By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
By announcing that the United States is no longer interested in opening a consular office in Iran, the George W Bush administration has forfeited a golden opportunity for a timely diplomatic breakthrough with Iran. Instead, it prefers to exit the White House with a veneer of foreign policy consistency, given Bush's labeling of Iran as a member of the "axis of evil", along with Iraq and North Korea.
This announcement came a day after a major foreign policy speech by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York at which he used the opportunity to reiterate Iran's genuine interest in this possibility.
Responding to a question, Mottaki even went further and expressed his frustration with the US government, wondering
aloud how much longer Iran should wait for Washington's "official request" to open an interest section in Tehran. Not only that, Mottaki also stated clearly and unambiguously Iran's willingness to consider a "freeze-for-freeze" option on its nuclear program. In terms of this, for six weeks or so Iran would freeze its uranium-enrichment activities in exchange for a reciprocal freeze in the implementation of sanctions on Iran. Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, has echoed Mottaki on this subject and, yet, Iran's new signs of compromise have fallen on deaf ears in the US.
One can only speculate on the stated and hidden reasons behind the White House's decision to discard a realistic step toward rapprochement with Iran and to completely ignore Tehran's strong signals welcoming this idea. US commentators have focused on the opposition by Republican presidential hopeful Senator John McCain, who in his debate with his Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama, reiterated his steadfast objection to any direct contacts with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Had Bush given a green light to a diplomatic presence in Iran, it would have undermined McCain's foreign policy objectives, benefiting Obama.
But, more than the election concerns, the role and influence of pro-Israel lobbyists deserves consideration. This is in light of Israel's constant alarms about Iran's nuclear program and a seeming growing willingness to attack Iran's nuclear facilities in the name of Israel's national security.
Whatever the primary reason behind Bush's decision not to initiate a mini-breakthrough with Iran during his waning days in office. it simply means that no major changes in the US's Iran policy will be introduced under the outgoing administration and the policy options on Iran remain wide open for the next president.
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