|U.S. should change course on Iran: article||
TEHRAN – The United States must seize the opportunity created by moderate Hassan Rohani’s victory in Iran’s presidential poll to settle the decade-old dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, according to an article published by the Guardian on Sunday.
Following are excerpts of the article written by Jonathan Steele:
Hassan Rohani’s victory in the Iranian election is truly stunning. It opens a window of hope for an easing of tension between Iran and the West on the strained nuclear file but also on the more urgent issue – the self-destructive clash between Shia and Sunni Islam that is killing thousands in Syria and Iraq and threatens the entire Middle East region.
Although Rohani had been well ahead in the final pre-election polls, no one expected him or anyone else to receive enough votes to avoid a runoff. The result confirms that Iran’s elections are always unpredictable. The high turnout also shows that Iranian voters felt they had a genuine choice, thereby confounding the tired comments from many outside analysts that little separates the candidates because they all had to be vetted by the Islamic republic’s Guardian Council.
Two things seem to have swung so many people to Rohani’s side. He was endorsed in the last few days (clever of them to wait until near the end) by former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami. This meant that the centrist and reformist camps had coalesced behind one man, while the conservative vote was split between the five other candidates.
The second factor was Rohani’s stellar performance in the three televised debates and the poor presentation by Saeed Jalili, the current nuclear negotiator, who had earlier been seen as the frontrunner. Rohani promised to ease tensions with the West and to try to end international sanctions, implicitly blaming his predecessor Ahmadinejad for provoking them with his rash statements and uncompromising line. Jalili took a battering for his hardline positions in the latest round of talks this spring with the permanent five members of the Security Council, though the toughest attack came not from Rohani but from Ali Akbar Velayati, a former foreign minister, who said that interacting with the world was better than defying it.
Ahmadinejad, who came to power claiming to be able to do more for Iran’s poorest people, was exposed as a failure, whereas Rohani pointed out that in the several years when he was chief nuclear negotiator the issue was not taken to the Security Council. The clear message from the majority of the Iranian electorate is that they prefer his more rational approach.
The Obama administration needs to take stock and think hard after this surprise result, especially as its first reaction was full of hasty blunders. It patronized Iranian voters by saying they showed “courage in making their voices heard” and was rude in urging Rohani to “heed the will of the Iranian people”. If the White House is really “ready to engage the Iranian government directly”, as it said on Saturday, why did it not have the courtesy to send Rohani a message of congratulations?
At the heart of the conflict between Iran and the West is the U.S.’s unwillingness to accept Iran’s independence in foreign and domestic policies. Instead, the country’s government is constantly demonized, and its intentions deliberately put under suspicion. The psychological wounds of having U.S. diplomats taken hostage in 1979 have not been allowed to heal, while on the Iranian side the U.S. and British role in toppling their government in 1953 has also not been forgiven.
When the last moderate president, Mohammad Khatami, was in power, the George W. Bush administration foolishly invented “an axis of evil” and claimed Iran was part of it. Today we have a new chance to turn the page. It is a crucial issue for the whole Middle East, now that American hostility to Iran has helped to turn Saudi Arabia and other Arab (Persian) Gulf states into an anti-Iranian alliance of Sunnis versus Shias. Because of this unnecessary creation of tensions and its conversion into a proxy war, sectarianism is destroying Syria and re-emerging with lethal force in Iraq.
In the wake of Rohani’s victory, the first thing Obama should do is to drop U.S. objections to letting Iran attend the proposed Geneva conference on Syria. If Washington is ready to negotiate with Iran on nuclear issues, it makes no sense to exclude it from the talks on Syria. The second thing is to accelerate preparations for the conference itself by putting sustained pressure on Syria’s rebel forces to come up with a negotiating strategy and take part.
For Washington to change course here would send an important signal, not only that Iran has to be part of any solution in Syria and the region, but also that the anti-Iranian cancer that has affected American policy in the Middle East since the axis-of-evil speech has at last been excised.
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