If the maps were different?
Imagine for one second if the Russians had invaded and installed friendly regimes in both Canada and Mexico. Also imagine if both these North American nations were occupied by Russian forces. Then add to that a Russian missile presence in Honduras and possible Russian controlled nuclear arms in Cuba. Pretty scary thought right? Now replace Canada, Mexico, Honduras and Cuba with Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey and Israel and you have the actual real life scenario that Iran confronts.
In a previous blog piece about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, I explored the evolution of Iran’s program and how the West has generally mishandled it. Now, in 2009, the stakes are much higher and the reality of a nuclear Iran is much closer to reality. The ability for Iran to deliver a nuclear payload has been greatly improved with the successful launch of a space orbiting satellite earlier this month. Despite the assertions of western intelligence sources that Iran has exhausted its nuclear materials, the Iranian program continues to evolve.
What should Obama do?
Once the Obama Administration settles into Washington and the economic situation begins to settle down, the issue of Iran must take center stage. It is in the best interest for all parties that cooler heads prevail in the region. The fact that the United States remains embroiled in Iraq and in Afghanistan reduces the appearance of American sincerity in any type of political negotiation. The era of American arrogance may have peaked with the Bush administration. The Obama administration should usher in an era of honest diplomacy. It would be shocking to see a continuation of the disdain that the Bush administration had towards diplomacy in the new Obama administration. Until the American State Department treats Iran as a respectable partner, and not like a rogue state, the crisis will continue to disintegrate. The U.S. must also realize that Russia has a vested interest in the region. Low level, multilateral talks may serve as the spring board to higher level direct negotiations.
Israel’s role in the process
The recent victory by the Kadima Party in Israel will create more pressure on the Obama administration to negotiate with a more forceful tone. The disastrous showing of the left wing Labor Party in the recent elections reflects the political mood in Israel. The ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party will wield immense power as a result of its strong finish. This shift to the right in Israel will make negotiations with Iran very delicate. It would not be surprising if the Iranians, as a precondition to any nuclear negotiations, request that the United States formally recognize the existence of Israeli nuclear capabilities. In President Obama’s first news conference, he carefully dodged the Israeli nuclear question that was posed by reporter Helen Thomas. If the United States is serious about dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it must seriously consider and effectively address the region’s suspicions of Israel’s capabilities. Israel follows a policy of deliberate ambiguity in neither confirming nor denying possession of nuclear weapons. Yet, it is considered the region’s worst kept secret. Should the Iranians put the Israeli question on the table and the United States side steps the issue, the negotiations will be dead in the water and a sham.
Development of Iranian nuclear capabilities is of great concern for the United States, in the context of the balance of power in the region and its relationship with the State of Israel. Any negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program should also include Israel’s nuclear capabilities. Approaching this dilemma in an even handed and fair manner may just be the strategy for long term peace in the region and mutual security in the region.