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Will Obama's Iran Policy Succeed ?

Byline: Randa Takieddine

Europe, Russia and China will test the new American policy toward Iran. US President Barack Obama and his ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who until recently used the strongest possible language with Iran, announced a new page in relations between the US and Iran.

What does this new page mean? Obama and his envoy to Iran, the highly-regarded diplomat William Burns, want dialogue with Iran and a re-opening of the US interests section in that big country, where there has been no direct American diplomatic representation for around three decades.

Dialogue with Iran will be difficult and complicated; the European Union and Russia have continually tried, before arriving at sanctions, to offer alternatives to Iran, provided that it abandons uranium enrichment aimed at possessing a nuclear bomb.

It is true that there is a reformist current that wants dialogue with Washington, and another, hard-line group, which rejects this. However, all of the factions in the Islamic Republic insist on obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran looks at Pakistan, a Sunni country that has nuclear weapons, and is thus determined to not abandon enrichment, whatever it obtains from the new US administration.

With respect to other issues, will dialogue succeed in convincing Iran to not support Hamas and Hezbollah, or give up control of certain rich areas in Iraq?

Huge doubts do hover in this respect. Iran, which suffers from international sanctions and banking pressures as a result of international banks' commitment to not investing in the country, has yet to change its policies despite its poor socio-economic conditions. In recent years, the Iranian state has received high returns from its petroleum, when the price per barrel reached $100. It allocated these returns to supporting its foreign policy and the "cards" it held, from Hezbollah and Hamas to Syria, instead of working to improve its socio-economic situation.

Many opposition voices were heard, complaining about the lack of attention by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to the internal situation and the demands of poor Iranian villages. Now, with the falling prices of oil, Iran is still facing sanctions. We must ask whether a US-Iranian dialogue will produce a change in Iran's regional and foreign policies.

The presidential elections in Iran are nearing, but the Supreme Leader, who supported Ahmadinejad's candidacy, rejected the American offer of dialogue with Washington which was put forward at the beginning of the Bush administration. Will Obama succeed in convincing the leadership of this big state that it should change its policy? Will the US-Iranian relationship return to the days of the Shah, when the alliance between Tehran and Washington was at its strongest?

This will not take place, since Iran during the Shah's era was a big ally of Israel, while the situation today is very different, if not reversed. The Israelis are constantly issuing threats at Iran, since it continues to develop nuclear weapons, afraid of it becoming a nuclear state. President Obama, however peaceful and pro-dialogue, will not agree to Iran's having nuclear weapons. Sooner or later, he will meet with the Group of Six, which earlier engaged in dialogue with Iran, before arriving at sanctions.

Obama's dialogue with Iran might be necessary, because if you do not try, you will not get anywhere. However, the current Iranian leadership is determined to not abandon its cards, because it wants to exercise hegemony and aspires to play the role of regional superpower. This was the aspiration of the Shah, whose regime was destroyed by the Khomeini revolution.

Nevertheless, we can only hope that the Obama administration succeeds, though we do have doubts about the results.

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Publication:Dar Al Hayat, International ed. (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Jan 28, 2009
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