22 July 2004

Iran Re-emerges as Foreign Policy Topic

Council on Foreign Relations Urges U.S.-Iranian rapprochement

By Phillip Kurata
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Iran has re-emerged as a major U.S. foreign policy topic with recommendations from the Council of Foreign Relations that Washington open a strategic dialogue with Tehran. The council's recommendations for rapprochement come in contrast to a statement from President Bush that Iran is being investigated for ties with al-Qaida terrorists.

The council's recommendations for a U.S.-Iran rapprochement were presented July 19 by Zbigniew Brezinski, former President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, and Robert Gates, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency under the first President Bush. Brezinski and Gates were the co-chairs of the council's task force that drafted the recommendations.

Brezinski said that opening a dialogue with Iran, similar to former President Richard Nixon's rapprochement with China in 1972, would contribute to U.S. efforts to stabilize the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

"It is in this context that we are urging a policy of cautious, selected, probing, national interest-oriented engagement with Iran to see if it is possible to begin to address some of the issues in the relationship between us," Brezinski said.

"You might remember that the statement of principles between the United States and China in 1972 did not resolve any of the major issues, but pointed a way towards the resolution," he said.

Gates said that U.S. actions in Iraq, Iran's western neighbor, and in Afghanistan, its eastern neighbor, have dramatically changed the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East and Southwest Asia and may have created new opportunities for engagement with Iran.

"The task force also devoted considerable time to Iran's involvement in the conflicts of the region, particularly in Afghanistan, Iraq, and between Israelis and Palestinians," Gates said. "We believe that Iran has considerable influence in all three arenas and can play an important role in either assisting or impeding U.S. objectives."

Gates said the authors of the recommendations had no illusions about Iran's nuclear ambitions, its support for terrorist groups, its ambiguous behavior in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its violations of human rights.

But he said that efforts to bring about regime change in Iran are unlikely to succeed and the use of U.S. force against Iran is a remote possibility. Under those circumstances, Gates said, "it is better to see whether it is possible to draw Iran into contributing to regional stability rather than to be attracted by the idea of undermining the region and combating our efforts to stabilize it."

Also on July 19, President Bush said the United States is investigating links between the Iranian government and al-Qaida, including intelligence indicating that Iran may have offered safe passage to terrorists who later carried out the attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.

Bush said that U.S. investigators have found "no direct connection between Iran and the attack of September 11," but, he added, "we will continue to look and see if the Iranians were involved."

The commission investigating the 9/11 attacks has obtained intelligence showing that Iran had allowed as many as 10 of the terrorists to pass through border stations in late 1990 and early 1991 without having their passports stamped, making it easier for them to enter the United States without raising suspicions.

"I have long expressed my concerns about Iran. After all, it's a totalitarian society where free people are not allowed to, you know, exercise their rights as human beings," Bush said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Iran has been high on President Bush's list of priorities since early in his administration. The spokesman said the 9/11 attacks taught the United States that it cannot wait for terrorist threats to build and fully materialize.

"That's why he's been working with the international community to get Iran to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons and to abide by the international obligations Iran agreed to. That's why we are pressing Iran to turn over those al-Qaida members in their country to their country of origin. That's why we are continuing to urge the unelected few in Iran to heed the aspirations of the Iranian people," McClellan added.

A State Department official stated that U.S. policy toward Iran has not changed and the United States continues to have well-known, long-standing policy differences with Iran.

The official said the U.S. government has "grave concerns" about Iran's support for terrorism, its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, and its "appalling human rights record."

"Our policy remains that we are willing to engage with Iran on specific issues of mutual concern, in an appropriate manner, if and when the president determines it is in our interest to do so," the official said.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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