these events," he added.

Security forces have clamped down on Tehran to prevent protest rallies. Reformists say the election was rigged to return President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power and to keep out moderate former prime minister Mirhossein Mousavi.

The furor over the election has exposed deep rifts within Iran's political elite, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei solidly backing Ahmadinejad against Mousavi and declaring the disputed election result would stand.

U.S. conservatives argued that the Iranian crackdown had vindicated their view that Iran's ruling authorities are not willing to negotiate with the West over their nuclear program.

"I think his underlying policy is fundamentally wrong because negotiation is doomed to failure in the future, just as it has been doomed to failure in the past, when it comes to their nuclear program," said John Bolton, a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under former President George W. Bush.

"I think the policy he should be pursuing is overthrowing the Islamic revolution of 1979," he said, calling for the United States to funnel more resources -- covert and overt -- to strengthen opponents of the Islamic republic inside and outside Iran.

Obama has taken some political heat for his careful response to the election, with Republicans arguing that he should supported the protesters earlier and and criticized the government's crackdown against them more sharply.

Kerry, however, suggested that Obama could not afford to write off the possibility of negotiating with Ahmadinejad.

"We don't' have the luxury of choosing our negotiating partners in certain situations," he said.

Asked how long any engagement might be delayed, Kerry replied: "I can't tell you how long that is, it could be a matter of weeks.

"Personally, I don't believe it will be a long period of time, but that will ultimately depend on how they will resolve this crisis, internally in Iran. If they choose to do things that are so extreme that they confront everybody's conscience ... they could make it very [difficult] in the short term."

Published as "Obama rescinds July 4 invites to Iranian diplomats"By Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz Correspondent and Reuters

Excerpt from "How Iran’s Hardliners Shot Themselves in the Foot," Shaul Bakhash, The Forward, June 26, 2009

"The irony of all this is that Mousavi actually did not necessarily pose a fundamental threat to the status quo. Certainly, he would have softened the tone of Iranian foreign policy, reverting to the type of presidential rhetoric that preceded Ahmadinejad’s term in office.

"And even Khamenei himself has not ruled out engaging America, so long as it is done on his terms. In any case, Iran’s nuclear policy is set by the supreme leader, not by the president. Moreover, easing of social, press and political controls of the kind envisaged by Mousavi would have been limited in scope. Yet the hardliners persisted in the belief that any relaxing of controls would be the thin edge of the wedge that would destabilize the whole system….

"If there is engagement with America, Khamenei wants to control it. In Ahmadinejad, he has a willing collaborator. In Mousavi, he might have had a president with a mind of his own.
These considerations may explain the decision to manipulate the election results — and the available evidence points to the conclusion that the results were, indeed, falsified — in order to give Ahmadinejad an undeserved victory."

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