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Author Topic:   Caspian opportunity
posted April 26, 2001 11:27     Click Here to See the Profile for Shahrzad     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Washington Times
By Donald Devine

April 25, 2001

With differences too large to be resolved by the deadline, the five-nation Caspian Sea Summit of chiefs of state fell apart last week. Russia, the dominant power, was uncertain of the outcome, while the surrounding countries of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and, especially, Iran had their own agendas. But this delay until fall could help the United States because it presents an exceptional opportunity to build an American alliance structure for the 21st century, and the summit hardly had appeared on the U.S. radar beforehand.

The Caspian matters because it has perhaps the largest pool of oil on the planet. Kazakhstan alone will become second only to Saudi Arabia. Iran is key. Because Iraq has been such a fixation of U.S. foreign policy, one forgets (except in Israel) that Iran is 4 times more powerful and the real threat in the region.

It is cited as the most likely to have deliverable nuclear weapons and is one of only four countries listed as a threat to U.S. strategic communications. The problem is that Iran wants to make nuclear Russia into its ally against the "Great Satan."

At their March summit, Iran s Mohammed Khatami and Vladimir Putin inked a new long-term cooperation pact, arms deal, trade agreement and an Iranian nuclear reactor plan.

A newly aggressive China and India, the second-largest country, are also wooing Russia to create a worldwide coalition against an American "hegemony." A sustained Russian arms trade with Iran, China and Iraq, to say nothing about a strategic partnership, would be a disaster for U.S. interests. The good news is Russia unlike China wants to be allied to the West, as a "senior European defense minister" confided to Arnaud de Borchgrave, editor at large of The Washington Times.

When Mr. Putin made his proposal for a Europewide missile defense shield, Duma Defense Committee Vice Chairman Andrei Arbatov gushed that this meant Russia had opted for an alliance with "the West" and "not with China." The Washington Times Andrew Borowiec reported that the Russian Foreign Ministry was careful to deny the Iran pact was a "strategic relationship."

While supporting the arms sales as necessary for economic survival, Moscow s Nezavisimaya Gazeta and Izvestia both warned against Iran as a rival over Caspian resources. And, because NATO-Europe is shrinking so severely in population, the United States badly needs additional allies.

The bad news is that there is no policy to wean Russia from America s potential foes. The Bush administration is frustrated by what the New York Times called "public ideological cleavages" between its senior officials. A group of self-proclaimed (neo- and religious) conservatives dispatched a public letter urging a policy of "idealism without illusion" against what they saw as a Bush policy of "Realpolitik." One leader even labeled Mr. Putin an "enemy," one of many autocratic "targets" that should be undermined by U.S. power. If there is one worthy goal for a Bush administration, it is to end this mindless Wilsonian idealism.

President George W. Bush clearly leans against it, as the criticism of the public letter implied. Even Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the "hardest-line" Cabinet official, was correctly characterized by Thomas E. Ricks as "comfortable advocating the use of military power, especially airpower, but also dead-set against using ground troops in open-ended peacekeeping missions." As for Mr. Putin, independent Russian journalist Masha Lipman correctly concluded he "has not displayed a taste for dictator s bloody methods, nor does he have the clarity of purpose or will to implement them. In today s Russia, the danger of disorder and government inefficiency is more imminent than the threat of authoritarianism."

What can the U.S. do? It was not helpful for State to announce last month that it would upgrade its relations with Russia s Chechen rebel forces. "Absolutely unacceptable," came the response from Putin top associate, Sergei Yastrzhembsky. This in turn resulted in a later "clarification" from State spokesman, Richard Boucher, that the meeting was not "anything unusual."

Positively, there are common interests that could be exploited.

Mr. Putin s list of rogue states includes Iran and, according to Mr. de Borchgrave, he is "convinced" that American foe No. 1 Osama bin Laden, is stirring trouble in the Balkans, the Caucasus and even Chechnya. Mr. Putin is a potential ally on missile defense, counterterror operations, nuclear clean-up, and stabilizing the Caucasus and the once-again volatile Balkans.

The U.S. could solve the whole arms sales problem by making Russia a major American arms supplier. It could win very big points with Russia by backing off its support for a rival Caspian pipeline when American interests could be served by either route.

Time is getting short for the Bush administration.

Rather than just react to China, for once go on the offensive and build a permanent alliance structure strong enough to freeze them cold for the future.

Preparing for a Fall Caspian Sea Summit would be a good time to begin, before a hostile alliance emerges from neglect.

* Donald Devine, former director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is a columnist and a Washington-based policy consultant.

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posted April 26, 2001 11:30     Click Here to See the Profile for Shahrzad     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Iran Matters Too Much to Be Left Out of America's Relations

The International Herald Tribune
Stanley A. Weiss

April 25, 2001

LONDON Europe and most of the rest of the world breathed a sigh of relief when President George W. Bush passed his first major foreign policy test. He got the crew of the American surveillance plane safely home, with no visible change in relations with China.

But that one was easy. They won't all be that simple. Especially tough is what the new president will do with Iran, which will hold a presidential election of its own on June 8.

In the Islamic Republic, nothing is what it seems. Only in Iran would the democratically elected president also be the leader of the opposition. That is where Mohammed Khatami finds himself.

Four years ago he won the presidency with 70 percent of the vote, promising to extract democratic freedom from the political mullahs. His reform process led to an explosion of free-speaking newspapers and magazines and a society in which men and women could breathe more easily. When the republic held its first municipal elections, almost 200,000 moderates were put in office. Early last year the reformers won control of Parliament, another slap at clerical rule.

But under the Islamic Republic's constitution a "supreme leader," Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei, elected by his fellow clerics, has the ultimate authority. He controls the security forces, the judiciary, the intelligence agencies, the state radio and television and, through the powerful Islamic business conglomerates called charitable foundations, at least 20 percent of the country's economy.

Urged on by totalitarian theocrats opposed to the entire concept of reform, the ayatollah struck back. Using the judiciary as the main instrument of repression, he shut down the liberal press and jailed outspoken journalists. The Council of Guardians, controlled by hard-line clerics, blocked reform legislation. Students, long in the forefront of political dissent, have been battered into silence through long prison sentences imposed on many of their leaders. In the last month scores of secular dissidents and religious-nationalists have been arrested. The United States has maintained a generally hostile relationship with Iran for two decades. If this posture was ever in the best interest of America, it is certainly not now. As America's European and Asian friends have already recognized, Iran is here to stay, and it makes sense to have normal cultural, commercial and political ties.

So, what should President Bush do? First, help those forces within Iran that want to get rid of Saddam Hussein. For the first time, the Iranian-backed opposition to the Iraqi dictator has said it would work directly with the United States to topple Saddam.

Second, work with Iran to defeat Afghanistan's ruling Taleban militia, which threatens Central and South Asia as well as the West. It provides a sanctuary for Osama bin Laden, the No. 1 terrorist on the CIA list. It is also a key security concern of Tehran. Ruled by fundamentalist Shiite clergy, Iran recognizes that its greatest enemy may lay on its eastern border. The ultra-orthodox Sunni regime has killed thousands of Shiites. Two million Iranians are addicted to the opium and heroin flowing in from Afghanistan. Third, recognize that the Islamic Republic is of enormous strategic importance to the United States and its friends and allies. Sixty-five percent of the world's known oil reserves lie below and around the Gulf. Iran has the second largest national gas reserves in the world. The Caspian Sea's potential oil and gas reserves are estimated at $4 trillion. Ultimately, no policy for Caspian energy can ignore Iran.

America takes such a strategic view in its relationship with oil-rich Saudi Arabia, which, like Iran, mixes an Islamic constitution with its politics and supports terrorist groups. Unlike Iran, it recognizes the Taleban militia.

President Bush should take steps now to establish a relationship with Tehran.

The United States should continue to try to prevent the import of weapons of mass destruction into Iran, but it should lift other sanctions that not only block American corporations from trading with Iran but also allow penalties against foreign companies that invest in its oil industry.

The Iran-Libya Sanction Act comes up for renewal this summer. Mr. Bush should urge Congress to allow it to expire.

A fundamental change in U.S. policy toward Iran will be difficult to sell to the American people, conditioned by years of hostile rhetoric and a regime that has failed to reciprocate in any way to Washington's goodwill initiatives. Nor will a new policy pay immediate dividends. There is likely to be at least one step backward for every two steps forward.

The test for Mr. Bush will be to establish and maintain a policy of self-interest with Iran - no matter what happens. In this, he can look at how his predecessors, including his father, handled China.

From 1949, when Mao Zedong marched triumphant into Tiananmen Square unleashing mass murder and government-inflicted famine, until 1972, when Richard Nixon reversed course, the United States had no relationship with China. Despite helping Pakistan, North Korea and Iran go nuclear, a deplorable human rights record and Communist leadership in Beijing, every U.S. president in the past three decades has worked to strengthen those links with China that serve America's interests.

Since 1979, when the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned triumphantly to Tehran, unleashing the taking of the American hostages and declaring an Islamic revolution for export, there have been no ties between the United States and Iran. The American policy of seeking to isolate that country hasn't worked. Mr. Bush has the chance to change that.

* The writer is founder and chairman of Business Executives for National Security and former chairman of American Premier, a mining and chemicals company. He contributed these personal views to the International Herald Tribune.

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