Khatami to U.S.: Let's talk directly without preconditions

December 2, 2007 - 0:0

TEHRAN (Christian Science Monitor)- Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Shirin Ebadi are among several key Iranian public figures saying that only direct, unconditional talks with the U.S. can ease spiraling tensions.

Mr. Khatami – the reformist cleric who was twice elected in landslide victories – and Ms. Ebadi – a human rights lawyer who just launched a National Peace Council – are suggesting that hard-liners in the U.S. and Iran should no longer dictate the terms of division. One Iranian analyst says: It's time to call the bluff on both sides – and talk.
""The solution is for both sides to resort to logic, refrain from provocative rhetoric, and put the emphasis on negotiations,"" Khatami told the Monitor.
""We have no choice but to overcome misunderstandings that mostly stem from the meddling of the U.S. (in the Middle East) and its wrong policies in Iran,"" said Khatami. ""We can find common interests in the region and the world. And we can also avoid actions that would be damaging to both sides.""
Failure could mean ""things will get worse, a huge crisis will be created, and then it is not only Iran that would suffer,"" warns Khatami. ""Our crisis-stricken region would also suffer greatly, and the U.S. itself.""
Khatami and Ebadi echo the sentiments of many Iranians – including some in the conservative government – who prefer dialogue and detente with the U.S. to brinksmanship, though hard-line factions often undermine such efforts.
President George Bush warns of World War III if Iran acquires nuclear know-how, and this week in Annapolis he said that a key reason the U.S. is renewing Israel-Palestinian peace efforts is ""because a battle is under way for the future of the Middle East, and we must not cede victory to the extremists"" – a reference to Iran and its allies.
But more positive signals lie behind the headline-making rhetoric, and past talk of ""regime change"" in Washington.
Iran's President, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, has said repeatedly that Iran is ready for broad discussions with the U.S., based on mutual respect and without preconditions. In September, he added that America could be a ""good friend"" of Iran. U.S. and Iranian ambassadors have so far met three times in Baghdad, with a fourth meeting imminent, to discuss security in Iraq.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she is also ready for talks ""any place, any time, anywhere,"" but only if Iran first suspends uranium enrichment – a precondition that Tehran says it will never agree to again. It suspended enrichment in 2003 and 2004 but that yielded little tangible benefit.
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) of Nebraska said earlier this month the U.S. should ""actively pursue an offer of direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks with Iran."" The risk of war is too high, he said, with a nation that ""will ... remain a significant regional power"" in the 21st century, whether the U.S. launches an attack or not.
U.S. fears of Iran's nuclear program are a ""pretext"" that can be resolved through inspections and accepting Iran's ""right"" to nuclear technology,"" says Khatami. ""Iran does not have the bomb and does not want the bomb.""
""Attacking Iraq was beyond international rules, and (the U.S.) should not make the same mistake regarding Iran,"" said Ebadi told the Monitor. ""Both governments (Iran and the U.S.) should change their dialogue, bring down their rhetoric and reduce tensions.""
The framework for a ""grand bargain"" that would have addressed all outstanding issues emerged in spring 2003 with a two-page fax from Tehran to Washington. The offer was ignored by a U.S. administration emboldened by the swift fall of Saddam Hussein.
""There is no country that has more common interests with America than Iran,"" says Sadegh Kharazi, the former Iranian ambassador to France who helped draft the offer. ""We still have our (anti-U.S.) revolutionary slogans, but we are not looking for confrontation,"" he adds. ""We don't want to be in love with America. (What) is important for us is coexistence with each other, an armistice for the future.""